Merle Dandridge plays Grace “GiGi” Greenleaf, the prodigal daughter of a wealthy and powerful Memphis family who returns home after 20 years to bury her sister, but eventually becomes a pastor at the family’s megachurch on the hit series Greenleaf.
But before she was dishing out powerful sermons and staging a one-woman crusade against her sexual predator of an Uncle Mac on TV every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on O.W.N., Dandridge was kicking butt and taking names on the track as a sprinter.
“I was a 200-meter sprinter and a 300-meter hurdler,” Dandridge said. “My best event was probably the 200 meters.”
When Dandridge said she was back in training on the track, we were immediately curious about where her speed was currently at.
To that end, we asked Dandridge how she felt she’d fare in a race against 17-year-old Olympian and star sprinter Sydney McLaughlin, who’s predicted to be the “next big thing” in USA Track & Field.
“Uuuuuh,” Dandridge said with a laugh. “I’m believing I could hang. I’m believing, but I don’t know that. I wouldn’t give up though.”
We caught up with Dandridge to chop-it-up about everything from why she feels it’s time to retire the cliché phrase “Slay” to under which circumstances she’d prefer to answer to “Super Squirrel” to what we can expect from Season 2 of Greenleaf.
Jason Jordan: I always like to gauge the sports backgrounds and experiences of all of my guests on the Celeb Chop-Up; I know you’re a great preacher! I’m curious about what sports you tried growing up?
Merle Dandridge: (Laughs) Well, thank you! I was actually a 200-meter sprinter and a 300-meter hurdler and I played basketball.
JJ: Where did you excel the most?
MD: My best event was probably the 200 meters.
JJ: What was your best time?
MD: (Laughs) Oh, I’m not even gonna go there! You know why? It’s because I’m back on the track right now and I’m out of shape. I’m trying to get my times back.
JJ: Understood! Well, everyone had that day where everything seemed to be going their way. Tell me about that day for you.
MD: You know what I don’t think I ever had that day because it always worked out that the 300-meter hurdles was right before the 200. I was never able to maximize what I could do, but I never gave up.
JJ: This year in Rio, Sydney McLaughlin was the youngest Olympian since 1972 and she just happens to run the 200 as well. I’m curious as to how you’d fare against Sydney given the chance to race her.
MD: (Laughs) Uuuuuh, I’m believing I could hang. I’m believing, but I don’t know that. I wouldn’t give up though.
JJ: I like it! OK, let’s take it random; which fast food restaurant has the best burgers?
MD: Hmm, I would probably have to say Fat Burger!
JJ: Cosign! In the epic game of Paper, Rock, Scissors which object do you find that you get the most wins with?
MD: (Laughs) The scissors!
JJ: When you see a yellow traffic light what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
MD: Keep it safe!
JJ: What was your worst pre-fame job?
MD: I was a dancing MCI card, which actually dates myself with the MCI card, in the Comiskey Park suites. I was just a big card with legs and I couldn’t breathe in there.
JJ: What movie absolutely deserves another installment?
MD: Ooh lala! Great question! The Little Mermaid!
JJ: Whoa, wasn’t expecting that one.
MD: (Laughs) Well, it’s like what happened? I mean she got out of the sea and then what? What’s next? Ariel, did you miss the sea? Cook for Sebastian? Change your values? I want answers!
JJ: What’s the most overused slang word or phrase out right now?
JJ: President Obama’s Secret Service code name was Renegade, President Trump’s is Mogul; if you were President what would you pick your code name to be?
MD: Mmm… The first thing that comes to mind is Squiggy Rat because that’s what my dad called me growing up, but I’d probably go with Super Squirrel.
JJ: Interesting! OK, if you would 100 percent get away with it which crime would you commit?
MD: (Laughs) Wow. Well, any kind of foul play eats me alive so you’d know if I did anything wrong. I don’t think that there is a crime I’d want to get away with.
JJ: Well, now I must say that was a very pastoral answer you had there Grace.
MD: (Laughs) Yes! I just couldn’t live with it.
JJ: OK, well I think I know the answer to this, but I’ll ask it anyway; you tap a car in a parking lot and no one’s around, do you move to a different row or do you leave a note?
MD: (Laughs) Oh no, I’m definitely leaving the note with my information on it. Definitely.
JJ: I would so expect these answers from you so I’m glad I’m right.
MD: (Laughs) Right.
JJ: What sitcom intro song do you know every word to?
MD: A lot of them. The first thing that comes to mind is Golden Girls. Facts of Life, The Jeffersons!
JJ: What was your worst childhood punishment?
MD: Oh always the belt.
JJ: I can relate. OK, unfortunately, you’ve found yourself in the Witness Protection Program, what’s your new name going to be?
MD: (Laughs) My first thought is Princess Diana, but that’s not gonna work, right?
JJ: Yeah, no. Whoever’s looking for you in the small town you relocate to will find you quick with that name for sure.
MD: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s true! Christy Mitchell.
JJ: Yes, Christy Mitchell is going to live a long life! OK, what random fact can you reel off to me right now?
MD: I know the countries that circumnavigate Switzerland are Switzerland.
JJ: Impressive! Blindfolded can you tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke?
MD: (Laughs) Oh I can without a doubt. Pepsi has more or a purple tone and Coke has more of an orange tone. Plus, I have a severe diet Coke addiction!
JJ: If you could go back and get the truth about one past mystery which would you choose?
MD: Wow, this is so fun; I feel like I’m on a game show! This is so fun! OK, my cat had a litter of kittens and there was one born with six toes that I fell in love with. We ended up giving him away and when I went to get him back they’d already given him away to some random farm. I would like to know if he had a good life.
JJ: How similar are you to your character Grace?
MD: Well, what I do identify with her on is her constant desire to search for the alignment with God. She was born with it and circumstances ripped her away from that, but she’s a goodhearted person and she’s been constantly trying to find that reconnection with God in her anointing. I think that’s a very human thing in general; I think everyone’s trying to find their spiritual alignment and purpose.
JJ: How closely do you think the show depicts the church?
MD: I’m constantly surprised by how accurate people tell me it is. My family is of the black church in Memphis and I’ll ask about the storylines and they’ll quickly say yes! They always say they know that character and this character so I’m always surprised by that.
JJ: Well, we’ve got a good bit of drama this season on Greenleaf; what can you tell us about what we can expect going forward on the show?
MD: Well, this has been so much fun! As for the show, Grace and her lack of peace over the Mac thing will continue to unravel her and watching her journey and the battle between doing the right thing evolves for her. She had an expectation that if you do good then good results happen and if you do bad things you go to jail, but Mac didn’t stay in jail. He’s still out there able to do what he’s doing and not asking for forgiveness or repentance for anything. That situational angst makes her question everything that she is and everything that that is. You’ll get to see what happens when someone can’t deal with the outcome. Grace is in for quite a ride so HOLD ON!
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