Susie Stillwell | 11/14/2013, 12:08 p.m. | Updated on 11/14/2013, 12:08 p.m.
Born in New York City on October 1, 1986, Jurnee Smollett-Bell is an award-winning actress and activist of rare talent and conviction. She recently starred in the Emmy Award-winning series “Friday Night Lights” on which she portrayed the character Jess. She’s also been seen on “The Defenders” as Lisa, a new attorney at the law firm.;
Jurnee starred in The Great Debaters with Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington who also directed the historical drama. Jurnee received rave reviews and won the NAACP’s Best Lead Actress Image Award for her performance.
The versatile thespian landed her breakthrough role at the age of 11, when she starred in Eve's Bayou opposite Samuel L. Jackson and was cited by Interview Magazine as one of the five Hollywood stars to watch in the new millennium. Her other film credits include Roll Bounce, Gridiron Gang, and Beautiful Joe with Sharon Stone as well as made-for-television films including the Wonderful World of Disney’s "Selma Lord Selma” and Showtime’s "Ruby's Bucket of Blood" opposite Angela Bassett.
On TV, Jurnee has guest starred in the season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as on "House," "E.R.," "Strong Medicine," and "NYPD Blue." Her other television credits include "Wanda at Large" and "Cosby," for which she won NAACP Image Awards in 1999 and 2000.
She began her television acting career at the age of 4 with a recurring role on "Full House," later reviving the character for a season of "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper." She followed that by starring on the ABC comedy "On Our Own" alongside her real life sister, Jazz, and her brothers, Jojo, Jussie, Jake and Jocqui.
Besides acting and singing, Jurnee is an activist and the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the spread of HIV, advancing human rights, and to educating and empowering AIDS orphans and other at-risk youth. She has been involved with ANSA since the age of 11.
Working with the organization, Jurnee has traveled to South Africa, where she has met with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, as well as with victims of HIV. She even went on an official mission for the U.S. State Department to Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa to conduct AIDS awareness workshops.
Among Jurnee’s other charitable causes is the Children’s Defense Fund, where she joined the board at the invitation of her longtime mentor, Marian Wright Edelman. Here, she talks about starring as Judith opposite Vanessa Williams, Kim Kardashian and Brandy in Tyler Perry’s latest morality play, Temptation.
Susie Stillwell /Juicy Culture: Hi Jurnee, thanks for the time.
Jurnee Smollett: Thank you for taking the time.
SS/JC:The last time I had a chance to speak to you was when you were doing The Great Debaters.
JS: Oh, man, it’s been a minute.
SS/JC:What interested you in Temptation?
JS: The challenge of the role. It’s kind of what you look for as an actor. Something that you haven’t done before… something that can really make you stretch… and honestly, I’d always wanted to work with Tyler.