LOS ANGELES — When Janet Jackson signed on to be a part of “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” she knew she’d have to ready herself for an emotional journey. In the sequel to Tyler Perry’s 2007 film, Jackson’s character — the always-composed psychologist, Patricia — slowly begins to unravel as her loveless marriage dissolves. The role required her to cry, scream and fight, challenge enough for any actress — and then her brother Michael died just three days into filming.
Production halted as Jackson flew to L.A. to be with her family. Director Perry followed.
“Tyler was so there for me. He was constantly calling me to see how I was doing,” recalled Jackson via telephone from New York recently, where she had just completed a day of interviews for the new film, opening Friday. “He had asked me, ‘How do you want to be treated on set?’ And I said, ‘The way they treated me on the first film, no differently.’ And that’s exactly what it was. They thought it was important they didn’t bring up what had happened, and that was fine with me.”
That silence was uncomfortable for some of the cast in the film, which reunites eight college friends in the Bahamas for their yearly one-week reunion where they discuss love and relationships.
Jill Scott, who plays Jackson’s pal Sheila in the film, said she wanted to talk about Jackson’s devastating loss with her but was unable to.
“It was difficult not to talk about it, and I made a point not to because I didn’t want to upset her and I wanted to stay in the moment,” Scott said. “But one night, it just hit me, and I started singing (Michael Jackson’s) ‘Got me working day and night’ and I didn’t realize it until maybe the fourth word came out of my mouth. And I just stopped, and she didn’t say anything. I think that’s the only time I felt like, ‘Oh, Jill.’ As much as you want to console and be there for someone, sometimes the work is the healing.”
At least that was the way it seemed for Jackson, who throws herself fully into extreme moments in the film, at one point smashing all of the glass in her character’s home with a golf club in a fit of rage.
“I could clearly see by reading the script that it was going to be very intense but I wasn’t afraid of it. I don’t think you can be,” she said. “To go into a space like that, you have to be open.”
Despite the tough emotional work at hand, Jackson said there were lighter moments on the island set.
“There were these huge giant moths that looked like big black butterflies, and I think they freaked Tyler out,” she said, laughing gently. “They’d land on your head or on your shoulder and he said they were hairy, but I thought they were gorgeous. They are drawn to light and we had a bonfire scene where one got burned and my heart went out to the poor baby bouncing around in the sand.”
Though she’s primarily thought of as a singer, Jackson, of course, got her start as an actress on the sitcom “Good Times.” As a young girl, she recalled being moved by certain actors’ performances — Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino.
“I remember watching ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ repeatedly because I’m crazy about Jack Lemmon. I just fell in love with him and adored him,” she recalled quietly.
It was with the focus of the actors she admired that Jackson approached her latest endeavor, though she noted that experiencing such heightened emotions was often exhausting.
“You can’t always let go of it, it has to let go of you,” she explained. “With it being as heavy as some of the scenes were for me, you just want to drop it and leave it back on set. And here you are, in that space, and you’re going back to your hotel room and it’s still with you. It’s draining. It can be very stressful and tiring to know you have to get up the next day and do it all over again. But I do it because I love acting.”