Marla Gibbs told a select group of friends and family she would be on the live special for ABC’s “The Jeffersons” in May, but they wouldn’t believe her since she wasn’t in any of the promotional materials. That’s because producers Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel wanted it to be a surprise to audiences when Gibbs reprised her classic role of Florence Johnston.
In our exclusive interview (watch the video above), she reveals, “When I read the script I said, ‘This is the same show I did word for word,’ and of course I remembered it all…. the moves and everything. It was the thing that changed my life, so you don’t forget it.”
The program “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” recreated one episode of “All in the Family” and another from “The Jeffersons,” two long-running, popular comedy series from Lear. It is eligible at the 2019 Emmy Awards as Best Variety Special (Live) and the performers are in the movie/limited series acting categories.
The pilot episode of “The Jeffersons” was the one chosen for this new ABC version, and it features the character of Florence being hired by newly-prosperous Louise (“Weezie”) Jefferson (Wanda Sykes) and George Jefferson (Jamie Foxx) in their deluxe New York City apartment. The roles were originated by Emmy winner Isabel Sanford and Emmy nominee Sherman Hemsley) for the 1975 to 1985 series on CBS. In our chat, Gibbs discusses the impact that both of those late performers had on the show and on herself as an actress. She received five Emmy nominations as Best Comedy Supporting Actress from 1981 to 1985.
After that program ended, Gibbs had another long-time role from 1985 to 1990 on the NBC comedy “227,” this time as the leading actress opposite Hal Williams as her husband. Newcomer Regina King played their daughter, and Gibbs has not only kept up with her career, which now includes three Emmy victories and a recent Oscar win for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Of that joyful moment watching this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, she admits, “That’s my baby!” But she adds that with all those trophies, she wants King to take a pause so that Gibbs can try to catch up and win a few herself.
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