'Full House' Star Jurnee Smollett-Bell Shares Her Favorite '90s Role & How Hollywood Has Changed
Many Full House fans have no doubt devoured Fuller House by now, and are currently basking in the warm glow of TV nostalgia. The return of the extended Tanner family is the gift that keeps on giving, and even if you've watched every episode of the revival, your heart is no doubt still yearning for updates on the characters who didn't turn. Recently, Bustle was able to speak to Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who played Denise on Full House . Unfortunately for fans of Michelle's best friend, Denise doesn't appear in Fuller House, because Smollett-Bell is so busy with her current roles, she's not even sure when she'll be able to see the Netflix series.
"Oh my gosh, I don't know if I will? I probably will! When does it come on?" she says, laughing, when I ask if she'll be tuning into Fuller House. "There are so many good shows that I am so behind on that I will probably add it to my list of long shows that I want to watch, but don't have time to watch." That's definitely understandable, as Smollett-Bell still has a thriving acting career. Chances are you have seen on her shows like Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, and beginning on March 9, she will take on her most powerful role yet as runaway slave Rosalee on WGN America's Underground.
Add in her work as an advocate on the board of Directors of Artists for a New South Africa and the Children's Defense Fund, and it is clear this former child star has blazed a trail in Hollywood that will never fade. That doesn't mean she has forgotten her '90s roots, though. Smollett-Bell is happy to look back on her time as Denise and other childhood roles, which also allows her to see how much Hollywood has changed since the '90s.
Though Smollett-Bell doesn't have plans to return to her Full House role at this point, she only wishes her former castmates the best of luck. "I think they have so many amazing actors already involved, I don't know if they need help from me," she says. Still, the impression Denise left on fans is not lost on the actor. She is still recognized as Michelle's total boss of a bestie to this day. "It's so funny to me when people ask me about the show because I was like 4 or 5 years old, so the fact that people even remember is kind of cool," Smollett-Bell says. "It trips me out because you want to think you've changed a little bit since you were 5 years old."
There is one question Smollett-Bell wants answered just as badly as everyone else though: What would Denise be doing now? "That's the question I have, actually," she says, "What would she be doing today? She was so spunky, I don't know. But I know her uncle was Little Richard so maybe she took after him musically."
Beyond Full House, Smollett-Bell was a constant in the '90s. After Full House, she earned memorable roles in movies like Jack and the groundbreaking Eve's Bayou . It's the latter role Smollett-Bell credits for keeping her in the world of acting. "I have to say, I think when I did Eve's Bayou that was a turning point for me artistically," she says. "Honestly, that was one of the first times I understood the depth of the craft, or started to understand the depth of the craft. I got that bug of wanting to really explore the rainbow of emotion. I am proud of what we all did with that."
These days, Smollett-Bell is proud of how far Hollywood has come since she was a child actress. Her fans have watched her grow from Denise to Eve and soon to Rosalee on Underground. Looking back on her time in the business, Smollett-Bell is quick to give props to the strides television has made in terms of diversity, while also acknowledging that there is still room for improvement.
"I think we have a long way to go, but I think in this day and age when we have such beautiful, complex characters like Viola Davis' character in How To Get Away With Murder and Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington's character in Scandal, and then Tracee Ellis Ross and Taraji P. Henson. I think television writers have really been stepping outside the box," Smolett-Bell says. "Again, we have a long way to go, but I think I'm seeing way more complex characters for women in general. I mean Claire Danes, I'm a huge fan of hers — I love Homeland — but it is really going to be up to the writers, the producers, the creative people to create more complex characters."
Whatever Denise is doing, she would definitely be proud of the amazing woman, activist, and actor that Jurnee Smollett-Bell is today. And though you won't see her in Fuller Houe, you can see just how much her talent has grown when Underground premieres on Wednesday, March 9 on WGN America.