At home with actress Suzzanne
by Ramona Cramer Tucker
Its 6:10 pm, and Hollywood actress Suzzanne Douglas whisks into the lobby
of a Chicago hotel with hertwo-year-old daughter, Jordan, perched on one
hip. Both are dressed in bright orange, and when comment on their matching
clothing, Suzzanne flashes me a warm smile. I love dressing Jordan in
similar colors. That way, people can see this Sweet Pea belongs to me!
As soon as Suzzanne reaches the check-in counter, hotel staff greet her
like an old friend, asking how her flight went and commenting on how much
Jordan has grown. The camaraderie reminds me of a typical scene in The
Parent Hood, Suzzannes current family-oriented sitcom where she plays
spunky wife and mother Jerri Peterson.
Suzzannes in town to be honored for her educational work with children
by the Boys and Girls Club of Americaand to have dinner with her mother,
grandparents, and siblings who still live in Chicago, her hometown. As
she stops to greet more hotel staff (and a few teen fans), its obvious
that Suzzanne is more than a beautiful, award-winning actress with twenty-something
years of silver-screen credits (i.e., The Inkwell, Into the Woods, and
Tap), starring roles in Broadway theater (Threepenny Opera and The Tap
Dance Kid), and a one-woman show, Harriet Tubman. Shes also authentically
warm and real. Once settled in her room, Suzzanne calls her husband, Jono,
a neurological radiologist in New Jersey, to let him know they arrived
safely. She then energetically unpacks, keeping an eye on Jordan while
we chat. I half-expect show biz talk and Hollywood hypebut what I hear
instead are refreshingly honest revelations about the challenges of being
a Christian in Hollywood (married to a non-Christian), her childhood in
the Chicago projects, and her joy at becoming an adoptive mom. Suzzanne,
is Hollywood as rough an environment for a Christian as it appears to be?
Years ago, I read a book that described Hollywood as the glamorous but
wicked Old Testament city of Babylon, and its an apt description. Hollywoods
all about glamour, beauty, having the right car, the right zip code. Whats
easy to forget is that as glitzy as Babylon looked, it fellhard. There
are many outwardly beautiful women in Hollywood, but few who are inwardly
beautifuland thats far more important. Ive discovered that true beauty
only comes when I know and love God, and let him work through me. As Christians,
God calls us to be in the world and yet apart from it. Thats a difficult
balance, because the world can be very seductive. But with Gods help,
we can be discerning. For instance, in Hollywood, Im surrounded by people
who drive all sorts of exotic cars. But my red Plymouth Voyager runs well,
and its paid for. Thats good enough for me.
Every day I have to put on the armor of Christ. Reading Gods Word helpsit
protects me, guides me,
and gives me wisdom and strength. When you put Christ first, you experience
real beauty, great joy, and
abundant life. But the minute you fall into the trap of thinking all
that glitters is gold, youll be out of sync with Gods will for youand
that affects every area of your life, including work.
How did you get interested in singing and acting?
Even though my three siblings and I grew up in a lower-income housing
project, my mother took us to museums and the theater, and surrounded us
with good music. When I was nine, she took us to see Julie Andrews in The
Sound of Music. After that show, I knew I wanted to be an actress. Although
Andrews wasnt a chocolate person like me, she sang about confidence,
about the constraints of a particular type of society, and about escaping
the Nazis. I could identify. I longed to break the barrier of the projects,
to be seen for who I was, instead of just for the color of my skin. But
in the sixties, when I
crossed the color barrier to perform in such plays as The Nutcracker,
I was hit, kicked, and slapped by people in my all-black neighborhood.
To them, participating in white events and educating myself
meant I was selling out and becoming vanilla. I was seen as uppityand
frequently beat up. During this time, I had few friends. But my mom always
told me, Honey, theyre afraid of you because youre different. But being
different isnt bad. Its only important what God thinksand he
thinks youre special. Remembering my moms words has helped me throughout
life and in my career.
Does being a Christian make a difference in the roles you choose?
Definitely. Theres so much thats evil in the entertainment industry.
Im drawn to play positive roles of
tough and tender women who work to protect their children and keep
their families together, yet come
through difficult situations with a sense of growth and victory in
A long time ago, someone told me never to work for someone with whom
I didnt feel comfortable. I used to work with some producers who were
nasty and rude, who cut down children, and gave young actors inappropriate
lines to say. Because Im a Christian, God called me to respond, No, this
not say that. Youll have to fire me first. When theyd say, Youre
not this childs mother, Id saykindly but firmly, I play her mother
Im grateful that many of my coworkers on The Parent Hood are Christians,
and that we even attend church together! This happens so rarely in Hollywood
that were all convinced God brought us together not only to help us hold
each other accountable for godly living, but to make an impact on the
entertainment industry. As a Christian, Im very aware that everything
I dothat we all do comes under scrutiny.
After playing mom roles on TV and in movies, did you have any surprises
when you became a real life mom?
I found out how hard it really is! On a TV set, you can walk away after
the filming. You dont have to handle those kids when they get the flu
or misbehave. But when you become a real-life mom, your life is no longer
your own. It can be a shock to realize you have to take the focus off your
own needs and focus on your familys needs.
God gave Jordan her personality, energy, and talents. But its up to
me to nurture them, and to teach her to love God and others. Children are
our future, our hope, our dreams. We need to instill in all children, whether
theyre ours through birth or not, that theyre Gods children first. Thats
why I take Jordan to Sunday school where she hears the name of Jesus used
in a spiritual
context, instead of as a cuss word, as many today use it. I pray with
her, encourage her to thank God when good things happen, and role model
for her how Gods light can shine forth in her, even at her
And when I return home after a long work day and Jordan wants me to
read her a story, I put aside
my own fatigue to read to herjust as my mom did for me. I want her
to love reading, like I do, so
shell be less likely to flip on the TV and watch junky shows. Today,
reports show that children watch
more TV than ever before, which means there are less family conversations
going on at home.
How do you handle television watching in your own home?
Jono and I dont turn the TV on, except for fifteen minutes of news
at night (while were flossing our
teeth!). We sit down together for dinner and talk. To us, sharing our
thoughts and feelings as a family is
far more important than spending time watching a television show. Children
are looking for role models,
for people to lead them. And theyre also looking for love. Will they
find it in all the wrong places, or
with family values and in Christ?
Families should decide together what theyll watchor not watch. They
also can write to those in
charge of network programming. One letter is viewed as a thousand opinions,
so even one opinion counts greatly.
How did The Parent Hood come about?
Id just turned down a TV series because it would have taken me away
from home. Then I got a phone
call from my agent about The Parent Hood. Robert Townsend, the producer,
and I had both attended
Illinois State University (we later found out wed also grown up in
the same housing project), and he
remembered me and thought Id be perfect for the part. But because
it again involved taking me away
from home, I said no.
The next day, Jono came home from work and told me his hospital was
being bought out and that he
might be out of a job. So he asked me to call back about The Parent
Hood. I did, and I was hired.
Although its the first comedy Ive ever done, its true to what I
believe in. It upholds traditional
family values, shows African-Americans in a positive, two-parent environment,
addresses hot topics such
as racism, discipline, and honesty, and portrays parents who love,
support, and guide their children. And
since we only tape four days a week, its a great job for me as a mom,
How do you balance motherhood with your busy career?
Mothering comes first. Theres no option. My daughter is with me all
the time, whether Im on the job
or off. I get a ten-day vacation every third show, then have five or
six months off. Although Ive said no
to some incredible projects because of my commitment to my family,
God has always honored me when
Ive made the right choice.
Before Jordan came into our lives, I was very career-oriented. At times,
I wondered when it would be
convenient to have a child. But six years ago, my husband said, You
know, theres never a right
time. And he was right. A short while later we began adoption procedures.
Jordan Victoria is now part
of our lives. Although parenting is hard at times, I wouldnt trade
my Sweet Pea for anything! I learned
from my mothers example how to serve my family even when its not
convenient for me.
How did your mom act as a role model of servanthood?
I grew up in two worldsthe one outside in the projects, with the guns
and rough life, and the one in my
home, where my mom constantly affirmed us, educated us about the arts,
and taught us about God.
The projects were a tough place to live. I dodged bullets coming home
from school and got mugged
on my way home from the grocery store. And one Christmas, when I was
about seven, someone broke
into our apartment, stole our presents, and wrecked our tree. But thanks
to my moms creativity, we had a
good Christmas anyway. Although we were poor, I never felt poor. Mom
taught us self-reliance and
gave us a passion for living, along with just the right amount of love
and discipline. As a single parent,
she had to stay strong in a tough place, and she wasnt afraid to practice
tough love on me when I needed it as a teen.
Were you hard to handle as a teen?
Well, lets just say that at seventeen, my mother got very frustrated
with me because I was promiscuous. So one day she said to me, This is
my house, and I pay the mortgage. Youre behaving like a grown but irresponsible
woman, so you have to go. Asking me to leave was the best thing she could
have done. I began to realize I was accountable for my own life.
Although I ended up living with an abusive guy for a while and we didnt
have enough to eat, my mothers Christian morals stuck with me. I refused
to steal. Instead, I went to a local hamburger stand and asked the owner
if he would feed me. He diduntil I finished my senior year in high school!
later, I went back to thank him, but his stand was gone. Im convinced
God used that man to visibly touch my life with grace, even when I wasnt
choosing to live for the Lord.
Being on my own also helped me realize how much my mother loved meand
why she set boundaries for me. My mom had taken me to church and read me
Scripture as a child. At a young age, I chose to become Gods child. Even
though I strayed away in my teen and young adult years, I did come back
to the truthtwo years after I was married.
When and how did you come back to God?
Six years ago, I invited God to come into every area of my life. Id
accepted Christ as a child, and Id grown up in the church where my mother
was very involved. But ever since I left home as a teenager, Id looked
for God in every place except for in his Word.
I went to an astrologer to find out about my future, then became part
of Reverend Moons church for
a while. Then I switched from denomination to denomination for several
years. During that time, I attended a lot of Christian churches where
people didnt praise God, where people were racist. I was looking, desperately,
for a relationship with God. I knew he loved me, but I didnt know how
to find him. Then one of my girl friends invited me to her church. When
she couldnt go at the last minute, I argued with myself, Suzzanne, you
know Gods calling you.
Are you going to be a coward or are you going to go and meet him? So
I went. This church taught the importance of seeking God through reading
his Word. So I began studying the Bible again. And what I saw scared me.
In Matthew 10:34-39, I read that being a Christian can tear you apart from
Thats when I realized what being a follower of Christ really means.
It means not just saying youre Gods child, but really accepting his Sons
sacrifice for you and then following Gods ways instead of
your own. Sometimes that means Ill be the odd woman out and people
wont like me or agree with me. It also means accepting the consequences
of the decisions I made before I got my life straight with God. Thats
why every day I pray for my husband, Jonothat someday he, too, will turn
When and how did you meet your husband?
I was thirty-two, and I hadnt dated anyone for three years. Id given
up on men. But when I was acting in South Pacific in Denver, I decided
to give men one last try. So I posted a note on the acting bulletin board
that said, Wanted. Professional man. Must live in the New York area. Must
funny, entertaining, educated, sophisticated, eloquent. Jonos best
friend from high school saw the ad and set us up on a blind date. I was
an hour late. But over the next few months, I fell in love with Roy Jono
Cobb because he had integrity, vision, focus, and purpose. Six months later,
on Christmas Eve,
he surprised me with an engagement ring. We were married February 11,
But there was one important phrase Id forgotten to list Must be a
Christian. That was before Id committed my life to God, when Id become
saturated in worldly thinking. Even when God told me through his Word,
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14), I didnt listen.
I was in love.
Whats it been like handling an unequally yoked marriage?
When I came back to Christ six years ago, I never tried to change Jono,
to get him to believe in the Lord. I wasnt pushy with my faith. Instead,
I just lived my life showing him the Christ in me. I went to church even
when Jono didnt go with me. I praised God in all circumstances and got
on my knees and prayed for him. And I prayed over every meal in front of
him. And you know what? Now he prays at dinnertime, and I get an occasional
I love my husband dearly, but at times I long for us to think the same
way spiritually. I ask the Lord to open up Jonos heart and make him receptive
to his Word.
While you were dating, did any friends warn you against marrying a non-Christian?
No. They all thought he was great for meand he is! Jonos spontaneous
and romantic. But as wonderful as my husband is, he still isnt a Christian,
and that causes division between us.
Some years back, I stood up for a girlfriend at her wedding. There
were issues surrounding that union I felt uncomfortable with, but I said
nothing. To this day I wish I had. Now theyre no longer married.
It takes a lot of courage, as a friend, to tell someone, Wait. Think
about the fact this person isnt a Christian. Speaking up can be hard.
But you may save your friend a lifetime of hurt.
Who has supported and encouraged you in your Christian walk?
My mother, Lois, my grandmother, Dora, and my great-grandmother, Georgiathree
My mother, whos been in a prayer group for ten years, constantly prays
for us and holds me accountable
to be Christ-like in my behavior.
Every morning, I read Gods Word and then play praise and worship tapes
as I work on my garden, do household duties, or drive to the television
Im also very involved with a Bible believing church and a Bible study.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles six years ago, I prayed, Lord, I
had a great church home out east and NOW youve taken me away. Show me
where to go. To my surprise, I opened a praise and worship tape, saw the
address of a local church, and decided to attend a service. I waand vanilla
people in that church, because for most people, the most segregated hour
of every week is
church. And thats unfortunate, because its not going to be that way
What can churches do to promote racial integration?
Really teach the Word. The reason so many people in church dont know
how to follow Christ is because
they dont understand the power behind Gods words. And if we dont
study the Bible, we cant grow as
Christiansand we cant learn what loving someone else really means.
When I was filming with a predominantly black cast in Texas and was
asking questions about a nearby
church, I was told, Girl, dont go to that church. Its in a white
neighborhood. I responded, God
doesnt see color, then got in a cab and went there. And you know
what? It was one of the best services
Ive ever gone to. None of those people noticed the color of my skin;
they saw a sister in Christ. The
minister and his wife invited me to their home for dinner, then drove
me back to my hoteleven though
they had to go way out of their way!
Because we want our daughter, Jordan, to be surrounded by people of
every nationality, Jono and I
have made a concerted effort to stay in our community in New Jersey
so shell grow up with friends of
every race. I have Polish, Jewish, and Asian friends; and to me, theyre
all beautiful and unique!
What do you most want to be known for?
For loving others and doing Gods willwithout question. Thereve been
times in my life where Ive laid
my worries at the foot of the cross, then picked them up again. That
means Im not really trusting God to
take care of me.
But the fabulous thing about God is that he loves us in spite of ourselves!
In many ways, I m like
Moses. Im hard-headed. Stubborn. Impulsive. Even argumentative. When
the Lord told Moses to lead
his people out of Egypt, Moses said, Send somebody else. So many
times in my life Ive looked for
that somebody else. And Ive discovered that when Im not willing to
do Gods willimmediatelyI get
myself into trouble because I do things my way instead.
But even with all my faults, God still chose me to minister to my daughter
and to the children who
work with me, who watch The parent Hood, and who listen to me speak
in schools. I dont feel worthy of being their role model, but I wouldnt
want to do anything else.
I want to live each day so every person Im in contact with sees the
love of Christ. Fame is fleeting.
Hollywood is filled with people who judge you by your outward success.
But the true measure of success isnt what you do, but who you are in Gods
eyes. Faith in Jesus is the only thing thats eternal. And thats worth
building your life on.
Reprinted by permission, Todays Christian Woman