'Cherish the Day': Joy Bryant and Henry Simmons Talk Black Female-Led Series, Telling a Good Love Story, and More (Exclusive)

OWN's romantic anthology series Cherish the Day returned on Oct. 4. Season 1 of the Ava DuVernay-produced show starred Xosha Roquemore, Alano Miller, and the late Cicely Tyson. It ranked No. 1 in its time period across all of cable with Black women, households, and total viewers. The show's intricate storyline and positive reception increased the anticipation level for the new season, and this time around, Joy Bryant and Henry Simmons are taking the lead.

Season 2 follows Ellis Moran and Sunday St. James – played by Simmons and Bryant, respectively – two past lovers that rekindle their flame in their hometown of New Orleans. Terri J. Vaughn stars as Anastasia, Ellis' soon-to-be ex-wife, along with the legendary Richard Roundtree, who plays Mandeville "MV" St. James. As they try to navigate their reemerged feelings for one other, personal challenges in their individual lives become roadblocks, and it's up to them to decide whether their love can stand the test of time.

Ahead of the season premiere, PopCulture spoke with Bryant and Simmons on what to expect. They also discussed working alongside DuVernay and Oprah, Roundtree, and their hopes for viewers who watch the season. 

PC: So, first and foremost, congratulations on being a part of season two of, Cherish the Day. Did you guys go into this project feeling the pressure of being on an anthology series, and having to compete with the precedent set in season one with Gently and Evan's story?

HS: Heck no. Honestly, no. I'll just speak for myself. I didn't have that much knowledge of the previous season. I mean, I looked it up, and I knew it was popular, but it's a whole new story. It's under the same genre. It's under the same umbrella, but it's a completely new story. So, there wasn't any pressure. I approached it with-

PC: Fresh eyes.

HS: Joy.

PC: So, the show is on OWN, and it's an Ava DuVernay project. So you have Oprah Winfrey and Ava behind it. How significant is it for you guys to be a part of this?

JB: Well, these are two titans. Two amazingly talented and powerful Black women who are able to tell the stories that they want to tell in the way they want to tell them. So, to be a part of that, and to be a part of the vision of Ava and also, of Oprah – it was kind of a no-brainer. To me, anyway.

HS: Yeah, really. I mean, obviously.

JB: And really inspiring.

PC: And as a man, for you Henry, going into this project and being surrounded by these three – with Joy – these three powerful Black women, what was your experience like?

HS: My experience was wonderful. I'm going to tell you something, and I'm not playing around. You can ask my wife. This is something I prayed about. I prayed to work specifically with Black women – Black women controlling everything…every aspect of the artistry of everything. Because my wife had an experience and hers was good. And I was like, "Wow." I just felt like, just to be honest with you, it was something that I prayed about because I felt a connection. I feel a connection with Black women just in general.

But in this business, I feel it because there are times I feel overlooked and undervalued, and Black women have been – that has been the experience for Black women since the beginning of everything. And so, I said, "I want to work with people that are like-minded, have the same heart, and the same goals." And God blessed me with this.

PC: Well, your wish came true, so I'm very happy for you. And aside from Ava and Oprah, you guys also got the chance to work alongside the legendary Richard Roundtree. What did you learn from him as an actor during filming? Especially with him, Joy, playing your father in the series.

JB: Okay, first of all, I'm obsessed with him. I love him. I just talked to him the other day, and I'm like, "Oh my God! He's my daddy!" Oh my God, I love him so much. I've been in the business for a really long time, and I definitely do get starstruck. And then, to be able to work with someone like him, I was like, "Oh my God." So, I so enjoyed our time together, and getting to know each other, and getting to work together. It was such an honor. 

And he is absolutely – he's the coolest man. He's even cooler than you. He is just the epitome of cool, and style, and grace, and flyness, and finesse, and just all of that. So, the fact that I get to be in the same frame with him, and then, go break bread with him, it's just amazing. I'm still kind of tripping on him. I always trip on him.

PC: What about Sunday and Ellis's story attracted you guys to this specific project the most?

JB: For me, we shot  this last year. 2021. So, we're a year into this madness called COVID that just needs to go away. But we're in the madness of this COVID thing, and I just felt like the world needs some more love. It needs more love stories. I mean, me personally, I don't want to watch things that are too dark, or too real about what's going on. I want an escape. I want to be reminded of the power of love. I want to see that reflected. And I think people really want that. They want to escape. They want to see people fall in love and go on that journey together. The world needs more love, love, love. So, when I read it, I was like, "Oh, wow." And what does the world need more of? Especially Black love.

So, to me, that's what attracted me to the project is that you have these two people who find each other again. And it just really speaks to staying open to the possibility of love, and how it can always find you. It'll find you if you just go about living your life and loving yourself as best you can, so that drew me immediately to the project.

HS: I'll have to say, I mean, besides Oprah and Ava. I mean, that was big for me, I've never done a love story before. I've never played a romantic lead.

JB: Which is crazy.

HS: Most of the things I do, I'm using my fists.

PC: Yes.

HS: So, this was the first time-

PC: This was a nice departure from that.

HS: Oh yeah. It was wonderful. So, I went for it. I went for it. I enjoyed it.

PC: Now, this story gives a different perspective, obviously, than the first season. You have, as Joy mentioned, you have two exes reuniting, and then, having to tackle what's going on in their personal lives with their families. And then, Ellis's impending divorce. What did you guys draw from to play these characters to the best of your ability?

HS: That's a good question. I'll have to say the one thing that Ellis has in abundance that I don't always have is patience. He has a great deal of patience, so that would be the one thing that I had to look into myself to...I would say that taught me a lesson in many ways, areas of my life where I need to be patient. So, that was something I had to explore, I guess.

JB: I'd say for me, it's having so many friends who have parents who have Alzheimer's or dementia. I mean, so many. In fact, I have two friends whose mother and father have it at the same time. And so, what that means for them in terms of just seeing their parent go through these stages, and going through these stages with them, how hard it is, how difficult is it, how painful it is.

And also, I think kind of what it means overall, we're at this age where we're soon to be the elders. Some of us are, in a way. And being confronted with our mortality through seeing our parents go through these phases, I mean, it's heavy, man. They don't tell you about this phase of life when you're growing up because I don't think you can handle it in your 20s. But to be in this stage, as beautiful as it is, and rewarding as it can be, this is the other side of it. It's life.

So, for me, and I think by the time that I got the role, again learning, it was one friend after the other, after the other, after the other whose parents were dealing with exact same thing. And how do they care for them? How do they care for them when they're in another country, or when they're in another state? And it's both your parents, or it's one after the other. So, living this through my friends and supporting them as best I can, that was how. I mean, it really resonated with me. So, when I read the script, I was like, "Oh, wow. This is real." Because I know people living it.

PC: And what are you most excited for viewers to see this time around from you guys this season? And what takeaways do you hope that the show and the story impart?

JB: Well, I would say since Henry's never played romantic lead before, they're going to see him with his shirt off. Boom.

HS: Well look, I've done that before. I've taken my shirt off.

JB: Well, they just going to see that part.

HS: What I would say just, I think Joy mentioned it earlier. I would say that, here's a good question: does love ever die? I mean, it does in some situations. But in some situations, sometimes it never dies. So, what do you do with it?

PC: I don't even think it dies in some situations, I think people just push it away.

HS: Maybe you're right.

PC: They submerge it in situations that were bad. But it never goes away.

HS: You might be right. You might be right. But let me ask you then, what happens if you go through your life and you're living your life, the other person's living their life, and then, you have an opportunity to maybe rekindle that love to come back together. What do you do? Do you go back? Can you bring it back, or is it love that's lost? Because that's a sad thing. Love that's lost is really sad. So, I mean, that's really the question. And I hope when watching this, I just hope people just enjoy the story.

Like what Joy was saying, you're not going to see people getting shot and all that kind of stuff. This is just a beautiful love story, but it's also universal. So, hopefully, people will look into themselves and look at their relationships and just see how can I be better in it? How does this reflect my life? What can I learn from it?