So, Jakes jumped at the chance to do work with Lifetime again, this time with a series of films based on books written by Victoria Christopher Murray, each focused on one of the seven deadly sins in the Bible.
The first two films will air on consecutive weeks: “Lust” starring R&B singer Keri Hilson Saturday at 8 p.m. and “Envy” starring Sheraya (”Empire”) April 17. Both films were shot in Atlanta and some well-known, Atlanta celebrities such as Kandi Burruss, Ms. Juicy and Da Brat, appear in them.
“Lust” focuses on Hilson’s character Tiffanie Cooper, an aspiring entrepreneur preparing to marry a doting fiancé whose life is turned upside down when her fiancé’s best friend (Durrell ‘Tank’ Babbs) leaves prison and pops up, all hot and bothered. Tiffanie is immediately overtaken by lust, and given that this is a morality tale, she will suffer greatly before things work out.
“Envy” features Seraya as Keisha, who grew up abandoned, poor and fatherless. When she tracks down her real daddy, he embraces her, but she is deeply jealous of her half-sister, a successful PR woman, Gabrielle Flores (Rose Rollins), with a cute daughter and attractive husband. A vengeful Keisha decides to take Gabrielle down from within.
“It’s a myriad of different human emotions on the screen,” said Jakes in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m just honored to have a place to express myself and to have a conversation with people in the public domain.”
Shaun Robinson, a longtime “Access Hollywood” correspondent, had been eyeing opportunities to produce films, and when she heard about the “Seven Deadly Sins” books, she optioned them even though Murray had written only “Lust” at the time. She then hooked up with Jakes’ production company and Lifetime to make the movies happen.
COVID-19 forced them to modify their plans. They originally wanted to shoot three films, including “Greed,” in a row. But in the end, they just did two last fall. And instead of shooting in Canada, they moved to Atlanta.
The scripts were not greatly modified despite COVID-19 restrictions. “Church scenes were a little sparser,” Robinson said. And even though, she was an executive producer, she was disappointed she couldn’t be on set for either film due to the pandemic. She and Jakes had to do everything, from casting to reviewing rough cuts, remotely.
“We had to play dodgeball with the virus, but we got it done,” Jakes said.
Robinson said she loved Hilson in the “Lust” film for both her beauty and vulnerability. For a moment, she and the other producers considered Babbs for the loyal husband role instead of his usual “bad guy” persona as a way to go against type. But then they reconsidered. “Tank is so good at playing bad guys,” she said. “Plus, he’s going to be able to take his shirt off. There might have been a rebellion if we hadn’t done that.”
The films make the romantic scenes sexy but not raunchy. “Church folks have sex, too,” she said. “And the Lifetime audience should enjoy this. It’s a good home for these movies.”
Jakes said there are two types of faith-based films. There are those targeting the religious crowd and can sometimes feel preachy. Then there are films such as “Lust” and “Envy” which have some spiritual undertones but are ultimately geared to mainstream audiences.
“They’re titillating enough to be entertaining,” he said, without sullying his brand.
He likes that the plotlines are relatable to anyone because feelings like lust and envy are universal, and the films’ characters genuinely grapple with the temptations as well as the more positive traits of forgiveness and grace by the end of the movies.