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During the 1980s, Highway to Heaven was a popular TV series that revealed that the attributes of love, joy, and peace were possibilities despite all the struggles that we encounter in our lives. The original series centered on Jonathan Smith, played by Michael Landon, an angel who had been stripped of his wings and placed on probation, assigned to Earth to help people with the assistance of retired police officer Mark Gordon.

In Lifetime’s film series adaptation of the classic TV drama, Grammy-award-winning singer and actress Jill Scott reimagines the role of an angel as a powerful Black woman, who brings those who she comes into contact with into a greater awareness and understanding of their potential for good and their higher power. 

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Starring as Angela Stewart in the reboot of Highway to Heaven, Scott comes to the aid of those who need divine intervention. While working undercover as a school counselor, she reveals her true, angelic identity to Bruce Banks, played by Barry Watson, the junior high school principal.

Throughout the film series, Angela often mentions her “boss,” alluding to a mysterious deity that she works for but is never fully explained. Instead of carrying out specific assignment like Landon’s portrayal of the angel, Angela is led to bring assistance by following her divine intuition.

“Angela comes to help people get out of their own way so they can see and be something bigger,” Scott said about her depiction of Angela.

EBONY spoke with Scott about her spiritual connection to her character, why Black women are divine, and how everyone has the capacity to be an angel to someone.

EBONY: Did you remember watching the original Highway to Heaven series when it aired on TV?

Scott: I watched it with my grandma. I watched Quincy, M.E,  Little House on the Prairie, Murder She Wrote, I watched all of those shows. What I loved about them now, whether I knew it or not then, was that they were really wholesome and very sweet-hearted. That was something that my grandmother really enjoyed. I ended up enjoying it too and really getting invested in those stories like, “What’s going to happen or why did they do that? You know, the whole gamut.

So when Highway to Heaven came across my desk, I just said yeah and didn’t even read the script. I said yes because I had a thing for Michael Landon [Laughs]. Also, as a society, we’ve really gone through a lot of heaviness and darkness and I felt like we needed a reminder. A gentle reminder

As we continue to go through the pandemic and everything that comes with it,  as you mentioned, we’ve all experienced so much that has affected us in various ways. During filming, did you have any moments where you had a spiritual connection or encounter while playing Angela?

Wow. There were a couple of things about this whole production that worked for me. We shot it in Vancouver, which meant that I had to do a two-week hiatus or quarantine if you will and they put me on a mountain in a place called Whistler. I was all by myself on a mountain for two weeks and it gave me a chance to realize that I love and needed to have two weeks alone. It rejuvenated my spirit. But it also allowed me to answer some of my own questions like, “What is an angel?” “As a fallible human being, how does one plan an angel?” I think I discovered that there’s a subtlety, there’s a kindness, a level of patience, and an understanding that comes with this divine intent. So as Angela goes from city to city, I’ve decided for my character, that whoever she helps, that person or those people will have an impact on society that’s absolutely necessary to benefit the world or to be of great service. If they don’t allow their hurt or their barriers to fall, they’re not going to serve their purpose for the greater good. That’s why Angela comes. That’s why she is patient, kind, and loving to everyone, but specifically, the people that are in her bag.

In this new incarnation of the series, with a Black woman as the lead, was that one of the factors that sparked your interest in the project?

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Yes! This is something that I hold to and I believe with all my heart, that there are many, many flowers in my God’s garden. There is no specificity of what that appearance may be. So I love that she is Black and I love that her hair wasn’t all tidy and done up. I love that it wasn’t about what she wore, how her hair was, or anything else except this genuine nature that she possesses. I loved that. And yes, I’m so excited to be in this lineage of Della Reese. I’m not the first Black woman to play an angel but I am out here. You feel me?

As a musician, you have always been a producer, an executive producer, and a creative visionary of your music. How was it to transition to being an executive producer of a series of TV films and giving a modern depiction of such a beloved TV show?

I’ve been blessed enough to have a lot of experience but it’s still a learning process. I had to think about what was important for the show and that may not have been what was necessarily best for Jill Scott. They’re two different entities. In total, there are four films that we shot. It’s a series of movies, which is great and ambitious and I had to think about the show in total. I had to think about the future of Angela, where she’ll be traveling, and it was very, very important that I watched movies like Corinia, Corina. I watched how Whoopi Goldberg didn’t come in as the “Black Savior” because I was worried about that. I was concerned about being the kind Black lady that comes and saves everybody and this is not what this is. Because this town, which is primarily made up of white people, I just wanted to be certain that she’s just not coming from a place of color. She’s coming from a place of enlightenment because she’s the Creator’s hand, period. As we continue with more movies, more ethnicities, and more cities, I’m hoping that will continue to be revealed.

Lastly, what do you want viewers who will tune into the series to take away from it?

I would hope that my audience and Lifetime’s audience, in a lot of ways they’re very similar, I would want them to remember that a little kindness can go a long way in somebody’s life. Everyone has the capacity to be an angel, to a stranger, to a friend, to a dog, or a bird. We have the capacity to do it and we should give it a shot. It costs nothing to be kind, to be helpful, or to give a hug. It doesn’t cost much. I mean, we have to be careful now, obviously, because we’ve got a pandemic involved, but a little sweet, look out of your eyeballs, it could go a long way.

Highway to Heaven will premiere on Lifetime November 6 at 8 p.m. EST. 

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