Ja'Net DuBois sometimes felt insecure in her role on Good Times
Image credit: The Everett Collection
Actors make it seem as though they have all the confidence in the world in any given situation, but for Ja'Net DuBois, insecurity was very present during her time on Good Times (1974).
She played the role of Willona Woods, the Evans' family friend and neighbor, for all six seasons of the series. Although her role was a favorite for many fans, it seemed that in 1978, her role depended on Esther Rolle's decision-making.
Rolle played the role of Florida Evans, the mother of the house, for the series' first four seasons. According to a 1978 interview with The Courier-Journal, DuBois was catapulted from a supporting role to a starring role when Rolle retired early from the series in 1977.
Despite leaving Good Times due to creative differences, Rolle returned for the series finale in 1979. Fans everywhere celebrated the return of their favorite character — except DuBois.
DuBois insisted she wanted Rolle to be part of the series even if it made her own future on Good Times uncertain. According to the interview, DuBois said she felt insecure when Rolle decided to come back to the series.
"There's some spookiness in me," DuBois said. "I keep thinking we just have 22 minutes to tell a story each week — those stories are going to have to revolve around Esther, as they did before."
It was more than "spookiness" that made DuBois feel insecure. According to the article, she talked to the producers about her future as Willona and the response was, "They frankly told me they didn't know how many episodes I would be in."
Although she wanted more of a leading role, she started doing a few things outside of Good Times to keep growing and become marketable for future roles. Her future was uncertain, but she was taking it into her own hands.
"I'm very happy for Esther," DuBois said. "After all, it was her show at the beginning. I just did what I could to hold the series together while she was gone. And, let's face it, we've been in pretty bad trouble with audiences. It's only because she's returning that we've guaranteed for another season on air."
Norman Lear, along with Tandem Productions, found DuBois in Los Angeles during a run of Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore at a local theater. Lear knew right when he saw her that she was who he was looking for.
In the beginning, Lear and his writers had trouble finding Willona's hook and personality for the series. It wasn't until Rolle's departure that she had a chance to really shine.
In an interview with The Columbia Record, DuBois said she intended to be careful about the portrayal of her character in the series. She wanted to put everything she had into Willona while winning over the Good Times fan base.
"Fans tell you they love your character — that's never happened to me before," DuBois said. "It's so easy to be a crude chick. Willona can be sharp, but still use subtle tones. I'd prefer that. I don't want her to be a pushy human."
DuBois made room for Rolle to come back. Family sticks together, and the Evans family is proof of that.
Weeknights at 6p ET | 3p PT