Jaleel White says he 'was not very well welcomed' by the Family Matters cast
The actor behind Steve Urkel opened up about his time on the '90s ABC sitcom.
"I didn't see how I was stepping on anybody's toes, I was taking anybody's shine. It's very important that I say this: I was not very well welcomed to the cast at all, okay?" White said in a wide-ranging installment of TVOne's Uncensored on Sunday. "And I don't need to rehash that with the adults over and over again. They know what it is."
White, 44, looked back on joining Family Matters as a child star and how his adult costars reacted. He was initially cast for a guest role, but he said the reception to him during his first table read was so good that he was hired for the full season soon after. He would then continue to appear on the show until it ended in 1997.
White added that Family Matters had "these three adults" — referencing Jo Marie Payton, Reginald VelJohnson, and Telma Hopkins — "who all entered this show with the idea that this is my vehicle to break out."
Payton's character Harriette Winslow was spun off from the show Perfect Strangers, VelJohnson had portrayed a police officer in the movie Die Hard before playing cop Carl Winslow on Family Matters, and Hopkins had previously starred on the hit show Gimme a Break!
In a separate moment from the Uncensored interview, White recalled when he first portrayed Steve's cousin Myrtle Urkel and how Payton and VelJohnson "were very sensitive to putting Black men in dresses."
"And they heaped that on me, and they let me know I was not doing our race a service by putting on that yellow dress," he said. "But everybody has a default. Do you crumble? Do you wilt under pressure? Do you rise? Do you surprise yourself? My default tends to be to take it up a notch. That evening I felt like a girl... playing Myrtle Urkel. But I cried like a baby at the end of that take. I just broke."
White remembered his father, Michael, stepping in after that moment to say, as White paraphrased, "He shouldn't have to carry the burden of some adults making a child feel bad for playing a girl just in fun."
White also noted that Kellie Shanygne Williams (Laura Winslow), Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow), and Jaimee Foxworth (Judy Winslow) had issues with him on set, "but more because of what they were hearing the adults say."
He clarified that he doesn't have a problem now with his former cast members Payton and VelJohnson.
"It was what it was," he said. "They knew more than I did about the business... at that age. They understood how the dynamic was changing. But I do think they do deserve credit at times for having helped foster a more harmonious environment by season 3, by season 4, by season 5. And we did become very much a family."
White added, "Over time, Kellie and Darius became truly my brother, my sister. Even Reggie VelJohnson, I always liked to give him the credit that he deserves, that he came to realize that we were about to do this Jordan-Pippen thing and it was going to change his life and it was going to change all of our lives for the better."
Representatives for Payton, VelJohnson, and Hopkins didn't immediately respond to EW's requests for comment.
EW reunited the Family Matters cast in 2017, and they seemed very open to reprising their roles on the small screen.
"Jaleel and I were talking just a little while ago and he said, 'You know, we can do this.' And I said, 'If they dropped a script at our feet when we walked out of here, we would come back in tomorrow, and the next day we'd have a show shot," Payton said at the time.
Added Hopkins, "There's just something really magical about this cast and the real feelings that are here. It wasn't just for the screen. Family really did matter and still does."