Greenleaf Star Merle Dandridge Reflects on Oprah Winfrey's Influence Ahead of Series Finale
"Oprah has been like the big sis, Auntie, giving us love, encouraging us and pushing us to our very best selves," Merle Dandridge says
Speaking with PEOPLE Now ahead of Tuesday's series finale, the actress, 45, opened up about the emotional final episodes and how her "big sis" Winfrey helped shaped her to become the best version of herself over the course of five years.
"Oprah has been like the big sis, Auntie, giving us love, encouraging us and pushing us to our very best selves," said Dandridge, who plays the determined and passionate Grace on the OWN family drama, in July. "When you're in a community with somebody like that who doesn't do anything without checking in and who is also such a clear communicator — she's so intentional about what she puts out into the world — you know what you're doing that is meaningful."
"It has made me much more thoughtful about every bit of art that I do," she added. "There's great purpose in all of it."
While Dandridge is saying goodbye to her beloved character, she previously told PEOPLE about how "proud" she is of the series and how it impacted her on a personal level.
"It is certainly the end of an era," Dandridge said in July. "I am extremely proud of the show, obviously because of so many topics that it wasn't afraid to address. It started conversations that were taboo before and so I feel like culturally, we were able to inch forward and have difficult conversations that would heal certain generational pains that we've had."
"To have my life intersect with my faith and my career all in the same place has been a great gift. That's the only word I can think of to describe it," she added. "We had the time last year while we were wrapping to mourn it and of course, we're still mourning it — that it's coming to an end. But the biggest feeling that is coming to the surface for me is gratitude."
Greenleaf was OWN's first scripted series when it premiered on June 21, 2016. It has garnered 10 NAACP Image Award nominations, including wins for outstanding drama series in 2020.
The series finale of Greenleaf airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on OWN.