That Grape Juice: Hey Sheryl! Thanks so much for joining us! We definitely appreciate the time.
Sheryl Lee Ralph: No problem! It’s my pleasure.
TGJ: So, let’s hop right in! NBC’s “Smash” premiered its second season on February 5th to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Tell us, what inspired you to become part of the #Smash phenomenon?
SLR: Believe it or not, I was on a plane on my way to Jamaica when I got a phone call and the person asked, “Hey, are you interested in doing ‘Smash’ with Jennifer Hudson?” I said, “Look, ain’t nobody got time for that. It’s not funny, don’t punk me.” Then, I hung up the phone.
They called me right back and said they were serious. I said yes…flew to New York for two weeks, shot the show, and it was great.
TGJ: Awesome. So tell us about your character?
SLR: As one of the NBC execs said, you haven’t seen a character like this since Dominique Deveraux was on ‘Dynasty’! For those of you that might remember, she was a smart black woman played by Diahann Carroll. When she showed up on the scene, nothing was ever the same.
TGJ: We definitely look forward to that! So, what else should we expect from the rest of the season?
SLR: Well, I can definitely tell you what to expect from my episode. It’s all about Jen really coming into her own as an artist and young woman while breaking away from her mother. She still remains close to her, though. It’s a story we see often in Hollywood – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
But this mother loves her daughter so much, she’s going to make sure it works.
TGJ: For a person who built a career on musical stages, how does it feel to see shows like ‘Smash’ and ‘Glee’ be so popular on primetime?
SLR: It’s great and I hope it remains that way for a long time. You know a lot of shows are here today and gone tomorrow.
TGJ: Very true. For, recent reports indicated that despite critical fanfare, the show’s second season premiere ratings did not pull in exactly what some may have hoped. So, what is your measure of success? Good reviews or good ratings?
SLR: I’ll say it like this…I measure if the check clears, then it’s all good for me (laughs). What else can you think about? Did I get paid and were my reviews good? Thank you and enough said.
TGJ: (laughs). We love that you just keep it all the way real! Now, with your extensive resume reading Broadway, television, and film, was it ever a challenge transitioning between the formats?
SLR: Not at all. They were always transitions I could make easily. God has been good to me because I’ve had incredible mentors and those women guided me so well that it was never a difficulty for me.
I just started working and kept on working. I thank God that after nearly 40 years later in this business, I’m still here and doing what I love.
TGJ: Continuing on the acting front, what else is in the works?
SLR: Well, I just finished doing a pilot with Tia Mowry called ‘Instant Mom‘ where I play her mom and it was great. That’s coming to Nick-At-Nite.
Also, my book [‘Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl’] is out and it’s doing well. We are an Amazon best-seller! I want you guys to read the book and talk about it! Then, tweet me @thesherylralph and tell me about your experience.
TGJ: What inspired you to write the book?
SLR: I was doing a speaking engagement at Pepperdine University and when I finished a young lady told me I should write a book. I told her if she could get me a book deal, then I’d write a book…
And, that’s exactly what happened!
TGJ: That is awesome! So, Sheryl since you do keep it so real, we’d like your thoughts on entertainment-at-large. What are your thoughts on the modern image of black women on television in general?
I’m upset with it, I do not accept it, and I think it’s deplorable what’s going on. The problem is that there’s always only one image that they’re always showing. They just “burned my butt” when they came out with ‘The Sisterhood’ [click to watch].
I’m a member of a Greek organization – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and when they used ‘The Sisterhood’ around religion to show such a negative, nasty image of us…I was just through! I was almost as through as I was to the lyrics of Lil’ Wayne’s latest song [‘Karate Chop’]. I was like, “How awful, how disrespectful!” When are we going to say enough is enough!
TGJ: What will it take at this point to turn it around?
SLR: I think it’s going to take a lot of folks knowing we’ve hit the bottom line. The only way for us is up. We cannot [continue to] degrade our women and our children. Our husbands cannot be answering to the role of “king” and [not] realizing that’s who they really are. Look, the president said it loud and clear: anybody can conceive a child, but it takes a real man to raise one. We need some real men to step up to the plate.
I know so many of the nice incredible black folks out there doing wonderful things, but then you have people poking fun at us like we’re some buffoons and clowns!
We don’t stop and say, “Maybe some of us are buffoons and clowns, but can you show us the other side too?” I don’t want to see no loud, nasty woman showing her behind and all of these things that shouldn’t be shown. And, all of our young men walking around with their pants hanging down to their knees and thinking it’s ok. It’s not ok.
We all know only a fool shows his *** or is asking for something (laughs).
TGJ: Interestingly, Tyler Perry even garnered criticism for his depiction of black people on stage and on screen. Given that so much of your career is based on the Broadway stage, what are your thoughts on present black theater?
SLR: If it was not for black theater, there’d be a lot of black actors not working. The sad part is, some of them still don’t work. I thank God there is at least some black theater because without it we wouldn’t have anything.
And, I’m not mad at anybody. If I had the money, I’d be Tyler Perry and doing some black theater myself.
TGJ: Thanks for sharing that. Now, as with many interviews, we have a segment called “Five From Fans” where we collect five questions from our readers for you:
TGJ: 1) Are you still friends with Brandy? There were rumors of a rift between you two.
SLR: Absolutely! I saw her a couple of weeks ago. It was great to see her. As far as the rift goes, folks need to read the book! Ain’t no rift between us! I’m a grown woman! Why would I have a rift with a child? Give me a break (laughs)!
TGJ: 2) If Sheryl Lee Ralph was not an actress what would she be doing?
SLR: Teaching, preaching, and staying at home to raise a ton of kids.
TGJ: 3) What is your relationship like with former Dreamgirls. Loretta Devine and Jenifer Holiday?
SLR: Jenifer is a doll. When my book first came out, Jenifer did a party for me! I see Loretta every year! She’s done ‘Divas’ with me for at least 15 years or so.
TGJ: 4) Who inspired you to pursue acting full time?
SLR: You got to read the book (laughs)!
TGJ: 5) Did Beyonce ever reach out to you for advice when playing Deena Jones?
SLR: Never. And, I was always very sad [about that] because I tried to say hello to her and it just seemed like folks were trying to block. I never understood it.
TGJ: Did that change your opinion of her?
SLR: Why would that change how I felt about her? It wasn’t her, it was her people. I don’t know them and they don’t know me, but what the heck?
TGJ: Thanks so much for that! Now, last but certainly not least, let’s talk about your DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware) foundation.
SLR: Let’s do it!
TGJ: It’s annual fundraising event ‘Divas Simply Singing’ has earned the unique honor of being the longest consecutive running AIDS benefit musical in the country! How does that feel?
SLR: I just have to thank God because He has been good to me. When I think that ‘Divas’ has been going on for 22 years, it’s amazing. I cannot believe it.
TGJ: Where can our readers go to get more information?
SLR: If you want to know more, visit thedivafoundation.org.
TGJ: So bringing it all home, given that you’ve accomplished so much, is there anything that you haven’t done yet?
SLR: I want to play a superhero. I don’t know who it is or what it is, but I do want to play one. I’d like to do that.
Interview by: Quinno Rashad (That Grape Juice US)