UB Interview: Legendary Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph Speaks to UB About “Smash” & Much More

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Original Dreamgirl, Sheryl Lee Ralph is a multifaceted jewel of a woman who sparkles in every area of her life. An acclaimed show business “pro”, her award winning body of work in film, television and the Broadway stage includes originating and creating the role of Deena Jones on Broadway in the landmark musical Dreamgirls, which earned her a Tony Award Nomination and a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Actress. After Dreamgirls, Ms. Ralph turned her attention to music, television, and film. She scored a top-ten selling dance hit in the mid-eighties with the infectious anthem In the Evening. The video is a YouTube hit.

On television, she has starred in It’s a Living, her own series New Attitude, the George Foreman series George and in the hit comedy Designing Women. She was voted one of TV’s Favorite Moms for her portrayal of loving step mom, Dee on the smash series Moesha and received numerous NAACP Image Award nominations for this role. In the SHOWTIME series, Barbershop, Sheryl broke new ground as the popular, post-operative transsexual, Claire. She brought a new face to the sufferings of war in the NBC hit series ER.

Her extensive film credits include The Mighty Quinn with Denzel Washington, Sister Act II with Whoopi Goldberg, Mistress with Robert De Niro, and Eddie Murphy’s Distinguished Gentleman to name a few. Sheryl Lee’s performance with Danny Glover in To Sleep with Anger won her the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Author, Sheryl Lee Ralph’s first book Redefining DIVA (Simon&Schuster) debuted to rave reviews.

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Recently Ms. Ralph spoke to Aries from UrbanBridgez.com about her role on the hit NBC series “Smash,” playing Jennifer Hudson‘s mother, the legacy of Dreamgirls, her favorite TV role on Moesha, Divas Simply Singing, her dream role and much more!

UrbanBridgez.com: What was it about Smash that made you want to join the cast?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: The fact that someone picked up the telephone and said Ms. Ralph, we’re doing Smash and we would love it for you to do an episode. I was like how about that! Were you expecting me to say no? I don’t think so, then they added on top of it, by the way it’s to play the mama to Jennifer Hudson. I was like how soon do you want me to say yes, did you book my tickets yet? All of that, that was a slam dunk for me!

UrbanBridgez.com: What can we expect from your character Cynthia?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Well let me tell you what they said to me, they were like my god we haven’t seen a black character like this since Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll on Dynasty). For those that remember, back in the day Dominique Deveraux was a sure enough diva that didn’t take no mess! If you slapped her, she was going to slap you back verbally or physically, she was quite a woman!

UrbanBridgez.com: Do you actually sing in the role?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Actually the two of us sing together and it was a great experience! But it really started off great when I walked into my dressing room and I could not get into the room because Jennifer had sent me flowers so huge, that one of us had to go. It was the flowers or me and I was like oh baby we’re just going to have to make room in here. Then when I walked over to say thank you, she said Ms. Ralph you don’t understand, you are all I want to be! I was like lord have mercy, girl you’re going to make me cry.

UrbanBridgez.com: It’s crazy you two have so many similarities, from her coming in the game and winning an Oscar and Grammy. You came into the industry being nominated for a Tony after your first role in Dreamgirls. Take us back to that time and tell us what your goals were when you originally broke into the industry?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Listen I was just a little girl like 20 to 23 years old, all I wanted to do was do good, represent my community well, make my parents happy, all of that sort of stuff. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to my people. I wanted to be that somebody that they would say, that Sheryl Lee Ralph sure did do us proud. That was all I was really thinking about.

UrbanBridgez.com: Well you’ve done that!
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Thank you!

UrbanBridgez.com: Did you ever feel the legacy of Dreamgirls would continue on decades later and actually be turned into a motion picture?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Absolutely! In fact, it was very interesting. Tom Eyen who was the original visionary for this piece. The original writer and creator of Dreamgirls, I wanted so much to do the film if it ever came to be. I remember one day he looked at me and said Sheryl Lee, by the time this movie happens Deena will be a blonde girl. I didn’t understand what he meant, but here it was 30 years later and Deena was definitely blonde! Such a trip, but he was a man of vision.

UrbanBridgez.com: You’ve literally appeared on every TV show there is almost…
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I don’t know about that (laughs).

UrbanBridgez.com: Well a lot (laughs)!
Sheryl Lee Ralph: That’s true, a lot.

UrbanBridgez.com: What has been a few of your favorite roles?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: You know what, I will always love Moesha! I will always love Moesha because Moesha resonates till this day. I just really, really love that. That fact that we did something that lasted. Moesha is like my television Dreamgirls, because Dreamgirls is something that is going to last forever. I got an email today, saying it was coming to somewhere in Kentucky and to some little theater somewhere else. Where ever I turn now a days I can see that legacy living on and it feels so amazing. I knew it would happen, I knew it!

UrbanBridgez.com: Working with Brandy on Moesha, brought you a new audience, that show was full of stars and or created major stars during its run. What was the best part about filming with that cast?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I think the fact that there was so much young and incredible talent. To be around them everyday and even though they did drive me crazy sometimes, it was just great. I think anytime you work, you’re trying to lay a foundation, the fact that I was now in this group with these young folks that were now going to walk on this road, it was like wow. I wanted to see where they would go, you always hope that your kids will do more than you did and it was great to see them succeed. It was also sad to see some of them pass away tragically but for the most part it was an amazing journey.

UrbanBridgez.com: I absolutely love your Divas Simply Singing! I think the concept is amazing and you have brought some of the absolute best to that stage. What do you have up your sleeve for this year’s event?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: You know what, I am really, really trying to find two or three just knock down give it all you’ve got divas. I don’t know about anyone else but I love Dianne Reeves, and we don’t really get to see enough of her. And she’s changed a bit, I love her and I love Alicia Keys. I want to see Alicia Keys in a unplugged situation. I also love Annie Lenox and I know it’s hard with the whole idea of bringing her over from London and all of that. That’s what I’m thinking about what do you think?

UrbanBridgez.com: Well you’ve had Shanice and Faith Evans already, so those would have been my picks.
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I love them! Let me tell you something, Faith is like a good friend and she just hangs in there, she just shows up and she shows out. I love Faith, that is someone who I would love to work with more. I think there is a lot more to Faith Evans than what people see. More to her than even herself sees you know.

UrbanBridgez.com: I would like that, so make it happen!
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I really would too, I just really like her. I think she’s a good person.

UrbanBridgez.com: Many people don’t realize you actually have an album and many singles out, what made you put singing on the back-burner to focus on acting?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Oh my god, I don’t know. People ask me about that all the time and I just don’t know. As much as I love singing, it’s such an effort. It takes time and I’m bad at that. I’m not trying to sing and not have people really listen. If I’m going to sing dog gon it then you’re going to have to listen! Sometimes people sing and people are talking all in the background and I’m like that ain’t me. And when I say it takes effort, it takes effort at least for me. You have to clean up, you have to look great, you gotta do more. You just can’t get up there and sing. You have to give people something they’re not getting for the most part. And a lot of people are not getting a lot of show. Don’t ask me why, but a lot of people don’t put the effort into giving people shows!

UrbanBridgez.com: What type of a role have you yet to play, that you would love to?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Wow, I like characters that have a little tragedy to them but are going to work it out. I know what I want to do but I don’t want to say it out loud. I really want to get it done.

UrbanBridgez.com: I’m sure you will!
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Thank you!

UrbanBridgez.com: I love watching you on Showbiz Tonight, that show is very opinionated, do you ever worry at times some celebs may take what you say personal?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: No, because I never talk bad about anybody. I just tell it the way I see it. I’m not saying that’s the way everybody else has to see it, but that’s the way that Sheryl sees it.

UrbanBridgez.com: You know how sensitive some of these celebs are these days though (laughs).
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Ain’t nobody got time for that! Get out of showbiz then!

UrbanBridgez.com: What’s next for the beautiful and legendary Sheryl Lee Ralph that you would like to share with your fans?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: I want them to buy my book which is an Amazon best seller entitled Redefining Diva! Please, don’t just make sure you buy it but make sure you read the book! Follow me on Twitter, on February 26 make sure you catch me on Smash and write in and tell them that you would watch more if there were episodes with me. I’m telling you people don’t realize the power they have if they would just use it they could make things happen.

UrbanBridgez.com: Is there any last words of wisdom you want to leave with your fans?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Let me tell you something, be kind to yourself and kinder to others. Be as nice as you can, for as long as you can and to as many people as you can. Because the same butt you kick today, you may have to kiss tomorrow.

5 Comments
  1. Great interview with the ever so classy Sheryl Lee Ralph, Aries!! She’s such a phenomal and stand-up veteran in entertainment business and activist within the community. Its good to see her get highlighted by the fab crew of UB.

  2. Great interview! I love her and she has, indeed, done us proud! Looking forward to great things from her!

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