BWW Interviews - Sheryl Lee Ralph Talks Guest Spot on Tonight's SMASH
Sheryl Lee Ralph guest stars on tonight's episode of SMASH as Veronica Moore's (Jennifer Hudson) over-bearing mom-ager. A triple threat dreamgirl, Ralph is an acclaimed veteran of film, television and the Broadway stage. Her award-winning work includes creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical, "Dreamgirls," and earning Best Actress nods for Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Recently, she returned to Broadway for a 12-month stint in the Tony-award winning musical, "Thoroughly Modern Millie,' portraying the sassy chanteuse Muzzy Van Hossmere.
Currently, she is touring the one-woman play, "Sometimes I Cry," a production written and performed by Sheryl Lee Ralph, which explores the lives, loves, and losses of women infected and affected by HIV.
No stranger to television, Sheryl Lee Ralph credits include "It's a Living," "Designing Women," "The District," and most notably, "Moesha." On the big screen, she has appeared in "The Mighty Quinn" "Mistress" and "To Sleep With Anger" for which she won a Best Supporting Actress award at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance. The talented actress spoke about returning to her Broadway roots on tonight's episode of SMASH.
As a stage performer how do you feel SMASH captures the process of mounting a Broadway show and performing in a Broadway show?
Well you know it's television so a bunch of it is - a lot of it is glamorized but it's glamorized to people interested and audience with a basic understanding of just how a musical does get launched. You know, things have changed greatly since the beginning of stage productions so there's always a different way to launch a show but from what I see they're doing a pretty good job.
I understand that you're going to play a powerful mom in tonight's episode. Could you tell us what she's like and if you're able to relate to her and understand her a bit?
First of all I love this character. This is a woman who is so comfortable in her well-earned Manolo Blahniks that it is a joy just to get to play her. I was there on set and one of the execs came over and they said my God, the last time we saw a woman like this it was Dominique Devereaux. And for those of you who remember Dominique Devereaux she was a powerful woman played by Diahann Carroll and I was just like, "Wow I take that as a supreme compliment."
Are you going to sing?
Yes Jennifer and I sing together just a bit but it's a good song and it's a good moment together.
In taking on a role like this, what did you like about the dynamic between mother and daughter?
You know, as I said the two of us - you know how it is sometimes when you're a strong mother and you raise your child and then your child one day turns around and they are everything that you have raised them to be.
Sometimes you have to rethink real quick how do you hold on to what you raised. So I love that dynamic between the two of them. And even when things get a little bit testy there's still that foundation of love. And I'm so thankful to have a character and a relationship written like that especially for women of color.
Can you talk a bit about working with Jennifer and your initial thoughts of her as a talent?
Let me tell you something, I walked into my dressing room and inside the room was the hugest, grandest, most beautiful arrangement of flowers I have ever seen. In fact they were so big that either the flowers had to go or I had to go. And when I opened the envelope and saw that they were from Jen, I walked over to say thank you and she looked at me and she said, "Miss Ralph, you don't have to tell me thank you for anything because you are all that I ever really want to be." I was like, "Oh my God." It just made me feel I can't even explain it but I was like, "Wow what a moment, what a moment."
What is the best part about being a guest star on the show?
Oh my gosh, I guess the best part of being a guest star on that show is that you know you're probably going to get to do something great that's basically a theatrical stretch but onscreen. And for me it was the fact that when they called me in they said, "Look are you interested in playing the mom to Jennifer Hudson on Smash?" And this was coming from my agent. I told my agent that is not funny, do not punk me, and I hung up the phone. I hung up the phone!
He called me right back and he said, "No, no, no I'm serious. They're offering you this like right now. Do you want to do it? Oh honey please, I had say yes so quickly it was unbelievable. I was so happy. I was like oh my God I can imagine the clothing, I can imagine the words and what will be the song. So I was excited.
Do you know how many episodes you're going to be doing?
You know, I only got to do the one episode as we're waiting to see what's going to happen but the door was open for the possibility of more but one never knows does one?
You did a long stint on Moesha. How would you compare the motherly role that you played on Moesha versus Smash?
Oh wow let me see. You know, it's really interesting because I was thinking about that myself and when I really looked at all of the young women that I've played mother to it's an incredible group of talent. Let's see there was Brandy on Moesha but before Brandy there was Sister Act 2 and my daughter was -- why am I blanking on her name? Sister Act 2... oh my gosh.
Lauryn Hill! Lauryn Hill, Brandy and then let's see my other daughters, I just wrapped a pilot with Tia Mowry and then the mom for Jennifer Hudson. So my God if you just consider the four of them it's an incredible group of young women and all of these mothers are so very different. I love this mother on SMASH because she's so grounded in the church but at the same time she knows how to handle the world. You can tell that she's been under the leadership of a strong bishop or two you know? And I love that about her. But then at the same time when I was doing the mom in Moesha she was a stern but loving stepmother so she had to really tread lightly when it came to the kids but at the very end, you knew that they grew to love each other so deeply and it's just so interesting. And in the piece that I did with Tia Mowry oh my God, this mother can drink, she can dress but she loves her daughter. They're all so different.
You had the iconic role of Deena Jones in the Broadway play and Jennifer Hudson had the iconic role of Effie in the film. Did you two ever have any conversations about Dreamgirls?
Absolutely and she said something to me that - I mean she was just full of great conversation but she said, "Miss Ralph I really wish you had been on that set. I really wish that you had been there." And I was just like wow. And all I could do was say thank you for that, thank you because heck I wish I had been there too myself.