Sheryl Lee Ralph Talks Playing A TV Mom, Lauryn Hill’s Imprisonment, And Disappointing Images Of Blacks On Reality TV

September 5, 2013  |  

Sheryl Lee Ralph has definitely come a long way from her early days on the stage and big screen in the late ’70s. She’s played the object of affection on film for leading men like Robert DeNiro and Denzel Washington, and played the mother of Brandy’s Moesha and Lauryn Hill in Sister Act: Back In The Habit. And after her years of success and scene-stealing with that gorgeous smile, Ralph isn’t slowing down anytime soon. She’s got two new TV shows on her plate right now with NickMom’s Instant Mom (alongside Tia Mowry Hardrict) and the Showtime hit, Ray Donovan (playing Pooch Hall’s mom coincidentally). And if that’s not enough, she’s got the longest consecutive running AIDS benefit in the country with Divas Simply Singing, a super successful book in Defining Diva, and she’s ready to tell her story of moving on after Dreamgirls on TV One’s Life After (premiering on Wednesday, September 11). The diva chats with us about her new shows, staying in touch with her former on-screen daughters (she sees Brandy all the time in LA), and why she’s not a fan of black women on reality TV these days.

On Playing Tia Mowry’s Mother On Instant Mom, And Playing Pooch Hall’s Mom On “Ray Donovan”

“I play Tia’s mom on the show. The show is all about a young party girl who marries an older man with three children and becomes an instant mom. Let me tell you something, it is wonderful to be back on TV. It is wonderful to be back on one of the few shows with outstanding black female leads who are very, very positive.

I’m the mother to Tia, I’m also the mother to Pooch, I guess you could say I’m the mother of The Game. How crazy is that? But working with Tia has been a lot of fun. We get along very well and its just been a great experience.  As for working with Pooch, that’s been another great experience. Pooch is an absolute doll.  Ray Donovan is a very, very edgy show.”

On Her Decision To Do TV One’s Life After

“You know what. These things are always done in a time frame that’s always ahead of your future. I like that they put a spin on it that says that just because this might be the past doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright future ahead, and thank God that was the spin they took on it, because I ended up now–my book is doing incredibly well, I’m doing two series and everything is good. So it’s just like, wow, I didn’t realize it would turn out to be such a good move for me.”

On Venturing Back In Music With Divas Simply Singing:

“I do music once a year, every year, always in the form of Divas Simply Singing. I created it as a living, loving memorial to many friends I had lost to AIDS as an original accompanied member of Dreamgirls on Broadway. Now 23 years later, we have become the longest consecutive running AIDS benefit in the country. It has been an incredible much-needed thing. This year, so far, our lineup includes Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Karyn White, Amber Riley from “Glee,” a throwback from the disco days with Martha Wash, and that’s just a few.”

On Keeping In Touch With Sister Act 2 Daughter Lauryn Hill And Her Current Situation…

“It’s just hard. It’s difficult. When I think of an incredibly talented young woman way ahead of her time in such an incredible, unexpected stage in life, I think to myself, you know, sometimes things happen for you to learn certain things about life. And if Martha Stewart can come out of that experience bigger and better, so can she. She’s got beautiful, incredible children to live for. Her best days are ahead of her. After all…she’s my child [laughs].

Why She’s Not Fond Of Black Women On Reality TV:

“If I were to do reality TV, it would probably not be anything close to what you see on TV now. I think it’s awful…when we walk into a room, the whole race comes with us. It’s very, very true, because entertainment is one of America’s largest exports. And these reality shows with certain images of us, we may think it’s just TV, but it becomes much more than just TV. It becomes a cultural statement. It becomes how people think and believe they know black women, especially, to be. It has not been good for us. All too often, when the nickname for black girl in Japan becomes “NeNe,” we all become NeNe. It did not become “Michelle,” it became NeNe. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any one of those women, but they don’t represent all of who we are. But which one is the stronger image?

We have to start thinking about those things. We must be careful about what we put out there when we talk about fun and games and say it’s just entertainment, it’s just music. Sometimes when we learn the lesson, the damage has been done.”

Follow the actress at @thesherylralph and visit her site, thedivafoundation.org.

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