Sheryl Lee Ralph is standing her ground. You may see the 56-year-old actress on Nickelodeon or Showtime where she plays the mother of all mothers on both networks—on Instant Mom and Ray Donovan, respectively—or you may see her speaking out against social injustices on news networks like CNN or HLN.
Ralph, a Tony Award winner who’s also married to Pennsylvania senator Vincent Hughes chats with EBONY.com about her new roles on television, and why she can’t stop speaking out on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.
EBONY: You’re playing hot mamas on TV in 2013. We saw you on Showtime’s new hit Ray Donovan as Pooch Hall’s mom, and now you’re on Nickelodeon’s Instant Mom playing Tia Mowry’s mother.
Sheryl Lee Ralph: Very often people talk about mothers, and they think that mother has to lose her sexuality. Mother has to be plain. Mothers cannot be exciting. Mother should not be up on what’s going on, she shouldn’t know the jargon of the day. And I just find that so old-fashioned!
I love the fact that in both projects, especially Instant Mom, that I get to play a mom who has maintained her… sexy. She is fun, she is happy, she is all those wonderful things, and she gets on your nerves like any good mother should when it comes to offering her advice and such! The mother that I play on Ray Donovan, you know that’s an edgy woman—she’s got secrets—and a whole lot of mothers are like that. I’ve got great mothers on very opposite sides of the life spectrum.
EBONY: What made you want to do Instant Mom?
SLR: About a year ago, when I looked at what people were proposing and on the lineup for shows, [I wondered] where was anybody offering a positive image of three generations of black women? Women who were loving each other? Women who were happy to be around each other or agreed to disagree? Where on the lineup was there a healthy, intact family of people of color, when it came to a scripted show? So when I saw this, I was immediately like, “Whoa, thank God for Nickelodeon buying into all of this!” Hallelujah, Amen!
EBONY: And Ray Donovan is so wildly different.
SLR: It was very interesting because they said Jon Voight. And I have a list of some of the most incredible leading men ever, from Denzel Washington to Robert Deniro, Eddie Murphy, you name it—Danny Glover—and I said, Heck, why not add Jon Voight to it? How bad could it be? And it was a great choice on my part.
I love politics so much that I sleep with it! Too many people are losing their voice, and now is not the time for our community to go mute.
EBONY: You work consistently in TV, film, live theater—even the recording studio. Where are you most comfortable and why?
SLR: Well, I love, love, love live performance. It’s like walking a tightrope without the net. You better be on point, you better be balanced. You better have rehearsed it and seen it from every vantage so you can do what you do best. I do love film because it’s up front in your face and hopefully you’ve got a great editor. I love singing, I just don’t get to do it enough. The times that I do it, once a year, every year with Divas Simply Singing, is a truly joy to me, but I’d love to do it some more. And television is always great for being able to put your kids through college!
EBONY: You don’t back down from political conversations. When you’re not acting, we often see you on CNN or HLN. Is that difficult to do when you’re trying to balance a career in Hollywood?
SLR: I can’t hide who I really am, plus I love politics so much that I sleep with it! I’m married to senator Vincent Hughes of Pennsylvania, so I always am speaking my mind. I remember growing up, my parents were always involved in what was going on in the community, and their involvement helped me in so many different ways and other people within our community. Too many people are losing their voice, and now is not the time for our community to go mute.
When you think about places like Florida and they struck down the Stand Your Ground law? They want to expand Stand Your Ground; what enough wasn’t done? Enough wasn’t said around the death of Trayvon Martin? What about the woman who shot a warning shot and ended up [with a sentence] for almost 23 years for shooting a warning shot? She stood her ground, but because she was Black, she had to go to jail? At some point we have to really, really speak up.