“Abbott Elementary” actor Sheryl Lee Ralph talks about the guidance she received from Sidney Poitier as a young Black woman in the industry, gun violence, the intersection of acting and activism, the changes she sees in the acting business, and more in the latest episode of “At Home With The Creative Coalition,” a podcast featuring unplugged and uncensored conversations with today’s biggest stars. Highlights below from her conversation with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk:
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Highlights from “At Home With The Creative Coalition” featuring Sheryl Lee Ralph –
On working with Sidney Poitier and the impact he had on her:
“He was always giving advice. I think one of the things that I left with – he gave me, you know, a box, that had all of the things makeup-wise, and some hair things that we would need in preparation because, he said, ‘The industry does not have folks that are going to be able to take care of us as well,’ you know, when I was 19. And the industry isn’t what it is becoming now. You know, and becoming more inclusive on all different levels, making sure that there are people there for hair and makeup, you know? That you weren’t left out just because you had a different skin color or skin tone or hair type. And now, more and more, you’re finding qualified people of different colors and such to be on sets to make sure that everybody is taken care of and considered. But he was so wonderful to me. And he was always letting me know while on set, ‘The real attention getter should be your director, and yourself, because that’s an important relationship.’ And for the longest time, most times, I would get jobs and the directors and I didn’t have much to say. They just gave me, you know, free rein of what it was I was going to bring to the shows, but I always remembered him saying that. ‘Pay attention to your director.’”
On the intersection of her acting and activism:
“Honest to God, I think God gave me the acting to use as a platform to help raise awareness for other things. I think it’s important that we pay attention to things like our humanity, our humanism, our health! My god, your health is your greatest wealth, and too many of us are not paying attention to it until it’s gone. We’re seeing that right now. You know, the things that I saw the way people treated folks with HIV, people who had AIDS, it was horrible. It was inhuman, the way they treated other people, the way they hated on people because of their sexual preference and choices. The little church girl in me was like ‘My god, can’t we all just get along? Why do we have to figure out we have to hate this person that don’t like this or don’t like that?’ And the fact that we don’t care about people gets us in positions where we are now, where everything is blowing up. Everything is going wrong, because we don’t care about educating children, and then you’re mad when they’re running rampant on the street. You knew from the beginning, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. What happened to the classes? What happened to the extra curriculums? Oh, you thought we didn’t need them? Now you see why we do need them. But now people are saying, ‘Well, no, no, they can continue being bad because we can make money by housing them in prisons.’ That’s bad thinking. That’s not nice, human caring-people thinking. This whole thing about guns. Guns are turning out to be like plastic surgery: you get a little, then you want a whole lot. What, you have one gun so now you think you need 22 and you need an assault weapon, just in case? In case of what? And then we don’t have the will to come together and say that the lives of our children are important? That no, if 21 of them are dead, ‘Oh, well, that’s 21 spread out over – how many years have we had this rifle association?’ I mean, give me a break. What about our humanity? What about our humanism? And don’t get me started when you add color on these things. Because then people get really crazy, especially if the colors start to get dark. They get weird. They don’t know how to handle that. And all of this stuff is a sickness.”
On whether the industry has changed since she began acting:
“The industry has changed. The industry has changed a lot. And as long as people start speaking up and using their voices in a right way, things will change more. I mean, this morning, I was talking to a major magazine, and it was a young Black female leading the interview. That wouldn’t have happened easily 20 years ago, much less 15 years ago, okay, 10 years ago. I see change. I see it. Mr. Poitier gave me that little box of things to do my makeup and hair because people weren’t going to be on set to take care of me when I first started. Now, more and more, you find people on set that can take care of your hair, that can do your makeup, and very often, more and more, they’re starting to look just like you. Which 10 years ago – okay, five years ago – they were not opening the doors to them. They were not giving them the space that they deserve to work their craft as well. But is it changing? Yes, it is changing. SAG-AFTRA, you know, really worked hard on getting the Crown Act passed through the House, so that people could not be discriminated against because of the way their hair naturally grows out of their head.”
More about “At Home With The Creative Coalition”
Hosted by The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk, “At Home With The Creative Coalition” brings listeners intimate portraits, key moments of discovery, and “art and soul” conversations with iconic entertainment industry personalities from the big screen to the boardroom, from L.A. to D.C. Listen now at http://thecreativecoalition.org/podcast.
Upcoming guests include Caity Lotz (“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”), Ross Patterson (“Ross Patterson Revolution!,” “Drinkin’ Bros”), and Yolonda Ross (“The Chi”).
Previous guests include Jason Alexander (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Shiri Appleby (“UnREAL”), Justin Bartha (“The Hangover,” “National Treasure”), David Alan Basche (“The Exes”), Asante Blackk (“This Is Us”), Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Aaron Cooley (“The First Lady”), Wilson Cruz (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Alan Cumming (“Schmigadoon!, “The Good Wife”), Ethan Cutkosky (“Shameless”), The Creative Coalition President and actor Tim Daly (“Madam Secretary”), Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black”), Griffin Dunne (“This Is Us”), Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”), Wayne Federman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Michael Fishman (“Roseanne,” “The Conners”), Jim Gaffigan (“The Jim Gaffigan Show”), Willie Garson (“And Just Like That…”), Judy Gold (“The Other F Word”), Nicholas Gonzalez (“The Good Doctor”), Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”), Evan Handler (“And Just Like That…,” “Californication”), Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Middle”), Jon Huertas (“This Is Us”), Jason Isaacs (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Harry Potter”), Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Nathan Kress (“iCarly”), Chad Lowe (“Supergirl”), Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”), Rachel Mason (“Circus of Books”), Marlee Matlin (“CODA”), AnnaLynne McCord (“Let’s Get Physical”), Eric McCormack (“Will and Grace”), Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”), Katherine McNamara (“Shadowhunters”), Melissa Manchester (“Don’t Cry Out Loud”), Molly Smith Metzler (“Maid,” “Shameless”), Marta Milans (“Shazam!”), Rob Morrow (“Billions”), Kathy Najimy (“Younger”), Ken Olin (“This is Us,” “Thirtysomething”), Haley Joel Osment (“Future Man,” “Entourage”), Joey and Daniella Pantoliano (“The Matrix,” “Memento”), Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), Kyla Pratt (“The Proud Family”), Jessica Queller (“Supergirl”), Anthony Rapp (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Reid Scott (“Veep”), Mona Scott-Young (“Love & Hip Hop”), Alena Smith (“Dickinson”), Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Tramell Tillman (“Severance”), Krista Vernoff (“Grey’s Anatomy”), KT Tunstall (“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Suddenly I See”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”), Alfre Woodard (“Clemency,” “Luke Cage”), Constance Zimmer (“Good Trouble”), and David Zucker (“Airplane!,” “Scary Movie”).
More about The Creative Coalition
The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. The Creative Coalition harnesses the unique platforms of the arts community and entertainment industry to make positive impacts on social welfare issues. For more information, visit https://thecreativecoalition.org.