10 Questions with Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph

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Sheryl Lee Ralph has a career that spans four decades as a singer, actress and activist. She starred in "Dreamgirls" on Broadway in 1981 and was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Deena Jones. Ralph's had numerous television roles and is married to State Senator Vincent Hughes. 

What’s new, Sheryl Lee?

I have two new television shows. On June 30, I‘m starring in a new Showtime series called “Ray Donovan.” I did two episodes. A little about the plot-- John Voigt plays my love interest and has a very twisted life. He believes in procreation and has sons by three different women. I’m the most loved. It goes where I wasn’t expecting it to go. It’s a whole other thing when you see the script come to life. Jon Voigt has this strange intensity.

I start work on July 8 on a Nickelodean series with Tia Mowery called “Instant Mom.” .It is a great role. She is very, very funny. At my age I need glasses… champagne, wine and a shot (of glasses). I love it. Tia plays a party girl… the apple didn’t too far from the tree. She I becomes an instant mom and my character becomes a glamma (glamorous grandma).

Why do you love acting?

I like great actors in great roles… their stories lift off the screen. When I was directing my first film “Secrets,” I wrote, directed and produced it. I cast some of the best women-- Latonya Richardson and Victoria Rowell. They always brought their best and their A-game.

You look great! How do you do it?

People are surprised I look the same… That’s only God and good genes and they are not Levis. (Laugh).

How does your starring role in "Dreamgirls" impact your life today?

Amazing… you know when history was being made. We were able to write our own page in theatre history in America. It was an amazing time. I was reflecting, looking back and that made me write the book… “Redefining Diva.” People keep discovering it, reading and sharing it. They say—“Oh my God I read the book, thank you.” There are stories about “Dream Girls,” what it was like to start out in the business and to be relevant at this point. I know that it is still not over. My best days are ahead of me. For a lot of people that’s new thinking. 

Why did you write "Redefining Diva?"

I do a lot of speaking engagements. At Pepperdine University, I just finished speaking and a student teacher said, "Ms. Ralph you have got to write a book. We need to hear these stories." She's right. Young people need these stories and need to hear them. I told her, "You get me a book deal and I'll write a book." It worked out. That same young woman is now writing for the Kardashians too. 

What advice do you have for young people?

You can do this… the only reason you can’t do it is because you told your brain you can’t do it. You live in the United States of America. What can’t do you do?

What dreams do you have?

I gotta do a talk show… have to do a talk show, a radio talk show. Philly needs more talk… nobody can talk like people in Philadelphia. That’s what great about Philly-- the people and their talk. The way they talk about their life, politics and each other and that’s why I like it.

Why is Philly special to you?

Philly is very different. It’s different than New York. I’ve lived a lot of places and you can find them all here in Philadelphia. There’s some homes that people in LA would love to have.

What causes are you dedicated to?

AIDS awareness and cancer. My dad died of prostate cancer. Take the test., the sooner the better.

“Dream Girls” got me involved in AIDS work. Nobody knew what was happening. People were dropping like flies. Here today and sick tomorrow and nobody wanted to talk about it. Divas Simply Singing in LA is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. I started it 23 years ago. We’ve never missed a year.

I also have a t-shirt line, and started it because I wanted to do socially responsible t-shirts. People are the best billboard. If you could wear junk on yourself, why not say something positive. Red ribbon stands for AIDS awareness.

You're a self described "diva." What does being a diva mean to you? 

To live to be divinely inspired, victoriously aware. To be awesome, audacious, amazing.

On self esteem... The number one thing you have to be able to do, is get up in the morning look in the mirror and love what you see. You have to respect what you see. Tell what you see… you can do this. You gotta believe it everyday. You can’t overlook it, or be mean to it. We are going to do this. Let’s do this. It is a habit. Life is about habit and choices. What are you going to do?

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