Keesha Sharp is an award nominated American screen and stage actress. A regular face on U.S television with a career spanning decades. We’ve been fans since her longstanding role in the cult comedy series, Girlfriends, and films such as Tyler Perry’s, Why Did I Get Married? To more recently Sharp was cast as Dale Cochran, the wife of Johnnie Cochran, in the award-winning drama, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Now we’ll get to see Sharp in the Warner Bros. Lethal Weapon series as Trish Murtaugh, the wife of Damon Wayans’ character, Roger – originally played by Danny Glover in the film franchise.
TBB’s Be Manzini spoke to Ms. Sharp about her latest role and career journey…
1# You are a graduate The Boston Conservatory but when and how did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I was always into music and the arts my parents were pretty supportive in that. As I grew up I played cello, piano and clarinet. Right before I went to high school – 6th grade, I did this production of Your Good Man Charlie Brown that was the moment I felt at home. I was a singer too, putting singing and acting together was the perfect match and that’s how I ended up being in musical theatre. My Mom wasn’t that supportive of me choosing acting as a career, she wanted me to go to law school and not until I started working outside of college did she let that go because after college her question was always ‘Are you ready for law school?’ My response was like ‘Ummmm I’ll play a lawyer’ [laughs].
2# You’ve been in so many productions in both film and television, spanning 17 years, what has been your favourite acting moment?
Oh wow… That’s hard because I’ve had a lot; in every production I’ve ever done for different reasons. Absolutely not a case of one being better than the another because as an actor everything I do I’ve put 100% to have those moments in each character.
3# On favourite things; place in the world?
Iceland, I love the idea of living off the earth in such a healthy way and Hawaii is up there too. I love Europe to be honest [laughing] I should probably say the United States actually Hawaii is. But I guess I love places with so much culture and old culture America is so young we don’t see that old culture and architecture and the buildings in Europe are so beautiful. Hawaii is the epitome of how nature is supposed to be.
4# Favourite musical genre or artist?
Bruno Mars. I love Bruno Mars. Not just as a singer, I don’t know if people really understand how great a performer he is, how amazing he is live. You can see him on television but to see him live is like the performers of old like Prince, that specialness of Michael Jackson. I’ll always have him on; Bruno can always get me going any day!
5# As an articulator of stories I have to ask you for a screenplay, a stage-play and a book?
I have several! Blood of the Lamb by Thomas Monteleone. Harry Potter; I remember years ago when someone introduced me to them I was like, ‘isn’t that for kids?’ but when I could not put them down. The movies are good too but it’s the books. Game of Thrones, books and movies I’m addicted too, and recent films Fences. I just love August Wilson I worked with him years ago. I love that he is getting the recognition that he deserves. He’s not with us anymore but he was such a great playwright and he’s pieces should be brought to the big screen. I loved, Hidden Figures, I didn’t have any expectations at all, it was so good! I love anything with a message, you feel like you can do anything; every Black little girl and Black little boy you watch it filled with pride.
6# With the diverse representation of African-Americans on TV and recognition in film it feels like a real magical time, from Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Get Out; Fences, How to Get Away with Murder, Being Mary Jane, Empire, Black-ish, Luke Cage, Insecure, Atlanta etc. biopics like the New Edition Story and of course now with Lethal Weapon, congratulations on it being renewed for another season by the way, I’m curious on your take?
Thank you. We’ve been talking about this since we have had actors in film, television and stage. There have been times in the past where we saw a little progress, back in the time of UPN [United Paramount Network] it had over a dozen sitcoms and dramas running simultaneously between 1995 to 2006 including a 5 year run of Moesha, we thought things had changed and got better but it got worse after those shows got cancelled. Last year when the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was going on, the conversation opened up again and people started to look past their own experiences. That really was what the issue was. Maybe in some regard it was racism but, say you’re white and your family is white, when you are writing or judging, you judge from a white perspective. If you are only familiar with one type of culture or one type of people that’s what you write about. What needed to happen is [understanding] everybody’s story is worthy. Now stories are being written about human beings [who] could be Black, White, Asian or Latin that’s what changed. It feels now that it really has changed, like you said magical and not temporary. I get so excited about it for women my age, super excited for the young actors coming up and the kids sitting at home who maybe want to become an actor and they can look on television and see themselves. I didn’t see that growing up, and I think it’s beautiful.
7# In TBB’s interview with Naomie Harris she talked about how she struggled initially when playing Paula, a crack addicted mother in Moonlight, not to be judgmental, and in another how she was reluctant to take on a ‘stereotypical role’. With your consistency in the industry and often playing in functional scenarios do you think that Black actors have a responsibility to not take on dysfunctional roles or is the focus about doing the best work with the work available?
I think it’s a few things. You never know why people take [on a role], it may be as simple as they have to pay the rent. The thing we were fighting for was there weren’t enough other roles. Now we are seeing Black women as not just the crack addict or the prostitute or the best friend. I don’t want to take away from people’s experiences; there are people who deal with a mother who is addicted to drugs whether she is Black or not, they are real experiences and stories that need to be told and we need the balance. Being part of something that is elevating the human experience. In Moonlight we see what happens when a mother doesn’t take care of her child and there is another woman there who can mother him and be a saviour or a man that can father him in Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali’s characters. So there are lessons that we are learning through these movies, we have to remember that. Look at Kerry Washington in Scandal she’s playing a lawyer, with so many flaws and qualities – far from one dimensional; same with Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder. Some people complain about that too, but we have to be OK with a Black woman being powerful and flawed. I’m really proud of Lethal Weapon. I’m really proud of Trish this a Black woman in a Black family and a loving family, a loving husband and wife who are very successful. I love that people get to see these characters.
8# What attracted you to be part of Lethal Weapon? How did you access the character played by Darlene Love in the film series, I’m asking in terms of the original series being so iconic, successful and arguably having a fanatical following? Did you have any concerns about purists?
I’m a fan of this franchise and I’m one of those purists! So when I heard they were doing a TV series I was like ‘Why mess with the movie? Leave it alone!’ But then I read the pilot; the writers had captured what was so great about the films. I knew as a fan we were honouring the films and I couldn’t wait for the other fanatical fans to watch the show because I knew they would be happy. Shooting the pilot you could feel it was special. In terms of Darlene’s character and what we’ve changed she was a stay at home mum in the first two films and then we found out later she was a writer. It’s beautiful to be a stay at home mum and choose to write from home and there is nothing wrong with that but I did like the change that came with Trish as a high powered defence attorney, that is the breadwinner, that had an “Oops baby”, at 42 that wasn’t planned. So many people are dealing with that today. I love the idea of how they still keep it intimate and sexy. They have teenage kids and they have to navigate raising them in 2016. You see them having to deal with social media. I jumped at the opportunity to play this role because she is such a 2016 woman and a woman I really admire.
9# On admiration, you get to play alongside Damon Wayans how is it working with him?
Oh my goodness. I fell in love with his humour and that’s perfect because that’s one of the reasons why Trish fell in love with Roger. At times I would not get through the scenes [laughs], Damon cracks jokes all the time and is so funny so you’re always laughing but I have a trick, because Trish gets to say it’s not funny and we need to be serious! It’s a pleasure, I don’t even know if pleasure is enough of a word I just love Damon. I love the chemistry Trish and Roger have together it’s really beautiful. To be honest the chemistry between all three, Trish, Roger and Martin [Clayne Crawford’s character played by Mel Gibson in the films] is special, it’s the glue that holds it together.
10# Why should people watch Lethal Weapon when it airs in the U.K. in March?
How many episodes have you seen?
Two, the first two. I really enjoyed viewing and reviewing them…
Those are great but I promise it’s going to get so much better.
Lethal Weapon premieres on Friday 3rd March 9pm on ITV