Sheryl Lee Ralph is finally getting the flowers she deserves after over 50 years in Hollywood. The acting vet received an Emmy nomination for her role as Barbara Howard, a tough kindergarten teacher in the hit ABC series “Abbott Elementary.”
“I put in the time, I did the work,” she told the L.A. Times. “And I didn’t just do the work for myself, I did the work for others.”
The 65-year-old said, “it means everything” to be given flowers and supportive messages from “young artists” such as notable actresses and filmmakers Lena Waithe, Cynthia Erivo, and Natasha Rothwell. In the midst of embracing her milestone, she said she previously questioned why her Emmy invitation often got lost in the mail.
“I thought about things like this: ‘How can I be in this industry so long and I never get an invitation to the Emmys? Why don’t they invite me? Why can’t I present something?’” she wondered. “I wasn’t thinking: ‘How come I haven’t been nominated?’ It’s more like, ‘Can you invite me to the party?’”
Ralph’s breakthrough came from her role in the Tony Award nominated Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” in 1982. The Jamaican-American actress went on to appear in various series and films such as “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” “The Flintstones,” and voice-over work in the animated kid movie, “Oliver & Company.” Some of her most recent credits include “Claws,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Ray Donovan,” and “Motherland: Fort Salem.”
But most recall her “Moesha” role as Dee Mitchell, the stepmom of rebellious teens Moesha and Myles and the wife of their dad, Frank Mitchell. Dee attempted to run a respectable, orderly household in that show, but Barbara Howard’s classroom may be Ralph’s most challenging set yet.
“Abbot Elementary” co-star Quinta Brunson, who plays second-grade teacher Janine Teague, said Howard “plays a lot of different levels” in the series and “can be insecure.”
“But while being insecure, she’ll still be running the situation, still the wisest person in the room,” she continued. “Sheryl is one of those people who, when you’re around her, you can’t help but straighten your back out a little bit and make sure you’re using the correct words, are addressing her and everyone around you correctly. She is kind of a person that silently demands better out of everyone around her.”
Brunson added, “And she’s not trying. It’s just something that she pulls out of people. And that’s so Barbara.”
Howard’s character earned Ralph her first-ever Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy. She was notified about the big news during a phone call while on vacation with family in Jamaica last month.
Brunson told the outlet, “Sheryl, as an actor, knows that about Barbara and then plays all the levels without ever losing the center of respect. That was the most important thing: This character is always respected.”
In time for back-to-school season, “Abbot Elementary” returns with season 2 on Sept. 21 at 9 .p.m. on ABC.