[10/05/09 - 12:15 AM]
Interview: "Sherri" Star Sherri Shepherd
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

Besides her day job appearing on ABC's "The View" and occasional appearances as Tracy Morgan's on-screen wife on "30 Rock," Sherri Shepherd begins headlining her own sitcom on Lifetime beginning tonight. In "Sherri," Shepherd plays a divorced mother trying to make ends meet while aspiring to be an entertainer while dealing with an ex-husband who impregnates the [white] woman he left her for. During a recent press call, Shepherd was the first to admit that there are many parallels between the sitcom and her real life and also talked about juggling her hectic schedule, how the truth in her work is as cathartic as anything else and how she'll never live down not knowing if the world was flat or round.

While "Sherri" is premiering tonight on Lifetime, Shepherd explained that the project based on her life languished at the CW before the cable network came along. "[Lifetime] actually got the script and called me in for a meeting. JoAnn Alfano, one of the heads of Lifetime, said this is something that represents Lifetime and is about victory and strength and friendships with women and she wanted to make the pilot. It was based on my life and my stand-up comedy. This is something that I've gone through. Divorcing my husband, infidelity, a child from another woman and dealing with it all but having friends that have helped me get through that. It was very cathartic to get onstage and talk about it and I've found that a lot of women are going through this."

Is the actress/comedienne worried about being able to juggle so many projects on a daily basis? "I'm so charged," she enthusiastically proclaimed. "I feel like this is a dream come true. I expect that someone will pinch me and it will be a lawyer looking at me and I'll be back at the law firm and I'll wake up and they'll be going "Didn't I tell you to get me some coffee and file these documents?" I'm not tired. I love coming to "The View" and getting challenged the way I am with the four women that I work with and then I love leaving work and going to do my sitcom because that's what I do. I love making people laugh and getting on stage and doing stand up. I feel incredibly blessed."

While the show could have easily become about the woman as a victim after her husband has an affair with another woman, Shepherd wasn't interested in doing a show like that. "It's really about how I move on from it because that's a portion of my life that I didn't choose to dwell on. It happened and I'm moving on and my friends are helping me but we do address it. The girl in the show, we call her the "Quiz Ho" because she works at Quiznos and sells subs, she's pregnant so we have to deal with that. It's a reality in the fact that I'm upset my marriage ended because of this. We do deal with that every single week but it also is about me moving on. So many upcoming episodes are about my life in the show dealing with being a single mother." Shepherd explained that that reality was also taken from her real life and put into the series. "[Sherri, the character] is actually meeting the other girl - the Quiz-Ho - and how we deal with our feelings towards each other and I don't think any other sitcom has explored that. We actually had to find a way to get along in real life because we both have two boys who are brothers so we had to find a way to get past the craziness so they can have a great relationship."

While Shepherd said she has been a regular on nine different series, she said that while being the focus of the series is new to her, there are definitely unexpected benefits that she'll just have to learn to live with. "I'm not used to actually being the star. Everything I've ever done you've seen me has been the secretary or the best friend even though on '30 Rock' I play Tracey Morgan's wife. You get your zingers and you leave. In this show, I get long monologues and I had to get used to that. It was a big adjustment that I had to make and I never got to kiss all these men! Every week they have me kissing a different man, which I'm loving, I'm not complaining but it was a bit of an adjustment but I love it because it is telling my life and it's very cathartic for me in the healing process. I think when women see it it will make them feel good because it shows women how you can pass hurt and how you work on forgiveness and how you get strength from your friends."

All the enthusiasm in the world, however, can't completely erase the pressure that comes with being the star of the show. "I do have two jobs so I can't walk in and say 'I'm tired today' and they'll look at me and say 'You can't be tired! Our livelihood depends on you,'" Shepherd said. "It is a little bit of pressure but I love it, it's challenging and I love the fact that I have this amazing cast who is very strong. I tell all the people who are my co-stars that I am not a girl who has to hog the spotlight and I told them as soon as the show gets on the air and is a success, everybody needs a new publicist to help me do the publicist. I don't need the limelight, I love it when they write a scene that I'm not in because them being funny only makes me funnier so I'm really, really thankful of the cast I have. Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Kali Rocha, Tammy Townsend, James Avery... they are really truly, truly funny."

When casting the role of her ex-husband, Shepherd admitted that she didn't expect former child star (and physically fit) Malcolm Jamal-Warner to wind up with the role. "When he auditioned for it, I wasn't even really feeling him because I said 'that's Theo from 'The Cosby Show' but then he walked in and he was swollen up like he had just gotten out of prison. I said 'That's not Theo at all from The Cosby Show.' When are they going to write a sex scene?"

Another important role to cast in the series was the role of Sherri's father, who is played by actor James Avery. In the series, Sherri is very close to her father. How close it that to her real life? "I'm a daddy's girl," Shepherd confessed, "and I'm really close to my Dad... and I don't think you see that a lot in shows today where the woman has a very positive relationship with the Dad. For a lot of us, that's the first man in our life who's telling us we're beautiful. When I make a mistake on 'The View' he's the first person I call and as long as he says 'Sherri, it's okay,' I'm fine."

As if she weren't busy enough, Shepherd is also releasing her book "Permission Slips: Every Woman's Guide to Giving Herself a Break" today. According to Shepherd, "it came about when I was on 'The View' in my first few days and I was so nervous and Barbara [Walters] asked me if I thought the Earth was round or flat and I said I didn't know. I had so much coming at me and I had a brain fart. At the end she said, 'Dear, the Earth is round' and I said 'I know that!' and I found out that I was the second-most Googled person in the country. People said they hated me and I didn't expect the backlash that I got. I came in the next day and Whoopi [Goldberg], Elisabeth {Hasselbeck], Joy [Behar] and Barbara were so supportive. I even went on 'Jay Leno' with a globe and said 'I am not the blonde Jessica Simpson.' It didn't help. It will follow me till the day I do and it's okay. I got hundreds of emails from women who said 'we totally get where you're coming from. We don't care if the world is round or flat either. I'm just trying to take care of my child. I'm just trying to be a good wife.' It was so overwhelming, the support, this is the onus for writing this book. Women are always trying to hold ourselves together. We're trying to be the perfect wife, perfect mother and inside we're falling apart and sometimes it's okay to give ourselves permission and say 'It's alright! I'm going to let my kids watch cartoons for two hours because I have to sleep some more and he's not going to die.'

"Sherri" premieres tonight with a weeklong stunt at 7:00/6:00c before settling into its regular 10:00/9:00c slot on Tuesday, October 13.

  [october 2009]  


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