She charmed us in the box office hit, DREAMGIRLS, and the hits didn’t stop there. Sharon Leal is enjoying an active Hollywood career in both film and television. Other film roles include: SOUL MEN with Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac; THIS CHRISTMAS with Idris Elba, Regina King, Chris Brown and; Tyler Perry’s WHY DID I GET MARRIED (I and II).
In addition to her memorable movie roles, Leal also enjoyed four seasons on David E. Kelley’s successful FOX-TV series, Boston Public.
Now, Leal will costar as Vanessa Lodge, head coach of the Hellcats college cheerleading squad who must take them to the championships to keep her job. She manages to have a love interest with the school’s football coach every week when the anticipated series premiers Sept. 8, on the CW Network, 9:00 p.m., Eastern and Pacific.
When we spoke earlier this year during the movie premiere of Perry’s WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO, Leal talked about the desire to expand her acting career and avoid type casting as many actors of color experience. “I think we’re always trying to grow and evolve. We want to have the same kind of opportunities that white actors have; you want to feel that you can play a diverse number of characters and have that flexibility– that chameleon-like capability. I’m really anxious to see what else is out there and I think all of us just want to continue to grow; we don’t want to play the same character in every project.”
Waxing nostalgic she revealed, “When I was a kid all I wanted to do was get to Broadway; I was a big theater geek. I did a lot of community theatre and a lot of regional theatre. My big dream was to be on Broadway. I was able to accomplish that at 19 and I moved to New York with a job (Leal is from Fresno, CA). I (also) went to an open call in San Francisco. A couple of agents approached me and said, ‘what about acting,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know how to act. I don’t know if I can do that.’ Then, it just kind of kept going so I’ve really been blessed to be able to expand upon my initial dream which was to sing and dance and work in New York. I’m just grateful for every opportunity and I hope to continue to go on.”
Of this new opportunity with “Hellcats,” Leal’s attachment is a bit paradoxical. I asked if she had had any cheerleader experiences as a teen that were good, bad or indifferent and to that she replied, “The irony behind that question is [that] I had such disdain for the cheerleaders in high school. Every year, my mother used to beg me to try out for the squad. She had this idea in her head that cheerleaders were ‘pretty, perfect and popular,’ the 3 “P’s” and it annoyed me to no end!”
She describes her Hellcat’s character thusly, “Vanessa Lodge is a woman who used to be a Lancer Hellcat herself. She returned to her alma mater as head coach of the present Hellcat squad. Back when she was cheering, she had an affair with a staff member on the coaching staff. This fact is a great source of shame and regret and I believe she’s back to not only throw herself into a sport that she’s passionate about and believes in, but also, in some way, to reconcile herself with her past and make a difference.
“She is driven and a type “A” personality, who is also flawed in many ways, still finding her footing. She acts as mother, friend, psychiatrist and ringleader. She is good at what she does, but just struggles quite a bit in her personal life.”
TV is resurging among audiences with the success of such cable shows like “Glee” and “Mad Men.” Viewers seem to be re-discovering prime time in a new way. I asked her opinion of where Hellcats will fit into the appetite of thirsty watchers given the current landscape of programming and Leal suggests that, “Hellcats goes above and beyond what television used to be by infusing a performance level that is exceptionally entertaining. It also surprises you with an undertone that is full of heart and optimism.
“It is a feel good show and uses the concept of the underdog overcoming and persevering which is an easy premise to invest in. It also is a widely diverse cast, which is a step in the right direction for a network like the CW. Hellcats has it all.”