Sherri Shepherd is a testament to overcoming life's personal obstacles to achieve professional success. Shepherd's strict religious upbringing left the Chicago-bred comedienne, actress, and television host vulnerable to some of life's grittier realities as she transitioned into early adulthood. Shepherd stumbled and fell, both romantically and financially early on. Through the adversity, Sherri Shepherd has emerged as a Hollywood success story, wife and mother of a beautiful six year old son. With great resilience, her early mistakes have served to enrich Shepherd's personal testimony of faith and have given her an interesting story to tell.
Success in the entertainment industry comes with its own set of public challenges, as Sherri Shepherd became aware during her early days on ABC's daytime mainstay, The View. Shepherd was launched into the national news spotlight when she found herself under fire for everything from her religious beliefs to her lack of attention to matters of evolution and political ideology. When pressed by co-host Whoopi Goldberg about whether she thought the world was round or flat, Shepherd retorted that she spent her time "thinking about how I'm going to feed my child, and how I'm going to take care of my family." Shepherd's early sound bites from The View went viral, drawing criticism from the media, and praise from single mothers who felt a connection with the multi-hyphenate television personality.
Six years, one well received memoir, and countless television appearances later, Sherri Shepherd admits to a learning curve when it came to keeping pace with her fellow panelists on The View. She also maintains that her strict Christian upbringing and spiritual outlook deserve valid recognition among her colleagues, and the public.
It was, in fact, her strong faith that led to Sherri Shepherd's most exciting role to date, playing Lula in author Janet Evanovich's novel turned major motion picture, One For The Money, alongside rom-com queen, Katherine Heigl.
Sherri spoke with me from her dressing room at The View moments after playing on-air host to Heigl and her daughter, Naleigh, during that morning's show.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): The View must have been exciting for you this morning. Your One For The Money co-star, Katherine Heigl, and the book's author, Janet Evanovich, were both on today's show. How was that reunion?
Sherri Shepherd: I was so excited! It was really great because Janet Evanovich loved the movie, so that's a big endorsement; she loved Katie Heigl's character, and she loved my character!
PR.com: Was your character, Lula, in the film version of One For The Money, true to the way Janet Evanovich wrote her in her novel from her Plum Series of books?
Sherri Shepherd: Yeah, absolutely. There probably was a scene that was a little bit more brutal than what they show in the movie. I took some license with my character, which Janet Evanovich approved of.
PR.com: When you say "brutal" what are you referring to exactly?
Sherri Shepherd: In the movie, Lula is trying to help Stephanie [Plum] (played by Katherine Heigl) solve a mystery and catch the crook. I don't want to give it away because it's bad, but in the book the ramifications that happen to Lula are pretty brutal. In the movie it wasn't as bad, but it is bad. But it was pretty much true to the book.
PR.com: In your memoir ("Permission Slips," Grand Central Publishing) you talk about being a fan of Janet's writing. I can see why you felt a connection to the characters she writes about in her novels. They're about women who find themselves in less than ideal circumstances and surrounded by troubled men, and they have to overcome that. Was that why you connected with Janet's writing?
Sherri Shepherd: I did, but even before all of the stuff went on that I wrote about in my book, I had read One For The Money over seven years ago. Even in the subsequent books (the Plum Series), I love the evolution of the character, Lula. She didn't stay a hooker. She became a bounty hunter as well as one of Stephanie's best friends. Janet Evanovich writes females that are very resilient and strong, and I loved her strength. I put that on my vision board that if this book ever became a movie I prayed to play this character, Lula.
PR.com: That's pretty phenomenal.
Sherri Shepherd: It's exciting for me because it's a dream come true. It's hard to articulate knowing that I actually booked a role that has been on my vision board for the past seven years.
PR.com: You consider yourself a devout Christian. I've spoken with other actors in the past who were Christians and they've felt conflicts between taking on certain acting roles and how it clashes with their religious beliefs. With your character in the film One For The Money, Lula, being a prostitute, did you have any religious issues with playing her?
Sherri Shepherd: I see it as her not being a prostitute just to be a prostitute. I looked at it as, "What is Lula doing with her life?" Even in the [film's] trailer that's being shown everywhere, Lula says, "I need to change my profession." She goes on to have an epiphany and she realizes that she needs to get out of this profession or she could die. I think anybody who has a story to tell about their life and any kind of testimony, [it means] you went through some stuff. I don't want to play a perfect person. That's not interesting to me.
PR.com: You're extremely open and candid for someone who is in the public eye. You've spoken openly about everything from cheating spouses and boyfriends to abortions, and all kinds of mistakes from your past. Why the decision to be an open book?
Sherri Shepherd: Number one, because I don't want to look up ten years later and somebody goes, "I got something on you and I'm gonna sell it!" Then I would sit there going, "Oh shoot." Anything that comes out about me, I can say, "Look, I already talked about it." Secondly, I was a stand-up comic and that's what I talked about on stage, my life. I was not secretive at all. And I feel like it can help somebody else realize that, you know what, you don't have to be perfect to make a difference.
PR.com: I've always felt that if you lay all of your cards out on the table you take away the power for someone to harm you with it.
Sherri Shepherd: But it is a choice. Some people don't feel like they want to let people in on their private life, and I don't judge them. I'm just somebody who is used to talking about it on stage. I pitched a sitcom about my life and about my husband having an affair, and them having a baby. That was a very painful part of my life. I started getting up on stage doing stand-up, and when I met with casting directors about a possible show for me they asked me what was going on in my life. I told them and they said, "That's the show we want to do." Even with talking about infidelity, a lot of women came up to me and said, "Wow, it's ok to talk about it and it's ok not to feel shame."
PR.com: And it's ok not to have a perfect past.
Sherri Shepherd: Absolutely!
PR.com: Nobody does. Let's be honest.
Sherri Shepherd: Some people hide behind a smile and they feel like the world is going to look down on them if they're not perfect, and that's not true because everybody has a story.
PR.com: How was the dynamic between you and Katherine Heigl on the set of One For The Money?
Sherri Shepherd: I love Katherine Heigl. She was so great. At first I was a little leery because, of course, you hear things in the news and in the tabloids. We were sitting in the trailer and she couldn't have been nicer. On my first day on the set, she's like, "Come back to my trailer!" We talked and had lunch, and we'd hang out. We bonded on being married, being mothers, working mommy guilt and being in the business; and about cheating boyfriends. I had a great time with her, and I got to improv a lot with her on pretty much all of my scenes.
PR.com: Is Katherine Heigl good with improv?
Sherri Shepherd: I believe Katherine is, but I did most of the improving because I wanted to make her laugh. I love to make her laugh.
PR.com: In One For The Money your character, Lula, goes from being a prostitute to a bounty hunter. How does one go from being a prostitute to a bounty hunter, if one should want to make that transition (laughs)?
Sherri Shepherd: I guess the same way the main character (played by Heigl) went from a lingerie buyer to a bounty hunter (laughs). Like I said, that was the first book in the [Plum] series, where Janet Evanovich introduces Lula. Even Gayle King said to me this morning on CBS This Morning, "So it's been your vision for seven years to play a hooker? Really?!" And I think you have to read the book - she's written eighteen of them - to see what made Lula come out of that profession.
PR.com: Well, joking aside, I really don't agree with Gayle's question. It's not that you were eager to play a hooker. I think what appealed to you was that you wanted to play someone who turned out to be a real fighter.
Sherri Shepherd: And I wanted to play someone who was flawed. I think it was very interesting. Why would Lula be a hooker with a heart of gold? I think when you see my character it makes you laugh that even in a concrete jungle she sees flowers blooming through the cracks. Nothing gets her down. Even the brutal stuff that happens to her doesn't get her down. She's got a fighting spirit and I loved that; I related to that.
PR.com: Let's talk about some of your, shall we say, challenging moments on The View. There was that infamous clip from several years ago where you got into a debate with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar about evolution and the world being round or flat. I recently looked at the clip of that exchange and you looked like a deer caught in headlights. You had this plastered smile on your face, but it was a petrified smile...
Sherri Shepherd: (Laughs). I think that was my third day here [at The View] and I was so disconnected. There are three things I hate, and I say this in my book; I hate confrontation, I don't like to interrupt people and I hate debating, and those are the three things I have to do every single day.
PR.com: But you weren't aware of that before you took the job on The View?
Sherri Shepherd: You know it, but I think it's a big difference when you're sitting at home and you're screaming at the TV. It's just like when people go, "Weren't you aware of the job when you became president?" No. And I think that's why when we have people come in and co-host or we pull regular people from the audience who typically have a lot to say, they sit in that chair and they don't say too much. You sit in that chair and it's a little bit intimidating. You know how Barbara Walters is, you've seen Barbara Walters interviewing everybody, but sit next to her and see how much different it actually is.
PR.com: The person who may intimidate me, and I've interviewed Joy Behar, but Joy might intimidate me because she's such a politico. Joy has a brilliant political mind. You yourself said, when you first started on The View, politics was not your forte. In the beginning, did you have moments where you thought, "What am I doing here with these women? I want to run and hide!"
Sherri Shepherd: Oh yeah. Like with the evolution [debate], it was my third day and I had these expectations that everything was going to be great. I knew they talked about politics, but they knew that I was not into politics. I was a Jehovah's Witness for most of my life and I never voted. It's not the priority in their teaching. When that discussion happened about evolution, I had zoned out by that time, because all of the talking and going back and forth, it was so overwhelming. When we came back, [after that show], it was wonderful because they were all so supportive. And Barbara said, "If we didn't want you in this chair, I wouldn't have asked you to do it." What a confidence booster. She's been very patient with the learning experience that I'm going through.
PR.com: Had they told you that you were hired because of your different perspective, your religious beliefs, and because you weren't as well versed in certain subjects?
Sherri Shepherd: I think they liked that I was a single mom, the fact that I was very outspoken, that I put my business out there and I wasn't shy about it. I'm not going to speak for Barbara Walters and Bill Geddie, but I think they saw something that they could work with. I didn't come to them as a diamond. I came to them a diamond in the rough. If you ask me what I've learned or how I've grown, I think it's in the political field. Now I love to read about politics. Would I go on Bill O'Reilly? Maybe not, but I definitely have an opinion about politics.
PR.com: There was one other interesting moment from last year on The View. Your co-host Whoopi Goldberg used the "N" word to relay a story pertaining to Rick Perry's hunting camp of choice, which was once reprehensibly nicknamed "N*ggerhead Camp." When Barbara Walters repeated the same news story, also using that word, you became very upset. You said to Barbara, "When I heard you say it, I didn't like the way you said it." Yet, you were ok with how Whoopi said that word. What were you feeling in that moment?
Sherri Shepherd: I will say this: that is what I love about being on The View. There are times like that when things come up that we're very passionate about, and the reason why we can keep coming back every single day and it's not a big explosion is because we respect each other. Barbara respected my opinion and I absolutely respected hers. Now, were we very passionate about how we felt? Absolutely! After the show did we carry that energy off [set]? Absolutely not. We were able to go inside our hot topic room the next day, and say, "Ok, this is what we learned," and we were able to sit down and talk. That's what I love about what happened that day. It didn't boil over. I didn't come back to work and say, "I can't stand it, and I don't want to work here anymore." Nobody called me into the office and said, "You can't work here anymore." It's just, that's how it is every day. We have such a genuine respect for each other.
PR.com: So you have this freedom at The View roundtable to be able to look at Barbara Walters, or one of the other women on the panel, and say, "I don't like what you just said, that bothers me," and that's ok. You're allowed to freely express yourself.
Sherri Shepherd: That's what The View is. We're able to express ourselves. Hopefully we do it in a respectful manner. On that particular day and at that time I couldn't articulate it. I just feel that way, and I'm thankful that you just respect that I feel that way. The thing about it being on The View is that you can't stay on the subject for too long. But when it's over we can still talk about things. This is a show where we can say, "I strongly disagree with you. I don't like what you just said. This is the way I'm feeling." But at the end of the day nobody walks away feeling hurt or holding resentment. Each day is a new day. We couldn't do the show any other way, otherwise you would see a big explosion at some point, because if you let that stuff fester somebody's going to blow up.
PR.com: You also had the late John F. Kennedy, Jr's former personal assistant, RoseMarie Terenzio, on the show today. She wrote a memoir about her experience working for John and his late wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. You were the one who asked her the difficult question of the interview. It was RoseMarie who had convinced Carolyn to take that fateful flight with John that wound up in a fatal crash. Carolyn was not originally going to accompany John on that trip. You had to ask RoseMarie if she felt responsible for Carolyn's death. When you have to put someone in the hot seat and ask a question like that, are you afraid of angering or hurting them?
Sherri Shepherd: It is hard because you're sensitive to it and sometimes it's a difficult question to have to be asked. I'm very sensitive, but I'm learning from Barbara Walters that you have to ask those tough questions. And what I'm learning from Barbara is that you try to do it in the most compassionate way possible. But it's very hard to ask those kinds of questions because I just feel like saying, "I don't even wanna bother you about this. You know what, forget about it." (Laughs).
Sherri Shepherd: The audience is looking at you going, "No, I want to know." You have to put yourself in that mindset, because half the stuff I wouldn't even be asking. I'd be like, "You know what, that's your own personal business. We don't even have to go there."
PR.com: You remind yourself that you're a journalist.
Sherri Shepherd: Thank goodness I'm not a journalist, but this is what they hired me for.
PR.com: You are a journalist of sorts in that particular forum, in the context of your work on The View.
Sherri Shepherd: I don't want to take that journalist thing on, but I have to get the answer. They came on the show and they know what we're going to ask, so I'm just trying to do it in the most respectful way possible. I don't ever want anybody to feel like I ambushed them or took a perverse joy in asking a [hard question]. That's not me.
PR.com: You've got your hand in so many things. You're on The View, you wrote a book, and you have an emerging film career. What are you focused on and looking to expand in the near future?
Sherri Shepherd: I also love that I'm the host of The Newlywed Game (GSN Tuesdays, 6:30/5:30CT), and one of the only African-American females hosting a major game show. I would love to do some more 30 Rock episodes. I need to call Tina [Fey] and go, "Girl, are you too busy to write something?" But I would love to do more film, maybe a buddy comedy.
PR.com: Do you think One For The Money will show people your chops and what you can do?
Sherri Shepherd: You hope that with every film. I want it to be my The Help. I tried to audition for The Help but they had this girl named Octavia Spencer. They didn't need to even see me. I had the script and I said, "Plleasse!" And they said they weren't seeing anybody for [the role]. They already had Octavia.
Sherri Shepherd stars in "One For The Money," in theatres Friday, January 27, 2012.
Follow Sherri Shepherd on Twitter @SherriEShepherd.