Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph discusses the power of women and playing the President of the United States in Motherland: Fort Salem.
Living in the world of Motherland: Fort Salem is no easy feat for witches, and being President has its own challenges. Since season one, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph has recurred as the civilian President Kelly Wade, who is constantly at odds with Army leader General Alder (Lyne Renee). Ralph’s career has spanned several decades and has included theater, television, and movie roles. While brief, President Wade’s appearances have made an impact on the world of the show. The Geekiary joined a round-table interview with a group of other reporters to interview Ralph about her experiences on the show.
Ralph was open about the importance of the show, admitting that she loved how female-oriented it was. “It is unwavering in its strength, in all of the different kinds of women there are in the world. They are unapologetically female, and I love it.” Ralph went on to describe the diversity of the women portrayed in Motherland: Fort Salem and explained how the show’s themes of female empowerment resonate for her as an activist. “For me, I love the fact that we have a show on TV with women who love themselves, women who love men, women who love women, women who love themselves in totality.”
On playing President Wade, Ralph explained that she was offered the role by show creator Eliot Laurence after their experience working together on the TV series Claws. “He says to me, ‘I’ve got a new show in development, and you’re going to be perfect in it.” She recalled the surprise upon learning that she would be playing the President of the United States, and remarked, “The only thing I thought he should have changed was my name. I asked him to name me Michelle. I wanted to be President Michelle Wade.”
When discussing the pivotal season one scene where General Alder controls President Wade in order to maintain control of the Army, Ralph was initially unsure of how to approach the scene. “I was really in a moment where I was like ‘How in the world am I going to do this? What does that even look like?’” She eventually drew inspiration from an episode of The Twilight Zone where a man becomes a puppet controlled by his own puppet.
After being asked about the fan reaction she’s received from being on the show, Ralph was enthusiastic about the fans that have embraced her and the show. “You can see when it’s happening on social media, when the numbers start going up and up… they start coming in like a thousand at a time when these episodes start to come on. People are really connecting with it. The amazing thing is they stay! For me, it has really been great.”
Ralph then shared an interesting tidbit about the show’s cast. “In the cast of Motherland: Fort Salem, everybody sings. Just about everybody in the company sings. Everybody’s got a different kind of voice.” She went on to add that singing is vital to the show, pointing out, “It’s all about the woman’s voice. When they really want to kill the woman, they take her voice, which I find really interesting.”
The discussion turned to Ralph’s long and illustrious career as she explained her process of acting while singing, particularly emphasizing altering her singing voice to fit her character in the inaugural Broadway production of Dreamgirls.
When asked about the set of Motherland: Fort Salem, Ralph praised her experience. “We have a great time. If you look at our show, we’re an inter-generational show. We’re also an international show, a lot of us are from all different places. From South Africa to the South in the United States of America to England to France. We’re all from different places, so you have a true melting pot of feminine power. Everybody is learning something from each other. It’s been just amazing.”
Ralph commented that General Alder is one of her favorite characters on the show. “General Alder and I [as President Wade] are always up in each other’s faces. As much as I like [Lyne] Renee, I can’t stand General Alder… She’s shown how power can be abused and be abusive. She’s abusing her power, and when you have great power, you should handle it much better. I kind of like that character, what I dislike in her, I hope it doesn’t rise up in me.”
On her own character’s traits compared to her own, Ralph admitted, “I’m very fortunate to be able to work through these very different characters. There’s probably something in me I’m able to give to her, but when I’m done with the President, I want Kelly Wade to stay over there… Kelly Wade seems like one of those people that can really hurt you, but it’s all part of the job.”
After being asked why she’s done more television than movies in her career, Ralph admitted, “For a good part of my career, opportunities for Black actresses just were not available. From my very first film at age nineteen when I first came into the industry, it was ten years between the next role that I would fit in that wasn’t The Wiz, that was for Diana Ross. Within that time, that was it… I’m hoping that in the now, I’ll get to do more film.”
Ralph ended the interview by commenting on the current state of the entertainment industry and how it’s been affected in various ways by the pandemic, big business, and the increasing opportunities for people to take control of their own narratives.
Ralph will be appearing in the remaining two episodes of Motherland: Fort Salem’s season, starting with tonight’s penultimate episode. You can catch up on Motherland: Fort Salem’s current season with our reviews.
Author: Jessica Wolff
Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.
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