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Guest Star Goodness Q&A: Sheryl Lee Ralph, Smash “The Song” 

Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC

While the second season of NBC’s Smash has been getting mixed reviews, there’s one thing that’s certain. The best addition to the show has to be Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson (so far, she’s down as guest star. We’d love for it to be more). In tonight’s episode, there’s something else to be excited about and that’s vivacious actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who’s playing the micromanaging mom-ager to Hudson’s character.

Synopsis for “The Song”: Derek (Jack Davenport) calls in help for a special event, but Jimmy’s (Jeremy Jordan) pride might get in the way of a huge opportunity Karen (Katharine McPhee) orchestrates for him and Kyle (Andy Mientus). Peter (guest star Daniel Sunjata) challenges Julia’s (Debra Messing) pride as they continue to work together. Meanwhile, Ronnie (guest star Jennifer Hudson) struggles to assert her independence from a powerful mother (guest star Sheryl Lee Ralph), as Eileen (Anjelica Huston) finds herself at a moral crossroads with huge ramifications for “Bombshell.” Christian Borle and Megan Hilty also star. Jennifer Hudson, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Daniel Sunjata guest star.

Ralph’s appearance is made even better because of the Dreamgirls connection. We all know Hudson won an Academy Award for playing Effie in the big screen version of the hit musical. Meanwhile, Sheryl Lee was Effie  in the original Broadway production. Bringing together the two Dreamgirls is a genius move for the show.

Over the years, we’ve loved the diva-licious actress in everything from It’s a Living to Designing Women to Moesha. TV Goodness recently took part in a press call with Ms. Ralph. She talked about her guest star appearance; how Jennifer showed her some mad respect on the set; and she reveals who else from the cast she was elated to work with in addition to her newest TV daughter.

What is the best part of being on Smash?

SHERYL LEE RALPH: The best part of being a guest star on that show is that you know you’re probably going to get to do something great that’s basically a theatrical stretch but onscreen. And for me, it was the fact that when they called me in they said, ‘Look are you interested in playing the (mom-ager) to Jennifer Hudson on Smash?’ And this was coming from my agent. I told my agent, ‘That is not funny, do not punk me,’ and I hung up the phone. I hung up the phone.  He called me right back and he said, ‘No, no, no I’m serious. They’re offering you this like right now. Do you want to do it?’ Oh honey, please, I had [to] say yes so quickly it was unbelievable. I was so happy.

What is your character like?

MS. RALPH: First of all, I love this character. This is a woman who is so comfortable in her well-earned Manolo Blahniks that it is a joy just to get to play her. I was there on set and one of the execs came over and they said ‘My God, the last time we saw a woman like this, it was [Dynasty character] Dominique Deveraux.’ And for those of you who remember Dominique Deveraux, she was a powerful woman played by Diahann Carroll and I was just like, ‘Wow I take that as a supreme compliment.’ But also I had to stir in a little bit of a (mom-ager) or two that I’ve worked with just to make sure she had some authenticity.

Will you be singing?

MS. RALPH: Jennifer and I sing together just a bit but it’s a good song and it’s a good moment together.

Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC

What did you like about the dynamic between mother and daughter?

MS. RALPH: You know how it is sometimes when you’re a strong mother and you raise your child and then your child one day turns around and they are everything that you have raised them to be? Sometimes you have to rethink real quick how do you hold on to what you raised? So I love that dynamic between the two of them. And even when things get a little bit testy, there’s still that foundation of love. And I’m so thankful to have a character and a relationship written like that especially for women of color.

Talk about working with Jennifer Hudson.

MS. RALPH: I walked into my dressing room and inside the room was the hugest, grandest, most beautiful arrangement of flowers I have ever seen. In fact, they were so big that either the flowers had to go or I had to go. And when I opened the envelope and saw that they were from Jen, I walked over to say thank you and she looked at me and she said, ‘Miss Ralph, you don’t have to tell me thank you for anything because you are all that I ever really want to be.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It just made me feel — I can’t even explain it but I was like — ‘Wow what a moment, what a moment.’

Having starred on several TV series and in movies, what makes Smash stand out for you?

MS. RALPH: First of all, it was great to be there. Let’s put it this way, in L.A., you walk into these sparkling stages that have their own ghosts and all of that, but we were literally shooting in a tricked-out warehouse in Queens and I was like oh my goodness. If you would drive by this building you would never know all of that magic was taking place inside of those doors. The next thing would be the hours. I mean, it was an intense schedule, a really intense schedule and it was all day, baby. But I did love it. It felt good. It was like a hot shot of adrenaline and then you got to sing, too. Oh, it was great. Great wardrobe, great set, great songs, great cast. I really enjoyed it.

Other than Jennifer Hudson, who else did you enjoy sharing scenes with on Smash?

MS. RALPH: Megan Hilty! Megan and I worked together before on a workshop musical called It’s On and we had such a ball working together. And when I got to the set she was like, ‘Oh my God are we going to get to do this musical together?’ So she and I are really hoping that the musical goes and who knows, in her hiatus we might be able to get that musical on its feet. We had such a ball so it was great to see her and work with her even if it was just a little bit.

Sheryl Lee Ralph guest stars on Smash tonight — the musical drama airs on NBC at 10/9c. Rescue Me hottie Daniel Sunjata takes part in the action as well.

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