Interview with Keesha Sharp | Channeling Eartha Kitt
“The price we pay for being ourselves is worth it.”
Award-nominated actress, writer, and director Keesha Sharp has become known in the entertainment industry for her innate ability to bring complex characters to life on screen, her consistent professionalism, and her undeniable inner and outer beauty.
Sharp plays Trish, a lawyer and devoted wife and confidante to Roger in the international hit series Lethal Weapon. Rebooting the hit movie franchise of the same name, Lethal Weapon follows Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh as they combat crime in Los Angeles. Keesha also introduced her directorial skills to the show, directing one of the largest, most action-packed episodes the show has done to date, which included many stunts, drama, and a mid-season cliffhanger. Sharp was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards for her work on the show.
Born in Rochester, New York, Keesha was immersed in music and studied the clarinet, piano, and cello at the prestigious Hochstein School of Music. Her enthusiasm for school theatre led her to apply to The Boston Conservatory, where she received a scholarship. After graduating Cum Laude with a B.F.A. from the Conservatory, Keesha set her sights on the stage. She performed in the Broadway National Tour of Carousel, debuted Off-Broadway in Michael Bradford’s Living in the Wind and played eight different roles in the interactive comedy Eat the Runt. Other theatre performances include: Abyssinia, Aida, Thunder Knockin’, Jitney, The Producers, Big Street, Suburb and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, in which Sharp read alongside playwright August Wilson.
On the feature film front, Sharp can be seen starring opposite Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, and Sterling K. Brown in the biopic Marshall. The film follows the story of Thurgood Marshall (Boseman), the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases. Sharp was nominated for her third NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture category for her standout role as Buster Marshall in the film.
In the Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning limited series The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, she played Dale Cochran, the wife of defense attorney Johnny Cochran and in her series regular role as Gigi on the TBS/Syndicated comedy Are We There Yet, she made her directorial debut. Her role as Monica Charles Brooks in the hit CW series Girlfriends rewarded her with her first NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
In addition to her work on the screen and stage, Sharp wrote and directed the 2014 short film Half-Off and co-wrote The 636.
She continues to sing, and currently has a full-length album in production. When she isn’t working in front of or behind the camera, or in the studio recording music, Sharp has a love for fitness and stays in shape boxing and studying Krav Maga.
The list of her filmography is long and impressive but her most intriguing role is yet to come. Sharp just announced that she will be co-producing and starring in an Eartha Kitt biopic film, based on the book America’s Mistress by John L. Williams, set to head into production in 2019. Having been compared to the icon since her early theater days and dubbed by many reviewers as a “young Eartha Kitt,” Sharp will portray Kitt in the leading role of a film that promises iconic songs, compelling childhood stories, and triumph through political blacklisting, all told through salacious details.
In the following interview, Keesha reveals who has influenced her early on in the entertainment industry (it will surprise you), how her professional experience has contributed to her personal growth, and how persistence, a strong desire and determination can lead to your dream project being produced. Hint: Nothing worth having or accomplishing happens overnight. You’ve got to bring your A-game at all times.
- Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is Keesha Sharp?
I’m an Artist. I express myself in both simple and complex ways, but I always live in a creative space. Socially, I may have a big personality, but I actually am very private and do not like big crowds. My faith, my family and my craft are the most important things in my life.
- Who or what influenced you when you started out in the entertainment industry?
Actually, when I started out in theatre and went off to college, my biggest influence was Barbra Streisand. I literally wanted to be her. Of course, I was influenced by all great actors and musicians, but while in college I was introduced to who Eartha Kitt really was and I became obsessed with her.
- What was your path of consciously deciding to be an actress and what was your first role?
I was always in the Arts. I started out playing the cello, then classical piano and clarinet. Naturally, that led to me doing school plays. My first role back then was Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” Consciously, I enjoyed the stage very much. Subconsciously, I think I was able to express emotions I wasn’t comfortable with in real life.
- Which was your favorite role so far and why?
That’s really hard as I have loved EVERYONE, but I will say Gigi in “Are We There Yet?” Ali LeRoi & Ice Cube really gave me so much freedom with the role and the lines that I have never felt more free as an actor. It was a multi-camera comedy, so I would love to have that freedom in a deep drama as well. A close runner-up is Trish on Lethal Weapon because it is really rewarding to portray a role so closely similar to who you are.
- How has your professional experience as an entertainment professional contributed to your personal growth?
Being an actor has allowed me to grow emotionally as I have tapped into new levels of myself. As for the business, I have learned to not take things personally. Whether it be rejection, of which we constantly face, or the criticism/praise on social media, I know all that matters is my integrity, doing great work and giving back to the world.
- In addition to acting, you have also directed in a couple of TV series episodes. Please tell us about your experience as a director of these projects.
My experience with these projects was amazing. I have always wanted to direct and getting the opportunity was a dream come true. One thing any director learns quickly is that it is not about the director. You can’t steer the ship without every part working together and that means valuing every single person that is contributing to the story being told. Before I ever directed, I shadowed directors, editors, production, writers, wardrobe, sound, crew, post-production, everything. I wanted to know how each person did their job. In addition, I prepared my shot lists and was very organized so that we could all be efficient. I was a little anxious, of course, but the thing I am most proud of is how we handled things when problems arose. Something might have been rescheduled or something looked different than originally planned. I had an amazingly supportive group on both projects and we worked well as a team. I am very proud of that work.
- You just shopped a biopic about Eartha Kitt. Please tell us a bit about the script and what motivated you to write it.
Well honestly, I have been trying to get this project done for almost 15 years. It has not been easy, but since the first time I was reviewed as a young Eartha Kitt, then having her musical director and others approach me with the same sentiment, and knowing who she was as a strong woman, I have longed to play her. I do not want to reveal too much about the story we are telling, but essentially, we are showing her as a woman who refused to compromise within the setting of her tremendous fame and unique magnetism that no one has matched before or since. Even at the cost of losing everything. Her story deserves to be told.
- Do you intend to not only play the lead role in your Eartha Kitt film but also direct it?
I do not want to direct this as I want to focus on playing the role.
- Please tell us about the album you recorded and your work as a singer.
I have recorded a holiday EP with my husband, but we are working on a full-length album for me now that I will describe as Hip Standard. When I first moved to NYC, I worked in musicals, studio sessions and big events as a singer. But once I started doing straight plays and then TV and film, I haven’t had the chance. But I look forward to my return to singing.
- Are you involved in any charity organization or humanitarian cause you would like to talk about?
I have many I care about. I have been involved intimately with 3 organizations:
– Homes 4 Families, which provides low-cost homes to Veterans.
–Generosity.org, which provides clean water solutions and poverty relief worldwide. We have sponsored a few water wells that were built in Africa and it is very important to me.
– Project Angel Food is another organization I often volunteer with to drive or work in the kitchen.
But honestly, there are so many I love such as Zoe (to combat Human Trafficking), Heifer, and the Salvation Army.
- What is an issue or cause not enough people are talking about in your opinion?
In my opinion, childhood victims of sexual abuse. Boys and young men are often left out of the conversation about healing from abuse. We should be healing all victims of sexual abuse. But there is a toxic masculinity that often prevents boys from speaking out and from people remembering that they suffer too.
- As a prolific entertainment professional, wife and mother, how do you balance your busy professional life with your family life while also managing to include fitness in your routine?
Well, I think you have to be both disciplined and flexible. You have to make sure that the things you want to get done, including fitness are not compromised. However, be realistic that plans always change especially as a mother and entertainment professional. If you have to cancel, have a specific time and place to make it up. As for family, my husband is my partner in everything– literally everything. He runs lines with me, we work on all press and decisions together, and so that makes it easy to spend time. The key is priorities. I love my work, but my family comes first. So, all things must be balanced with that in mind.
- What has been one of your favorite moments in life?
My son being born. The moment they brought him up to my face and then him breastfeeding. Definitely the most special moment.
- What is the most beautiful sound/sight in the world for you?
Standing by the bluest water in the perfect temperature (not too hot) listening to the gentle waves right before the sun sets.
- How well would you get along with your clone?
I would get along so well with her. I am already a Gemini, so I am conformable with many parts of myself. I think we would be best friends (smiling) It might drive my husband crazy but I’m sure he would grow to love her too.
- How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as a kind person who was full of life and always strived to break limitations while never getting ahead by being unethical or nasty to people.
- The spirit of The Hedonist Magazine is “The Essence of a Joyful Living.” How does Joy during the creative process affect your own experience and in consequence the final manifestation of your actions?
I think Joy is essential. When you lose it, you lose your creativity. Even in the midst of darkness, it is the joy that brings you out. As artists, we are people who find the good in all people and find joy in sad places.
- When you hear: “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words by Abraham Hicks. What is your take on such a statement?
My take is that I firmly believe you can be and achieve anything you want, but how you get there, is just as important. I know some people think they can become anything at any cost, but I think it is important to have respect and genuine love for every person and that truly will fortify anything you achieve.