Actress, singer, writer and director Keesha Sharp, 43, was born and raised in Rochester, New York, where she studied clarinet, piano and cello at the Hochstein School of Music. She graduated cum laude from the Boston Conservatory and quickly landed theatrical roles, making her Off-Broadway debut in Living in the Wind, performing in the national tour of Carousel and reading alongside playwright August Wilson in a workshop production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. On television, she recently played Dale Cochran in The People v. O.J. Simpson, and she currently plays Trish Murtaugh on the Fox series Lethal Weapon. Her other television credits include Are We There Yet? and Girlfriends. On the big screen, she has appeared in Why Did I Get Married? and The 636, and she plays Thurgood Marshall’s wife Vivian “Buster” Burey in the forthcoming film Marshall. She is also working on a full-length album. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Brad, and their son.
Jonathan Soroff: So do you still play clarinet, piano and cello?
Keesha Sharp: I do. The cello’s not so good anymore, because if you’re not practicing, your fingers get all exhausted, and you don’t have your calluses. But I still play. I love it.
Favorite thing about your time in Boston? Oh, my goodness, I have so many. Meeting some of my best friends, most of whom I still have today, performing on stage with such talented people. The truth is that when you get into professional theater—and I’m not talking about every show, obviously—you have some people who you’re like, “How’d they get in the show?” But at the conservatory, every single person was so talented. We did so many shows—Nine, Peer Gynt, Assassins—and they were phenomenal. Just being around such like-minded, gifted people was incredible.
Favorite Broadway musical of all time? Of all time? I love Once on This Island. I know it’s really simple, but I just love it. The story is about love, and it’s a class story, where the poor girl falls in love with the rich boy, and also in terms of color, because it takes place on an island. The lighter skinned you are, you’re presumed to be better, and that’s in there. That show just has a special place in my heart.
Were you always a Broadway baby? I was. I was that odd little chick. My brother and sister were into rap and hip-hop and R&B, and I was listening to Barbra Streisand. I was obsessed with her. Back in those days, we had a little tape recorder, and I would tape Yentl—which was one of my favorite movies growing up—off the TV. Then I’d go back to my room and sing to it. I always felt at home on the stage, and I miss it a lot.
Actor you most want to work with? I’m obsessed with Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s impossible to put into words. As an actress, I’m crazy method myself. I don’t go too far. I don’t have to experiment with drugs to portray someone on them. But a lot of people think I’m crazy with the things I do to prepare, and I feel like Daniel Day-Lewis would understand. I think he’d be heaven to work with.
Person you’ve worked with who was a dream? I loved working with Ryan Murphy, the producer, director and writer. I loved working with so many actors, but I guess I would say, because it’s so fresh in my mind, that Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford are both so great.
Anybody you’d never work with again? No. I’m a Gemini. I get along with everybody, even when they’re really difficult, and let me tell you, there’s a lot of difficult people in this business. But I always find a way to work through it. There was one actor on a movie who never showed up on time, would make us wait for over an hour, was rude to everybody, but I figured out how to deal with him. You never know what someone’s going through in their personal life. Most of the time, that kind of stuff comes from insecurity, or something else.
Role you wanted but didn’t get? I’m an actor! There are a million. But I’ll give you two. One was Django Unchained, and it was Broomhilda, the character Kerry Washington played. That was big for me, because I really thought I was going to get it. The other one I didn’t get was Lethal Weapon, at first. I really love the franchise, and I love those movies. I auditioned and didn’t get it, then got a phone call a month later saying that I’d booked it. You just never know.
Role you’re dying to play? I really want to play Eartha Kitt. She’s so amazing. I want to tell her story. I’ve been working on it for years. First, Janet Jackson had the rights, then Beyoncé’s company had the rights, but we’re delving back into it. That’s my dream role. I really want that to happen.
Singing, acting, writing—which is the most gratifying? Acting. I love the others, and it’s hard to choose, but there’s something about taking on a character that isn’t satisfied by playing music. You can get it by doing musical theater, but that’s because it includes acting. There’s nothing like losing yourself in someone else.
Biggest audition nightmare? I won’t name the casting director, but I’ll never forget the time I was auditioning for a really heavy role. The character had been beaten and now she was being stalked. In the scene, she’s being interrogated by the police, and it’s this very fraught situation. The casting director’s phone rings in the middle of the audition, and he actually answered it and had a conversation. The producers were so embarrassed. I was so mad. I swore I’d never audition for that casting director again, ever…and of course, I was cast by him a few months ago. [Laughs.]
How are you most like your character Trish Murtaugh? The only difference between us is that she’s a lawyer and I’m not. Oh, and she has three kids, but I only have one. Otherwise, we’re pretty similar. It’s the first role for me that is like myself. I support my husband in whatever he wants to do. I’m there for my child. Same with Roger and Trish. They’re a really solid couple, pursuing their dreams and wanting to make a difference in the world.
So is Brad Sharp the dreamiest man alive? Oh, yes. My husband is so romantic. And I’m not. I can’t tell you all the songs and the poems. He’s really just the perfect guy. He’s a really good person. He loves me as if we’d just met yesterday, and we’ve been together for 23 years. And that’s saying a lot.
Was making Why Did I Get Married? just hilarious? Yes, because of Tyler Perry. But it was also a real lesson for me, because he did everything. He wrote. He directed. He acted. It was a lesson in being able to do it all, and eventually, I might like to do that. So that was a schooling in doing that, and doing it well.
OK, so Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. Was that unfairly overlooked by the Academy? [Laughs.] You are so wrong. You are throwing shade! [Laughs.] No, it was not overlooked. But let me tell you. The reason I took it is that there’s a superstition in Hollywood that when you die in a film, it’s good luck. So when I read the script and saw that I died—very tragically, I might add—I decided to do it. It was fun and campy, and it had a little cult following. There are people who love it.
You practice a martial art called Krav Maga. What is it? It’s what the Israeli Special Forces use. It’s really a street form of fighting, and it incorporates everything—boxing, kick-boxing, wrestling. A lot of martial arts are a beautiful form, but this is down and dirty. I can protect myself in any situation. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use it, but if I need to, I’m ready.
What do you consider your best feature? I love my smile. And I think smiling is contagious. It lights me up, and then you pass it on.
Which would you rather have: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony or a Grammy? An Oscar. Followed by all the other ones. I want every single one.
Shot at the Line Hotel in Los Angeles; Hair by Terrance Hunt; Makeup by Stacy Andrews; Styling by Alvin Stillwell