Interview Exclusive: ‘Lethal Weapon’ Star Keesha Sharp Talks Acting, Directing & Empowerment!
Keesha Sharp has distinguished herself as a top-notch force in the entertainment industry. Her role as Trish Murtaugh, district attorney, mother, and devoted wife of Detective Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), on FOX TV’s international hit series Lethal Weapon, earned her a nomination for ‘Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series’ at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards and this season she takes that talent behind the scenes as the director for one of their most action-packed episodes to date; one that promises many stunts, drama and a mid-season cliffhanger.
Keesha’s success extends beyond television though. Her recent performance as Buster Marshall, opposite Chadwick Boseman in the film Marshall, was strong enough to earn her a third NAACP Image Award nomination in the ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture’ category. In addition, Ms. Sharp is currently shopping an Eartha Kitt biopic set for production in 2019. Having been compared to the iconic Ms. Kitt since her early theater days, Keesha will now portray her in the leading role of a film featuring iconic songs, compelling childhood stories, and triumph through political blacklisting. There is simply no stopping this astounding actress!
Fan Fest News media correspondent Brian J. Cano had the opportunity to chat with the captivating Keesha about her exciting roles both in front of and behind the camera. Check it out…
Brian: I’ve been a huge fan of the Lethal Weapon series for years. When announced it was being adapted for TV, I was curious to see how it would be handled. There is often public skepticism when this is done, but I have to say it’s been a great ride! Additionally, with the movies, it was mainly about Riggs and Murtaugh, but with the TV show, all the characters get fleshed out, there are no filler characters, they all have depth. This leads me to Trish Murtaugh, she definitely got an upgrade from the film and you play her so well! Did you have any influence on the background or direction your character would take in the series?
Keesha: (giggles) Wow, that’s a great question, no one has asked me that one before! Thank you. I love playing her and it’s been so much fun to do. Concerning Trish, the writers tackled story first. As the show was developed, they took it episode by episode. Making her the way she is comes naturally from the story, they didn’t have her overall arc in mind from the start, but they definitely had the leeway to expand on her character. The truth is there’s a lot of women that still work at home, that’s still a very modern thing to do and a choice that some women make. They did want to make her a working woman so I love that they decided to make her a defense attorney. I had nothing to do with that but I would like to think that. Trish, she’s the closest character I’ve ever played to myself. So, other than, I’m not a lawyer but my parents wanted me to be but now I get to play one. I love that they’re able to delve into these characters. I think that they wouldn’t be able to do in a film. You don’t have enough time to do that. Lethal Weapon is really about more than just two characters, it’s about a whole family of characters and people love that about the show that they can learn so much about everybody because you have more time to do so. That was a really long answer. (laughs)
Brian: No, that’s great. I’ve been a fan of the show since day one, so to hear it directly from you… I love it. Feel free to embellish as much as you want.
Keesha: Oh thanks. (laughing)
Brian: Here’s the thing. You get a favorite TV show, you get involved with the characters, you get involved with the actors and now I see there’s a definite social media presence… you’ve ‘liked’ and ‘retweeted’ some of my tweets about the show a couple times so, I thank you for that…
Keesha: Thank YOU for those.
Brian: I feel like when you see actors grow on a show it usually leads to seeing them with a director credit. I know you have an episode coming up that you directed… Give me a day in the life of Keesha Sharp, director.
Keesha: Oh my goodness. That’s a long answer! I will try to not make it that long. What I will say is it’s a lot of work and the work began way before I walked in for my first concept meeting as a director, I did a lot of prep work. As I’m studying my lines for Trish, I’m also doing my prep work as a director because for everybody on the crew one of the most important things, in my opinion as a director, is to come in with a plan and to come in prepared. That’s what I did. I did a lot of work before I came in, I got very little sleep but it was worth every sleepless night. As the director, you are in charge of that episode. From the location to the colors you’re using to the actors you’re picking, everything is on your shoulders. As a director, the smartest thing for you to do is to use your crew, use your DP, use your writers in terms of … that’s what they do and they’re so great. I cannot tell you how lucky I am to have such an amazing production team and crew, that without them you can’t do the show. I’m using everybody’s incredible talent the way you should as a director. You’re just the person that answers the questions… Is this ok? That’s great. What about this? That’s wonderful. Then you come in with a plan in terms of the shot and then you listen to your DPs and then the DP [says], “That’s a great shot but what about this shot?” You’re like yeah, I like that shot better. So it’s a collaborative but, at the end of the day you’re the director and have the final word but I think it’s so important to listen to the talent of people around you. It’s just not one person. That being said, coming in and directing was a dream come true! A Lethal Weapon episode, it’s crazy! I’m also a junkie about action films, especially action films that have a story. I love action but if you come in like a Jason Bourne or Casino Royale or John Wick, especially John Wick 1 (I love the second one too but the first one is really my favorite) or Equalizer where there’s a story behind the action, that means everything. Then I get an episode [Lethal Weapon] that has all of that! One of the biggest episodes yet.
Brian: You’re teasing it for me. I can’t wait!
Keesha: I open the script, I was like oh my god! First of all, they’re trusting me with this big episode, I felt very appreciated and also blessed that they were like, “Ok Keesha, you wanna direct? Here, direct.” They gave me a huge episode and I was soooo excited! Not scared in any way, just really… oh my gosh, I got to direct an action-packed Lethal Weapon with a great story and that’s important to me. I don’t know if I answered the question…
Brian: Oh no, that’s great. This actually leads into something else I wanted to ask you as far as the climate in Hollywood right now. Women directors… Is now the time? Are there are opportunities abound now? Lethal Weapon, this is season 3 so they trust you, they know you’re going to take care of them. Do you feel this is a step in the right direction? Especially when you say this is an action-packed episode, this will show that yes, women can do this!
Keesha: That’s right! Yes and we love it just as much as the men. All we need is the opportunity. I think that is to be said for every different franchise group of people. All we need is the opportunity. Give me the opportunity as a woman, as a minority, as whatever. Give me the opportunity and I’ll show you that I can do it. You just have to be ready when that opportunity comes, right? I just don’t want it because I’m a woman. I love the idea that they trusted me. They could have given me an episode that had one action…
Brian: A feel-good episode.
Keesha: A feel-good episode, which is great and wonderful, I would love that too, but they didn’t, they gave me something with everything. A lot of times, as an actress, people will think, oh you’re giving it to me because I’m on the show or some kind of vanity credit. For me, that’s not the case. I’ve been directing forever, I have a minor from Boston Conservatory, I’m in theater so it’s different. For me, it was another example from the Lethal Weapon team that they don’t do that. We have women directors that come and direct on our show, they looked at me and said, “Keesha, you’re qualified. You’re not just getting it because you’re on the show [or] you’re a woman, you’re getting because you’re qualified.” That’s something that every person wants to hear. You wanna hear that they’re doing it because they believe in you, not that you’re an actress on the show.
Brian: That’s incredible. I’m so happy [you got to do that]. If it’s open, would you want to direct more Lethal Weapon episodes?
Keesha: Absolutely! (laughing)
Brian: I’m gonna switch gears to the bigger picture. You’ve done stage, you’ve done TV, you’ve been on the big screen. Which is the most fulfilling for you to work on and why?
Keesha: Wow. That’s a good question and a hard question to answer.
Brian: It’s tough, I know.
Keesha: It’s tough and I’ll tell you why. One has something that is so valuable for me as a performer… as an artist I love theater because you have the audience that is part of the show, you have this energy that comes from the audience that you can’t get anywhere else. You really can’t. It feeds you as an artist and every night doing a show, it’s a new audience… every night is different. So there’s something you cannot get other than from the theater. That being said, in terms of directing, whether it’s theater or directing television or film, there’s something about being in charge and being able to mold a story in a way that no one else could because it’s your concept, it’s your imagination and that’s something you can’t do as an actor. On the other side of that in terms of acting, there’s something about that. Acting for film and television, it’s so intimate. You get many different takes to do it differently and find different ways even the next five minutes isn’t the same as you did five minutes ago because you’re in a different space. I don’t think I ever do the same take, ever. That might be frustrating maybe but no director’s ever told me that. I never do the same take because it’s five minutes different and I feel differently, the characters in a different spot, she’s thinking differently. I wanna do everything [and] maybe a lot of actors say that but, I truly do. I write, I pitch shows, I direct, I wanna produce…
Brian: There’s something about the creative mind that wants to check all the boxes… I wanna be on TV, I wanna write a book. There’s something I haven’t done yet, let me fill that area.
Brian: That [now] leads me to young Eartha Kitt.
Keesha: Oh my goodness, yes.
Brian: Tell me. How’s it going? Is this passion project got legs? Is it moving forward? What can you tell me?
Keesha: Yeah, it definitely has legs. It’s something I’ve been working for over two decades. I’m sure you know the movie Boomerang. So I’ve been in the theater forever, I’ve played the clarinet, cello and piano, music, I love all of it. I was doing theater and I kept getting reviewed as a young Eartha Kitt, but for me, the only Eartha I knew was Boomerang. I was like, they’re calling me an old lady. I don’t understand why I keep getting reviewed like that. So what do I do as an artist? I have to go and research this woman. At the time, I’m a woman of certain years (laughs), [and] we didn’t have computers at the time so I had to go to the library and look up who Eartha Kitt was and understand when they said that [I was like Eartha Kitt] it was so much of a compliment. I start to realize that. [It was during] the Drama Desk Awards, my husband and I were there presenting, that Eartha Kitt received an award for The Wild Party and her music director came up to me as I was walking out of the room. He stopped me in the hall and said, “I have to tell you, you are the spitting image of Eartha when she was younger.” So, that was another thing. [I thought] I’m gonna have to start researching her. This woman was so, I hate to say ‘was’ because she passed away, but she was so iconic in a time of such racial discourse in this country and of course we’re dealing with a lot of that today. At the time, for her to make it when she did was unheard of and there’s this book called America’s Mistress by John Williams and he’s from the UK where they really appreciated her. He wrote this amazing book about her and I read it and I pursued the rights to it and we got ‘em. I’m so overwhelmed by the prospect of being able to do this story in the way that he wrote this book about her life. No one else wrote a book, even her own autobiographies aren’t as extensive as his book on her. He talked to everyone. I’m excited to be able to bring this story to life… a woman who was blacklisted for speaking her mind against the Vietnam War, who walked out of that White House and couldn’t find a job in the United States and had to go overseas to work and support her daughter. She was a wonderful woman, an amazing story. I’m just ecstatic that two decades later I’m going to be bringing her to life.
Brian: That’s incredible, her story is still as poignant today as ever. Like you said, with what’s going on in the country; the climate is… we feel like we’ve come so far yet we’re dealing with the same things over and over.
Keesha: And that’s why the story to me, it happened so long ago but at the same time it could be a story we’re telling today. Her story could be a woman today! How can we change that? Maybe telling the story from the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s we’ll see enough of a separation that people can watch it. You tell a story that people are like, oh that was a long time ago when you’re like well no, actually her story is her story is our story today but I can hear it and see it because it was a long time ago.
Brian: [I have] a little fun pop-culture follow-up question. This is short. Eartha Kitt, one of her most iconic roles was Cat Woman on the 1960’s Batman… Who is your favorite Batman? Which actor IS Batman for you?
Keesha: Oh wow. My favorite? I would say, Christian Bale. I would say that because he’s the heaviest and weightiest, [most] dark of the Batmans. We have the fun ones right, Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton. For me, it’s the deep ones, the ones you wanna know wow, what’s behind all that.
Brian: While I have you on the phone, I have to bring up Clayne Crawford. He had huge shoes to fill and I loved his portrayal of Martin Riggs. I won’t get into what happened behind the scenes, but the transition to Seann William Scott? I’ve always enjoyed him as an actor. Now there are two pairs of huge shoes and I think he’s doing a great job. Was this transition hard for the cast and crew this season?
Keesha: What I will tell you is it was a hard transition before we started shooting. All the stuff that was happening in and it was hard and we understood why the decision was made and I will tell you, which I am sure you probably already know, that the show was canceled. Once the decision was made, the show wasn’t coming back. It wasn’t until the last hour, I mean the last hour was that decision made and we got the call we were moving forward. We were done. We understood a decision was made and we understood and we also were sad that the show wasn’t coming back, it was very hard. Then there was this positive resurgence of, we can come back, we believe in our writers and showrunners so we knew that [it was coming back], I wasn’t nervous. With Lethal Weapon coming in where everyone was like, Why are they messing with the franchise? Leave it alone. It’s gonna suck and it’s gonna be awful and then we rolled through that with the first two seasons. Wow, they really did it!
Brian: The magic is back.
Keesha: The magic is back. We trusted in our writers, we trusted in the showrunners that if they can do what we did with the first two seasons, they were going to be able to overcome this, and they did. We were so excited. We are just so very blessed, to be honest.
Brian: I hope the viewers catch up. I didn’t know anything that was going on behind the scenes. As I watched the season finale I said, oh no! I looked it up and saw everything that came behind it, I was concerned for the show. When it was announced that Sean William Scott came on, so many people were not gonna watch it without Riggs. You have to give it chance. There are so many good writers. The whole crew, it’s not just one person. I’m so glad that you guys got that opportunity.
Keesha: Me too, I’m so grateful for that and that the show was saved and that we’re coming back. I wish people really understood that. You know networks and studios don’t make decisions like this lightly. We’re a hit show internationally. We found life and thank god we did.
Brian: I know we only have a couple minutes left. Are than any previews or teasers you can give us for Lethal Weapon episode 306? I know on Twitter the other day you said we sprinkle things from the movies in. I feel like you hinted at something. I am a huge fan of the movies! When I see the nod, I get them. Got it!
Keesha: What I’ll tell you is it’s a fun moment, I won’t tell you what it is, but you’re gonna know what it is and it happens toward the end. That’s all I’ll tell you.
Brian: You’re killing me!
Keesha: When you see it, you have to write about it. I won’t say it, I’ll let you write about it.
Keesha: You’ll know exactly which one. It was very fun. In terms of teasing, what I will say about the episode is that you’ll really find out why Cole is who he is, why he wants to shoot less. To me, Cole’s purpose is to talk a person down. On Lethal Weapon he knows every martial arts there is, he knows seven languages, he knows how to kill but that’s the last thing he wants to do. You find out in this episode why that is.
Brian: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to chat with me about this. I’m a huge fan. Best of luck with all your projects and your passions and I want to see more episodes with your name in the director’s spot.
Keesha: Woo-hoo! Thank you, I appreciate that so much!
Many thanks to Keesha Sharp taking the time to speak with Fan Fest News. We wish her continued success in all of her endeavors. Catch Lethal Weapon Season 3 Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on FOX TV.