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Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph Shares Frank Advice Robert De Niro Gave Her While She Was Fighting As A Black Actress In Hollywood

Sheryl Lee Ralph on Abbott Elementary
(Image credit: ABC)

Sheryl Lee Ralph has been putting in the work for over five decades. She’s done everything from film to television to Broadway. But it hasn’t been a walk in the park for the Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit actress, as she’s been incredibly open about her struggles in entertainment. After calling out a film producer for disparaging early in her career, Ralph opened up about some frank advice The Irishman's Robert De Niro gave her as she fought to gain traction as a Black actress in Hollywood.

The TV and film veteran received the advice while costarring with the Hollywood icon in the 1992 film Mistress. Robert De Niro was aware of how talented Ralph was as she played his lover in the dramedy. She and De Niro had a rousing conversation where he called her a “damn good actress” after they finished doing a scene together. Instead of sugarcoating the Hollywood experience, the Abbott Elementary actress got an honest response from the Oscar winner.

And then the moment that you’re talking about with Robert De Niro that’s maybe like 10 years later. Robert De Niro looks at me after doing a scene and says ‘You are damn good. You are a DGA. Damn good actress. And it’s sad because Hollywood is not looking for you. So, you better climb that mountain and wave the red flag and let them know that you’re here. Because they’re not looking for you.’

At least De Niro was realistic about Hollywood’s perception of Black actresses. Sadly, the Oscar winner was aware of how undermined and undervalued Black women in Hollywood were (and continue to be). At least the actor acknowledged her talent. The interaction left Ralph in awe of the acclaimed actor’s candor. The TV stepmom took his words to heart as remarked to the Jemele Hill is Unbothered podcast:

I’m like ‘Woah.’ But I’m being consistently told that I deserve to be here, that I’m good, that I belong. And that goes back to what you said earlier, I had to become unbothered by all this. And just carry on and do what I know I was meant to do. And that was to do great things in this industry.

Sheryl Lee Ralph had enough confidence in herself to take the Oscar winner’s advice and keep moving forward in her career. Opening about her Robert De Niro conversation was just the latest recount of the adversity she faced throughout their illustrious career. She recalled a producer telling her she would never kiss Tom Cruise in a movie because of her race. Just like her moment with The War with Grandpa actor, the actress used the moment as fuel for her acting career-- which viewers get to reap the benefits of today.

While she’s never worked with Cruise, she’s co-starred alongside Hollywood royalty like Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, the late Sidney Poitier, and Harry Belafonte. She went on to star in notable TV series like the classic UPN sitcom Moesha and Showtime's Ray Donovan. Of course, audiences get to see Sheryl Lee Ralph as Mrs. Norman on Abbott Elementary every Tuesday at 9 pm on ABC to see why it's worth checking out

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