Keesha Sharp: The Vivacious Optimist
Keesha Sharp has gained recognition starring on Fox’s TV series, Lethal Weapon. With her presence on screen and a film career spanning 18 years to date, one might guess she grew up like many young aspiring artists with the sole goal of succeeding as an actress. But while she was always a performer at heart, she didn’t always have her eyes on acting.
Starting out in the music world, Sharp was convinced she would end up in an orchestra playing trumpet or clarinet. This changed in high school when she got a part in a play. “It wasn't until I think, the seventh or eighth grade when I was cast in, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. That's when the acting bug hit me,” she recalls.
From then on Sharp realized that she could pursue both her love for music and acting through theatre. “Because the play was a musical, it had everything I loved: music, singing and suddenly acting. That's where it all started for me,” she recalls.
Married for twenty-one years (and counting), Sharp and her husband worked together in the early days and supported one another while pursuing their creative endeavours. They were able to make it work by picking up corporate gigs instead of following the common route of waiting tables in the meantime.
“My husband and I are both actors and musicians. We would trade off doing corporate work as needed to allow us to pursue whatever we wanted to do. For me it was acting, and for him it was music. I got really lucky that I got to do gigs related to the things I loved,” she recalls. Although Sharp was born in New York State, she found herself in Toronto at the start of her career. “I started professional theatre in Toronto because it was closer than Manhattan. That's where I found my first love of musical theatre,” she shares.
As with any career, there are positives and negatives to working in a similar field as your partner. Sharp's positivity, which shines through her social media channels, was what made it work. “It absolutely helped that both of us were pursuing a career in the arts and not a nine-to-five job. The benefit, which I think outweighs any negatives, is that you both understand what you're trying to achieve. It's not just some kind of hobby, it is a viable career as significant as a scientist and a lawyer. With acting, you have the ability to reach people in another way,” shares Sharp.
On Lethal Weapon and acting
Treating her career with passion and diligence, Sharp was set to land great roles. Currently she plays Trish Murtaugh, a warm-hearted and highly intelligent lawyer on Lethal Weapon. The show’s popularity is evident by an ardent fan base that posts non-stop about show updates.
If there was ever a role made for Sharp, this was the one. “Of all the roles I've ever played, Trish is the most similar to who I am. The only difference is that she's a lawyer and I'm an actor. It’s been really cool to play a character with such similarities to my own personality,” she explains. She joked about the fact that her mother wanted her to be a lawyer when she was growing up, and sees the humour in now playing one on screen. “I joke to her all the time that I may never be a lawyer, but I play one,” laughs Sharp.
In doing my research, I watched a few episodes of Lethal Weapon (and by a few I mean I binged the entire first season in a week). I'm not sure if there's anyone in the world who wouldn't fall in love with Trish and the kindness of her character within the first few episodes. Her welcoming nature and compassion shine through, and when I interviewed her I instantly felt connected to this incredibly endearing woman.
The show features conflicting dynamics between all of the characters. But behind the scenes, a true friendship lies between Sharp and actor Rex Linn, who plays Nathan Riggs in the series. While the actors may be laughing and joking off screen, the serious storyline often prompts them to take a moment to get into character before shooting. “We're both the same way in that if we're talking and they give us a five minute warning, we go and prepare. I can't just go from laughing to action. I need a moment to get into the mindset of where the character is at the time, especially if it's a really intense scene,” shares Sharp.
Playing many different roles in her career, Sharp struggled to pinpoint one as a favourite. “It's almost impossible for me to pick one since they all have such a special place within me,” reflects Sharp. She did highlight her love for Trish however, saying, “I love what she represents. A modern woman who has a powerful job, is a loving mother and a giving wife.” It's the path Trish’s character takes that provides a vehicle for Sharp to represent strong women on screen, explaining, “last season Trish quit her job because she wasn't being compensated what she believed she should have been. I love that the writers did that. It was a proud moment for my character to say that unequal pay is not fair, not right, and people have the power to say no.”
For Sharp, choosing what roles to accept comes down to what the character and story have to offer. “When a script is so compelling that I would do it for free, that’s a sign for me. If the story is great then I want to be a part of it for sure,” says Sharp.
In American Crime Story: The People v. O.J., Sharp played wife of the famed defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran, played by Courtney B. Vance. The producers advised the actors not to contact the real life people they were portraying, to have them remain impartial and follow the story as written. “The show didn't want us to meet them because it would have likely affected how we played the role. The characters would have had expectations of how they want to be portrayed, rather than letting the actual story unfold,” reflects Sharp.
I asked Sharp if she had heard from the real Dale Cochran since the show aired two years ago. “I have not, but I still would love to. The thing about Dale is that there isn't a whole lot of information available. Because of that, there is a lot of information about her. She seems to be a very private person, staying out of the limelight. She's supportive in a quiet way to her husband. I do hope that she loves what we did and that we represented her well,” shares Sharp.
Sharp is one of the rare actors who uses social media to give advice, inspiration and encouragement towards her fans. She's a shining beacon of light in what can sometimes be a dark world of trolling and negativity. “I love inspiring people with something I'm going through. I’ll put a quote up that's helped me and hear the response of, I needed to hear that today. I love that,” says Sharp.
Not only does she post inspirational thoughts, she also responds to many fans' questions with thoughtfulness and genuine advice saying, “I do like that you can interact with whoever you want. How many people can say that?”
Diversity changing on set
Working tirelessly as a both a woman and someone of colour in Hollywood, the tables have been turning on diversity. Sharp has noticed the change in roles available to her, from when she began acting until now. “We're starting to see the political voice of this country bleed into the industry. Women are being seen as more than just the sidekick to a man. In Lethal Weapon, Trish and Roger (Trish’s husband) are both balanced. Both support one another, have important jobs, take care of the children and cook together,” explains Sharp.
Sharp has also noticed a change in both the amount of roles available to women, and the breadth of storyline the characters explore. “We’re seeing more women in powerful positions. And not just in front of the screen but behind it too as directors, writers and producers. For women of colour, it has noticeably changed the past three years. It used to be common to see only one black person on a television set. It didn't really represent the diversity in USA or Canada for that matter. Things seem to be changing for the better,” she shares.
This is the change the world has been waiting for, and it looks like it's here to stay. Keesha Sharp is set to make waves in this time of change through her optimism, strength, and shining example of how to pursue what you believe in.
Catch Keesha Sharp on Fox’s, Lethal Weapon.