God certainly places people right where they need to be. Longtime actress Sheryl Lee Ralph disclosed she initially wanted the role of Abbott Elementary’s principal Ava before landing the part of the intelligent Barbara.
In an exclusive interview with Us Weekly, Ralph, 66, explained that Abbott Elementary creator and lead actress Quinta Brunson told her she was meant to play Barbara.
“When I first read the script, I wanted to play Ava,” the Sister Act 2 actress said. “And Quinta was just like, ‘Absolutely not! We need a queen for Barbara and that is you.’ So I was like, ‘Well, alrighty then. Thank you.’”
Ralph plays Barabara Howard, the prudent kindergarten teacher who has taught at Willard R. Abbott Elementary School for 20 years. She’s also a mentor to her students and fellow educators. Brunson’s character, Janine Teagues, looks up to Barbara, always seeking validation from her.
Since Ralph began her role as Barbara, she has learned her character’s importance.
“I think it’s really the fact that Barbara is committed to human beings. Her love of her job, the love of the students that are entrusted in her care, every year,” Ralph explained, adding Barbara is “the kind of person that would agree to disagree, but trust me, in the end you’re going to agree with her. I just love that about her. She’s a wonderful human being.”
She continued, “I love the way — even though it’s difficult — she looks out for the younger ones. That’s so important. I cannot tell people enough, you have got to pay more attention to young people. How in the world are they going to learn?”
In September 2022, the Moesha actress won her first Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series. Ralph also won a Critics Choice Award for best supporting actress in a comedy series in February after performing the Black National Anthem at the Super Bowl.