Sheryl Lee Ralph (‘Abbott Elementary’) on how she found the ‘golden ticket’ by being cast as Barbara Howard [Exclusive Video Interview]

Sheryl Lee Ralph is feeling the love. The TV veteran has brought to life one of the funniest new characters of the season with first-grade teacher Barbara Howard on ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” A God-fearing woman who knows exactly what her students need to succeed, Mrs. Howard isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, and Ralph revels in delivering a well-timed punchline. “This has been one of the most amazing moments in my whole career,” says Ralph in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “I honestly have to say, if there’s ever a golden ticket to be had in the industry, I feel like I got the golden ticket.” Watch the exclusive video chat above.

What makes Barbara such a resonant character for audiences isn’t just her shady wisecracks or her deadpan reaction shots — it is also her passion for what she does. This creates a dynamic where she may command respect, but she is also a generous spirit who is looking to help others, such as Janine (Quinta Brunson), her fellow teacher. “She has risen to the occasion of her own life,” describes Ralph, of Barbara. “I think she really expects that for other people, too. I think she really wants Janine to do that.” The actress admires that about her character, particularly the feeling that despite the difficulty that entails working at an underfunded elementary school, it is important for the community that they stick around and “hang in there.”

“Abbott Elementary” has been a major hit with critics and audiences in part because of the confidence of its vision. Brunson not only serves as the star but also writes, produces and runs the show, and Ralph commends her boss/costar for crafting a story that speaks to so many perspectives. “I love the fact that, as a young person… she was able to write about different ages and experiences,” observes Ralph. The pair often have conversations that don’t even have to relate to the show so much as life itself. “I was always an old soul,” the actress admits. “I see the same thing in Quinta. She is young, but she is wiser beyond her years, so I see myself in her.”

ABC renewed “Abbott Elementary” for a second season, which will premiere in the fall in the coveted Wednesdays at 9/8c timeslot. While Barbara has had many fun pairings over the course of the first season, including storylines with Janine, Jacob (Chris Perfetti) and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), Ralph is hoping to see more of Barbara with Ava (Janelle James), the school’s incompetent principal, next season. “The last frontier would be getting into the head of Ava,” the actress observes. “I wonder if there’s some sort of a pairing that might help her do something, especially since she has a platform of power. What can Mrs. Howard help Ava do?”

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