Directed by Reginald Hudlin, the story takes place in 1941 when Marshall defended a black chauffeur accused of raping his wealthy Connecticut employer. “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman handles the role of the title character, alongside a cast that includes Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens and Keesha Sharp as Marshall’s first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey.
Marshall met Buster while she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and they married not long after — from 1929 until her death in 1955 from lung cancer. The couple had no children together.
Sharp, no stranger to biopics, said, “I tend to get a lot of strong women roles,” she told EUR/Electronic Urban Report. “I also tend to get a lot of women who are behind the scenes and who are holding up a really powerful man and they’re powerful in their own right but they choose not to be in the limelight and I love that about Vivian.”
In 2016, the NAACP Image Award-winning actress played Dale Cochran, the wife of Johnnie Cochran, in the FX anthology drama series, “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” She is also best known for her role as Monica Charles Brooks in the UPN/The CW comedy series, “Girlfriends,” and from 2010 to 2013, she co-starred in the TBS sitcom, “Are We There Yet?”. Sharpe currently stars as Trish Murtaugh in the Fox police comedy-drama series, “Lethal Weapon.”
She notes that “Marshall,” which has been nominated for 7 NAACP Image Awards, will leave you “feeling uplifted” and hopeful that “things can change.”
“When you’re in the midst of turmoil and it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, you walk away thinking, “Yes there is light at the end of the tunnel and I might be the person that brings it,” she said.
Adding, “This film really inspires you to go out there and do something” for your “community, or whatever your fight is.”
Read the rest of our conversation below.
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How did you get involved with Marshall? What excited you about the project?
KS: I’m a huge fan of Thurgood Marshall and I was ecstatic when I found out that they’re doing a film. It’s not based on his life. It’s a case in his life. Still, I was excited about being in anything that was mentioning him and bringing light to who he was and how important he was to this country. When I heard about it I wanted to be a part of it for sure. I asked to audition for it because I wanted the part really bad. I auditioned for it and I got it and I felt really blessed about it.
Did you and Chadwick do anything specific to work on creating chemistry together or was it there from day one?
KS: It was there from day one. I did meet him before the film and it was chemistry from the get-go and that was beautiful. We were Marshall and Buster. We weren’t Keesha and Chadwick, which is great.
Talk about how you most identify with Buster and in what ways you found her to be challenging to play.
KS: She’s a strong woman and I’m a strong woman and I tend to get a lot of strong women roles. Most people don’t know that she died from lung cancer. When she found out she had cancer she didn’t tell him because he was fighting the Brown versus the Board of Education case and she didn’t want to tell him so his energy would be anywhere but towards the quality in the country. That tells you a little bit about her and I would like to think that I am that way. That I’m a woman who’s really strong. That the betterment of the whole is important and sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good and that was Vivian. That was Thurgood too.
Were you surprised by anything you learned about Marshall and Buster’s dynamic?
KS: I would never have known about Buster had this movie not come to me. We know about Thurgood — some people know a little, some people know a lot, but I never knew about Vivian. So learning about his first marriage and how important she was to him and to the cause as well, and then finding out that she died so young, at 44. I also didn’t know how important Thurgood Marshall was to saving the NAACP. I knew about Brown verse the Board of Education. I know he was the first African-American supreme court justice. Those are the things we learn in school. But really delving into his beginning and his marriage, these are things that I think are so important for people to research and find out how did this man fight this fight. He did it with a strong woman behind him. He did it also with being a strong man, ‘cause there were so many instances where he could’ve been killed. He lived in Harlem but he was going to the south to fight these cases where he may not have returned. And Vivian knew that and she accepted that because the fight was so important.
Talk about any further insight you gained about Marshall as a result of working on this project.
KS: I didn’t think I could have much more respect. I had so much respect for him already but really learning and researching things I don’t know. It’s beyond that. Without this man, without this fight that he had for the greater good, I’m may not know my husband. Things were segregated and it could have continued down that route. Just the kind of courage and faith that he had in this country. It didn’t seem like it was possible that he could win all these different cases that he had. But he did and it reminds me today that we’re going through some rough times politically and in this country, but there’s always hope. There’s faith that things could change. He changed it. I can change it. You can change it. It makes me have so much more respect for his fight, his courage and all the things he did in his life — not just the things we know about but the little things for the men that we’ve never heard of. Those people that he fought to get freedom that we don’t know their names that didn’t have to lose their lives over things that they didn’t do because they were black.
One of the things that I was most excited about for the movie coming out is that I wanted people to say, “Thurgood Marshall…. I’m going to Google him.” Just going to the computer and googling his name and realizing how important he is to this country. I was excited for people to see the movie and wonder about him and then look him up and see how important he was, and is.
So in what ways do you think young activists can be inspired by this film?
KS: Even if you aren’t an activist, it makes you want to get out and do something. That’s why I think the film really hits everything it needs to hit without bouncing over people’s heads. Because what happens sometimes is you do a film that’s so heavy and so in your face that people will turn against it. It’s the perfect balance of a courtroom thriller but also the world in which they lived in and Thurgood Marshall. So it really opens your eyes instead of closing your eyes because it’s too much to deal with. It makes people really watch and say, “Gosh, I can really change things in my life. I don’t have to change it on the grand scale like Thurgood Marshall did or Martin Luther King or all the great activists that we’ve seen or are seeing— it can be on small-scale.”
It makes people want to do something for the greater good of the people. So if that means in your church, your community, your high school, your grammar school — whatever you can do, I think the movie inspires you to go do something. Whether you’re an activist or delving into activism on a smaller scale, I think it can really show you that you can do it. You don’t have to be divisive. It can be in a loving way but the truth will always prevail. It really shows people that you can make a difference in a strong, non-violent way. I love the idea of people watching it and wondering because they did such a beautiful job in making you want to know more about Thurgood Marshall.
“Marshall” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray January 9 and is currently available on Digital HD from Amazon Video and iTunes.
TV One will air the 49th NAACP Image Awards, hosted by Anthony Anderson, at 9 p.m. ET on Monday, January 15. The pre-show from the red carpet will air at 8 p.m. ET.