Exclusive Interview: 'Woodlawn' Actress Sherri Shepherd Discusses Faith, Race, and Why She Believes Love Can Change the World

( [email protected] ) Jan 22, 2016 05:46 PM EST
Mama Nathan
Sherri Shepherd is an American comedian, author, businesswoman, actress, and television personality. Pure Publicity

Sherri Shepherd is a woman of many talents. Whether she appears in a comedy, drama, or television sitcom, The View alum has the rare ability to move audiences from laughter to tears and back again--all in one scene.

"If there's a question of whether I should do a role or not, then I love to look for roles that have consequences to them, because I love playing flawed characters," Shepherd told The Gospel Herald in an exclusive interview. "I don't know anyone in my life that is perfect. A lot of my friends aren't Christian, so I love to play the flawed characters, but I also like them to reveal that there are consequences to their actions. Number one, my gifting is in making people laugh. I do want them to laugh."

Recently, Shepherd stole hearts across the nation as legendary running back Tony Nathan's no-nonsense mother, Mama Nathan, in the new faith-based film "Woodlawn".

"I love the fact that Mama Nathan was a strong woman," she said of the role. "I'm a mother as well, and the backbone of a family is the mother; we take care of the home, we provide the peace. I think people really related to me as Mama Nathan, I got to be funny in the movie as well; during that time there was a lot of tension, and I think I gave people permission to breathe and laugh."

Coming out on DVD on January 22, "Woodlawn" brings to life the extraordinary account of how the faith of a chaplain and a star football player sparked a spiritual awakening and eased the racial tensions plaguing a high school team in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973.

When asked if she believes the film's themes of racial reconciliation, love and healing are relevant today, Shepherd didn't hesitate: "'Woodlawn' shows that one person's faith can change a whole community, and we need that today," she said. "It's so missing, we're missing a lot of love and joy in the world and a great deal of faith. I think this people gets back to the reality of how to do life."

Drawing parallels between the film and the racially charged issues prevalent in the U.S., Shepherd added, "The same thing that was happening then is happening now. But, it just shows people that love and faith can change a community and change a world. The Jesus movement was real and it changed an entire generation. I think the truth is that we need love -- the greatest of these is love, and that is truly, truly missing today. When you love your brother, you don't do a lot of the things that are being protested about today."

Released in theaters last October, "Woodlawn" instantly saw the kind of success unprecedented in the faith-based film industry, outperforming predictions in its opening weekend at the box office with over $4 million. The film also earned a staggering A+ CinemaScore rating, winning the praise of mainstream critics.

"People are thirsty for movies about faith, they want to see it, I think they hunger for it," Shepherd said, "It was nice to able to do Woodlawn and see how people were changed when they left that movie theater."

Woodlawn's Sherri Shepherd
Sherri Shepherd stars as Mama Nathan in the faith-based film ''Woodlawn.''
(Photo: woodlawnmovie.com)

The popular comedian also credited the film's success in part to its star-studded cast, including Jon Voight, Sean Astin and Caleb Castille, and sterling cinematography.

"A lot of times, people say, 'We don't have a lot of good Christian movies,'" she said. "In this film, the cinematography is excellent, the directing, the acting. I just hope that people will tell a few friends, and then they tell a few friends, because it's a movie that's truly life-changing. I think anybody that watches it will walk away going, 'Yes, yes!'"

In addition to co-starring in "Ride Along 2" alongside Kevin Hart and Ice Cube as a wedding planner-- a role she described as "so, so fun"-- Shepherd is working on a new book and producing an African-American version of the hit reality series "The Bachelor," which will air on WE TV in July.

"I don't do reality shows, but when a show called 'Match Made in Heaven' was presented to me, I said, 'You know what, I've been very vocal on The View about the lack of color on 'The Bachelor', and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was," she said. "I'm so excited about this project...We even have a pastor on the show who prays with the girls before the elimination to let them know that this may be a denial, but it's not a 'No' from God. I love the fact that there's a pastor who prays and counsels the bachelor."

Regardless of what role she's currently taking on, whether it's that of an actress, businesswoman, mother, or author, Shepherd strives to emanate the love of Jesus.

"When you ask me how can I smile in the midst of horrible things, I will tell you it's Jesus," she said. "I go more toward having love and I don't like to argue about the things. If that's the way you feel, then that's the way you feel. I will pray for you, but ultimately, I'm going to love you."