August 15, 2019 

By Lapacazo Sandoval 

Contributing Writer 

Director Tom Shadyac (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”) was not originally looking at 52 years old actress Sherri Shepherd to play Leomia Banks, the mother of Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) in the film “Brian Banks.” In a happy turn of events, the actress did what she does best, which is, to stay in the game, never giving up and always proving that there is much, much more to her than meets the eye. This funny lady has layers like a peeled onion and like an onion, she can bring a tear to an eye. 


In many ways, it’s Shepherd's performance that brings the much-needed balance in telling the hard parts of the truth of what really happened to Brian Banks. 


“Brian Banks” is an inspirational true story of Brian Banks, an all-American high school football star who finds his life smashed when he’s wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Despite the lack of evidence, Banks gets pushed through a broken justice system and sentenced to a decade of prison and probation. Years later, with the support of Justin Brooks and the California Innocence Project, Banks fights to reclaim his life and fulfill his dreams of playing in the NFL.


Shepherd made her name as a comedic actress in projects like “30 Rock,” and recently in “Mr. Iglesias” on Netflix. Here is an edited phone conversation with the gifted Sherri Shepherd.


L.A. Watts Times: You are an excellent actress Sherri Shepherd and in playing Leomia Banks, the mother of Brian Banks, you deliver. I can’t wait to see more of your dramatic work. You always surprise me. I respect your ability to always stay in the game.


SHERRI SHEPHERD: Thank you. Can I put you on the phone with my daddy?


LAWT: Yes, or better yet send him the link when the story runs. How did you get involved with this project? I’m sure that your desk is filled with scripts.


SS: (laughing) I wish my desk was filled with scripts. This project came from my agents and when I read it, I connected with Leomia Banks as a mother. At the time my son was 12 years old and I said my baby could be Brian Banks. I connected with her for her faith. She had to use her faith to sustain her. I connected with the love that she has for her son despite the horrible things that were happening to him.


LAWT: Why did you say that ‘you wished you had scripts on your desk’? Did you have to work to get this part?


SS: Yes, yes I did. I asked my agent to please, please get me an audition for this role. The very thing that people love me for which is my comedic background worked against me. The movie was so heavy as a drama that they weren’t interested in seeing me for the role. They were looking at names like Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser, Jada Pinkett, Halle, it was a bunch of names [actresses] known for drama. Can you imagine? I’m a standup comic. All I knew that in my soul that I connected with Leomia Banks, I was Leomia.  It took weeks for me to finally get the audition and then I did face time with the director Tom Shadyac. It was wonderful because he has directed other standup comics. He wrote the “Nutty Professor” and he’s directed Eddie Murphy in a bunch of movies. He knew how to work with stand-ups. I knew I had gotten the part when [Tom] said that I brought a softness to the role which is what he was looking for.  Then he said he had to sit on Eddie Murphy with his comedic timing and I think that I have to sit on you. He was able to take the comedy side of me and put it on the shelf with the fine china and bring up the more painful side that stand-up comics cover up with comedy.


LAWT: There by the grace of GOD go anyone of us. Brian Banks was falsely accused of rape and jailed for six years.  For so many Black and Brown people there is no real justice inside the justice system. How did Brian stay sane?


SS: Leonia, when he (Brian) was incarcerated, she drove three and a half hours there and thrre and a half hours back, the entire time he was incarcerated. She wrote him a letter every day. And that is what kept Brian Banks sane. I want parents to see that you make such a difference in your child’s life.


LAWT: There by the grace of GOD go all of us.


SS: Yes. Twelve years of his life were taken away because they just automatically believed somebody and didn’t do the due diligence, And not only that, at 16 years old, they wouldn’t let him consult with his mother and forced him to make a decision that affected the rest of his life. So being able to play that woman who advocates for her child was something special to me because I have to advocate for my son Jeffrey all the time.


LAWT: Indeed, last words Miss Sherri Shepherd.


SS: Let’s use our voice to change the judicial system I don’t think children should be, he was arrested when he was 16 years old, I don’t think children should be tried as adults. And something that Brian said too, go to jury duty stop trying to get out of jury duty. And I used to do that all the time. But go to jury duty because God forbid you are in front of a jury you want someone that looks like you. That might have empathy for your situation. So I hope that we bring awareness to this judicial system and how unlevel it is.

Category: Arts & Culture