ELIXHER got the chance to chat with the super talented and stunning Sherri Saum, star of the new ABC Family series The Fosters. Sherri plays Lena Foster, a school principal and mom raising a multiethnic family with her partner Stef (played by Terri Palo). Just two episodes in, the series has garnered a ton of buzz for its intense drama—and, of course, having a same-sex couple play its leads. Sherri shares what it’s like playing a lesbian on screen and how the show plans to unpack some tough issues.
ELIHXER: Congrats on the premiere of the show! What has the response been like so far?
SHERRI: Thank you! It’s been really overwhelming and genuine. Everybody has just been so sincere about how much they enjoyed the show and how much they were surprised they enjoyed [it]. ABC Family maybe wouldn’t be their first choice for television but they were pleasantly surprised.
On Twitter I had a couple of lesbian followers who earlier on, before the show debuted, they were like, “Ok Sherri Saum, I see that you’ve got this show. I’m going to withhold judgment until I see it.” They were kind of skeptical. One woman in particular, I got a tweet from her after the premiere and she was really satisfied and happy and entertained with what she saw. So that meant a lot because I knew she wasn’t going to give me a free pass. [Laughs.]
ELIXHER: When you were first approached to play a lesbian mom, as a straight woman, did you have any reservations?
SHERRI: When I got into playing her, the thing about being in love with a woman, it was just this groundbreaking feeling. Love is love and I just really got that point. Everyone was like, “Well, how did you prepare to be a lesbian?” [Laughs.] And you know, I had that moment of oh my gosh, I have to prepare to be this lesbian. And then I just threw that all out the window and decided I’m just going to love her, love Stef [my wife on the show], and surround everything in love.
ELIXHER: Was there an initial chemistry there between you and Teri Polo? Did you two have certain exercises to get that spark on screen?
SHERRI: Teri is extremely accessible. She speaks her mind. You never have to wonder what she’s thinking. She’s a very easy person to get along with. Second, the director, Timothy Busfield, definitely spent quality time with the cast throwing us into improv situations, getting us really comfortable with each other so that by the time we shot the pilot it would already feel like we were on episode ten because we’re so comfortable with each other as a cast. Those two things helped a lot.
ELIXHER: The show delves into a lot of issues around parenting. Can you speak to the universality behind some of these?
SHERRI: If you do watch the show, you’re going to recognize your life somehow, some way. The things we deal with are things everyone deals with, especially if you have kids, especially in 2013. The reality is that there are drugs in school. Discrimination is relevant in people’s lives, [so is] trying to pay the bills and keep food on the table. I don’t know many people that can’t relate to what we bring to their screens.
ELIXHER: Will the show delve into some of the challenges you face as a multiethnic family, issues around race and the LGBT political landscape?
SHERRI: Yes, we definitely address race in several episodes. It’s kind of hard to avoid. On the show we live in California. We live in a rather liberal city but we still have family issues. They’re going to bring Stef’s father in the mix and he’s going to add an interesting flavor to the show.
I’ve heard a couple of criticisms about the show that we have too many issues that we’re bringing out episode after episode. The truth is, you’ve got nine different storylines in your own life. Everybody does. There are so many things going on. And we have incredibly gifted producers and writers that are going to make all of those things play well together in an episode. It’s not going to be overwhelming. It’s going to be representative of what everybody goes through in their life. Life is messy and we’re going to be true to that.
One of the exciting things about the show is that there will be a sidenote that says, “Pending Supreme Court decision, we will say this…” A lot of the things on the show, we have to wait to hear what happens legally to know how we’re going to go with that.
ELIXHER: Who do you think should watch this show?
SHERRI: Everyone can get something out of this. A family with heterosexual parents, a single dad, a teenager. Everybody is going to be entertained by this show and educated but not in an in-your-face way—in a thought-provoking way.
TV is a powerful medium and I definitely acknowledge that. I’m really proud of the show. I think it just gets better week after week, so I hope people keep watching and give it a chance and tell their friends so that we can continue to tell these stories.
Have you seen The Fosters?! What do you think? Catch up on the first couple of episodes online and tune in Mondays at 9pm to ABC Family.
– Interview by Kimberley McLeod
Kimberley McLeod is a DC-based media strategist. She is the founder and editor of ELIXHER, an online destination for Black lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.