Sheryl Lee Ralph Originally Wanted to Play *This* Character on 'Abbott Elementary'

Ava Coleman is easily one of the most entertaining characters on ABC's Abbott Elementary. And thanks to Janelle James's incredible performance, we couldn't imagine anyone else bringing the pop culture-obsessed principal to life. So, you could imagine our surprise when we discovered that Sheryl Lee Ralph—AKA Barbara Howard—initially had her eye on the role.

It may seem like an odd choice for the seasoned actress, who was practically made for her role as the no-nonsense teacher. But it turns out Ralph was eager to showcase her acting range. She told Insider, "Oh hell yes, I could've seen myself as a principal. It would've been a wonderful departure from what people saw from me."

However, show creator Quinta Brunson wasn't exactly on board with the idea. While speaking with Variety in 2022, Ralph confirmed that it was Brunson's idea to cast her as Barbara instead. She said, “[Brunson] was just short of [saying,] ‘Oh, hell no!’ She said, ‘We need a queen for Barbara Howard. And you are that queen!’ And I was just like, ‘Baby, if you put it that way, How do I say no? What else do I need to know about that? I’m going to be the queen. I love it. Yes, I’m ready.’”

One season later, the actress ended up winning her first Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, making her the the first Black woman to receive the honor in 35 years. Now, the star is more than happy to portray the beloved veteran teacher.

She told Variety, “[The character of] Barbara Howard has been an incredible gift for me. And the interesting thing about playing the role is I did not think I would be seen. I thought it would be around me. And I was going to be there to give support.”

Fortunately her Emmy win and the outpouring of support from countless fans have proved otherwise.

Keep thriving, Sheryl.

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nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...