I recently had the honor of interviewing Sherri Saum, best known for her role as Lena Adams Foster in The Fosters, the incredibly popular, beautifully crafted and socially poignant family drama. Sherri spoke about how it has been to inhabit a character like Lena, the pride she feels knowing that every day, in one way or another, her work, and The Fosters helps someone deal with their own personal struggles and offers us insight into the working and personal dynamic between her and co-star Teri Polo (Stef Adams Foster). And I cannot forget to mention, we talk about that little rumor going around that she can sing, so for all that and more, check out the interview below. From myself and all those at TV Series Hub, we’d like to thank Sherri for taking the time to talk with us, it has been a true pleasure.
- After 4 seasons of playing Lena, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from her?
I’ve learned how communication can make every bit of difference in the survival of your love relationships, and that passive aggression is not cute.
- In the beginning, what about Lena resonated with you the most? What was it about the part that made you say “Yes, I’ve got to do this”?
I recognized that this kind of family did not exist on our televisions and what a glaring omission it was.
- How has becoming a mother in real life influenced the way you approach the role compared to earlier on in the series?
The notion of protecting a child is no longer a fiction I need to cultivate to make real. So it informs all my interactions with our children on the show. I feel shit much more deeply.
- What was your reaction when you found out that the creative team were going to explore the issue of gun control/gun laws/school lock downs? And as a mother, how was the whole experience of filming the first two episodes?
It was a natural thing for us to cover, with the school being a big part of The Fosters landscape. It was a particularly brutal thing to have to live through, even for pretend.
- What can you tease about Lena’s evolution in this upcoming season? Will she be standing up for herself a little more?
Lena definitely comes out of her soft shell a few times this season.
- You’ve been a vehicle for so many real-to-life stories for women and the LGBTQ community, how would you describe the experience? And is there one particular moment that has stayed with you?
Hardly a day passes that I don’t read a tweet about how The Fosters helped someone deal with difficult issues in their lives, LGBTQ centred or in general. It’s the thing I’m most proud of in my 20 year career.
- How did you feel when you received your Ally for Equality Award?
Receiving the Ally Award was incredibly humbling and beautiful. Even more so because I got to share it with Teri and my mother.
- Is there anything you do to get into character before a day of shooting (e.g. listen to specific music)?
I’ll be honest, I know Lena really well at this point, so preparing is really more about the dry stuff, the actual committing to memory of the words. I don’t need to light incense and do jumping jacks to prepare the feelings. The story, the family, the love, that’s already nicely packed and ready to go.
- Your chemistry with Teri (Polo) is unparalleled, what is it like to act across from someone who you share such a deep connection with? And which storyline/moment, did you really enjoy exploring with each other?
My thing with Teri is extra gratifying because it’s one of the most completely uncontrived relationships I’ve ever had in this industry. I think I was actually prepared to not like her at all – because I still have nightmare memories of this other actress I had to work closely with, who was hell on earth. So I (unfairly) dragged that baggage to my first encounter with Teri… And I had walls up and defenses on full alert. And every day, every encounter with her just chipped them away. She had my sense of humor and without fail, every day we’d be laughing our asses off at some totally absurd thing. And when you can make me laugh like that… That’s it.
Any time we get to have a little soul bearing, a little quiet in our bedroom. Those are my favorite with Polo.
- You’ve been involved in procedural shows before, for example Law & Order: SVU, do you find there are differences between such shows as those and The Fosters?
The procedural shows I’ve done have been fun, I mean anytime I get to step onto a set and into a different character’s perspective it’s a gift beyond measure. But there is definitely a different feeling about these shows. Feels like a locomotive that you have to sprint and grab hold of. They just go, go, go. It’s very ABCDEF-Z. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve watched and loved the Law and Order franchise and others like it for decades. Something satisfying about a formula sometimes. But The Fosters is a whole different animal. Feels more like a slow burn, a brick by brick, beautiful, messy discovery.
- If you were given the opportunity, would you rather write an episode of The Fosters or direct? And why?
I’d probably prefer to write. I know a lot of wonderful directors who are also actors, but I personally would feel a bit uncomfortable telling one of my colleagues to express something differently or to adjust their interpretation. We know each other too well and I would feel like they would be weirded out. Maybe I’m overthinking it.
- What do you feel is the most underrated thing about The Fosters?
I think the show as a whole hasn’t been appreciated for the level of writing, directing acting etc. etc. I’m biased, but I think we deserve a lot more visibility – more publicity, more push. We have something really special and I would love it to get more overall attention.
- I’ve read/heard that you’re a singer – on the back of last season’s musical episode, could singing be something we see for Lena in the future? Or something that you, yourself would like to pursue?
Alright Alex, once and for all I’m counting on you to dispel this bizarre rumour that I sing… I have no idea where this was birthed. I feel I have a nice non-awful voice, yes. But in no way shape or form do I sing! I hate to disappoint because there is this odd mini campaign to get me to sort of…I dunno? Come out of the musical closet. Trust me! I’m not in there!
- If there is one piece of advice you could offer young creatives – writers, actors, producers, directors etc. – trying to break into the business, what would it be?
I’d tell any aspiring artist in this industry to take the rejection with less despair. I had an acting coach once put it beautifully; she said when someone comes into a flower shop and chooses the lilies, the roses don’t fall over and wilt. They stand proud and radiant until it’s their time.