Sheryl Lee Ralph originally wanted to play a different role in Abbott Elementary

As soon as Quinta Brunson met Sheryl Lee Ralph, the writer decided to work with her. The two crossed paths while working together on The Black Lady Sketch Show, and Brunson soon set her sights on Ralph for an important role in Abbott Elementary. Barbara Howard was the role that Ralph was to play, although the Broadway actor had a different idea at first.

“I really wanted to play Ava Coleman, the principal,” Ralph said. Diversity after her Emmy win. “As well as [Brunson] Said no! Absolutely not! We need a queen for this role, and that’s you. Take it or leave it!’ And I’m like, “Okay, little miss. Okay, okay, I’ll take it.” Just like Ralph is perfect for Barbara, the role of Principal Ava just wouldn’t be the same without Janelle James’ comedic style.

Fans are coming to the conclusion that the Elementary Abbott character is stealing the stage, albeit a very different one from Barbara. Ava’s hilarious scenes stem from her massive lack of skill. Where Janine (Brunson) tries to make a difference, Ava is there to ruin the new teacher’s plans. Ava seems like a more outrageous and enjoyable character to play with, but Ralph didn’t end up missing out on what was important. Her selfless portrayal of Barbara has made her a critically acclaimed (and now award-winning) fan favorite.

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