Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images
When Shalita Grant pops onto the Zoom screen from her girlfriend’s parents’ place in Texas, she apologizes for her scratchy voice. She has a cold, her first one in two years. Back in December 2019, Grant didn’t know it was going to be her last international voyage for two years — or her last cold, for that matter — before she went on a little solo trip to Barcelona. And because she doesn’t have a television in her home, when she travels, she picks out a show beforehand that she can indulge in while in the hotel room.
“Netflix suggested You,” says the actress, best known for her role as Special Agent Sonja Percy on NCIS: New Orleans, and for Santa Clarita Diet and her recent turn as affectatious attorney Cassidy Diamond on Search Party. “I looked at the premise, and I was like, ‘Do you really want to watch a show about a stalker serial killer on a solo international trip?’ I put it on, and I was hooked.”
Fast-forward to July 2020, when a bunch of praise rolled in for Grant’s Search Party role and the calls started coming. But the call she was most excited to answer was an audition for a new addition to You’s third season: Sherry, aka Madre Linda momfluencer extraordinaire and founder of HeartShapedMistakes.com, a blog that condescends to just about every parent out there while signing off xoxo, to give her passive-aggressive patronizations that sweet send-off that everyone knows is BS.
Spoiler: She got the gig.
We caught up with Grant after You’s entire third season dropped on October 15 so that we could dive deep into all things Sherry and get into a bunch of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the series, stop reading now, because Grant dishes on what makes Sherry tick and explains trauma bangs (as an advocate for proper hair care with her line Four Natural Hair Care, she’s kind of an expert).
I take a lot of notes while watching TV shows, and one of my first notes was, “Sherry is the literal worst.”
[Screams.] Ah! Valentina! That is a dream come true! I always play characters that people like, even when they’re not supposed to. I had so much fun being the worst!
Well, I’m really glad your reaction to that comment was so positive. So what’s it like to play such an annoying person?
It’s such growth for me, as an actor. Part of what is annoying, if you will, about Sherry is that she weaponizes her femininity. As a woman, you can feel the intrinsic rage we get when we’re in a group of women and playing these power dynamics. A lot of people think of feminine power as soft power, and Sherry wields and weaponizes that soft power to stay at the top of the friend group, at the top of the conversation, the one with the most power in any given situation. The way she does it is through that passive-aggressive, gaslighting technique. Like in that scene after everybody leaves the spin studio and Love says that the class was really hard. The things Sherry says on the surface don’t seem hurtful; she’s not directly calling her fat, but we all know that that’s what she’s saying when she says, “That class is for super-fit people.” And when Love calls it out — which is a power move, because we all know that the best way to cut through that kind of bullshit is to be direct — Sherry turns it right back around and is like, “Are you fatphobic? You should work on that.”
Because Sherry, as annoying and condescending as she is, is also quick on her toes and clever. Did you channel anyone in particular for this role?
No. Okay, So I’m 33. And I make this joke all the time, but I’m actually super-serious, that I feel like I’m going through another puberty, but it’s the good kind where I get all the stuff that I didn’t get in the first one when I looked like a fetus still and I wore pounds of makeup and cut my hair at one point to try to look older. I was in a lot of circles with other young women who, you know, looked like that gold standard, or whatever, and so I know what it feels like to be on the other side of that. There’s a saying in social-justice work where if you’re always the one getting shat on, you know what the asshole looks. So that’s where I was coming from when I started to think about playing Sherry. This was the first time that I had gotten a role like this, and I thought, okay, baby’s come a long way. [Laughs.] But I didn’t channel a specific person; I’ve had a couple of decades of this, you know?
I don’t think I necessarily assumed that you would be like Sherry in real life, but you played that character to a T, so I thought, Maybe?
I know what it feels like, so I know what to give. You can’t be too obvious about what you’re doing, because you don’t want to be perceived as the mean girl. A woman can never be too mean or too angry. You have to play that fine line. We’re perfectly imperfect, Valentina. [Winks.]
Oh, we certainly are. And speaking of perfectly imperfect people: Cary, Sherry’s optimized Adonis of a husband who is just as insufferable as she is. We don’t really learn about their origins as a couple until that last episode, when they’re locked inside the glass cage. Was that backstory always written in, or did you get to invent it a little bit?
There was very little invention for the backstory. Everyone works differently on different shows, but Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are very specific about their show, and that’s great. It helps buffer what, as an actress, your job is. Some productions welcome the improvisation. But this is a one-season gig, and so that story is super-important because it’s only that one season.
Sera told me that we were going to be the first cage couple — so exciting — and that the cage scenes are going to feel like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that we were going to get down to the rock bottom of these marriages. Joe and Love, and Sherry and Cary, both couples are different sides of the same coin. In the beginning, when we first meet Sherry and Cary, the audience is meant to feel that this couple is super on-the-surface, that they’re only together because they’re good-looking and can make a lot of money together. But in the cage, we learn that their marriage is a love marriage; regardless of what the audience thinks about them, like, working out together, posting on Instagram together, whatever, they really saved each other. Their union is why they thrive as individuals. We don’t get that in the beginning, but by the end, we know that it’s not a fake marriage. It’s not a toxic marriage in the way that Joe and Love’s marriage certainly is.
Sherry and Love’s interactions in the cage scenes, they’re so subtle yet so effective for the characters. Watching them back a second time is like a masterclass in manipulation.
Everything Sherry is doing and saying to Love while in the cage is her best-hand manipulation. Because Sherry thinks she knows everything about everyone, but actually, she totally misread Love. The fact that her best friend is a serial killer with a cage in the basement of this fucking muffin shop, that really threw her for a loop. So, this is the best she’s got, this, “Let me connect with you on this woman thing because everyone judges us and criticizes us, but we have this connection so you should let me out of this cage.” That’s the best she’s got, unfortunately.
I love that line she has: “The influencer bullshit means I get to choose my flaws.” What is that revealing about Sherry? About influencers in general?
That she’s curated her social-media persona. Her online persona is how she protects herself as a woman. In this society, as a woman, people are constantly looking for your flaws, and they’re always up to tell you about who you are and what they see. That whole perfectly imperfect thing is just, “I’m going to tell you what my flaws are so you don’t get to. I’m going to be the first person to say it, so you don’t feel like you have that power.” The flaws that she’s willing to share online are curated and are things that she thinks will make her relatable. That’s how she owns her power; she decides what you see and when you see it.
There is so much we learn about Sherry in those last couple of episodes — that she will absolutely pull a gun on her husband, despite how much she loves him, she still can lose it — but also, that she is a lot smarter than we all gave her credit for, I think. Like that moment when she realizes there’s a hidden key. That was the first moment where I was like, Wait, maybe I like Sherry.
Absolutely. Again, going back to that example of two sides of the same coin, when Sherry and Cary learn the horror of Joe and Love’s marriage — that they are serial killers, they’re horrible people, but at the root of it, they just don’t trust each other. And that’s what makes them different than Sherry and Cary. Their love marriage is built on trust and communication, no matter how annoying and granola you think they are, that’s the truth of who they are.
I mean, and that’s how they end up with their (presumably) best-selling book and the TEDTalk, “Caging: A Radical Couple’s Therapy Technique.” Like, of course they did.
Of course we did! And can we talk about my bangs? [Laughs.] That was like my gift, a hair joke. We were having these conversations about how Sherry would cover up the fact that she only has one ear. I immediately thought, it’s bangs. It’s bay-yangs. Like, trauma bangs. In the hair-and-makeup trailer everyone was like, “Yes! That’s exactly what it is.” A makeup artist told me about when her baby was in the hospital, how out of control she felt. And she had an hour or two to herself, so she went to a salon and got her bangs cut so she could feel in control again. So that’s it — they’re trauma bangs.
So, do we think Sherry and Cary end up okay?
Madre Linda is a character in and of itself. It’s what’s great about the series, that the locations are characters too. And what we learn about Madre Linda is at the end of the day, the members of that enclave will metabolize anything and become successful. It’s not just Sherry and Cary, it’s Kiki and her husband and their baby, Toxi, who they named after their new poison-detecting app. They metabolize this event and they become successful because of it, because that’s the mindset of these people. They’re always optimizing. Always.