Sheree J. Wilson became a household name with her role as April Stevens in the later seasons of the hit 1980’s primetime serial Dallas, but her longest-running and most iconic role to many may be that of Alex Cahill on the popular Chuck Norris procedural Walker, Texas Ranger which aired from 1993 to 2001.
To promote Walker’s new home at getTV and to update us about her new projects (including Driving Miss Daisy!) we were able to speak with Ms. Wilson recently for an exclusive interview. Enjoy!
Does it really feel like it’s been 25 years since Walker, Texas Ranger premiered on TV?
It feels like yesterday. It’s amazing. It’s not even possible that we did this 25 years ago! It’s not possible! We had so much fun on the show, and it’s still airing, thank you, thank you, and also I guess because Clarence Gilyard and I are still working together on the national tour of Driving Miss Daisy, it’s like we just keep going! We’re still playing together. We’re still enjoying, loving, acting together. It’s a magical anniversary, and something that we’re all very proud of. But, yeah. It doesn’t seem like any time has passed.
Can you tell me how it came about for both of you to work together again on Driving Miss Daisy?
It’s so interesting. Clarence was doing, from his theatre production company, Driving Miss Daisy, and it was getting bigger and bigger. He had been doing the play for a couple of years, and then he got the great idea to take the show on the road, and to do a national show. So he asked Roger to see if he could book us out of New York, and we got a booking agent that just started booking us into 2000-seat theatres across the country, and we’ve sold out. We’ve had such an incredible run. We’re taking the summer off; Clarence is part of a Neil Simon festival in Cedar City all summer long. He directs and stars. He’s doing Biloxi Blues this year. But Clarence just came and showed up and asked me. He said “Sheree, you’ve got such a fire in your belly. You’re so much like Daisy.” I said “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not!” But he goes “we could kill it on the road together!” And how could I turn that offer down? Just the opportunity to work with him in this Pulitzer Prize winning play, it was a dream and is a dream come true.
I read that the you did an episode of Matlock (which featured Clarence Gilyard Jr. and starred Andy Griffith) before you did Walker together. Is that true?
Clarence was one of the stars of Matlock for several years, and I did a very fun film noir [episode]. It was one of their black and white episodes… they shot everything in black and white, and it was like a 40’s throwback. It was so much fun.
What was it about Walker, Texas Ranger that brought you back to television a couple of years after you had left Dallas?
Walker, Texas Ranger… we are a family. I was on Dallas for five years, Walker for nine seasons… I’ve made my living behind and in front of the camera. I’m stepping into a production role with Sandalfin Entertainment, my production company, and producing now… it’s just the whole world has opened up to me. And the fact that there are so many reboots going on, we’re really, really, really wanting to do another Movie of the Week, at least, to wrap up the cliffhanger that we did the last time we were all together.
Is it safe to assume that Alex survived the cliffhanger?
It would be very safe to say that. [Laughs]
How was Alex different from any character that you had played before or since then?
Well, she’s definitely a lot different from Daisy! That would be the biggest. Both polar ends of the spectrum of personalities and age. Both of them have chutzpah, I’ll say that! [Laughs]
I’ve played a nun; I played April Stevens for so many years… Alex Cahill was surrounded by the greatest example of cowboys, and Texas rangers, and justice, and truth, and nobility, and holding her own in a sea of those men and all that testosterone, my part was just so much fun, and very different from playing a little femme fetale or an elderly Jewish lady.
What was it like to work with Chuck Norris, and is there anything about him that might surprise people?
Everybody knows him. He’s such an iconic legend. He’s the real deal, and he’s so serious. He gets the job done. But what they really don’t know is how playful he is, and how fun he is, and what a great family man he is. He is completely committed to his family. He’s just fun to be around, and he’s funny!
All of those Chuck Norris jokes, I mean, “Chuck Norris doesn’t do pushups. He pushes the Earth down! Chuck Norris could cure cancer with a single tear. Too bad Chuck Norris has never cried!” I mean, there are so many crazy Chuck Norris jokes… I was given a T-shirt that has a hundred off them written on there, it was hilarious! And he can laugh at the spoof and craziness of it all with the best of ’em.
I mean, at first he thought “Wow, are they trying to be insulting?” He wasn’t quite sure what their intentions were! But these kids – this was their way of just revering him. And he really is who you think he is. He’s a proud American. He’s so committed to our military, and our veterans, and our country, and kicking drugs out of America through his foundation. He’s just a good man.
Do you have a specific guest star that really stood out over the years?
Rod Taylor played my father and he was such a good actor. I was so in awe of him. He was a classic. It was like getting to do something with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, or Grace Kelly. He was of the day.
Stuart Whitman… I love these classic, fantastic actors. I was giddy getting to work with them! It was a real privilege.
Was there something different doing a show when it started rather than joining a series in progress as you did with Dallas?
Absolutely. We learned, and we grew. We defined and we created the show by working together. We play off of each other’s strengths, and then start writing for that. I co-wrote an episode where we threw Chuck into a coma, and CBS was not going to do it! They were not having it! “You are not putting our superhero into a coma!” And we were like “wait! wait!” He went into a coma and everybody sat with him by his bedside, and went through a flashback sequence to show how we met, what did we mean to each other then, and what we mean to each other now. It was absolutely one of the top ten rated shows because it really got people to understand where Alex and Walker met, and how they were butting heads at first. They had this kind of weird chemistry, and they were mad at each other, but they were attracted to each other and it was crazy! And CD Parker, and their relationship, and Trivette… it gave the audience and all of us, as actors, a way to kind of write our own backstories and our own relationships.
It’s just great how the show evolved beyond what the topical subject matter was, or what subject we were dealing with. We really got to know each other so that the audience knew how much we cared about each other and how much we loved and respected each other, and it transcends. We’re a family, and we have each other’s backs.
Can you talk about your production company and what kind of things you are producing?
I have a production company called Sandalphon Entertainment, and we have a slate of films that are ready. We have two that are fully financed; our flagship project is based on a true story. It’s called The Truthsayers. We’re out to directors and stars right now, we’ll be producing that and we’re looking to go in the fall. We have a faith-based division, and our first faith-based film that’s coming up is called I, John. It’s about miracles and a “what if, maybe” of possibilities based on the Book of John, Chapter 20, Versus 20 through 22 where Jesus was saying “what if I were to keep him” pointing at John “until I return – what is that to you? You still must follow me.” So there was a big rumor that went around the disciples to see if John was still alive. So this is a peek at “what if John the Apostle were still walking the Earth today? What kind of impact would he have?”
So we have Truthsayers which is a really big courtroom drama. We have Rosamond and I, John up first. You can go Sandalphon.net and check it out or go to my website, where you can also get the Daisy schedule.
How excited are you for fans to see Walker, Texas Ranger on getTV?
I am thrilled because all we get across the country at our theatre productions is “where’s Walker? What channel can I see it on? They took it off this network! Where will we see it? That’s my favorite show of all time!” So, I will be posting every single channel from each different Dish, Spectrum… whoever you have… of where you can get getTV and see hours of Walker on a daily basis!