Actor Sharon Leal plays a feisty, no-nonsense coach in CW’s hit Television Show, “Hellcats,” a series that depicts the drama-filled lives of cheerleaders. With strength and beauty Sharon Leal continues to climb her way to the top of the Hollywood ladder. Leal spoke to ESSENCE.com about her new hit series, reflects on women who check only for what’s great on paper, and how she keeps her body toned and slender with a grueling schedule… ESSENCE.com: Tell us how you prepped for the role? LEAL: I have experience playing a teacher and leader; that was my character’s career on “Boston Public.” I wanted my character to have layers to her, so I incorporated layers to Vanessa. Also, I think of a performer and actor who played a similar role to the character type that I am undertaking and see how they made it work. I thought of Debbie Allen as Lydia on “Fame,” and thought about how to infuse some of what she brought through her character. ESSENCE.com: Are there any similarities between you and your character Vanessa? LEAL: It’s no way around placing some of your self in the character, though, Vanessa is an A-type personality, and that’s how we differ. When the character Vanessa goes home and all her walls are down, that’s where we are exactly alike. ESSENCE.com: Your character Vanessa is involved in a love triangle; will she figure out who she truly loves? LEAL: I think she will. It will take a minute. (laughs) Vanessa was a “Hellcat” in the past, and she had an affair with a member of the staff and he was married. A few years later, she returns to town with a perfect doctor boyfriend. It’s a situation some women fall into in real life where they want a good thing that looks great on paper, so they can say look what I have. However, my character’s brain is saying no to Red, but she can’t help that there is a connection between them stemming from the past. She’ll figure it out eventually. ESSENCE.com: You are amazingly fit. What’s your secret? LEAL: I do the work. I go to the gym. I love to eat and get lazy at times, but if I want to put nice things on — I have to work my butt off in the gym. I have a trainer. I have weights inside my trailer. I go to sculpting classes. I go to boxing classes. ESSENCE.com: Your character has a sharp edge and tongue at times, is it hard for your fans to differentiate you from your characters? LEAL: People just can’t help to do that. Your audience sees you as that person. That means as an actor, I did my job well. Definitely in the Tyler Perry movies, people really think I behave like the character, Diane: a person that is a little cold and a perfectionist. I’d like to think I am warmer than Diane. (chuckles) ESSENCE.com: What new projects can we look forward to? LEAL: I would love to get back to the stage. It’s something I think about often. I would love to work in New York on stage, maybe on a limited run in a classic play. “Hellcats” airs Wednesday’s at 9 pm on the CW network.