Niecy Nash talks queer-loved roles, her LGBT-affirming Christian credo and Bacardi’s metamorphic effect on gay men
Niecy Nash doesn’t think she knows any gay prostitutes, but they – and every other kind of gay – most certainly know her.
From her rib-tickling portrayal of Deputy Raineesha Williams in Reno 911! to Getting On and the Ryan Murphy-created Scream Queens, the Emmy-nominated actress’ career is as fabulously queer as her latest show, Claws. In the TNT sisterhood-centric drama, Nash’s money-laundering badass of a character, Desna, is the powerful, leopard-print-wearing owner of a Florida nail salon that is a front for organized crime.
And talk about powerful – we have Nash to thank for all the loud-and-proud clothing Desna dons like a boss. From her character’s scorchin’ drag-esque style to the possibility of her tough-as-nails character going lesbian in the second season – and the transformative power of Bacardi – Nash gave us queens plenty to scream about during our delicious new interview.
Why do you think gay audiences are loving Claws?
Desna, first of all, dresses like a superhero. She’s a modern-day shero, for sure; always with a jumpsuit and some sort of belt. She’s fabulous in a lot of ways.
Some might say she dresses like a drag queen, even.
You know what, I’ll take that too! ’Cause I can absolutely see that.
Do you know how many drag queens would kill for her wardrobe, though?
What’s funny is that the network wanted me to be in, like, a soccer mom bob with blonde highlights and it just felt wrong, and the wardrobe felt wrong. It was a little too pulled up and I was like, “Mmmm, this is not right.” So, I dressed myself like what I felt she looked like. Just big, natural hair, booty shorts, a body suit. All of it needed to match for no reason. So, I tried to give them what I felt like she was and, luckily, they agreed… because I was fightin’ a good fight of faith there for a second!
She is the Desna the gay community needs. How do you think gay audiences might be empowered by her?
Desna is 100 percent who she is, and she is a woman who is comfortable in her skin. I think that’s the thing that we all strive for. Be happy with what it is, figure out what’s working for you, accentuate that part and push through.
From Ryan Murphy on Scream Queens to Eliot Laurence on Claws and Mark Olsen on Getting On, you seem to gravitate toward writers, directors and producers who happen to be gay men. What is it about a gay man’s perspective on female characters that keeps you coming back for more?
They give me everything I need on paper and, in turn, I give them everything they need to take it off that piece of paper and bring it to life. It’s a beautiful working relationship when somebody can just inspire you with the written word and the reciprocity is just you being inspired by the way something is real. So, it is a back and forth that is absolutely delicious.
Some of these people – let me just deal with the ones you named – there was definitely a very strong connective tissue from the first meeting. It’s funny, because you meet some people and instantly you’re like, “Yup, that’s my tribe, that’s my people right there.” Quite a few of my gay friends, especially. Let me just say that there are quite a few of my white gay friends who I feel are one Bacardi away from being a black woman. I don’t care what nobody says – you all got black women in yourselves.
Like many gay men, my intro to you was on Reno 911!, which featured one of our favorite gay hot messes, Terry.
Yes! The rollerskating hooker.
Are there any Terrys in your life?
I don’t have any friends that I know of who are prostitutes right now (laughs), but I will say that I do have gay friends and they are all kinds of different. I just think when people know that you will allow them to be 100 percent who they are, they see you as a soft place to land.
As someone who’s been involved with many TV shows featuring a diverse cast, how important is it to you to take on projects with fair representation?
What’s important to me is that I find projects that best emulate the real world. It’s funny, even with Claws we have gay, we have bisexual, we have transgender. We have a little bit of everything going on over there, so it looks more like the world.
The other thing I appreciate about this particular show is that we don’t shine a light on how somebody is living their life or tell them what they should or should not be doing. The characters are just written and they just live. Can’t they just live? Let them live! They’re unapologetic. You got a wife and a boyfriend? OK!
I get asked by a lot of people, “Well, don’t you think things are moving in the right direction for black women in this industry?” I’m like, “But the world is bigger than just black women.” There are a lot of people who are underrepresented on television.
When you played a lesbian doctor on The Mindy Project in 2014, what was it like to be on the other side of the coin, sexually?
I feel like when you approach a character, you want to make sure you are playing it from a real place and that it doesn’t feel like, “Oh, this is gonna be a stereotype.” You wanna lean into it in a way that just makes sense. When I had to kiss Mindy (Kaling), I remember the first time we kissed each other she was like, “Oh my god, I need a do-over. I can kiss so much better than that.” I’m like, “Girl, it’s just a show, you fine.” We had to do it again, and she was just like, “This time it’s gonna be great.”
Which kiss was better?
I liked the first one because it was the first time our characters kissed each other and it was also the first time we kissed in real life. The first kiss can sometimes be a little weird and a little awkward, so I liked that it was real life, ’cause I just kiss her out of nowhere. It’s not like we’re dating. We’re just hanging out and suddenly your boss kisses you, so I kind of like that, “Whoa, wait, wait. What’s happening?”
Do you have any other lesbian roles in the pipeline?
Well, here’s the thing: With Claws you never know what’s gonna happen. I never say never over there because ain’t no tellin’. Might just need to fly over to the other side and see what’s going on and come on back. (Laughs) I’m not in charge of that part, but I would say that I wouldn’t be surprised.
If you do end up taking a dip in the lady pond on Claws, who are your preferred romantic interests? Mindy?
Well, I already had her. (Laughs) So, Katy Perry because Katy Perry is friggin’ adorable and fun and funny and pretty and powerful. Then I would probably have to say Queen Latifah and Judy Reyes, who plays Quiet Ann (on Claws).
What can you tease your gay fans with regarding the second season of Claws?
The one thing I can tell you is that there’s another mafia coming. You know we’ve been dealing with the Dixie Mafia and the Russian Mafia and now we will get to see what happens when we do the Haitian Mafia.
As someone who grew up in a fairly devout Christian home, what was your introduction to the gay community?
Surprisingly, I knew a lot of people who were gay that went to my church. They felt very repressed.
Reconciling religion and homosexuality is challenging for many gay people.
Especially in the black community, and especially when it comes to men in the black community.
What do you know about that as a black woman?
I just know that it’s one of the things that we’re socialized to say, “Don’t do that, don’t you do that.” And we’re also socialized to believe that you can’t be a black gay man and still be one who loves God.
As a gay-affirming Christian, what’s your philosophy now on the gay community?
My philosophy now is that you can be whatever you want to be. People feel you have to put blame on everything, but whether you label it or not, your truth is your truth. And I don’t wish to live a lie on anybody. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. And yes, it can be challenging, but the people who really love you and who are standing in support of you will be all right with it. This hits home for me and I pause to talk about it because it’s not fair for me to tell that part of that story. But the one thing I don’t wish on anybody is to live a lie. That’s gotta be the hardest thing to imagine.
I remember I was doing Dancing with the Stars and Louis Van Amstel was my partner, and I never really considered the plight of the people that I knew who were gay. I stood on my battleground about black people and never really had a real point of reference for what my gay friends were experiencing. So, I do this dance with Louis and we depicted the family known as (Mildred and Richard) Loving. It was the white husband who wanted to marry the black woman and everything they went through. I was just dating my new husband and Louis said to me, “You know how much you love Jay? Now what if, for whatever reason, a law said that you could not be with him? As much as you care about him, it was against the law for you guys to get married and be together?” I started bawling like a baby. So, you gotta be able to stand in somebody else’s shoes to be able to understand what they’re going through. You gotta find a way to lean in and say, “From my vantage point, how would I feel if that were me?”
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).