Niecy Nash On “Claws,” Watching Her Mother Get Shot, Pursuing Her Dream & Helping Others Eat
Actress Niecy Nash stays with a job. We see her all the time. And there’s a reason for that. Not only did she work hard, give opportunities for others and maintain her faith in God, she also held firm to the vision. Check out the moments from her life that got her here on the following pages.
How she launched her career
When I was married to my first husband he was very much like, ‘If I’m going to work, everybody in here going to work.’ At the time Niecy had three children and she still wanted to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. So she made a deal with him, saying that if he gave her nine months to devote to herself, after giving her body over for other people three times, she would either make it happen or go back to working a regular 9-5.
It took her seven and half months but she got three jobs. She was a recurring character on “The Bernie Mac Show,” was hosting on “Clean House” and “Reno 911.”
When she knew she wanted to be an actress
The first beautiful, Black woman I remember seeing on tv was Lola Falana. I was like ‘Gramama who’s that?’ And she said, ‘Baby, that’s Lola Falana!’ And my eyes crossed. And I feel like in that moment, it was like God stamped on the canvas of my imagination, I wanted to be Black, fabulous and on tv.
Pursuing her career in her first marriage
He already knew what my hustle was. But it’s interesting because sometimes you tell people your plans and sometimes they don’t think it’s really going to happen. So they cool with you scheming and dreaming but the minute everybody eating, they’re like ‘Whoa!’
When I was able to bring two checks at a time, I circled back around and said, tell me what it is you want to do. So as a result, she sent him to London for seminary school to pursue his dream as well.
Still, it wasn’t working out well. I got married when I was really young and you know the same thing you want at twenty, it don’t shake out, sometimes, the same way once you’re 30 and 40. I wanted to be married again, right away, just to a different guy.
Interestingly enough, the two seem to still have a good relationship, as evidenced in the video above.
I’ve never gotten a job and not gotten somebody else a job in that particular [project.] I feel like if I’m eating then that means I have the opportunity to help somebody else. And because I move like that, it just keeps coming back around. You know you’re going to get a measure of what you put out in the world. And I want everybody to live their best life.
Charlemagne: Did you get her that job [on “Claws]?
It was one of the roles that was cast last and they were having problems finding that girl. And she came to mind and I said, ‘What about this girl?’ And when I say, “leaned in”—was very available to learn what she didn’t know and all of us rallied around her to help her and support her in that.
But I love the fact that just when somebody thought they knew you, Just when they thought they knew what you was gon be about, something happens in your life and it takes you in a whole ‘nother direction. So I’m happy for her that she’s just not known now for one moment in time where she was young in her life.
That character “Virginia” was defined by her past and needed to catch a break and really needed a community to belong to and I felt like it was a similar space.
Her character Desna on “Claws”
What I love the most about playing Desna is that I represent so many of my friends on tv. On the south side of 40, not married, no kids. And is unapologetic about who she is, having sex for her own pleasure. To see that woman and not be super thin—it was very important to me that I play a character who wears her hair in a blowout, natural. Because that girl is on the block but not on tv. So it’s a lot of things where women get to see themselves in her.
She’s like a mother hen to these women. She cares for all those girls and she wants everybody to win.
Watching her mom be shot
My mother was shot by her boyfriend. He shot her with a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. She was turning to run, that’s how she got shot in the back. Thank God she’s still with us.
The murder of her brother
The day before my 23rd birthday, my brother was murdered. He went to high school and never came home. Somebody brought a gun to school. So many different things. I’ve just seen so much and witnessed so much. And I’m just so grateful that God built me to be resilient. Even when I got a divorce, I signed the paper and the first thing I said was, ‘The next time I do this, it’s going to be different.’ I was already planning the next time. Because I don’t want to give up on love. I don’t want to give up on life. I’m just grateful that I still have a reasonable portion of my right mind but that my heart was still open.
The gift of comedy
I feel like comedy is a gift. And I didn’t know that until after my mother got shot. Because I wanted to be that snot bubble that’s hanging out of Viola’s nose. I just wanted to be so dramatic. I just wanted drama but I couldn’t get a job being dramatic. And after my brother was killed, my momma got in the bed and said ‘I ain’t never getting out.’ So I didn’t know what to do but I do know I can make my momma laugh. But I wasn’t rewarded for it. Because I got pinched in church. I got ’Talks too much on your report card. What was you talking about?’ ‘I was telling jokes.’ ‘Well, go get the belt I got a joke for you.’ So I didn’t know being funny was a thing. And when she got depressed, I started performing at the foot of her bed everyday. And I would do my act and my bed to whatever I was doing. She went from laying down in the bed to sitting up. ‘I got my peanuts and my water. Go ahead and do your rendition of things.’ And then that turned into me coming over there one day and she wasn’t in the bed. I was like, ‘Ma, where you at?’ ‘We’re in here.’ I’m like ‘Who is we?’ ‘I went across the street and got the neighbors. I told em you was funny. Get that karaoke microphone and tell these people some jokes.’
So I’m standing on the fireplace with the thing, ‘Is this thing on? How’s everybody doing in the living room?’ And I was like ‘What am I doing up here? This is so dumb right now.’ And I heard a voice as audible as my own that said, ‘Niecy, don’t be a selfish heffa. It’s other people in the world suffering. Go outside and spread this around.’ I go outside, I say ‘I’m Niecy Nash and I’m funny.’ And the industry said, ‘Yes, little girl you are. Come here.’ And I started working but I never wanted to be funny. I built career being something that wasn’t the plan. And though the vision tarries, you wait for it. It took me all this time, twenty years, to finally get a dramatic role in Getting On, which got me to two Emmy nominations, which got me to be in Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which got me to be in “Claws.” It happened so late. So it was like funny, funny, funny, funny, ‘Oh, here’s the promise.’
On Mental Illness
Angela Yee: Sometimes when you’re successful, people look at you like ‘Well what does she have to be upset about?’ She has everything.
It’s the biggest lie. It’s the biggest lie. But I also think socially, Black people are not socialized to recognize mental illness. It’s like ‘You trippin’’ ‘You always got an attitude.’ ‘You up and down.’
Charlamagne: That nigga crazy.
You a Gemini?!
All these things that we color it underneath and not say, ‘I need help.’
Why she didn’t turn away from God
Let me tell you, it used to be a dark cloud over me. I used to be one of those people where you would walk in and people would say to me on a daily basis, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I would be like, ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with me! What’s wrong with you?’ I had a dark cloud over me and I just was like, ‘I don’t want it. I tasted it I don’t want it and I needed to lean in, in a different way.’ I just always leaned in and always believed.
You can watch the full interview below.