For Actress Brandee Evans, The Path To “P-Valley” Had Many Winding Turns: “I Lost My Job, My Husband, And My Daughter”

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Brandee Evans as "Mercedes" in P-Valley

Source: Starz / Starz

On Sunday, July 12, viewers will be catapulted into the gritty world of “Pussy Valley,™” or “P-Valley” for short, a new Starz series centered around a tiny strip clip called The Pynk, but referred to as “Uncle Cliffords” by the locals of the Mississippi Delta. Don’t get it twisted, though. These ain’t your average stripper tales told from a hypersexual male perspective seeking to arouse and appeal to male audiences while exploiting the bodies of black women.

“Katori [Hall] wanted you to see the truth in what’s happening down in the south, series star Brandee Evans told MadameNoire of the showrunner’s vision. “See us on TV, don’t see a fictionalized account of what you think. This is coming from a Black woman and a female gaze, too. You know, what we see. I think it would be a different story had a man created it. It would look a little different. I see it now as beauty and art. I’m comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey daddy, here’s a scene. And you know what, I am topless but I didn’t really think about it because I forgot I was topless because of how it was shot. It was perfect because it wasn’t just shot on my boobs. I love that as women, they shoot it as art and beauty. They’re not just hitting body parts. We’re looking at Mercedes on the pole and thinking about what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling, how she’s breathing. Usually, we’re just seeing the body and that’s very different in ‘P-Valley.'”

Evans, who plays the role of Mercedes, Uncle Clifford’s resident O.G., is encouraging viewers to approach the series with an open mind.

“It is not what you think. People have these preconceived notions in their minds about what it is and it’s wrong, y’all,” the actress conveyed. “I want everyone to go in with an open mind and empathy and a willingness to learn about the culture, the black women, and the south in a way that they’ve probably never seen on TV before.”

For Evans, Mercedes is much more than just a character as there are many aspects of that storyline that serve as a mirror image of Evans’ life. For one, they were both raised by pastors.

“She’s very similar to me. She was raised as a PK. She coaches a dance team. And she doesn’t like losing competitions kind of like me too,” the actress shared. “It’s very interesting and very similar to my father in a sense. She wants to please her mother. I want to please my dad, too. The first thing that I did before I even took the job was to ask my dad for his thoughts. As children, we still want approval from our parents. He gave me his blessing. Mercedes is not receiving that blessing so I had to dig back into that toxic relationship that I had with my mom growing up. Let me tell you, my mom is okay with this now, but she would not have been okay with this back in the day. It’s been great using real-life experiences to channel this character.”

Evans admits that her deeply religious father has served as a litmus test of sorts. After having read the script, he was able to connect with the women of Uncle Clifford’s and he’s now deeply invested in their stories, which was ultimately one of Hall’s goals.

“It’s really good because he can see the story behind these women’s lives. And that’s why Katori wrote this, to humanize these women beyond just being on the pole. My father, who is one of the most conservative people I know, saw that first,” said Evans. “They are human. Flat out. They are human and why would these women not deserve to have their stories told? They’re living real life. It’s their real struggle. Their real joy. It deserves to be told and it deserves to be told properly.”

And speaking of stories to be told, Evans, a former high school English teacher, certainly has one to tell. The short version of what led her from teaching to the “Pussy Valley™” is “a vacation.” However, the longer version of the story is much more heartbreaking filled with let-downs and fertility struggles.

“I was on vacation when I had a stillbirth at 39 weeks,” Evans recalled. “My whole life came crashing down. On top of that, my husband had gotten deployed and I lost my job coaching because, like Mercedes, I was very tough. The girls actually won nationals but I was still fired. I’ve now lost my husband. I’ve lost my job and I’ve lost my daughter. So I took a vacation to LA and when I would take dance classes, it would just make things better.”

Those dance classes used as an avenue of healing would eventually lead auditions and professional dance gigs. After snatching up job dancing on a Lil’ Wayne tour, Brandee decided she would chase her dreams. She wound up composing her resignment on the back of Wayne’s tour bus. Since giving up her position as a teacher, Evans has danced on every award show stage with the exception of the Oscars. Her path would take another turn when she stumbled upon Tasha Smith’s highly regarded acting class. The rest was history.

“P-Valley” premieres on Starz Sunday, July 12. Will you be tuning in?

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