Alphonse has acting chops. This fact is evident as we watch the Greensboro, North Carolina native flex his skill and talent as the character Lil’ Murda on Starz’ critically-acclaimed show P-Valley, which is written and produced by Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall. In season one, Alphonse became a household name, along with his cast members Nicco Anan, Brandee Evans and Shannon Thornton, to name a few. He awed viewers with his ability to portray the character Lil’ Murda–a closeted, gay, cisgender male from the small fictional town of Chucalissa, who struggles with his sexual identity, longs to be a big time rap artist and is in love with a queer trans femme named Uncle Clifford. Alphonse threw himself into the role, seemingly, effortlessly, and has returned, ten toes down. For season two, Alphonse leans in harder—so much so, fans and detractors alike have been shocked and shooketh by his performance and Lil’ Murda’s complexity and dynamism.
However, criticism and critique aside, what Alphonse accomplishes onscreen is nothing short of Black art. –And quite frankly, as elusive street artist Banksy states, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Art—that is great art— is supposed to change the temperature in the room. Otherwise, it is ineptitude. Alphonse understood the assignment, and recently pulled up on MADAMENOIRE, for a segment of I GOT QUESTIONS to talk about his craft and the goodness that is P-Valley.
MADAMENOIRE: All right, we got J. Alphonse in the building today. J. Alphonse plays Lil Murda for P-Valley.
J. Alphonse Nicholson: Yes. Thanks for having me. I appreciate you.
MN: Thanks for being here. P-Valley was introduced to us during the long pause, the quarantine time, and you all spoiled us, and then you dipped on us, and it’s been, like, two years.
Yeah, it’s been a journey, just like in the real world. We’ve come through this incredible two-year journey going on three years of dealing with this pandemic that reflects within the storytelling of P-Valley. But it’s not too OTN, as I like to say, too on the nose. It comes at you all types of ways and unexpected ways in Katori, pull the Surprise winning writer. Now, that’s the difference between that first season and second season. But she’s founding a beautiful, incredible way of weaving it into the story.
P-Valley was doing, like, cultural work at a time we really needed it. But also, we haven’t had that type of authenticity, for me, at least my opinion, we haven’t had that type of black authenticity on the screen in a long time.
I appreciate it. Season two, it’s just so it goes up a level, for sure and then, just to be clear, she wanted to pull a surprise for her play hot wing team pandemic. And so, obviously, P-Valley could easily, I think, pull a Surprise if they wanted to give it to her for that one, too. But yeah, I appreciate it. I’m glad it captured the world in an amazing way. It captured a lot of different demographics within the culture, you know what I’m saying? So, for us to be able to represent it and be a part of it absolutely.
I’m a native New Yorker, as well. But when P-Valley came out, I was living in Mississippi for three years, and I was like, yeah, there’s a Chucalissa down here for sure, and with Katori being from Memphis— I was like, 1 hour from Memphis—and I was like, I can identify this entire cast around me in the environment that I been in. You all did that well, and particularly you with the role of Lil’ Murda … Lil’ Murda’s style, on the show. Something that carried over from the first show for me was in a scene in the first season. You made a comment in the club, and it was like, “What, N***a? This Gucci.” What did it take to get into that role? I know you’ve been asked this before, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you myself, for myself and for our audience.
No, for sure. But thanks for the kind words. Just feel honored to be able to play a role that allows me to show all my range. Victoria’s written as character, but it gives me a beautiful opportunity as an actor to show the business, the industry, the audience, obviously what it is that I can do as an actor taking huge risks. So, as a heterosexual man stepping into a role and representing a community that I’m not a part of but obviously an ally for just wanting to be precious and honest about how I came towards the role and my integrity toward and understanding that he’s a real guy. I know little murdas’, I know cats who can’t quite come out and be who they want to be because of the stigma that the community is placed on it. So that was my main motivation as being a voice for the unheard and unseen and knowing that I can do that through storytelling and obviously knowing that it was going to be a complex journey and come with all types of ups and downs and all types of conflict and people different opinions and people feeling a certain way about the role.
But as we all know, it’s a story that needs to be told and I don’t mind putting on that shield and having to tell that story. So, it’s difficult as it may be sometimes to deal with some of the things that come with it. I think the biggest reward is understanding that the lives that are touched, the minds that are free from it, and then for me, the opportunities that come from me being able to show that type of range. So now P-valley is opening doors for other films and TV and movies that I’ll be able to approach in a different way and still be able to show range.
Thank you for being an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. How do you feel about any conversation around you possibly having that role as a heterosexual man and maybe taking it from a person who is actually of the community?
Yeah, I think I understand that perspective as well. I just have a deeper understanding of what the writer wanted, what the creator of the show wanted. I felt like they wanted to have someone that could pass as straight as possible and not that there are not gay actors that can do that. It’s just audition just like everybody else. I happen to book the role and so it pays off to just have a clear understanding of what happens behind the scenes and what happens in the audition room. I think when you understand that everybody gets that opportunity, it just kind of goes down to who they see and who they want for it. I like to see everybody win. It’s definitely a special feeling when you can get it done yourself. You know what I’m saying?
It’s been a minute since we’ve seen that type of authenticity and even with the content right. I’ve had many people in my family who are a part of the LGBT+ community and it’s not a secret, it’s nothing that is hidden. But not to have seen it in media in any creative, artistic way just kind of spoke to like what the world was. So again, I appreciate you bringing that talent and skill to that role. I want to talk about your music. I want to shift a little bit and talk about your music because you have talent there as well. The music that is in P-Valley, is that your own music that you created yourself.
So, we have a really dope writers room and when it comes to the music, having a writers camp, that happens every year for some really incredible writers. Having to throw all you for one of my homies named Antoine Moore who’s based out of Atlanta. He did majority of the first season along with some other writers who I don’t always get their names correct. I try not to put them out there. And then I think this season we brought on a couple more guys to the camp, to the team. And so, they collaborate. They send me what we call top liners. It’s basically a song. And then I go into the studio, and I do my own thing with it and adding ad libs and getting in my voice and my vibe and then cleaning it up a little bit with my guys. We call it new money, but yeah, she just hand picks. I believe a lot of people. She was very open to that. The story about new money. He was a chef on peak island. He came up to me, he was like, yo, I rap. I’m trying to write for you.
Like the Lil’ murda. I took a video of them, and I sent it to Katori and I was like, yo, I think we need to pull them out, pull them on. She hired them with another producer. They really liked them. They got the writer’s room. So, the music is inspiring. It’s one of the things where we’ve been able to create some really dope stuff. And then this season shout out to some guys. I think they out of the Memphis or Mississippi. I know what his name is David. I want to say David Fuller. That’s how I do that. Antoine Moore definitely has his hands all over her. Hands all over. And then we got some huge surprises for you this season. Just kind of keep elevating from there.
All right, listen, I was bumping that in my car … P-Valley playlist. Not being romantic about it, but P-Valley just gave me the wire and it gave me like, that trick all at once and again, it was at a time when I really needed it. Your drum skills.
Yeah. I was a drummer in New York for a long time. I grew up in North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina. And I moved to New York. But I was in a band my whole life, marching band. And when I got to New York, I needed to find a way to make a living outside of theater, which was a decent amount of living for North Carolina. But in New York, what you make on stage, it’s not quite equivalent to what you make on TV and film. So, I start street drumming early on in my career there, and it made a living for me. I was able to go out, I can make $100 a day, drums, pots, and pans. But I had some people doing YouTube. But then I was like, you know what? I think I can bring some real fun to it, real skill set to it. And it kept me it was my sanctuary for years. And that’s what kept me afloat. That’s what allowed me to feed myself and feed my son and travel to see my lady, who is my wife. Now. That’s the spot in L.A. So, street drumming, drumming, period has been, like, no pun intended, but like, the beat of my life, you know what I’m saying?
My career and how I’ve been able to move through my journey. So, anybody who is unfamiliar with it, you can tap in and see different stuff on YouTube and Instagram. And then we pulled a little bit of it into pivotal this season that people will get an opportunity to see in this first episode coming out.
Loberta is he bringing more Gucci? Like, what’s going on with the style?
Bringing a lot more Gucci. They got a lot more Gucci. Shout out to Anita and Alicia. They’re great costume designers. And then we have some other custom designers come on later in the year. Forgive me not to remember that name. So many people. This very eclectic, loud, but still fly comfy style. So, we got a lot more Gucci coming, some custom pieces coming as well that they put together. So, yeah, I love it, man. I love how Katori her imagination, and she has her that’s a dope thing about Katori Hall as a showrunner. She’s into all of it. So, she wants to approve and have her hands all over it. It’s a lot that comes from her imagination of what she’s seeing. And then you get these great custom directions. It’s not stuff that I will probably wear, but he’d be riding the hell out of that shit. So, I have a good time stepping.
What’s next for J. Alphonse?
A lot of really amazing projects coming up next. I have a film called They Called Tyrone coming out with Jamie Foxx and John Boega and Tiana Paris on Netflix.
I’m working on two projects right now that haven’t been announced yet. I’m really excited about them, and people see them later on this year and people to find out what I got going on next. So, yeah, if they close out wrong, it will be coming out later on this year, though, and then these other two projects will be announced very soon.
All right, well, thanks for sharing some time with us. And we’re looking forward to you.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you.