Niecy Nash, Living A Dream: To Be 'Black, Fabulous, And On TV' : It's Been a Minute Best known for comedic roles in Reno 911, The Mindy Project, and HBO's Getting On, Niecy Nash stars in the TNT show Claws, a female-driven crime drama in its second season that one critic described as "Breaking Bad meets Steel Magnolias." She tells Sam how she used comedy to overcome tragedy in her personal life, and bringing a black, female anti-hero to TV. Email or tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with feels.

Niecy Nash, Living A Dream: To Be 'Black, Fabulous, And On TV'

Niecy Nash, Living A Dream: To Be 'Black, Fabulous, And On TV'

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Niecy Nash as Desna Simms in Claws. Skip Bolen/TNT hide caption

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Skip Bolen/TNT

Niecy Nash as Desna Simms in Claws.

Skip Bolen/TNT

If you recognize Niecy Nash, it's probably from her supporting roles in comedies like Reno 911, The Mindy Project, or HBO's Getting On.

Now, she owns the screen, starring in Claws, a dramedy from TNT in its second season. Niecy plays Desna, a southern Florida nail salon owner turned money launderer supporting the Russian mafia.

One critic described the show as "Breaking Bad meets Steel Magnolias." But Desna has more heart than Walter White. She's not just the mother of a budding criminal enterprise — she's the mother to a wolfpack of manicurists, protecting them like her own even as she pulls them deeper into the game.

After a decades-long career as a supporting actress, the starring role didn't come easily. (Niecy used to take her three young children with her on auditions.) But now she's at home running a den of thieves on Claws, and running things from behind the camera. She had a hand in everything from casting decisions to her character's hairstyle on the show, which is executive produced by Rashida Jones.

Niecy told Sam she's finally living a dream that hit her when she was five-years-old, watching actress Lola Falana on television. She turned to her grandmother and said, "That's what I want to be. I want to be black, fabulous, and on TV."

Producer Anjuli Sastry

Interview Highlights

On the cast playing the characters on Claws

[We're] playing these women who are very forward and aggressive sexually. They are unapologetic in their behavior and their womanness. I mean it's ... girl power at its finest, you know. All seeking to claw their way out from underneath some or all of these men ... in our underworld.

On when she realized comedy was in her bones

It wasn't until 1993, when my brother was murdered. .... Someone brought a gun to school and he was killed [at] his high school here in Los Angeles. ...

And my mother went into a depression and she said 'I'm getting in the bed and I'm never getting back out.' Now my brother was killed the day before my 23rd birthday. And at such a young age, I did not know what to do to help my mother. I didn't have money. I didn't have anything. ... And it dawned on me, I do know that I can make my momma laugh. So I started performing at the foot of her bed every day.

On helping other people succeed in the industry

The assignment is to be of service. So who, how can you serve in this place? ... So if I get somebody cast as a [production assistant] or like in Claws, I've gotten people's music placed in. [The] first time that people have had their music as a part of a production or you know, find the chef and introduce him to the network and the studio, or whatever it is. I continue to pay it forward.

So I have to move in such a way where there's branches. There's fruit on this tree. And everybody is eating. That's how I roll.

What she learned about love from her first marriage

I spent a lot of time treating him the way I want him to treat me, trying to show him what love was. As opposed to just saying 'What do you need? Because this is what I need. You give me that. And [I'm going to] give you yours.'

So I was loving him in a way that it was difficult for him to receive because it wasn't his love language. It was mine.