Niecy Nash, Living A Dream: To Be 'Black, Fabulous, And On TV' 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 samsanders@npr.org or tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with feels.
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Niecy Nash, Living A Dream: To Be 'Black, Fabulous, And On TV'

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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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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/620120303/621145917" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders - IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. It's Tuesday, and I have a conversation for you. This week, I'm talking with Niecy Nash. She is the star of a new drama on TNT. It's called "Claws." You probably already know Niecy Nash from HBO's "Getting On," from "Reno 911!," from "The Mindy Project," from the film "Selma." But this new role she's in, it is kind of a departure for her.

So this show "Claws," Niecy's character on the show runs a nail shop that launders drug money under the table. So this show has been described as "Breaking Bad" meets "Steel Magnolias." And it is the first time that Niecy Nash gets to be the lead in this very dramatic role. She plays this layered, multifaceted black female anti-hero, who gets to do all the bad stuff on screen that we're used to only seeing men do.

This show is new for Niecy in some other ways, too. On "Claws," she works a lot behind the scenes, from the casting to the writing. She even came up with her character's hairstyle. Niecy also works alongside another woman of color - Rashida Jones - who is one of the show's executive producers. All right, let's get into it. Here's me talking to Niecy Nash. She and I were together at NPR West. Enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

NIECY NASH: How you living?

SANDERS: I'm good. I'm good. Yeah, how are you living?

NASH: Baby, listen.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Tell me all about it.

NASH: For the season premiere of "Claws," we're live-tweeting, so I'm just...

SANDERS: Oh, OK.

NASH: ...Trying to get everything - it's like a Twitter party - something we're doing. And I'm trying to make sure all the ducks are in a row.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: OK, now...

SANDERS: So you're, like, in the weeds on this show. Like, you're not just acting. You're, like, running in the social media campaigns and stuff.

NASH: That's just such a small thing...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...Of a thing of a thing. Do I put this on?

SANDERS: You can if you want. You don't have to.

NASH: OK.

SANDERS: Just as long as you're close enough to that mic.

NASH: Microphone check - mic-a-microphone-checka (ph).

SANDERS: That's a good mic check.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: I was talking to a friend the other day who had interviewed Oprah. And she was saying the usual question you ask is, like, what did you have for breakfast? And she asked Oprah that to get a mic check. And Oprah began to recite the Book of Genesis.

NASH: I will not be outdone by Oprah.

SANDERS: OK, then recite you some Scriptures.

NASH: And the Lord stepped out on space. He looked around and said, I'm lonely. I'll make me a world. And as far as the eye of God could see, darkness covered everything, blacker than a hundred midnights down in the cypress swamp.

SANDERS: (Laughter) I think that's a mic check for the ages.

NASH: OK, let's do it to it.

SANDERS: Let's do it to it. I'm really honored to talk with you. I have been such a fan for so long. I remember you back in the Deputy Raineesha days.

NASH: "Reno 911!"...

SANDERS: "Reno 911!"...

NASH: ...Days.

SANDERS: ...Which was such a good show.

NASH: We had a lot of fun. You know, that was a - that was a fake-it-till-you-make-it job.

SANDERS: How so?

NASH: Because when I got the call for that one, originally it didn't start off as improv. It started off as sketch. And when they called and said do you know how to do sketch? I said, pfft (ph), yes.

SANDERS: Did you?

NASH: Hell no.

(LAUGHTER)

NASH: I called my friend Big George, and I was like, what the heck is sketch? Like, what do I have to do?

SANDERS: I want a friend named Big George.

NASH: Listen; Big George Sharperson still is my friend...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...To this day. He told me - he was like, oh, that's when you do characters. And he explained it. I'm like, oh, I got this. And I didn't have it, but I faked it till I made it. I was like, I'll figure it out on the way over there. I didn't know...

SANDERS: Wow.

NASH: ...You was supposed to practice it, you know, do all of that. I was like, oh...

SANDERS: I love it.

NASH: I was just going to wing it.

SANDERS: I love it.

NASH: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Well, it worked. So we're here today to talk mostly about your show now - "Claws." But I want to talk about everything because there's so much in your career and your life that I find fascinating.

NASH: Let's chat.

SANDERS: But how would you describe this show in 20 seconds?

NASH: That's tough. It's about a woman named Desna Simms, who is a manicurist by day and a money launderer by night.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: And it's all about her rise to become a queenpin in the Dixie Mafia, set in a Florida noir backdrop.

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: Pretty good?

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: OK.

SANDERS: I read somewhere it was described as "Steel Magnolias" meets "Breaking Bad."

NASH: And then there's that.

SANDERS: I - so I started bingeing the show, and I was just like, this is, in many ways, so groundbreaking because it is a show where women get to do all the bad stuff men usually do in these kind of shows.

NASH: Talk about it.

SANDERS: And it's a show where there is a black woman in charge.

NASH: You ain't going to make me tear up...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...On your radio program. These are facts. And I - that is what I lean into.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: The fact that these women are so unapologetic...

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: ...And so full - you know, and the things that you definitely will see guys doing on a "Breaking Bad," on a "Sopranos," on any show where men lead the charge and are running a show, but instead of them...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...You get this ragtag band of manicurists...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...In southern Florida trying to make it crack. And it becomes a whole 'nother something.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. And y'all lean so heavily into the strange southern Florida Florida-ness (ph). Like, some of the names on the show are just amazing. Like, your love interest is named Roller.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: The big, evil, nasty villain is called Uncle Daddy. What is Uncle Daddy?

NASH: Uncle Daddy because one of my love interests on the show, him and his brother, his parents were killed. And they were raised then by their uncle, who became like a father, so they just call him Uncle Daddy.

SANDERS: My Aunt Betty is like a mother to me. I don't call her Mother Auntie. It's so funny.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: You know, the network sought you out for this role.

NASH: They did.

SANDERS: When they came to you, were you like, how does - how are they going to do this? Because in many ways, it's - it is not the kind of show that you would expect a network to take a chance on with a black female lead, executive produced by a black woman. You know, like, in so many ways, this is checking off a lot of first boxes.

NASH: Well, the read was so delicious. It felt very special just in reading it. And I was like, oh, my God...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...This gives me something to play that, even though I've been in the business over 20 years...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...I've never played this woman, you know what I mean? And I don't know, you know - and I'm pulling air quotes from heaven for your listeners...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...When I say we are women on the - of a certain age...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...OK? Playing these women, who are very forward and aggressive sexually...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

NASH: ...You know, girl power at its finest...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...You know, all seeking to claw their way out from underneath of the thumb of all of these men in the town...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...You know, or at least in our underworld...

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: ...Not in the town, but...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...You know...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

NASH: ...And I was like, wow...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...This is - this is something. And I went in, and I took a meeting with Eliot Laurence, who created the show, and Janine, who's our showrunner. And I was going to get in the car after the meeting, and I didn't even make it off the lot. And my manager called and was like, so are you going to do this? They want you to do it. I said, I just got in the car.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: He was like, well...

SANDERS: Was there any doubt when he asked you that?

NASH: No, not one. I was just surprised the call came so quick.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: I was like, well, maybe I'll go home, have a sandwich...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...You know, lay down, and maybe tomorrow they'll call.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: No, they called right away.

SANDERS: They wanted you.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah. And so you were able to be involved because of that, like, from the ground floor. You were involved in...

NASH: I was the first...

SANDERS: ...Casting.

NASH: ...Person...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...To come aboard.

SANDERS: Yeah. And so then you're working with Rashida Jones, who's an EP...

NASH: Yes.

SANDERS: ...Your showrunner, who you mentioned. It's run by women, which I love as well. But you were able to make some casting choices. And from what I understand, you picked, who, for many, is an unknown actor. Her name is Karrueche Tran. She plays Virginia on the show. And she kind of becomes a part of your character's crew.

NASH: Let me back up and say...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...That I wanted to come in and read with every woman who was coming in, you know, because I wanted to make sure, above all else, that the chemistry was right.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: If we got that part right...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...Everything else was going to fall into place because the words were beautiful.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: We just got to get the right combo of women. And her part was one of the last ones that they - they were just having trouble finding the right girl. And I suggested - I said, well, what about Karrueche Tran? Some people in the room knew who she was and some people did not.

SANDERS: And I think for a lot of our listeners, she's perhaps most famous for being an ex of Chris Brown's, or was before the show.

NASH: Right. That was - well, she may have, you know, come into the psyche...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...Of...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...People for that relationship.

SANDERS: Yeah. And, like, I don't want to make this woman be defined by a man. But, like, that's how a lot of folks knew her.

NASH: A lot - no, that's a - but that's a true story.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: I mean, you know, that's a true statement that people knew her based on a relationship that she was in with a famous artist. And whatever challenges that happened in that relationship made her more popular in the social media world of it all. And - but there was something about this character and something about her that I felt could be - it could be a fit. And so I mentioned her, asked if they would bring her in to read her. She didn't even know that I referred her...

SANDERS: And...

NASH: ...In the beginning.

SANDERS: Yeah. And how did you have the presence of mind to say, let's try Karrueche?

NASH: I just felt like there was something about who she was in her life that wanted to belong somewhere other than where she was. You know, and I mean...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...Like, you're known for a certain thing, and you want to break outside that box.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: That's Virginia.

SANDERS: That is true.

NASH: I want a family. I want to belong. I want to belong to something other than where I've been. So I - there was just something in my mind that said maybe the truth of her real life could intersect this character in such a way that she would be a good fit. And...

SANDERS: That makes sense.

NASH: ...They leaned all the way in.

SANDERS: You should be a casting director.

NASH: You know what? Casting is one of my favorite things.

SANDERS: Really?

NASH: One of my - there's a couple of people who you'll see throughout the season that was me picking up the phone, going...

SANDERS: Really?

NASH: ...What about this person? What about that person?

SANDERS: Really?

NASH: Oh, yeah.

SANDERS: So what I love about your career is that you went in there and started and said, all right, you give me the roles that you think I should play. But over time, I'm going to show you all that I can do. Because when you started, they were like, you're funny, do the funny.

NASH: Do that.

SANDERS: Do the funny.

NASH: Do that.

SANDERS: And then all of a sudden, before you know it - I mean, before I know it. I'm sure it was a very long process for you, but, like, before you know it, you're on shows like "Getting On." You're on shows like "Claws," where you're showing such a versatility. You made it seem so easy to get from that to this.

NASH: Well...

SANDERS: It mustn't have been that easy.

NASH: Because here's the thing - the time that it was stamped on the canvas of my imagination, what my destiny was going to be, I didn't see funny.

SANDERS: What did you see?

NASH: Drama.

SANDERS: How young of an age did you see that?

NASH: Five. I was watching television with my grandmother, and I saw the most gorgeous black woman I had ever seen. I looked, and I was like, Grandma, who is that? My grandmother said, Baby, that's Lola Falana.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: She had on a long red dress, and her eyelashes looked like butterflies. I look at my grandmother and I say, that's what I want to be. I want to be black, fabulous and on TV. And in that moment, I felt like God stamped my destiny on the canvas of my imagination, and my only job was to walk that thing out. Now, between then and now, I had seen Cicely Tyson in a movie, "The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman..."

SANDERS: That's some serious drama.

NASH: ...I said, that's my work right there. That's the work that's to be done.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: But my personality was funny. But I didn't know funny was a gift to be rewarded because I always got punished for it. I got pinched in church. I got put on punishment because, you know, for - why you got talks too much on your report card? What was you doing? I was telling the people some jokes. Go get the belt. I'mma (ph) show you what's funny.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: So I didn't know that funny was a thing. And my...

SANDERS: When did you...

NASH: ...And my parents would, you know, would always be, like, that girl is so silly. Go sit down. Like - and so I didn't know it was a thing.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And it wasn't until 1993 when my brother was murdered - he was killed in...

SANDERS: Where was he murdered?

NASH: Someone brought a gun to school and he was killed on his high school here in Los Angeles...

SANDERS: Which high school?

NASH: Reseda.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: And my mother went into a depression. And she said, I'm getting into 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. I was like, I don't know what to do. And it dawned on me - I do know that I can make my mama laugh. So I started performing at the foot of her bed every day.

SANDERS: Wow.

NASH: And I would do my bits and my acts...

SANDERS: What was your best role and bit at that performance?

NASH: Oh, my gosh. I would do a little bit of everything. I would do a lot of impersonations. I would do skits where I would play all the people. I would tell jokes - I mean, just anything I could think of. And my mother goes from laying out - laying down in the bed to sitting up in the bed. So she's like, I got my peanuts and my water, go on and get up there and do your rendition of things. And then one day, I go - she's not in the bed. I'm like, where's my mother? She's like, we're in here. I cut the corner, and she got two people from across the street. I went across the street and got the neighbors. I told them you was funny. Get that karaoke microphone and set up there and tell these people some jokes. Y'all are going to love this. And now I'm standing on the fireplace with the old microphone. Is this thing on? How's everybody doing in the living room? I'm just standing up there like, this is so dumb, what am I doing? And it dawned on me when I was up there...

SANDERS: That's your gift.

NASH: ...That comedy was a gift. And I heard a voice as audible as my own say, Niecy, don't be a selfish heifer. There's other people suffering. Go outside and spread it around...

SANDERS: And make them smile.

NASH: ...And I could not get a job anywhere. And I went outside, and I said, my name is Niecy and I'm funny. And they said, yes, you are little girl, come on. So then the industry was kind because they continued to reward the funny, but they made me stay there. They were like, you have a lane. We love you, but you got a lane...

SANDERS: Here's your lane.

NASH: ...And you stay right here and you play this little chunky sidekick to the lead girl and you stay over here with, you know, and bring the little sass and you bring this, and you stay right here. And I was like, oh, but what are they doing over there? I would love to go play over there. And it was like, not for you.

SANDERS: When did it start to change?

NASH: It started to change when I got the script for "Getting On," and they allowed me to come in and read. That was the changing of everything.

SANDERS: Were you surprised they even sent that kind of script to you?

NASH: Well, I had been asking...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...For a while...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...And the guys who did "Getting On," Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen, also the people who did "Big Love" for HBO, were very much of the mindset that people who can make you laugh can make you cry, but it's not always true in reverse.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: So there - you know, there are some leading actresses who give you very much full on drama, but you're not going to see them starring in a sitcom on Fox.

SANDERS: Yeah. I don't want to see Nicole Kidman in "Reno 911!"

NASH: No, you don't.

SANDERS: And I love her.

NASH: You know, but no - but that's a different skill set. So - but sometimes you can flip it if you come from the other world. And those - they were kind enough to invite me to the party. And that was the first time as an actor - I had won an Emmy for producing my home makeover show "Clean House" many years ago, but the first time as an actor that I'd been nominated two years in a row...

SANDERS: For an Emmy.

NASH: Yeah, but that was the first time I got to play in that playground, too.

SANDERS: Yeah. So you showed them.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Let's describe that show for folks who might not have watched it. And if you haven't watched it, listeners, go watch it. I love "Getting On." So you play Nurse Didi.

NASH: Yes, Didi Ortley. And it's myself, Alex Borstein and Laurie Metcalf.

SANDERS: Also, Laurie Metcalf...

NASH: Is brilliant.

SANDERS: ...That girl's got it.

NASH: I love her. Let me - watching her is like a masters class.

SANDERS: Her in "Lady Bird."

NASH: She's so good. She's good in everything...

SANDERS: Everything.

NASH: ...Though. But she played a character, Dr. Jenna James, on this series that I did with her, "Getting On." It was a small little series, but the - it was an industry darling. A lot of people in the masses don't know about it.

SANDERS: They're missing out.

NASH: It was an industry darling about three women who took care of elderly patients in this...

SANDERS: In, like, an elderly ward.

NASH: ...In this rundown hospital. And that turned everything for me because Ava DuVernay saw me in that and she put me in "Selma."

SANDERS: I did not know that.

NASH: Yeah. Because of that, she saw a little scene on "Getting On" and called me at home. The folks over at "The Mindy Project" saw me in that. Alexander Payne saw me in that and that's why he put me in "Downsizing." And likewise, the folks from "Claws" saw me in that. So "Getting On"...

SANDERS: So "Getting On" was a transitional point for you.

NASH: Yeah. It was a gift that continues to give.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right. Time for break. When we come back, Niecy Nash talks about her work ethic and trying to make it as an actor with three young kids. BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Your stamina is incredible. I was looking through all of the bio pages on you. You have done a little bit of everything. And you are...

NASH: Haven't I?

SANDERS: ...Always working.

NASH: Let me tell you my theory on that.

SANDERS: OK, tell me.

NASH: First of all, God is kind. Second of all, I've never gotten a job and not gotten somebody else a job. So when I show up, the job is what I do, but my who is to be of service. So the job is a job, but then I go, and I say, well, Lord, what's my assignment? Because those are two different things. So...

SANDERS: A job and an assignment, two different things, yeah.

NASH: Right. My job is, learn the words and stand right there when they tell you to and make it believable. That's the job. The assignment is to be of service. So who - how can you serve in this place?

SANDERS: I like that.

NASH: You know what I mean? So if I get somebody cast as a PA or get their - like, in "Claws," I've gotten people's music placed in, you know, first time the people have had their music as a part of a production or, you know, bring - find a chef and introduce him to the network and - or 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.

SANDERS: I love this word. That's a good sermon.

NASH: Yeah. That's how I roll.

SANDERS: OK. I like that.

NASH: Yeah, you know - and the one thing I will tell you about Desna is that...

SANDERS: That's your character on "Claws."

NASH: My character on "Claws," Desna Simms, is a...

SANDERS: She's kind of the same way.

NASH: She wants to make sure everybody has eaten, for sure. You know what I mean? But what I loved - the other thing I loved about tackling this role is everything that I got to bring to the table for women who are - many of - are my friends - to see themselves in television - a woman on the south side of 40, not married, no kids, thicker than a Snicker. For those who don't understand what that means, it means you got some meat on your bones - huh? - not a size 2, not a sample size.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Things are spilling out. Sometimes it's meaty. Sometimes it's greasy. Sometimes it's cheesy. It's a lot going on. But to see that woman on television, see herself living her life out loud, I mean, I won the - a very big hair battle the night before we went into principal photography because they wanted me with a lovely soccer mom bob with blond highlights.

SANDERS: No. No.

NASH: And I was like, there - where is the woman on TV just wearing her hair natural, and out, and untamed and just letting her hair just be? I was like, that's this woman. And I - and so I dressed myself up how I thought she should look, sent in photographs, and the night before, they said, we acquiesce; go ahead.

SANDERS: I love it.

NASH: So I just wanted that woman to have a place in this TV landscape.

SANDERS: Hearing you talk about "Claws" and how intimately you're involved in the entirety of the show - running the social media, booking cast members, like Karrueche, you know, being in there from the ground floor and saying what you want - how long did it take you to get to that level of security in your career? It seems like you're a force on that set. That takes a certain amount of confidence.

NASH: Yeah. And I also think that there's a reciprocity in this business that sometimes actors forget, in that, you know, we show up to a casting - let's start at the genesis. You got to get to casting first. Get the appointment. You show up. Sometimes there's an energy that we bring in the room that says, I hope they pick me; I have to be grateful for, you know, them if they like me. And I'm not saying that you don't. What I am saying is that there's a reciprocity because you're helping casting look good. You're like, get a load of all of this. I'm bringing my A game in here.

SANDERS: Exactly.

NASH: And if they take you before the powers that be who can hire you, it's going to make them look good. So it's not just them doing you a favor. So that when I show up to do the work, to me, it would be ill-fitting for me to just be a talking head. I'm so passionate about the work that I want everything to be right. And I mean, I'm up sometimes 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning trying to fight for story and copy and things to be finessed in a different way in the script. And I don't get weary in well-doing because it's necessary if people turn on the TV and you want them to lean in. You just figure it out. You just lay your head down and say, Lord, stretch out the night.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: You know how to toil tonight.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: Get up in the morning, and let me feel like you done added a couple extra hours on this thing. It's all you can do.

SANDERS: Yeah. And...

NASH: You can't phone it in. I can't.

SANDERS: I hear you. Well, and also hearing you say that, I was thinking of this phrase that I've seen used by you before, like, talking about walking in with that confidence and knowing that you're worth it. You use this phrase called, it's self-esteem, not them-esteem (ph).

NASH: Well, you know, I just say a lot of times, like - especially in this business because it can be fleeting - a lot of people want to do it, and you got to figure out how to meander your way through and break through the pack. I remember my early days. I used to have an argument with my ex-husband every time I had an audition.

SANDERS: How so?

NASH: ...For whatever reason - just a random argument.

SANDERS: You was stressed.

NASH: But something always...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

NASH: ...Happened before I was going on a audition, and we had a argument. And I'll never forget driving over the hill to go to Warner Bros., bawling my eyes out. And I knew I had to go in there and be funny. I was going in for a role. I remember it like it was yesterday. Ryan Murphy had a TV show called "Popular."

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And I was going in there to play a lobster - Lil' Babe (ph).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: And honey, I wanted that part. And I cried all the way there.

SANDERS: Wow.

NASH: And when I pulled up, I wiped my face.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: I got it together.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: I took a deep breath.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And I went in that room. Now, here's the other thing that happened. I was so used to auditioning and seeing girls that I didn't know. I was comfortable where I was.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: But if you're going to go to the next level, he's got to stretch you.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: I go - and by he, I mean the big he.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: OK?

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: The big H-E.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: So I go into the audition room. And I look, and I recognize every girl in there.

SANDERS: Really?

NASH: It was Tichina Campbell (ph), Tisha Arnold (ph), Essence Atkins.

SANDERS: Oh, Lord.

NASH: ...All the girls from all the '90s sitcoms.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And I was like, oh, my God. I turned around and walked right back out. I was like, what are they doing in there?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Just like I heard that voice tell me when I was standing on that fireplace - it said, if you believe where I'm taking you, then those are your peers; turn around.

SANDERS: Yeah. And you went back in.

NASH: And I went back in there, and I am very happy to report that Ryan Murphy cast me as Lil' Babe.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: I played the lobster...

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: ...In "Popular." Thank you very much.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

NASH: ...Even in front of all these girls who had worked way more...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

NASH: ...Than I had at that point.

SANDERS: Well, and then Ryan Murphy puts you in "Scream Queens."

NASH: "Scream Queens." And he also had another pilot that never saw the light of day - it was ahead of its time - called "Pretty/Handsome."

SANDERS: OK. He's made, like, 70 - 11 million shows. Ryan Murphy is productive.

NASH: Oh, wow. I mean - and so creative.

SANDERS: Yeah. Do you like working with him?

NASH: So creative. I love him. You know, I love Ryan because he likes to gossip.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: We like to chitchat, honey. We like to spill the tea together.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: And so I love that when I see him, it's going to be work...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...But always a little good kiki on the side.

SANDERS: I love it. I love it.

NASH: Oh, yeah.

SANDERS: You know, so you mentioned these auditions and going in there with that confidence and having to go back in there with that confidence. One thing you didn't say is that early on when you were auditioning for stuff, you were taking three children to the auditions.

NASH: Oh, I skipped that part.

SANDERS: Talk about that.

NASH: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Because that seems hard.

NASH: Yeah. Well, but could I do? Like, I could've been at home and just been like, I don't have anybody to care for them.

SANDERS: How old were they at the time?

NASH: Little. Like, 6 or 7 - maybe one was. Another one was three years under that and another one three years under that.

SANDERS: Lord.

NASH: ...So little babies.

SANDERS: And you...

NASH: ...Little babies. All my kids are about three...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...Or four years apart. So they were young.

SANDERS: Wow.

NASH: And I - what could I do? You know, I would take them all and put them in a corner. And I was - you get the baba (ph). Give her the baba. Where's the graham crackers? You get the coloring book? Get the - OK.

SANDERS: Wow.

NASH: Sit right here. Don't move. If that director come out of that door, you smile pretty. You hear what mommy's telling you?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...Because I didn't have a choice. And I was the only one dragging all my kids there.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And I'll never forget the little - my youngest - I took her on a audition. The other two were in school. And I was sitting next to a girl - didn't know this girl from a can of paint. I was like, hey, girl, I like your dress; that is so cute; oh, my God.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Like, so where are you from? Really? I asked her 75 questions. And she was looking at me like, why is this girl talking to me?

SANDERS: Because she's going to watch that baby (laughter).

NASH: And they call my name. I said, ooh, can you hold this for me?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...And handed her my baby and was saying a prayer when I walked off. I was like, Lord, please don't let her run out of here with my baby.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: You know? But what could I do?

SANDERS: It all worked out.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah. I love that. I love that. One of the things people might not know about you...

NASH: (Singing) One of the things.

SANDERS: Go ahead and sing.

NASH: What might - what don't they now?

SANDERS: Well, now I want you to sing some more.

NASH: No. Come on (laughter).

SANDERS: What song is stuck in your head today?

NASH: Today?

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: You know what somebody brought up to me earlier today - when I was on "Getting On." It was a total ad-lib...

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: ...That Alex Borstein said. We were just finishing up a scene. And I said, I'm sorry, Dawn. I said, I didn't - is there anything I can do? I mean, she was undergoing chemo or something. And she says, can you sing the "Pony" song for me? And I was like, what? In my mind...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...I'm thinking, Niecy, to not ruin this take. What if they use it?

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah.

NASH: You never know.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And so - and I just looked around like I was so nervous in a hospital. And then I sang the "Pony" song like it was a old Negro spiritual.

SANDERS: Ginuwine's "Pony"?

NASH: (Singing) If you're horny, let's do it.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: (Singing) Ride it, my pony.

It was just - don't even ask.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: And they used it. They kept it in the outtakes.

SANDERS: (Laughter) You know what? That...

NASH: They - and I was like, oh, Lord (laughter).

SANDERS: Have you seen - there is this amazing Tumblr. It's called Dancing Alone to Pony.

NASH: No.

SANDERS: And it's the Tumblr of a screen just full of small YouTube video clips of random people dancing alone to "Pony."

NASH: Well, I want them to dance to my version. Go find that. Download the gospel version.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Do the little gospel side bounce, little side to side. Oh, my God (laughter).

NASH: Yes. But what were you about to ask me? You...

SANDERS: OK. Let's see. Let's see. OK.

NASH: No, you said...

SANDERS: You were a...

NASH: Oh, people don't know about me - what don't they know?

SANDERS: You were a cheerleader.

NASH: I was.

SANDERS: And on your cheerleading sweater...

NASH: Oh, you know about that?

SANDERS: ...Was the phrase...

NASH: Big Mama.

SANDERS: ...Big Mama. Yeah, I read all the stuff.

NASH: Because I was the biggest girl.

SANDERS: Oh (laughter).

NASH: I was...

SANDERS: But also, you mother the people, right?

NASH: I was a mother, but I was big, and so it just went together.

SANDERS: Yeah. So I bring it up because even back then, in high school...

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...They were calling you mama, and you were mothering people.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: And I can hear the way you talk about the work. You mother folks.

NASH: Oh, yeah, for sure.

SANDERS: Did you get tired doing that?

NASH: No.

SANDERS: Why not?

NASH: Because somebody's got to do it. And so I just think I'm built for it.

SANDERS: What makes you built for it?

NASH: I just think that the way my soul is set up...

(LAUGHTER)

NASH: The way my soul is set up, I just feel, like, a responsibility. If I went - I would never leave a girl I don't know - even if I didn't know her, I would never leave a girl crying in a bathroom. Like, I've literally been driving down the street with my kids. I saw a girl jump out the car, slam it...

SANDERS: What?

NASH: ...Cry, run across the street. And we...

SANDERS: Where were you?

NASH: In LA. And I pulled up and was like, girl, you need a ride? And she was like, yeah. And she got in. And I was like, what's your name? She was like, Kim (ph). I said, kids, say hi to Kim.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: You know? And I was like, where do you need to go? Like, what just happened?

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: I'm so sorry.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: Let me give you my phone number if you need anything.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: Meet me at church on Sunday - gave her a hug and took her home. Like, it's just - it's my makeup...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...To mother. Now, you've got to be mindful because, you know, a grown man don't want to be mothered.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: You've got to turn to turn that thing off. You got to lay back and know when to shut that thing down...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...And be like, I don't know, daddy, what do you want to do? You know what I mean?

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: You've got to know that it ain't for all occasions.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, and it's - to hear you talk about this, so often, black women are expected to mother. And then they're expected to just take on this extra work that men sure don't have to do and that other women don't have to do.

NASH: But the one thing that I do - and I will tell you this - is I've learned stand in protection in service of myself because, see, when you pour out a lot...

SANDERS: Then you're empty.

NASH: ...You tend to then still try to pour from an empty cup. And you can't. You know, I love Iyanla Vanzant. And she talks about that - that everything that's in the cup is for me, and the overflow is for everybody else. So I definitely make sure - you know, I vacation. I do a lot of self-care.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: You know what I mean? So I definitely am all about the self-care and stand in protection of me. I'm not going to overdo, you know? I've done that a time or two, and it didn't go well.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: So I've learned now how to take a step back and manage what I can. And then there are times when I say, not today.

SANDERS: Not today.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Time for another quick break right here. When we come back, Niecy gives us some relationship advice. After two marriages, she has a lot. All right - back in a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Another thing I found out in researching you is that you wrote a book.

NASH: "It's Hard To Fight Naked."

SANDERS: But here's the thing, Niecy Nash. It is actually possible to fight naked (laughter).

NASH: Well, here's the goal in the book. It was a very funny and fun book, a relationship book.

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: But it has...

SANDERS: Guide to dating, right?

NASH: ...Real takeaway.

SANDERS: Yes.

NASH: You know, whether you're in a relationship, out of it, want to be in one or struggling in it - wherever you are in it, it has a lot of tips and tricks and fun takeaway. But when I say it's hard to fight naked, I mean literally and figuratively.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: So if I was in a conversation with my husband and he was angry, literally, I could just take off my shirt and start putting lotion on my elbows and be like, what happened now?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: He'll get distracted, and things will dissipate.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: But, like, figuratively, if I'm screaming that I'm, you know, so mad, if I stand in my truth...

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: ...Figuratively, and I'm naked, I'm hurt.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And let me just bare that part.

SANDERS: And show it all to you.

NASH: So from literally or figuratively, to - in my economy, my experience, is just that it's hard to fight naked.

SANDERS: You've got to just put yourself out there.

NASH: And how do you get to a place where, you know, you make love better? And you can do that literally and figuratively.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: So you've thought a lot about relationships. In your experience, what is that piece of advice that everyone should follow when it comes to relationships but they never can, the one thing we always screw up on in relationships?

NASH: One, I think, is be what you want to see because you're always going to attract a measure of what you are. And if everybody in your life is crazy, you get up in the morning and you look in the mirror and you say, good morning, crazy.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Because you invited...

SANDERS: The crazy. Yeah.

NASH: There is something about whatever you're putting out and who you are at that time. The more whole and healthy you become, the better the boys and the girls will be that show up.

SANDERS: That's the truth.

NASH: And then the only other thing I would say is that I think it's a misnomer for people to say that they fell in love because to me, falling, you know, says to me that you were unstable, something overtook you. You didn't have a choice in the matter. You always have a choice.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: And so I don't ever want to fall in love. I want to stand in it. I want to stand bold in it. I want to know exactly what it is I'm getting into, and I want to make a decision to give you the best parts of me.

SANDERS: All right.

NASH: Yeah. Stand in it.

SANDERS: Stand in that. Your second marriage was televised.

NASH: Marriage No. 2.

SANDERS: You had a reality show about it.

NASH: Yes, I did.

SANDERS: What was it called?

NASH: "Leave It To Niecy."

SANDERS: What did you learn? What was the biggest lesson you learned from marriage No. 1 to marriage No. 2? What did you get right in two that you didn't get right in one?

NASH: The other thing that I've learned to do is to make my relationship, the love that I give, I prefer for it to be custom. I think my first marriage was off the rack.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Huh?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: I showed up, and I was like...

SANDERS: Now that I think about it, every single ex I've had was off the damn rack.

NASH: (Laughter). So people...

SANDERS: That's what it is.

NASH: People show up and they say, this is how I am, as opposed to saying, what do you need to feel loved and whole? I spent a lot of time treating him the way I wanted him to treat me, trying to show him what love was, as opposed to just saying, what do you need? 'Cause 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 'cause it wasn't his love language. It was mine.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

NASH: So I learned that in this relationship, let me study you and let me make this thing off the - you know, instead of being something that was off the rack like the first one, let me make it custom.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: So you feel like - and I told my husband - I am so present to what it is, if you find another woman that can give it to you better than me, you better give me her phone number 'cause we all dating.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: We all in it together. What we all doing this weekend?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: Huh?

SANDERS: I love that. Not off the rack, but custom.

NASH: Custom.

SANDERS: It's true 'cause everybody looks better in a tailored suit.

NASH: Come on.

SANDERS: You're right about that.

NASH: Say that.

SANDERS: You're right about that. All right. One more "Claws" question before I let you go. What should viewers expect in the new season?

NASH: Baby...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: ...OK. If you've been watching, this part is for you.

SANDERS: This part.

NASH: OK. So, Season 1, we saw Desna trying desperately to get out from underneath the Dixie Mafia's thumb, and we saw the Russians come in at the end. And we saw her want to, you know, make a move and just try to get out from underneath all of it.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: Season 2, because of some choices that she made - and I don't want to give it away if anybody is going to binge watch it before, but - because of some choices she made right at the end of the season finale, she's back in the life.

SANDERS: Yeah.

NASH: But instead of trying to get out, she's leaning in.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: I will be watching.

NASH: Yeah. As you should.

SANDERS: Yeah. Of course.

NASH: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I have asked all the questions I have. My last little quick question - and then I'll let you go. I promise - you told me about doing impersonations for your mother...

NASH: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...When she wasn't feeling too good about things. What was her favorite impression of yours?

NASH: Favorite?

SANDERS: Or even your favorite to do for her? Or, impersonations, I guess.

NASH: I think that my mother - so matter of fact, I was just on a plane with my mother yesterday.

SANDERS: OK.

NASH: And a man said in front of us, he was like, are you on television? And I go, yes. And he goes, OK. Well, you know, my name is, you know, Pastor John Brown. I'm from Greater New Life Missionary Baptist Church. And tell me your name.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: I said, (laughter), I said, my name is Niecy Nash, and I just wanted to say, truly giving honor to God and the first lady of this plane. I am (laughter) - I serve a man. I serve a king who sits high, and he looks low.

SANDERS: Did you wake up this morning with your mind?

NASH: Huh? I stayed on him.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

NASH: And so - and I just kept going. And then all of a sudden, once my mother started laughing, I said, I was like a seed that has been planted by cool and running water. I mean, it just turned into...

SANDERS: It was church.

NASH: ...Where literally tears running out, and we're laughing and I'm just preaching, and - it was fun stuff, though.

SANDERS: I love it.

NASH: Fun preaching. Yeah.

SANDERS: I love that. Niecy Nash, this was a treat.

NASH: Aw. Thank you.

SANDERS: I am a fan and honored to have been a little part of your day.

NASH: I'm cordially inviting you to my star ceremony.

SANDERS: What?

NASH: I get a star July 11...

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

NASH: ...on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and you're cordially invited.

SANDERS: You know I'll be there...

NASH: Be there.

SANDERS: ...Clapping the whole time.

NASH: There we go.

SANDERS: Oh, my God. Thank you, Niecy Nash.

NASH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Niecy Nash, thank you so much for that great conversation. You can see Niecy on the show "Claws." It airs Sunday nights on TNT. All right. Listeners, if you're enjoying this show - and I really hope you are - do us a favor. Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That helps other folks find the show. As always, also send me audio of you sharing the best thing that happened to you this week, last week, next week, any week. Just record yourself at any point throughout the week and send that file to samsanders@npr.org. Samsanders@npr.org. We're back on Friday for our Weekly Wrap. Until then, I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

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