Since her six seasons as Deputy Raineesha Williams on Reno 911!, Niecy Nash has kept digging her claws into unforgettable characters.
Following Scream Queens and her Emmy-nominated work on Getting On, she nails it once again as the H.B.I.C. on TNT’s Claws, a dark comedy set in a Florida nail salon that’s a front for organized crime.
When it comes to the small screen, Nash explains how she’s breaking the mold in a big and beautiful way.
You co-hosted the NewNowNext Awards back in 2010. What do you remember about that experience?
That was the most over-the-top situation I’d ever been in. I’d never seen so much glam in one room, so I’m glad I brought garments, honey. A couple years before that, I was asked to host the WeHo Awards in West Hollywood, so that’s when I figured out I had a big gay following. I was like, “Okay, come on, then!”
What does that support mean to you?
As an artist, especially when it comes to being funny and entertaining, you want to reach everybody. So when the people who don’t look or live like you still show up for your foolishness, it’s great.
You play Desna, a money launderer and nail salon owner, in Claws. Will the LGBT audience show up for her?
I think so. She’s a mother hen who loves hard, and her style is really something. I just said to the girls on set, “If the queens don’t dress as us for Halloween, we didn’t do it right.” So I would live for that. Live!
They’d certainly have a lot of bold looks to choose from.
I feel like a superhero on that set. I usually try to lose some weight before a role, but when I read the script, I knew Desna had to be a little thick to serve what she’s serving. She’s a brick house. It’s funny, because when you’re over 40 and not a size 2, people say you can’t be a sexy lead on TV. But this is what we’re doing.
Claws creator Eliot Laurence was a writer and producer for Logo’s Big Gay Sketch Show, so I’m not surprised that Claws features two major LGBT characters: Judy Reyes as Quiet Ann and Dean Norris as Uncle Daddy.
Yes, and thanks to Eliot, they’re aren’t written salaciously or as the butt of jokes. Uncle Daddy is married to a woman, but his sidepiece is a younger guy. Quiet Ann loves women, so she’s got all the desperate housewives on the block going crazy. But nobody’s clutching their pearls about it—it is what it is. Everybody on the show is having the sex they like.
You played a lesbian doctor on The Mindy Project. How did you approach that character?
When they called to tell me they wrote that part with me in mind, I was like, “Let’s do it.” I didn’t feel pressure to act any specific way, and I didn’t want to do anything that felt inauthentic. I just wanted to bring myself into the character, but yeah, that’s who she is. It felt right. My eyebrow may’ve gone up when Mindy and I had to kiss, but then I was like, Okay, get it together and brush your teeth.
How was the kiss?
Mindy was so lovely. After we kissed, they yelled “cut” and she told me, “I’m really a much better kisser than that. Give me another chance.” I said, “Girl, calm down. I think we got everything we need. I got a hot, buttery Jamaican man to go kiss at home!”
When competing on Dancing With the Stars in 2010, you and partner Louis van Amstel dedicated a waltz to marriage equality. Afterward, you participated in the NOH8 photo project. Why was that important for you?
At the time, marriage equality didn’t feel like an issue that affected me. Black lives matter? Okay, I’m black. While dancing with Louis, who was in love with his partner, I was in love with my now-husband. We were portraying the Lovings, who couldn’t get married because they were an interracial couple. Louis said, “What if somebody said you couldn’t marry Jay because it was wrong and against the law?” I started bawling. I finally got it. I was like, “What can we do? Where’s the petition? Sign me up!” I realized that you need people outside of your community advocating for you.
You’ve been very vocal about your faith. How have you reconciled your Christian beliefs with your support of LGBT rights?
Sometimes you’re raised to think a certain way, but the older and wiser you get, you begin to think for yourself. I’m a lover—that’s my jam. Anything that puts somebody else at arm’s length just doesn’t jive with what I do.
You starred as a preacher’s wife on The Soul Man, Cedric the Entertainer’s spiritual TVLand sitcom. The show once featured a lesbian wedding, which felt like progress.
Yeah, we had a large faith-based following, so it was important for Cedric to tell that story in a way that would be palatable to believers. We wanted the takeaway to be that love is love.
Because of your connection to the LGBT community, have you ever gotten flack from your faith-based audience?
I used to be married to a pastor, and people were more critical of me then. After all we’ve been through, black people are the last people who need to be having an issue with anybody, especially those who are churched. I live my life in service to other people, but I don’t live my life for other people.
It was announced last month that Scream Queens won’t be renewed for a third season. Will you miss playing FBI agent Denise Hemphill?
My goodness, yes. I felt like I was just getting started with Denise. But once her lover Chad Radwell died, I don’t know if she ever would’ve been the same anyway.
No more sexy Brokeback Mountain role play.
I looked hot as a gay cowboy, right? That was a good time.
Ryan Murphy had previously cast you in Popular and the Pretty/Handsome pilot, so you’ll probably pop up on his other shows in the future.
I hope so. I love Ryan because he was one of the first people to recognize that I could do something else besides broad comedy. He knew that people who make you laugh can also make you cry. I had a love scene with Robert Wagner in Pretty/Handsome, so Ryan was actually the one who got my TV cherry popped.
You wrote in your 2013 advice book, It’s Hard to Fight Naked, that blowjobs were the secret to a happy marriage. Did any gay guys ever teach you some tricks?
Oh, one of my longtime makeup artists, a gay man, actually gave me all kinds of tips on how to keep a man happy. He said, “Honey, let me tell you what you don’t know.”
Claws premieres June 11 on TNT.