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November 20, 2015

Getting On, No Matter What

Niecy Nash is one busy actress, starring in three series at once.

Iva-Marie Palmer
  • Getting On

    Courtesy HBO
  • Getting On

    Courtesy HBO
  • Soul Man

    Courtesy Netflix
  • Scream Queens

    Courtesy FOX

Niecy Nash remembers the exact moment the acting bug hit her.

"The first moment I decided to become an actor was because I saw the most gorgeous black woman on television in a red dress and I said, 'Grandmama, who is that?' and she said, 'That's Lola Falana and I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, that's what I want to be.'"

Cue some years later, as Niecy Nash shows up on the Emmys red carpet in a custom red gown designed by Marc Zunino (and yes, inspired by Falana).

Nash, nominated for her role as Nurse Didi on HBO's Getting On, worked hard to get to that full-circle moment.

After getting her start on Comedy Central's Reno 911 (as an actress who'd never studied improv and didn't even know what it was, she said), she spent nine seasons on Clean House, appeared on Dancing with the Stars and currently stars in not only Getting On but also Ryan Murphy's new hit, Scream Queens and TV Land's comedy The Soul Man, opposite Cedric the Entertainer.

She's grateful for it all, and punctuated this interview with expressing that gratitude.

"You can't get into this business because you want people to praise you or acknowledge you. When I started doing Getting On, it was so different and one of the little shows on HBO. So I was not campaigning [for the Emmys]. I did not have a publicist. I wasn't sitting by a TV set or anything when the announcements came out," she said. 

"So the fact [my peers] saw enough of me to say, 'we see you,' well, they will never know how much gratitude I have for that. The fact that the Academy said, 'we want to acknowledge this work,' it brings me to tears when I think about it. I was so shocked. I was not expecting it. I just really want to say thank you for even acknowledging me because that was a big deal."

And there's a sweet irony to it as well: Nash remembers growing up in Compton, telling her mother that she wanted to be an actress. And her mother, being practical and wanting to help her, said, as Nash recalled, "That's pie-in-the sky. And it's hard to break into the business if you're black and we don't know anyone in the industry. I think you should go into nursing."

Nash resisted that idea (as kids are wont to do) but her mom (who Nash calls "one of my biggest fans") did say this when Nash received the Emmy nomination for playing Nurse Didi: "I always said you'd make a wonderful nurse."

You play three characters right now – and you show up on other things, too – so from a practical standpoint how do you do it? For example, I just saw you posted to Instagram about your date night. How do you have the time?

The key is knowing that you cannot do everything and something is going to slip through the cracks. I just don't let the same thing slip through the cracks.

Yesterday, I had to work, fix my daughter dinner, get her ready for a competition and still go on a date with my husband. So I didn't get to do the laundry I wanted to do, or the stuff around my house I wanted to.

So next week, that won't fall through the cracks and something else will. I just rotate what's going to fall through the cracks.

From an acting standpoint, the New York Times said you deserve a prize just for the fact that your character's full name, Denise, on Getting On is also your Scream Queens name and your middle name. Is that weird?

Even though I share a name with two of the characters I play, it doesn't get weird because they're all so different. Playing Nurse Didi in the scrubs and without the makeup, and playing Denise on Scream Queens with all the hair and all the makeup and playing Cedric's wife, they're all so different and easy to keep in order because none of them are like the other.

With Getting On, did you surprise the people who knew you for doing more broad comedy?

I was surprised at how surprised they were with comments like, 'I knew you were an actress but I didn't know you could do THAT.' Or, 'When I watch you in Getting On, it's like I'm not watching YOU, the person that I know.' I guess that's very complimentary because I do have a fun, sassy personality so when people see me doing roles that are fun and sassy they think I'm just being myself.  But it's all acting.

Given that Getting On is in its last season and you might have room for something else, is there anything you're hoping for or seeking in your next endeavor, acting or otherwise?

I'm always looking to do something different. I was hosting Clean House for nine seasons on the Style Network and all the while doing traditional multi-cam sitcoms.

Then I moved into a space where I was like 'Hmm, how about entertainment reporting' and then I decided to become a dancing star, then I decided to become an author, then to produce content on the web. So I'm always looking for something I haven't done.

I haven't yet found a drama to sink my teeth into - we play Getting On like a drama, it is a comedy – and there's also directing which I haven't had a chance to sink my teeth into. There's always something else to be done.

Do you ever think about writing your own drama?

Funny you say that, someone else asked me. I haven't thought about it, but it's not that far-reaching.

When you're making your next moves, are there people like Lola Falana who you look to, who inspire you, present or not? Who make you say, that's what I love, and I'm going for it?

I'm inspired by Regina King – she was on a sitcom for a long time, and she has a nice movie career under her belt. I loved her character alongside Will Smith in Enemy of the State. She is also so beautifully into doing dramas – I love her on American Crime and now she's directing a lot more. I love women who are multi-faceted. They get to taste a little bit of everything.

It seems that we're paying more attention to women in the industry and talking about it more, and maybe the business is getting better in terms of roles for women and for black women?

I think it's a good time to be a woman in entertainment. We have so many people we can look at and glean from in terms of their journey and how they wrote their ticket.

From Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to Kristen Wiig and Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling and Issa Rae, women are leading the charge in their own destinies. They're writing the projects, starring in the projects, producing the projects. Elizabeth Banks is a great example, too, with Pitch Perfect.

Plus the quality seems to come from the females, and what people fall in love with – look at Shonda Rimes.

Yes, let's take a look at Shonda Rhimes – she's a perfect example and she owns Thursday nights on television. I take pride in the fact that the most powerful woman in television right now looks like me.

You obviously have the chops but how did you make that transition, professionally?

You can get typecast into a certain lane and I was doing some big and broad work so it took me a long time to get an audition for something not big and broad.

So, you just keep trying to make sure the people who represent you understand your vision for yourself. And you try to keep an eye out for projects out there that speak to you. You have to be able to say, I want to go in for this or that.

For people just starting out and your Academy members, what is your advice to getting to do what you want to do?

Where I would start is you have to know the difference between a hobby and something that is a call on your life.

Because the thing you were destined to do is very different from something you just have fun doing sometimes.

So if you hold that being in entertainment and living this life as an actor is definitely part of your calling in life, then you have a reverence for it and are prepared for it and you want to make sure that you are studied and ready when your name is called.

A lot of times – and this is a good barometer to know you're doing the thing you're supposed to do – once you decide you're doing the thing you're supposed to do in life, when all hell breaks loose you're in the right space. Because that is just the way the world works. The minute you decide to take steps toward a thing is when all of these things happen to get you off track.

So the three words that I've lived by in my career are "No matter what." No matter if I had to pack up my little babies and take them to an audition and set up a corner of the room like a preschool. No matter if I had a fight with my husband and had to drive across town and be funny – I will cry all the way there and then walk into that room and be funny. No matter what.

No matter if I don't have enough money between jobs and now I have to tap into unemployment to get groceries.

You have to have a stick-to-it-iveness if you're going to win in this life. If you're going to win at anything.

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