How I'm Living Now: Actress, Producer Niecy Nash, "I'm A F***ing Wreck"

ONE TIME USE ONLY  - Niecy Nash - Photographed BY Yuri Hasegawa-H 2020
Photographed By Yuri Hasegawa

While waiting out the pandemic in her California home, the 'Mrs. America' actress opens up about the death of George Floyd and the unease of returning to work.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times

When first speaking to Niecy Nash, who recently starred in the Lifetime movie Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story, for this column, the United States was one of many countries grappling with rising cases and deaths caused by COVID-19. Since that conversation, the country has been rightfully confronted with a long-overdue movement against police brutality and the repeated killings of Black men and women by police. Current demonstrations have followed the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been charged with second-degree murder. Three officers (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao) who were with Chauvin at the time Floyd was killed are also facing charges.

While being interviewed in two parts for this series, Nash shared concerns as a Black mother, why telling white Americans what to do at this moment is not on the Black community, and how safety protocols on-set are a concern if and when actors return to work amid the pandemic. 

How are you doing?

I don't know. Because my job is what I do. But my who is to be of service in the world, and you start at home. So while I receive phone calls where people are saying, "What can white people do? What can non-Black people do?" I'm trying to figure out what to tell my own son. I used to say, if you just comply, get home, and if there was a wrong that happened, we'll right it later. But now we watched a murder on national TV when George Floyd was murdered. I don't know because he complied. He was in handcuffs. He was on the ground with his hands behind his back. So I don't even know. People are calling me, asking me to tell them something. And I'm trying to figure out what to tell mine.

Right.

It isn't the responsibility of the oppressed to tell the oppressor what to do and how to right the wrong. So my suggestion is you need to ask non-Black people what they can do. Are they fighting for equal pay? When they come on these sets, are they making people feel welcome? How are they moving in these scripts and when they look at how people are depicted? Don't call one more Black person and ask them nothing about nothing. You call the white people and ask them what they could do because Black people, by definition, can't be racist because we're not the ones in power.

The people that are saying be peaceful, stay at peace? That was all Martin Luther King stood on and he was murdered anyway. "Stay peaceful," stay peaceful in a country that has only taught you that you get what you want by uprising? See, America is only America and belongs to white people because they stole it from the Indians. And then they stole Black people from Africa and forced us into service for 400 years and then have the audacity to look at us and say, "Well, what can we do to fix it?"

That is in every way valid. In this nation, whether in Hollywood or not, there are far too many people in power who could make decisions of change and haven't.

I don't know what else the people without the power can say or do. How many people can you poll, who can say, it's not fair. How many people can you poll that can say, it's not right. You know what I mean? How many times can you look at my contract versus a contract that Kyra Sedgwick has. And we worked for the same people. And we were both number one on the [call sheet]. Do you think hers look like mine? And then the question becomes, Why? We're in [a pandemic]. I got to go back and get my stuff from New Orleans. Would they have forced a white lead of a series to go do that? I don't know, but it isn't for me to say. It's for them to say.

The onus is on those with power ...

People say, "What do you think people should do?" People should figure out what they're willing to do and do that and not be mad when people buck back. So you asked me the original question of, "What are you doing to cope?" I'm a fucking wreck.

My son got stopped leaving my house last Sunday. And they pulled a taser on him for a rolling stop. And then proceeded to question him and ask him, "You have on a T-Mobile shirt. Do you work there? Because if you do, how did you afford this car? Because this is a 2020." They don't know if he was a manager. They don't know if he was an owner. They don't know if he had a rich mama. But what they probably felt like was. "How did this young Black boy get a car that I don't even have?" And we fitting to make you suffer for it.

First of all, I am so sorry this happened to your son. It is upsetting, it is depressing, and it's also not shocking — and the issue is this is repetitive. As are the questions of "Why? Why does this continue?" Those answers and actions, like you've said, have to come from the top.

And people [who] are willing to risk life and limb. We are in the middle of COVID and people are still in these streets.

Have you communicated with anyone in the industry during these protests?

For the cast of Reno 911, we play bumbling cops on television but in real life, we got together as a cast and donated $10,000 toward George Floyd's funeral. It is important to know that even in our art, we have humanity. 

[Editor's Note: The remainder of the interview occurred before nationwide protests began.]

What were you working on when the pandemic hit?

I was doing my fourth and final season of Claws on TNT. What initially I thought was going to be a two-week hiatus has turned into several months. We were working on the show, trying to complete it and we had to stop. I still have to get back to New Orleans to go get all of my things — I still have my apartment there, my lease will be up, so I have to go bring all my things home. I was just trying to wait until the last minute, hoping that things would get better.

In terms of getting back on set, there are safety protocols still being worked out, but where do you feel your comfort level is?

It's interesting because I just don't know. This particular job that I'm going back to [Claws] calls for a lot of close contact with actors. My character has a new lover every season, you know what I mean? So there is someone crawling over the top of me every five minutes. It makes you nervous because you don't know how you're going to be protected and still do the thing that you love that also brings people joy. So, it's like, you know, I'm waiting with bated breath to hear what the ideas for all of it are. But I just don't know.

Intimate scenes, crowd scenes — these are uncharted waters.

The crazy thing is we know you can be asymptomatic, right? So just because you don't have a fever in that moment doesn't mean that you are well.

Meanwhile, series of yours like Mrs. America and Never Have I Ever debuted in April, amid the pandemic. What was it like to have those series come out during all of this?

Let me tell you, that's just the beginning. Never Have I Ever premiered. So did Mrs. America on Hulu, the movie Uncorked on Netflix and Reno 911 came out [on Quibi]. There are so many moments that we just have to do exactly what we're doing right now — you know, on the phone with somebody to promote it. You can't have a party or a red carpet or go to a morning show and be like, "Hey guys!" You can't do it. So, now, what I'm happy about is to give people a little levity in this moment. You know, Reno 911 is very nostalgic and it's a comedy, which sometimes helps when you're dealing with the heaviness of the day. I'm just happy. It seems like people were like, "Wow, you have more projects coming out in COVID. You're just working during COVID." I'm like, "No, I'm tired during COVID because I was working before." So where other people want to start a business or learn a new talent, I'm like, "I just want to sit down because I'm tired."

Now that you have had a moment to rest, has there been anything you've learned about yourself?

I learned that I needed to do it more often. That's what I learned. I learned the gift that time really is because a lot of times you spend it in service to others and in service to your job and in service to your children. But there is something to be said for taking a minute to sit down and be still, to check in with yourself so that you can be better in all of those other spaces.

What’s the best advice you’ve given or received about staying sane right now?

Well, I guess my best piece of advice would be to accept things as they are in the moment. Because anytime you want something to be something other than it's not and it instantly starts to cause anxiousness in your body. Because you are wanting something that is not as opposed to resting in what it is, accepting for what it is and then figuring out what you can do from there.

What’s at the top of your to-do list once this is all over?

You know what? I really miss hitting somebody when I laugh. And I want to laugh with all the people who I love. I want to hug them and then I'm going to slap their leg when I laugh.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.