Niecy Nash on the Final Season of 'Claws' and Being a Force for Black Women on TV

CUL PS Niecy Nash
Niecy Nash poses for a portraits at the BAFTA Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles. William Callan/BAFTA LA/Getty

"I always try to find the place where my character intersects with who I am."

Few actors are able to bounce between comedy and drama as well as Niecy Nash. Whether she's playing Desna on Claws, a nail artist and leader of a criminal empire; or Deputy Raineesha Williams on Reno 911, the role that made her famous, Nash is able to effortlessly blend genres. Part of her gift is being able to add a little bit of Niecy to every role. "I always try to find the place where my character intersects with who I am." But it wasn't until HBO's Getting On that Nash was able to be seen in a more dramatic light. She earned two Emmy nominations for her performance, and it led to her collaboration with Ava DuVernay in Selma and When They See Us, which earned Nash her third Emmy nomination. Now with the fourth and final season of Claws, Nash is able to "stand in the gap for Black women" on many fronts. "I love being in a place where I can represent women over 40, thick women, natural hair women, childless women, the list goes on."

Was it difficult to crossover from comedy to drama?

Yes. Sometimes people do not see you the way you see yourself. I think the industry was clear, like you have a lane. You do comedy, we get it. And I was like, no, no, no, no, wait, I can do something else. It was very difficult for me to get them to see me the way I saw myself. I knew that I could do it. When I finally was able to invite them to think differently about me, that was when I was nominated for an Emmy doing work that no one thought I could do.

I have never been angrier than when you didn't win the Emmy for Getting On.

That was my first time in a series where I could invite my peers to see me in a different light. It was important to get the tone right because it was new for me. It was important for me to make sure I understood that character. So yeah, that was a big turning point for me. As a matter of fact, it was that job that opened the door to me being able to do Selma for Ava DuVernay. And then later on When They See Us and so many other things. A lot of things happened as a result of being a part of Getting On.

What can we expect from the fourth and final season of Claws?

I would probably say the final season of Claws is about the reckoning that is going to fall on Desna and how she's going to navigate that space. This is a time for her to work smarter and not harder. And there have been so many challenges within the group, it's going to be tricky to try to get everyone on the same page so that we can try to get a happy ending.

What was it about Claws that first appealed to you?

I always try to find the place where my character intersects with who I am. And where Desna and I met was at a place of being caregivers and caretakers, and a lover of people. She definitely is a woman who went hard for her tribe. I feel like that's me with my family. Her not being married and not having children, that's way different than the life I live. However, it was definitely a life that most of my friends were living, and I love being able to stand in the gap for Black women over 40 who are not married, have no children, having sex for their own pleasure and on their own terms. I love being able for women to turn on the television and see themselves. I love being in a place where I can represent thick women, Black women, natural hair women, childless women, the list goes on.

You directed for the first time this past season on Claws. That's so exciting!

I was actually slated to direct season four but I broke my foot. So in the middle of trying to complete the season, just as an actor, forget as a director, it was a huge undertaking because Desna's foot was not broken, mine was, so it was just creative storytelling. But I love to taste different disciplines. I did comedy, I've done drama, I'm an author. I've always wanted to challenge myself in new spaces and places. And I love telling people what to do. [laughs]

Do you plan on doing more directing?

I do! I love that the director steers the ship. You actually have the opportunity to change the environment on set. Like I played '90s R&B music between setups, I put on call sheets that Fridays are mandatory wear pajamas to work, I just tried to make it a beautiful workspace and a vibe. I really wanted people to have a good time at work. We should take joy in the things we do. Otherwise, what's the point?

The pandemic had a big impact on the production this season. How did you cope with that?

We couldn't believe we got shut down. We were not there during the pandemic. Our set was closed. Everybody just had to quarantine. And then we came back later to finish everything up.

Was it hard to jump back into it after the break?

No, we have been together so long, we were able to just fall right back into it.

How are they going to hide your broken foot this season?

Oh baby, let me tell you something. I love Jeanette Branch. She has been my girl Friday for many, many years. She has been my stand-in, my stunt double, and she's also an actress. So I would roll up on a cart, put my foot on the crate, they'd say action, and I would say my lines. Jeanette would sashay in and sashay out as Desna. It was the only thing I could do. We had to make it work. The show must go on, you know?

So there's more Reno 911 on the way! Did you expect this show to last as long as it has? And what can we expect from the new stuff to come?

Listen, who in this business says on day one, "I'm gonna see you right back here in 20 years." Nobody! Nobody ever says that. We are walking around, I got my booty on and my baby hairs down, and now we're sitting at our cast chairs talking about, "Oh, what prescription you got on your readers? Anybody got anything for back pain?" I'm like, why are we still doing this? It's so ridiculous. So I told them while filming, "You guys know what's next? We need to do a cartoon." We need to do a Reno 911 adult cartoon. It's gonna happen, and I know why it's going to happen. I take full credit for getting the band back together, because every year, twice a year, I email everybody and ask what's going on. Everybody's busy. I say we should put the band back together every year and now we're back together. So I don't care what anybody says, I put good juju in the world and what happens? So I'm gonna keep saying we're doing a cartoon. You heard it here first.

You surprised everyone this past year when you and your wife, Jessica Betts, got married. Were you surprised by people's reactions?

Well, first of all, let me say that I was surprised to find myself in that relationship. I never saw it coming. I never lived a sexually repressed life. I was in two marriages before to men, had three children with my first husband. I never dated a woman. It was never in my mind that I don't like women, it's just that I love men. Oh my God, I love them so much. So I didn't see it coming for me. It was a bigger step and a bigger deal just because it was a space I was unfamiliar with. But I had no idea that the world would have such a reaction to it. Maybe it's because when most people come out, everybody around them is like, we already knew. For me, there was nothing to know. It wasn't anything that was ever a part of my life. So when I found myself in the space, I was like, if this is it, this is it. It wasn't a secret, but it was private because I wanted to make sure what it was before I gave it to the world. So my close tribe and my family knew, as we were just trying to see if it was anything. By the time we realized it wasn't just anything, it was everything, we were already married, and I was like, I guess let the people know. I am surprised that we broke the internet. I am surprised that people had such a big reaction to my life. I guess if you want to make it a big deal, fine. I've done a lot of things in my life. Donated hundreds of thousands, fed the homeless, I've got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but this one got ya? OK. That's what we say on Reno 911 when somebody laughs when we're supposed to be in character. "That one got ya, huh?" [laughs]

I feel like the reaction was a combination of things: you have a queer following, but also the news of your wedding came right in the middle of 2020, at the height of the pandemic. I think people really just needed something good to think about.

It was a bit of good news for some folks. Here's the thing, I'm in the community now, and I was sitting on my porch, and my spouse came out and asked what I'm waiting on. I said, "I'm waiting for my welcome basket. People are supposed to show up with flags and things. Where's my basket?"

I'll tell the welcome committee to get that right over to you. So we met years ago at a TV Land event, when you were on Soul Man.

Yes! I wore a turquoise dress. It was a lucky little number. I remember it.

Yes, you looked amazing. Well, it was an event for Betty White. And we were talking about aging. And you said, "You're never too old to do what you want." That has stayed with me. How does that sentiment resonate with you?

I always believed I would be successful. I always saw the vision. I knew what the color of my life was. How it manifests, that's unknown, but my job is to do the work and always be of service on the path. So I've never gotten a job without getting somebody else a job. I don't care if it's a grip, a PA, I can place your music, you know, anything. Matter of fact, that was how me and my spouse first met, because I got her a job. We had known each other through social media. But yes, I always knew that I was going to be successful in my career, I just didn't know it was going to be greater later. Some of my peers have had success in their 20s and early 30s. For me, mine was a little slower on the startup, but once it got going, it has never stopped. I've always had a job since I booked Reno 911. I've never been unemployed. So I knew that I would have success, I just didn't know when it would come or how it would look. But I always believed that it would be so.