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“It’s been a long, long, time coming!” Niecy Nash (rightfully) says of her recent awards galore. Last year, the actress and comedian conquered awards season with her first-ever Critics’ Choice and Primetime Emmy Award, in addition to a Golden Globe nomination, for her lauded performance as Glenda Cleveland in Netflix’s record-breaking true-crime series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022). “I wrote an acceptance speech [years ago] and put it on my refrigerator with my kids’ homework and art projects,” Nash, a manifestation queen, tells GAY TIMES. “People would come over and go ‘whose speech is that?’ and I’m like ‘mine’. ‘Oh who’s giving you an award?’ ‘I don’t know, but when they call I want to be ready.'”

Known for her quintessentially camp and uproarious style of comedy and character work, from Deputy Raineesha Williams in Reno 911! (2003-2022) to Lolli Ballentine in The Soul Man (2012-2016) and Denise Hemphill in Scream Queens (2015-2016), Nash wanted to “prove” her versatility with a transition to more dramatic work. “I can make you laugh. I can make you cry,” she says. “Whatever the recipe calls for, I’m your girl. I love that now I’ve been seen in the fullness of my gifts, my peers know they can count on me.”

Alongside Dahmer, Nash has received additional praise for dramatic roles in Masters of Sex (2016), When They See Us (2019) and The Rookie (2022). Last year, she re-teamed with Selma (2014) director Ava DuVernay for Origin, a biographical drama chronicling the journey of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis) as she travels throughout Germany, India and the US to investigation the caste system; crafting the acclaimed best-seller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents in the process. Nash plays Marion, Isabel’s cousin.

Here, Niecy Nash tells GAY TIMES why Origin is “the most beautiful piece of art I have ever been a part of” and expands on why it was crucial for her to, after almost thirty years in the industry, flex her dramatic acting chops. Of course, we had to ask about the much-rumoured return of Scream Queens, and whether we can expect her to don the uniform as the legendary Denise Hemphill once again.

Niecy Nash, you are… a vision.

Thank you, I wanted to doll up for you.

How are things? How’s Jessica?

My better half is wonderful. She’s working on a new album, so she’s doing good.

I’ve been very excited to talk with you because Origin blew my goddamn mind. I imagine it must be quite rewarding for you as an actor, and as a person, to be involved with a story as powerful as this?

Origin is the most beautiful piece of art I have ever been a part of. It is such a delicious invitation for people to unlearn things, to think differently and be present to it when it shows up in your life.

Admittedly, I was not familiar with the caste system before this film…

I wasn’t either, we thought everything was about race and racism.

So, what did you learn about caste working on Origin?

Oh my, what didn’t I learn? Maybe the bigger question is: what did I unlearn? I thought all this time that clearly I knew what was happening. I did this movie and I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ These ideas that had been put in place to oppress, to be better than, to have a hierarchy, I wasn’t familiar with it. Being a part of this film has grown me in a way that I did not expect. You also see the through-line from Trayvon Martin, all the way from Nazi Germany to slavery. There’s this linear thing that connects all these experiences. It also makes you think that there is no one group that has a patent on suffering – we’ve all been through that. So many people have been in the space that Isabel was in, dealing with love and loss and pain, trying to work and manage your emotions at the same time. My mind is blown when I think about how talented Ava had to be to create this and weave it all together so seamlessly.

What do you want viewers to take away from the messages of Origin, particularly about our perception of the world and race in America?

The best way I could answer that is to say that we don’t know everything. That’s hard for some people because we think we’ve lived. We think we’ve been around the block a few times and that we know what’s going on. But, I hope the take away would be that people are open to the idea that, what we have been taught or socialised to believe is true, there’s more to it. I want the take away to be that you become more loving and have more humanity, so that you can acknowledge a certain thing when it happens right before your eyes.

I read that Ava wanted you to bring some light to this role, which I can imagine was difficult considering the film’s heavy themes?

I said, ‘Are we talking about the same movie?’ She was like ‘Uh huh, yeah.’ I said, ‘I understand what you’re looking for, but some of it is not on the page, so this is where we have to trust each other because if that’s what you need, I know where to find it in my gift.’ We had a lovely meeting of the minds and we were off to the races.

You filmed the Rookie spin-off at the same time, right? Niecy, you must have been absolutely knackered.

Oh my goodness gracious! My eyes were crossed. I was exhausted, I had no work days for a couple weeks, but for Ava I would do it without a doubt.

Flipping back and forth between Simone Clarke and Marion Wilkerson, two completely different characters, what was that like for you?

I feel like I had my actor brain wrapped around who those women were, so falling back into their rhythm was like second nature. The same thing happened when I filmed Dahmer. I was filming Dahmer and Reno 911! at the same time, so I’m blessed that I know how to do it. I can compartmentalise my characters and pull them up when necessary. I don’t have to live in it for the life of the film, because honestly I always have something else to do. So, I’ve got to find a way to hold space for Marion and still go over here and play Simone on The Rookie: Feds.

I want to congratulate you for all of your success for Dahmer – a Golden Globe nomination and an Emmy win. What was it like to be rewarded at this point in your career? It’s been a long time coming!

It’s been a long, long time coming! But, I know change gone come. It was a long time coming. But, I am so grateful to be fully seen by my peers, and now they know that they can trust me with their work. I can make you laugh. I can make you cry. Whatever the recipe calls for, I’m your girl. I love that now I’ve been seen in the fullness of my gifts, my peers know they can count on me.

I mean, I personally think you should’ve received an Emmy for your iconic and trailblazing role as Madame Cassandra slash Shirley on That’s So Raven.

You go a long way back with me.

That is one of my favourite episodes of television ever, Niecy.

Really? That’s crazy. The other time I was nominated for an Emmy was because of a show that was over on your side of the world and we redid it in America. It was called Getting On with Jo Brand. It’s about working in the hospital with the elderly. We did it here and I think it still lives on HBO.

Your filmography is loaded with iconic comedic roles, from Reno 911! to Scream Queens and Claws. Lately, it feels like you’re moving into a more dramatic space. Is that a conscious decision?

I just wanted to prove to people that I could do it. They meet me and I’m funny and they’re like, ‘Oh, we know what you do’ and I’m like, ‘No, you don’t.’ There’s a fullness to this gift, I can do both things. It took me a long time to prove I could do it. Now that they know I can do it, they keep calling me for it and I’m like, ‘I better hurry up and do a comedy before people forget I’m funny!’

I do not think anyone could possibly forget that you’re a comedic giant. Let’s talk about Denise Hemphill, because she’s become very championed by the LGBTQIA+ community on social media for her hilarious one-liners – she’s even been hailed as a “mother“.

I didn’t know that! Absolutely not, I did not see that coming. I had another job at the time, so I was flying back-and-forth with that one too, but I did not know that Denise would become “mother”. I didn’t know.

A third season of Scream Queens has been rumoured for a while now. In 2020, Ryan Murphy revealed that he was “working” on a revival. Would you ever reprise your role as Denise Hemphill?

I’ve been hearing the rumours too. First of all, I love Ryan Murphy, so I would do anything for him, I would not be mad about putting back on that security guard uniform! I wouldn’t be mad about it at all. We’ve got to put it out into the world.

Manifestation works, Niecy.

For sure. I wrote an acceptance speech and put it on my refrigerator with my kids’ homework and art projects. People would come over and go ‘whose speech is that?’ and I’m like ‘mine’. ‘Oh who’s giving you an award?’ ‘I don’t know, but when they call I want to be ready.’ And I kept that speech on my refrigerator for years, and I do feel like, in ways, I manifested my wins. I really do.

And many more to come. Have your kids seen your projects?

Oh yeah! They’ve seen it all at this point.

Do they have a favourite character of yours?

If they do, I don’t know about it. Above all, their favourite character is me being their mama, and sometimes we get to work together, so those are the fun times. On The Rookie: Feds, my youngest daughter got to play my daughter and my other daughter came in and played another character on the show. So, sometimes I will do jobs where we get to work together. There’s Black nepo babies too! That’s always a good time.

What about you? Is there a particular character of yours that you’ve identified with most?

The character I played that is the most like me, where we had a lot of places where it intersected, was a series called The Soul Man. I played Cedric the Entertainer’s wife and he was an R&B singer who became the pastor of a church and dragged me along. And, in my first marriage I was married to an R&B singer who became a pastor of a church and dragged me along! So, that character was so much like my real life, what I had already experienced and what I went through being judged by the church. Because honey, it’s not my fault you got a sassy first lady! I didn’t ask for the gig. But that one was probably the most like me. The heart of me is probably most like the character I played in Getting On.

Origin is out now in the UK.