Karen Pittman is a renaissance woman. While you may know her from her roles in two hit series, she actually entered the entertainment industry as an opera singer.
“Singing was always sort of natural for me,” Pittman tells ESSENCE. “I always sang. I came out of the womb, singing.” She actually worked in the music industry for years before she realized that the business overruled the art.
“I just felt very burdened by the desire to be artistically sound and the music industry wanted to make money. There was no marriage between money and art. And so it was only a few years after I moved to New York City.”
Pittman moved to pursue another childhood passion: acting, or what she calls dramatic play.
“A lot of that was because my parents were really struggling to be happy together,” Pittman explains. “I was pained by their emotional challenges and their experience. So I would go in my room and I would try to find a way, a creative way to express my sadness and my anxiety over it.”
In New York, Pittman was pregnant and looking for a way to remain connected to entertainment.
“I ended up auditioning for NYU grad school, about four or five months pregnant at the time, which I don’t think anybody had done, at the time. They asked me to enroll, to my surprise. Well not so surprised…”
Having the audacity to audition for a prestigious graduate program while pregnant, speaks to a belief in oneself and also Pittman’s penchant for risk-taking. Taking risks was one of the reasons she signed on to portray a new character in the follow-up series to the beloved Sex and the City franchise.
“I will be rolling the dice on certain things,” Pittman said of herself. “That’s just naturally who I am. I like to work on original ideas and I like collaborators who are interested in telling a really daring, original story.”
In addition to doing something new and different, she also enjoyed her time working with Michael Patrick King, Sex and the City and And Just Like That’s director and writer.
“ So [Michael] is what I came in for,” Pittman says. “I didn’t have any sense that people were still that connected to it. But for me, it was just like, ‘This is going to be new and different and fun.’ I heard that Sarita Choudhury was doing it and Nicole Ari Parker was in. I love Sara Ramirez. I thought, ‘Oh this is going to be good.’”
In my opinion, the show is good. But the opinion is not unanimous.
“People hate watch that show, now,” Pittman acknowledged. “I used to be an actor that looked at the reviews. I have disabused myself of that habit because people hate watch the show.”
Audiences have to know how the Sex and the City saga ends. You have to watch. And in addition to the show’s original characters, there’s all this new juiciness in the lives of mom, wife, and documentarian Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker), boss, baddie real estate agent Seema Patel (Sarita Choudhury), and the polarizing non-binary comedian and Miranda’s new love interest Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez).
Pittman plays the role of Dr. Nya Wallace, a professor who was struggling to conceive with her husband Andre (Leroy McClain) in season one. By season two, Nya is learning to live apart from him once she realizes she doesn’t actually want children.
It’s a fascinating rollercoaster.
“One of the things I talked to Leroy about was reflecting a loving relationship between two Black people who are not seeing eye to eye,” Pittman said. “That was really important. So you’ll continue to see us in a noble pursuit of a couple who cares about each other but things have changed in the last 17 years.”
That pursuit often finds Nya in situations where she is awkward and unsure.
“She doesn’t know how to act out in the world,” Pittman says of her character who hasn’t been single since the nineties.
“The relationship you’ll most have to reflect on, as a viewer of the show, is the one Nya has with herself, with her sexual identity, with her experience of what it means to be a career woman not without children but without a partner. That is something I think Black women definitely deal with as we elevate ourselves in this world and we are self-realized more and more, with every generation, we have to deal with the loneliness and the feeling that goes along with that.”
While Nya seeks to find her footing and herself, Mia Jordan, the character Pittman plays on The Morning Show is more self-assured.
She describes Mia as concise and clear-minded but with moments of fragility and vulnerability in her personal life.
Pittman says of all the characters she’s played, she’s most aligned with Mia.
“What my character has always dealt with is the perception of Black women in news and television news. A lot of that is reflected in my own experience as a Black woman in the industry,” Pittman says.
And while Mia and Nya may seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, Pittman, the woman tasked with bringing both of them to life, says the two women inform each other.
“I could use the work that I did on And Just Like That, the character and what she was dealing with, to inform areas where Mia needed to open up,” Pittman explains. “And the areas where Nya was a little lost, I could use Mia’s journey to help right her path a little bit, to help focus in.”
In terms of her own journey, Pittman says the next step for acting career is creating her own projects.
“I’ve had a seat at the table now it’s time for me to get my own table,” Pittman says of her future career goals.
Pittman likens it to a child growing up.
“I think that’s a natural evolution for anybody, any human that comes into the industry. You are a child in your parents’ home and you’re like ‘It’s time for me to grow up. See ya. I’m about to go out into the world and make my own mark.’”
Leaving the nest can be daunting. But Pittman has proved time and time again that she’s up for the challenge.
“I’m at the point right now where I’m ready to get up from the table and do something different, which sounds a little scary to me but also…a little dangerous. I like a little danger.”