Hearing someone say “Uncle Clifford is that bitch” only sounds crazy to those not watching P-Valley, a new steamy drama centered at a gritty strip club in the Mississippi Delta. To all others, it’s simply fact.
As the HBIC of The Pynk, Uncle Clifford—played impeccably by Nicco Annan—who stands a full 6 foot 2 sans heels, makes all the sense in the world. Wearing 18- to 20-inch weaves coiffed for the gods, full nail tips with designs that make the women of Claws take note, and a sculpted beard begging for its own ad, she—yes, she—is both protector and enforcer in this daring Starz series created by The Mountaintop playwright Katori Hall.
It’s such a revelatory performance some are already proclaiming Uncle Clifford their favorite TV character of all time. For Annan, who met Hall over a decade ago when she was still conceiving her play, Pussy Valley, now P-Valley, and played Uncle Clifford on stage, playing her now is a labor of love.
“This has been a wonderful, amazing ride. It’s like Six Flags times a million,” Annan dishes from L.A. “It has been everything to originate a character like this, but to also still fight for her and to learn who she is through the process.”
Imagining the Detroit native not playing Clifford may be unfathomable to most, but, unbelievably, he still had to audition. While other actors may have gotten in their feelings, Annan kept his focus on the role he helped conceived on stage.
“Even though I had originated this role, I did not go into my audition thinking that I had it. I wasn’t even thinking on a competition level. I thought about ‘let me just get it true,’” he explains. “I wanted people to see who she was because of all the care that I had in crafting her over that period of time, from workshops and things like that. I cared so much about how she was seen.
Annan continues: “And even as for myself, to even understand and come to know she preferred the pronoun she. I didn’t know that at first. That was something that kind of came about in the development of the character and conversations and talking with Katori [Hall]. Her idea was really about ‘what is it like to be a person who embraces all of their masculinity and all of their femininity without question or apology and what could that be like?’”
Roles like Uncle Clifford weren’t even a reality way back when Annan, also a dancer and choreographer (he serves as a choreographer on the show All American), left Detroit to attend State University of New York-Purchase to pursue musical theater. Only recently did he even start playing LGBTQIA-specific characters in guest appearances for shows like Snowfall and Shameless.
“As a Black man and as a Black gay man, it’s very seldom that I get the opportunity to tell such a rich, lush story that really means something and that I really feel speaks to my community and can uplift us,” he says of P-Valley.
But it’s not just playing a nonbinary character like Uncle Clifford that hooked Annan on P-Valley. It was a glimpse of truth that he had never seen outside of his own life that got him.
“When I read the pilot, I saw a healthy relationship between the communities and that was something that I was a 1,000% for because I know Black women to be so inclusive, more so than most. It was the Black girls in high school that stood up for me,” he recalls. “[There] was always a certain amount of love and strength from my community, especially Black women.”
Annan also embraced the dynamic between Uncle Clifford and Big L (Morocco Omari), who helps with the books and other administrative duties at The Pynk, and Diamond (Tyler Lepley), the club’s bouncer. “I have all of these hyper-masculine, heterosexual Black men around me, and it is a normal situation,” he says. “We all talked about it. It isn’t something that is like a fairytale utopia. Katori wrote that because she’s writing from her true experiences from living in Memphis and her imagination and showing us as viewers and our audience a way that is possible. I think it’s important to highlight that because it exists [and] I don’t think we get to see this healthy intersect as often.”
Another unexpected development is the budding romance between aspiring rapper Lil Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and Uncle Clifford. “It’s not a new thing for men on the low [to engage] with nonbinary or queer women or men,” notes Annan. “But what I think is new is people starting to own their desire, own their identity. So, for me, as Uncle Clifford, I think it was a little jarring to see someone who has this hypermasculinity approach her unapologetically just as she is unapologetic in how she moves. I think that’s the part that threw her off.”
With the chaos going on in Uncle Clifford’s life, especially with trying to save The Pynk, Lil Murda’s affection is a welcomed distraction and escape. “Whether you are gay, whether you are a straight man or woman, I think sometimes you can forget that you need touch, that you need love and Uncle Clifford to me operates from such a place of loving others that she has definitely neglected herself.”
P-Valley doesn’t shy away from some of the details that physical relationship entails either. As a full-figured man, Annan embraces Uncle Clifford’s curves and folds. In fact, when he was asked about his feelings about nudity during the audition, Annan shot back with a question of his own: “When was the last time that you saw a full-figured Black woman or man being made love to on camera?” So Annan had no problem getting physical.
“We are not a people that are new to or ashamed of thick thighs because they save lives too,” he jokes.
Style is one area where Uncle Clifford is quite serious. “Hair and fashion is so expressive in our culture,” Annan explains. “You can be in a dark place, down about your bills and your finances and maybe there’s no love in your romantic life, so you want to throw on this rainbow wig because you need some happiness.”
These days Annan doesn’t have to reach for any rainbow wigs for happiness. “This season of life is beyond abundant and amazing,” Annan says. “I’m just really blessed.”