Niecy Nash On The Role That Made Her Feel Most Vulnerable

It was a lesson in learning to love the parts that she covered up for a living.

Taiia Smart Young May, 22, 2017

When Niecy Nash was 5 years old, she saw the most gorgeous Black woman she’d ever seen on television. That chocolate goddess wore a long red dress and lashes that resembled butterflies. Her grand-mama explained that the singer, actress and model was Lola Falana. Nash knew then exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: “Black, fabulous and on TV.”

Nash believes God stamped that vision on the canvas of her imagination and she’s been blessed with the opportunity to entertain us on-screen. From her first TV gig as a nondescript “nurse” on Party of Five in 1996 to her Emmy-­nominated turn as Nurse DiDi in Getting On, Nash has “had upwards of four jobs at the same time” in her 20-plus-year Hollywood career. She owes her multiple stream of checks to her faith, but it was her experience in Getting On that left the star, once known for rocking a flower nestled in her hair, ­“exposed.”

As an ­actress, she’s conditioned to jumping into the hair and makeup chair, but the ­show’s producers ­wanted her to go sans cosmetics. “I wasn’t comfortable being on camera with my bare face…. This ain’t like running to Target, honey,” says the Cali native with a laugh. “When you’re on TV, you’re supposed to look like something.”

It was a struggle for the 47-year-old, ­who was accustomed to being “beat for the gawds.” And it was a lesson in learning to love the parts that she covered up for a living. There were eye-opening moments too. “I’ve never gotten more compliments. People say, ‘You are so beautiful in that role.’ ” Nash, who loves her dime-store beauty goodies along with the high-end stuff, leaned into her truth and saw the value in “representing a larger body of women”—the ones who keep it simple because they’re busy ­saving lives and caring for others.

In her latest act, as the fiercely protective and smart nail salon owner Desna Simms on TNT’s Claws, airing June 11, Nash continues to represent, this time with big natural hair, bold lipstick hues and colorful, sculpted talons worthy of a museum exhibit.

Desna is so “perfectly imperfect” that White actresses corner Nash at events to admit how badly they ­wanted the coveted role. She ­understands their hunger.

It’s rare that a part comes along for a vet to be flawed, sexual, funny, complicated and real—and the powers that be want you just the way you are, including your famous gap-toothed smile.

Years ago Nash did ask a dentist to insert a temporary bridge to close the space, to which her mother replied, “Well, you cute, but you ain’t funny with your teeth like that.” And just like that, the wife and mom of three took it out. Truth is, Nash adores her gap and says it’s sexy. “I’m gonna come through Hollywood and still be thick and still have my original teeth, and we’re just gonna see what happens,” she says while admiring her collection of 80 wigs. Sounds like a plan. 

This feature originally appeared in the June 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.

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[BLANK_AUDIO] We have some big news to share. We have a very special announcement. You know Essence for our great celebrity interviews in the magazine and here on Essence Live. And now, drum roll please guys. [SOUND] Woo! We have a brand new podcast, and it's called Yes, Girl. [LAUGH] And it posted by these three lovely ladies. Now Corey, tell us how Yes, Girl came about. Well we love podcasts, Yolanda and I love podcasts, and so we would always talk about podcasts. And one day we were like, we need to have a podcast. So then we just start getting together, thinking of ideas. Charlie is the idea queen. So she was like, okay, we need to have a [UNKNOWN] and we need to do this and we need to do that. So, we partnered up with digital media, Time inc. We found the spare time, which is between two and three am for us. [LAUGH] Okay. Yeah. [LAUGH] And we started planning this out and the responses we've gotten from the celebrities who want to be on our Podcast has been absolutely amazing. I'm so excited, I love love love you guys just talking in this conversation. So I know its gonna be good. Yolanda, what do you think sets this podcast apart from every, every other ones. I think for us is that, people already come for Essense like, its like beloved His face. So, people come and like, you know, lot of celebrities come, they let their guard off, we're just hanging out and we're just finding out more about you that we may not find out about you in very official interviews, it's just us having a really good conversation and they open of more than I've seen anywhere I can't wait, and let me [UNKNOWN] I love that some of the celebs have come like makeup free, no make up, just with their Uggs and a coffee, ready to [CROSSTALK] I love that, and as our resident's relationships guru, I know we gonna hear some love stories, so our people Kind of opening up with you about their love lives? Yes, and girl we are digging in. Yes. Because black women, we have some really unique love stories to tell. And honestly, we still don't have a lot of places outside of Essence that are really telling them. And we have celebrity love stories, and really digging in on those little nuggets But also just real couples, what's it like to be a Christian couple in 2017 or what's it like to meet your man traveling overseas? Those nuggets and we're gonna grab them. Yes, I love that. Now I follow all you all on Instasnap and instagram So I saw a few but can you guys tease some of the celebrities that we can expect to see on the podcast? Yeah. Yeah. Okay, who's your faves so far? [LAUGH] [UNKNOWN] Megan Good, Devon Franklin for sure. Niecy Nash was one of my favorites. Yes. As was Bill Bellamy. Yes, girl. I know that's a throwback but Bill Bellamy is- Hilarious. Funny as As the kids say, AF. [LAUGH] Yes, [UNKNOWN] He had us in tears, it was a moment. Yeah, I have two, [UNKNOWN] who's the break out of insecure. Her story of just how she's a DMV girl like us. Hey, DMV. Yes, DMV county. Why do we->> Pretty girl reality. Yeah. Of course we do. [LAUGH] She came and talked but then also Kim Kimball, celebrity hairstylist. When she brought blessed oil for our edges. Pray for our edges. It was a beautiful prayer. [CROSSTALK] I believe it, now but do we have a clip that we wanna share from one of the interviews. So here is Niki Nash talking about how she realized that she wanted to be a comedian. Check it out. When I was five years old, I saw the most gorgeous black woman I had ever seen in my little five years of living. And she had on a long red dress and her eyelashes looked like butterflies. I said, Grandmamma, who is that? She said, baby, that's Lola Falana. And I felt like in that moment My destiny will stand on the canvas of my imagination. Boom. I looked at my grandmother and said that's exactly what I want to be. I want to be black, fabulous, and on TV. And I stopped answering to my name. And if you didn't call me Lola, then you wasn't talking to me. That's how I felt about it. [BLANK_AUDIO]