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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.