I knew Niecy Nash would understand. There I was in my Brooklyn apartment, in my son’s bedroom to be exact, as I tried (with success) to entertain him while chatting with the star of Netflix’s new film, Uncorked.
“You might hear my son,” I warned. “He’ll probably want to speak to you too.”
“OK,” the Emmy Award-winner and mother of three replied.
Before becoming our hilarious go-to thanks to memorable roles in Claws, and Reno 911!, along with more serious turns in Getting On, When They See Us and Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story, Nash herself was taking her own children to work with her. In fact, she’s often told the story of how she’d tote her once-little ones to auditions, often turning lobbies into preschools to keep them entertained.
And although my eight-month-old was attached to my hip because of how the novel coronavirus has affected our New York neighborhood, Nash and I both had the same reasons—we were determined to get it done by any means necessary.
It’s similar to the plot of Nash’s new film, Uncorked, Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny’s directorial debut film, largely inspired by the evolving relationship he had with his own dad. The actress plays the supportive mother of Elijah, (Mamoudou Athie) who wants to become a master sommelier in the wine industry instead of taking over his father’s (Courtney B. Vance) Memphis barbecue restaurant.
Penny was thinking of Nash when he wrote the character of Vance’s onscreen wife, Sylvia.
“Prentice Penny actually gave me a call and said, ‘I wrote this project and there’s a role that I wrote with you in mind.’ And I was like, ‘OK bro, well you had me at hello!'” Nash recalled, noting that since Penny wrote and directed the project it felt seamless on set.
“He knows exactly what he wants done in that space,” she said. “The good thing about it is that you don’t have the chasm between the writer and a director if they see the vision a different way. It was a train that once it left the station you knew exactly where it was going.”
Nash’s best scenes (without spoiling anything) are the ones where she’s with her onscreen husband. Although Vance is best known for bringing a dignified performance to any drama project, he keeps up with Nash’s refined comedy chops in Uncorked. These two powerhouses deliver. Nash said it’s because they both came, leaving their egos at the door.
“He’s a class act all the way,” she said of her co-star. “He’s smart, he is intuitive…But with no professional ego. You know what I mean? We just really wanted to serve the project and each other in the art of it all.”
In an industry where self-importance abounds, Nash has learned to “live in a place of gratitude,” she said. It’s why when she turned 50 last month, she celebrated by shedding her clothes in a bare-it-all photoshoot. Nash was finally free.
“You know what it is, is that I know myself better than I ever have,” she said of stripping down. “And in knowing yourself, there is such a freedom and liberty in that.”
Initially, the actress had five parties planned—”a party for every decade I was alive”—including a yacht party, a dance party, a “dress-up party where you got to wear a gown and a suit” and a dinner party. She added that due to “coronavirus, I had to put a pin in those plans.”
“But what are you going to do? You could cry about turning 50 and could lament [about] turning 50. You can say, ‘I don’t want the candles on my cake to say my age.’ You can do all that, but it’s not going to change nothing,” Nash added. “I love my life right now. I have literally curated a life that makes me happy every day. So why wouldn’t I celebrate it?”
One part of that curation involved pruning the relationship with her ex-husband, Jay Tucker, after eight years. Nash announced the two had separated and were divorcing last year. And at ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon earlier this year, Nash broke her silence about the divorce, revealing she thought it wiser to choose herself.
“You will always be the thing—whether you’ve got a man or not, whether you have someone chasing you. It doesn’t matter. You’re the thing,” she told the star-studded audience back in February. “You get up every day and choose yourself, and you teach your children to do the same.”
The actress said there’s a deeper reason why she shared her story that day.
“So many women came up to me with tears in their eyes saying, ‘That is me. That is my story. I felt like you were speaking directly to me. Oh my God, you will never know how this relates to me.’ And that is what our testimony is for at the end of the day,” she told ESSENCE.
“It’s for God to get the glory and people to know that…somebody empathizes with where you are and there’s light on the other side.”