Actress Nia Long is returning to TV, but not to star on a sitcom or drama or to voice a character, all of which she’s done. She’s stepping into new, unfamiliar and exciting territory, and that’s ad work. Long is joining the comical duo of Deon Cole and Gabrielle Dennis in the hilarious “Men Have Skin Too” ads for Old Spice. She plays a therapist attempting to help the couple deal with the contention created by Dennis’ use of Cole’s beloved body wash products, which smell good and work well enough to win over men and women alike.
The opportunity to join in on the fun and reach a whole new audience as part of the popular campaign (one ad alone has reached as many as 61 million YouTubers) is something the star jumped at because she’s been a fan of them. There’s also a personal connection to the Old Spice brand.
“I just think they’re so clever and funny and different really from anything else on television, and just in the commercial space period,” she tells ESSENCE. “And I’m a personal fan because growing up my grandfather used to use Old Spice. I remember just opening the medicine cabinet and there would be a stash of Old Spice products where he would go to the corner store and get the stash of the bundle where you get like three deodorants for one price. I would always see the Old Spice, and I think one day I was like, ‘What is this? Because it’s always here.’ I just would open it and smell it. And so, that’s where my relationship with Old Spice started.”
We spoke with the star about the constant presence of Old Spice in her life thanks to her West Indian heritage and raising sons, how she feels about sharing products with fiancé Ime Udoka, adjusting to life in Boston after his appointment as coach of the Celtics, and returning to your favorite franchise — The Best Man, this time as a limited series. Long is about to be everywhere — on TV, YouTube, streaming services, court side — and we can’t wait to see it all.
ESSENCE: Are you excited to be a part of an Old Spice campaign knowing that your family has used it over the years?
Nia Long: Oh my gosh. Yes. Definitely. And even West Indian people use Old Spice. That’s a thing. The Caribbean culture, because it’s an American product so you think about it it’s like [uses accent] ‘Oh, you get the Old Spice from America?’ And it’s like a thing [laughs]. It definitely is a thing.
I love that. And speaking as a mom, do your sons use Old Spice products?
My older son uses Old Spice, and nobody’s paying me to say this. He absolutely uses Old Spice. And actually the day that the commercial launches I’m going to open the medicine cabinet so you guys can really see the proof in the pudding. Look, he played baseball for a really long time, and young men at a certain age they start to become very aware of how they look and how they smell, and so yeah, it’s a real relationship over here. It’s not just Nia doing an Old Spice commercial.
Are you guilty of using some of Ime’s products or things? Is he okay with it or does he give you grief like Deon gives Gabrielle?
No, no, no, no. He uses my stuff all the time. All the time. Because all of a sudden I’ll go back to my face wash and I’m like, I know I didn’t wash my face this many times.
And the thing is men will lie about it, like “I didn’t use your stuff. What are you talking about?” It’s like, “You know good and well you used all of my stuff, but I will just let you slide on that.” I think that’s what’s cool about the commercial because it just uncovers that relationship between men and women and sharing things, and coexisting, and cohabiting. We’ve been doing a lot of that lately with COVID. Yes. It’s a real thing. It really happens.
For sure. And I did want to ask you outside of Old Spice, the commercial and everything, regarding Ime, your fiancé, I was wondering how has it been with him becoming the head coach in Boston and watching his career unfold in the way that it has? How has that been for you as his cheering partner?
I’m definitely his biggest cheerleader. I’m so happy for him. I’m proud of him. The boys are super happy and excited. I’ve watched the sacrifices he’s made personally and the sacrifices we’ve made as a family, and now it’s go time, and I just know he’s going to be great because he’s so disciplined. I’ve never seen anyone so disciplined. Honestly, I’ve never met anyone so disciplined. He sets a target and that’s what it is, and so that is where big success lies, and now he just has to do what he wants to do. And the greatest thing is when he’s busy I’m busy. When we come together it’s like we’re in a constant state of dating. And that keeps it fun.
Does that mean you are now going to be spending your time maybe halfway on the West Coast and then also in Boston? How does that work for you?
We all moved to New York during COVID because he was working with the [Brooklyn] Nets, so we’re all on the East Coast. So we have two places, one here, and one in Boston.
How do you like it in Boston?
Yeah. It’s cool. It’s different. I’m a New Yorker through and through. But I will say that the fans have been so welcoming and the community has been so lovely, and even just going out to dinner it’s like, “Hi, Nia! I can’t wait to see you at a game!” Sometimes I forget. I’m like, wait, what? Oh gosh. It’s just another extension of what I do kind of. I never thought that his career would impact my career in a way. You know what I mean? It’s sort of like I guess that’s when they say power couple. I don’t know that I want to give us any titles because I don’t think that’s necessary. Then that means we have to do something I feel like and that feels like pressure. But what I do love about it is there are not a lot of Black power couples that can have impact in film and television and sports. The most important thing that I want to do, that we want to do, is impact a community, and if we can use our voice to do something for the community and for the people who helped to support us to get here then that’s where the real success lies for me. It’s nice to be famous. It’s nice to be loved. It’s nice to be on television and film. But honestly, there has to be purpose behind what you’re doing, and for me it can’t really have much to do with me. It has to do with what can I do to help the community because I know how difficult it was for me to get to where I am, and how hard I’ve had to work.
Do you know what kind of work you guys want to do together to help?
You’ll just have to see it. I don’t like to talk about things before they happen. It’s a new city. I’m feeling it out. Ime’s focus right now is straight basketball. He’s got a big job, and that’s where his mind is going to be. I’ve got Best Man coming up. So, we are going to get there in the right time just in the same way that this commercial happened. We’ll feel our way through it.
And lastly, Nia, I was going to ask, and you just spilled some beans for me about your upcoming projects. You guys are currently filming The Best Man, the third movie right now?
We haven’t started shooting yet, but it’s coming soon. The original cast, the entire original cast, will be back, which is lovely because we love each other so much. It’s exciting. It’s a limited series. People have been asking for this for a long time, and I’m excited to deliver, and excited to see what Malcolm [Lee] puts on the page for us to say and do. All these characters are grown now, so it will be interesting to see what sort of — I’m sure they’ll be a lot of therapy scenes. Let me just say that, because you know there’s going to be some drama. We’re just all happy to be back together.