Before seeing his face, I’m first greeted with a plume of cannabis smoke across my computer screen. As the cloud clears, I’m able to make out his smile—the same one the rest of the world has fallen in love with when it lit up their TVs every Sunday this past summer.
“How are you today?” I ask, as our Zoom interview begins. “Can’t complain,” actor J. Alphonse Nicholson responds.
Ironically, I doubted that that was entirely true.
Nicholson’s beloved character, Lil’ Murda portrayed in the strip club-centered dramedy has consistently been the subject of social media fodder since the premiere of the Starz series in 2020. And it’s with good reason. Nicholson is a breath of fresh air in the role. His harrowing performance does so much justice to the layered fictional character that nearly every one of his scenes opens a larger conversation around sexual identity, heterosexual norms and how the Black community grapples with them.
For background, Lil Murda, a closeted gay man is in love with Uncle Clifford (played by Nicco Anan) and has no idea how to handle it as his emerging rap career burgeons. Set in the fictional southern town of Chucalissa (a hybrid of Memphis, TN and parts of Mississippi), the show tackles the complicated relationship Black Christians and beyond have with the LBGTQ+ community with J. Alphonse’s masculine presenting character at the helm.
Fans clearly connected with Lil Murda, but so did detractors.
Since P Valley‘s season 2 premiere in June, everyone from rappers like Plies and 50 Cent to controversial comedian Lil Duval have come out against the series, calling it traumatizing after watching the gay male love scenes led by Nicholson’s character. These admonishments opened the door for others to do the same, and Nicholson said it’s taken a bit of a toll.
“I ain’t gon’ lie, it’s very stressful,” he shared. “But I knew it was going to happen when I took the role—I never thought it would be to this magnitude though.”
To cope, the actor said he turned to cannabis to help quell his anxiety.
“I’ve always smoked, but it wasn’t until the show started really picking up did I lean more into it for medicinal purposes.”
Nicholson also explained that he’s laying plans to make entry into the cannabis space in tandem with acting, and hopes to eventually retire in the industry. Last year Chris Ball, Cannapreneur and owner of Ball Family Farms, an LA-based social equity licensed cannabis company, caught wind of Nicholson’s interest and approached him about working with the brand.
“There were many other high-profile celebrities that were interested in brand ambassadorship but I knew Alphonse was right for the company because he genuinely just wanted learn more about the product—he wasn’t in it just for the money,” Ball explained.
Ball even pointed out that during negotiations of Nicholson’s brand ambassadorship deal, he told the actor he might’ve had to front some of his own money for marketing.
“I knew he was ideal for us when he didn’t even flinch at that,” Ball said. “He just genuinely wants to spread the word about the healing powers of cannabis and help further our larger social equity mission.”
Ball, who was formerly incarcerated for selling weed when he was younger, launched the company from his legacy experience. Now, he’s aiming to pipeline opportunities to minorities aiming to break into the space, one that has largely been extremely profitable for white owners. The partnership with Nicholson, who also said he sold weed illegally in his youth, is a part of the process.
The actor created his own strain with the brand called the Phonzie, a play on his nickname used by his loved ones. According to Ball Family Farms, the product was exclusively pheno-hunted to incorporate terpenes limonene and caryophyllene, which are associated with calm and relaxation.
“I’m super grateful for all of the opportunities coming my way, including this partnership, you know? It makes all of the other things that come along with fame worth it.”