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Listen: Niecy Nash on How ‘Getting On’ Convinced Hollywood She Could Mix Comedy With Drama

Audiences first got to know Niecy Nash as a comedic actress on shows like “Reno 911.” But the short-lived HBO series “Getting On,” which mixed comedy with plenty of drama, gave Nash a chance to show off another side of her acting skills — something that she’s since put on display in the TNT comedic drama “Claws” and the Netflix limited series “When They See Us.”

“I spent a lot of time in my career being told that I could only do one thing,” Nash told Variety‘s “My Favorite Episode” podcast. “You do broad comedy, that’s your lane. And I’m like, no, I can do something else. When I finally got the opportunity, this was the first time to step into those waters. Tonally, it was so different for me. Visually was very different from me. I do a lot of TV where I have on five packs of hair, three pairs of eyelashes, and 45 Spanx. But this was a very stripped-down character.”

Nash chose the premiere episode of “Getting On,” titled “Born on the Fourth of July,” as her favorite ever. Written by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and directed by Miguel Arteta, the pilot episode introduces DiDi Ortley (Nash) on her first day as a nurse at the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit.

“People who can make you laugh can make you cry,” Nash said. “It’s not the other way around. When you look at the work that Robin Williams did, and Jim Carrey and some of the people who we consider to be our comedy greats, like Carol Burnett, when they took that turn and did drama, everybody was like, ‘Wait a minute!’ It took a while, but I’m very blessed to be able to thread the needle.”

As the episode opens, DiDi must learn the ropes from fellow nurse Dawn Forchette (Alex Borstein) — while also encountering the eccentric Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf) and her bizarre fecal study.

On this edition of the podcast, we sit down with Nash to talk about her two Emmy contenders, “When They See Us” and of course, “Claws,” and began by talking about the lasting impact of “Getting On.” Listen below:

CREDIT: HBO

“Getting On,” which ran from 2013 to 2015, earned Nash two Emmy nominations for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, and she said the show was a game-changer for her.

“There wasn’t a place on television for our actors and actresses of a certain age to go and still get work,” she said. “Laurie, Alex and myself are all women of a certain age, and then you have women and men significantly older than us, that could still come and get a great guest star part.”

Unfortunately, “Getting On” only lasted three seasons, with just six episodes each.

“‘Getting On’ wasn’t necessarily shiny enough in the moment that it was on,” Nash said. “Big shows were coming out of HBO at the time, ‘Ballers’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ and all of these big loud shows and this was just a tiny small little thing, which probably should have been on a streaming service.”

But after “Getting On,” Nash’s phone began ringing with different kinds of opportunities. Ava DuVernay cast her in “Selma” after seeing her on the show, and it also led to a guest arc for Nash on “The Mindy Project” and the lead role on “Claws.”

“The thing that I love about [‘Claws’] the most is watching women do things that were typically reserved for men,” Nash said. “You would not be surprised to see men selling drugs for the Dixie mafia or committing crimes for their families, a la Tony Soprano or ‘Breaking Bad.’ Now you get to see women who are badass. Who boss up, who don’t all look like each other, but have a common thread of wanting more out of life by any means necessary.”

As for “When They See Us,” Nash lauded DuVernay for providing a crisis counseling number during production, and she remains moved by her work on the miniseries and its depiction of the five young men who were wrongfully convicted. Nash plays Delores Wise, the mother of Corey Wise, one of the men who was exonerated in the “Central Park Five” case.

“The real Corey Wise saw all four episodes,” Nash said, “and he came up to me and he said, ‘you were my mother.’ That was the best compliment I could get.”

After filming “When They See Us,” Nash said she got involved as an ambassador for the Innocence Project.

“As soon as we wrapped filming I was like, this cannot stop here,” she said. “Now I’m grateful that they get a chance to have their story being told.”

Variety‘s “My Favorite Episode With Michael Schneider” is where stars and producers gather to discuss their favorite TV episodes ever — from classic sitcoms to modern-day dramas — as well as pick a favorite episode from their own series. On “My Favorite Episode,” some of the biggest names in TV share their creative inspirations — and how those episodes influenced them.

Be sure to subscribe to “My Favorite Episode” on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Soundcloud or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week. 

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