Niecy Nash’s Emmy Prep Is Surprisingly Relatable

Niecy Nash

And you might catch her at Popeyes after the show…

Niecy Nash has a lot to celebrate. On Sunday night, she will be walking the Emmy red carpet for her third nomination — this time, for her role in Ava DuVernay’s powerful Netflix series “When They See Us.” She’s been widely recognized for her work in comedy, but this is her first nomination in a drama category. Niecy had always been told to “stay in her lane” and stick to comedy, so this particular nom is extra meaningful to her. We chatted about her love of sex and champagne, sliding into Ava DuVernay’s DMs, and why the first call she’ll make if she wins will be to Idris Elba…

Katie Couric: Can you talk me through the moment you found out you were nominated?

Niecy Nash: I was at breakfast with my mother and my children. The nominations were playing on TV at the little restaurant near my house where we were eating. My name was the last to be called in my category — and when my name was called, I was like, “O-M-G.” I start tearing up, and then my mother starts full-on bawling. And I am like, why are YOU crying?! Then my kids start recording her crying, and everyone in the restaurant is staring at us like, “What is happening at this table with all these black people?” And then everybody that I have ever known in the world started texting me or calling me.. and that’s pretty much how it went. Tears and pancakes. It couldn’t have been better.

This is not your first rodeo… in fact, this is your third primetime Emmy nomination. How do you prepare for an event like this?

I just try to create a relaxed environment. I don’t like a lot of intensity. I like everything to go very smoothly. So I’ll probably have my mother there, and we will do face masks and lay in bed, and she’ll tell me that I should prepare a speech, and I’ll play coy about it. I just try to have people around me that I really care about. That’s really my only Emmy “prep.” I lovingly say that the best way to prepare is to have lots of sex and drink champagne. But the day of, I just try to stay as relaxed as possible.

I think sex and champagne sounds like a good way to relax! Can you give us a hint about what to expect from you on the red carpet?

Well, I’m not a sample size. So you run into challenges with some of the top designers, because contrary to popular belief, they’re not beating your door down to be like, “Oh my God, let me make a dress for you.” They look at me and they’re like, “Dangerous Curves Ahead! Abort!”

So you have to work with a designer who understands a woman’s body, and a body that is more the norm than not. I have partnered this go-around with Christian Siriano, and went in a different direction from what I wore for those first two nominations — which I am glad that I did, because my first two nominations were in a comedy category. This one is in a drama category. So it’s very special, because there were people who told me I had a lane, and that I needed to stay in my lane, which they saw as comedy. And I was like, “Um no…. I can do anything.” And so it means more to me, this nomination, because it affirms how I had already seen myself. When I walk out onto that carpet on Sunday, I will be another version of myself that people haven’t seen yet.

In the series you play the mother of Korey Wise, one of the five men who were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated of a 1989 rape in Central Park. Have you spoken with Korey since you were nominated?

I just talked to Korey yesterday! I love that man so much. I have such an affinity for Korey. We texted each other all day on Mother’s Day. He was very, very proud of me for the nomination. He hugged me and said, “You’re my mom.” We have a great relationship.

‘When They See Us’ is such a powerful and important series. Why did you want so badly to be part of this project, and is it true that you slid into Ava DuVernay’s DMs in order to get cast?

That’s a fact! I did. Because she doesn’t have a voicemail! So you gotta do what ya gotta do. And I knew I had to be a part of this narrative, so I was gonna go reach out to this woman any way I could, to let her know that this is something that I have to be a part of. And it worked out.

Talk to me about how being part of this series inspired you to join The Innocence Project.

When the series ended, the first thing I said to myself was: How can I be of service? How can I serve those who have been wrongfully convicted? The very first thing I did was become an ambassador for The Innocence Project. I’ve done a panel with some of the men, I attend all of the events with the organization that I can, whatever my schedule will allow I will do. Whether that’s donating money, or helping them with fundraising. There are so many people that this has happened to. When They See Us shines light on five of them. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who this has happened to. And if I can help any of those people, I want to do that.

‘When They See Us’ has been nominated for 16 awards, including your nomination. How does that feel?

Sweet 16! This is such a beautiful series to ride this out with. The more press that comes from it, the more light shines on these five men, who we lovingly now call “The Exonerated Five.” That’s the best part about it; this allows their narrative to exist a little while longer in the world. But one thing that I don’t want to get lost in the sauce: You have to look at how an experience like what these men went through impacts the soul of a human being. There is still a lot of pain from what they experienced. No amount of money, no amount of TV time, can give that back.

Now, finally, we don’t want to jinx anything… but how are you planning on celebrating if you win?

Oh my goodness. Well, I would probably go to Popeyes Chicken with my Emmy to see if they would give me one of those chicken sandwiches everyone’s talking about. I’m not even really a big fan of chicken, but I’m thinking maybe that Emmy would at least allow me to get a sandwich to try. Then I would call up Idris Elba and invite him and his wife over to celebrate, just so that I could look at him up close. And then I would probably sleep right next to my statue all night. I’d make what was normally a twosome a threesome, because that statue is not coming out of the bed.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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