It was TV “Kismet” according to actress said Niecy Nash of the moment she was chosen for the role of Lolli Valentine, the wife of Rev. Boyce Valentine, aka Cedric The Entertainer.
“‘You are my TV wife,’” the comedian said of her part in “The Soul Man, which debuted on TV Land Wednesday nights at 10 this summer.
The show, which also stars John Beasley, Wesley Jonathan and Jazz Raycole, the sitcom follows a famed ‘80s R&B singer who was popular, making a lot of money and living the high life in Las Vegas with his sexy wife and their daughter before God came calling and Boyce gave up his secular ambitions to become pastor of his aging father’s St. Louis church, taking his reluctant wife and daughter along for the ride.
Nash, who also has her own family reality show “Leave it to Niecy” on the Oxygen network, says says saying yes to the show was a no-brainer.
“I was a fan, just from sitting down and taking the first meeting of the concept of how they wanted to shoot it; everything. Then I shared with them, ‘Oh, my God. I feel like you just ripped a page right out of my life.’ I used to be married to a pastor. He was a singer.”
So many things lined up for Nash with “The Soul Man”, which ranks as TV Land’s second highest-rated original series debut. The way she sees it everybody has a turn and when it is your time—and you are in demand on the Hollywood circuit—you should be at the place in your life where you have a good support system to be able to receive it all. And prayerfully (she adds) you’re in a place where you can balance it all.
With a growing list of film and TV credits including “American Dad”, “Not Easily Broken”, “Reno 911!”, “Code Name: The Cleaner”, “Cook Off”, “Guess Who”, “The Boondocks” and “My Name Is Earl”, what’s clear is that God has a blessing with Nash’s name on it.
Her growing success in Hollywood and on TV is the culmination of a childhood fantasy. Born Carol Denise Ensley in Palmdale, California, Nash knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life when she was just five years old.
“It was the first time I saw a beautiful black woman on TV”, Nash recalls. “I’d seen black people on television before but never anyone this glamorous. I said who is that and my grandmother said Lola Falana. I said that is what I want to be when I grow up—black, fabulous and on TV. After that I would dress up in a fancy dress and sit on the porch. I would only answer if you called me Lola. When I go home to St. Louis, they still call me Lola.”
Whether in character or just being herself, Nash is hard to pin down. Except for the hosting gig on The Style Network—which casts her as a Dr. Phil type with pack rats looking for residential rehab or interior interventions on the home front— Nash feels that comedic actress best describes who she is, but she is just as content to keep people guessing.
“I am grateful that people can’t put me in a box,” says Nash, who has hosted, done an unscripted parody and drama in addition to the comedy she famous for.
Up until now, it’s been so far, so good for Nash who—at her mother’s insistence— didn’t pursue acting until after graduating from Cal State Dominguez Hills, and got her first job without a manager, agent or picture.
“I was maybe 22 at the time. It was a movie called “Boys on the Side” with Whoopie Goldberg. I called a casting director I’d met and said I’m broke, I have a baby and I need a job. He said be down here at 3pm. I went down, auditioned and ended up getting the job.”
“With the Style Network, I actually walked in with a project and I said, ‘Hey this project is great what do you think?’ And they basically said we don’t want your project, we want you.”
She believes the secret to her success is simple: “I know my sensibility. I know my comedic timing. I know what I need to do in order to breathe life into a situation.”
“When you are comfortable in your own skin, something about that is attractive. There are many times when actors will walk into a room so desperate for a role that they stink up the whole joint. That comfort in myself was instilled by my mother and my grandmother.
“When I got the job on Reno 911, they said what kind of cop do you want to be. I wanted to be Raineesha Williams (that was my daughter’s best friends name when she was in kindergarten). I wanted to have baby hair and a big ole booty. I wanted to look like all the women who loved and raised me. People would come up to me on the street and say it’s a shame they put all this extra weight on you and make you look so big and I tell them it was by choice. She looks like every woman I grew up around.
In Hollywood most people want to be smaller but it is a matter of being comfortable enough and invested enough in your craft to say make me look like that.”
A strong Christian upbringing has helped Nash to steer clear of Hollywood’s biggest snares.
Said Nash, “When you come into the business you have to already know where your line is. If you don’t make it right up front, other people will decide for you. For me I don’t want to be naked and I don’t want to do a whole lot of cursing. A lot of people in this business feel that it is different because they are acting but I don’t judge.”
Luckily, for Nash the sentiments were the same for members at her former husband’s Culver City-based, New Life Church where for two years she served as “first lady” before ultimately divorcing her former husband of 16 years.
“Were it not for God I would be good and crazy right now,” adds Nash, who remarried last year. “I am grateful that I have a reasonable portion of my right mind after everything I have been through. My relationship with God has literally been a bridge over troubled waters.”
Those troubled waters include witnessing her mother being shot and injured in a domestic abuse incident when she was 15 and she buried a beloved brother in 1993. She is the front person for M.A.V.I.S. (Mothers Against Violence in Schools), which was founded by her mother in 1993, following the tragic death of her younger brother, Michael, who was shot and killed on his high school campus.
Today, she stands firm in her faith that God is in control of her life.
“Even when you hit a point in your life when you feel like you have failed yourself and God, he never fails,” says Nash, who couldn’t wait to get to church as a child, even singing in the church choir. “There is always restoration and redemption even when you blow it. He is not only a God of a second chance but another chance. That is my saving grace—having a real relationship with the Most High—because when all else fails you know that will never fail.