To say that the walls have completely closed in on Desna Simms would be an understatement.
As the first season of Claws, TNT’s addictive new dramedy, has unfolded, our heroine has desperately fought to stay one step ahead of the crime bosses, drug dealers, cops, and presumed-dead boyfriends circling her in this bizarre corner of Manatee County, Florida, lest they all find out it was her who set this entire chaotic chain of events into motion. However, after last week’s harrowing cliffhanger left her on the run as her unhinged, alive ex (Jack Kesy) and the Russian mafia exchanged bullets in an abandoned amusement park, the jig may finally be up.
“All hell breaks loose,” star Niecy Nash, a revelation in this first season, told E! News ahead of the big finale. “There’s a consequence to be paid by everybody for the decisions that they’ve made up to this point.”
While Nash was understandably tight-lipped on what’s to come in the grand finale, she was more than willing to look back on the breakthrough season, as a whole. What follows is our unedited Q&A. Spoilers ahead!
OK, we’ve got to start with the whole Roller reveal. How clued in were you that he was going to return alive? We were teased by Desna’s dream, then he was haunting her, then he was in the flesh. Were you guys, as a cast, aware that Jack was remaining on the show?
Well, here’s what happened. Initially, when we first were pitched the series, the character Roller was going to die in the pilot. A real death. And the series moves on from there. Well, when Jack Kesy did the pilot, the network really loved his character and they wanted to figure out a way for him to stay around. There was a little hidden gem, in a sense, in that they made him a series regular. And we were like, “OK, so what does that mean? Is he all in flashback episodes or is he with us now?” They were like, “No, we want to keep his character on the train.”
I want to talk about the bond between the girls. Obviously so much of it was on the page, but how did you and the other actresses work to create that bond? Because it feels just so real.
What I did was—I was the first person to come aboard this show. And every time a girl was cast, I dated her. So I dated all the women separately to build the connective tissue because [Desna] was the common thread that brought them all together. It wasn’t like they all knew each other and then they met me. I’m the one who led or built this island of misfit toys. So being the ringleader of series, off-camera I wanted to get to know them before cameras ever rolled.
Now, Karrueche Tran was the last person added to play the character of Virginia. And I read opposite many girls and they just could not find the right girl. And I said, “Do you guys know Karrueche Tran?” Some people knew her, some did not. I said, “Take a look at her and see what you think.” She had to come back three, four times to test for the role, but she ultimately got it.
I was going to ask you about Karrueche because the Desna-Virgina relationship—the way Desna reacts to her is just hysterical. How has it been working with her, sharing those scenes?
OK, well, on camera, I feel like these two women—this is a woman who probably Desna likes the least, but needs the most, you know? Because we’re tethered together by this secret. And then on the other side of this secret, I have to bring her into the fold and nobody knows why, you know what I mean? So, I’m balancing all that until it’s revealed, OK, we’re in cahoots together. But by that time, I’m like, “OK, girl, begrudgingly, you’re in.”
Off camera, she’s the annoying little sister I never had. If you follow us on Snapchat and social media, I call it the Desna and Virginia Chronicles because we are like Frick and Frack. We’re like The Odd Couple. A lot of people say, when they see us do social media posts together, “Oh my God, you guys should do a reality show together.” No, we shouldn’t! Everybody, calm down. You just really want to worry my nerves? [Laughs.]
I want to talk about Dean Norris coming in as Uncle Daddy. I know in the original pilot, the character was played by another actor, and Dean came aboard when it went to series. What did Dean bring that elevated the role? How has that role changed?
Can I just say that Dean Norris was my first choice? He initially, I’m going to go on and tell it—he passed on the pilot. Then, once we created something, I said, “Now, show it to him. He’ll get it know. He’ll get it what it is.” He took one look at that thing and was like, “I’m in.” He is lovely on and off-camera, a lot of fun. He plays Uncle Daddy beautifully, you know what I mean? We were talking earlier today and he said, “I mean, I’ve got so many fans that I didn’t know I had.” And I said, “Uh-huh.” “No, I mean new fans.” And I said, “Uh-huh.” He said, “Guys like me now!” And I’m like, “Ahh!” He was like, “Because I play this character that’s bisexual, I ended up with a whole other fan base that I didn’t even know I was missing.” I was like, “There you go. There you have it.” He’s great.
The world that the writers have created is so off the wall and really unlike anything we’ve ever seen on television. When you get new pages, are you just asking yourself where they get this stuff?
Yeah! It’s like, OK, on a Wednesday afternoon, Uncle Daddy is laying in his backyard. He’s hired girls to come over and do a water ballet, just to feature Toby in it. Like, what is happening? Or it’s like, on a Friday, he’s feeding a dead body to some alligators. We’re just going to break out into a choreographed number while some people are being murdered. Yes, you read it and on the page, it can sound so far out there, but somehow the world is extremely grounded and extremely pulled in. I think that at the base of that is my relationship with my brother Dean, played by Harold Perrineau.
Speaking about the relationship with Dean, as the season progressed, we learned just how tragic a past these two share. What was it like developing that connection with Harold as that darkness they experienced revealed itself?
When [Harold] and I get together, because most of his scenes on the series are with me, as soon as we see each other, you just start getting teary in the corners of your eyes because you know it’s going to be a charged scene. So, I challenged our writers to find some lighter moments for us because everything between us is so heavy. But he is so fantastic to work with. In fact, I was excited to meet him and was a fan of his, and when I met him for the first time on set, I did not know I was meeting him and he was already in character. So, he wouldn’t look me in the eye. He was rubbing his hands together. I was like, “What is going on?” And so after we met, I turned around to somebody and said, “Is he OK?” And it wasn’t until after we came out of scene where he was like, “Hey, girl!” I was like, “You had me for a minute!”
I’ve got to go back to the choreographed number because I’m so glad you mentioned it. When I first saw the teaser of them dancing, I flipped out and needed to know why. What was that day on set like?
It was like being on Dancing With the Stars again. It was like, “Get in here and dance for eight hours. That’s what we’re doing today.” It was crazy. We spent the entire day jumping around in the salon. I’m like, “We don’t need a workout tonight!”
During your panel at TCA, you spoke a bit about your pride over the show’s honest portrayal of women of a certain age when it comes to their vibrant sex lives. Beyond the fact that that’s just real life, why is that so important to you?
Well, for the very reason that you just said. It is important because it is real life. You don’t die on the vine at a certain age. We are still leading very full lives, having sex with our stank on it, you know? Running around, being in relationships that are complicated. We’re living these full lives that deserve to be shared. I mean, why not?
With each new episode this season, the ratings have gone up and up.
That’s virtually unheard of these days. What do you attribute that to? What do you think the show is doing that’s connection in such a way?
You know what I think it is? I think that you break through all of the noise when you have something that’s fresh. You could tell this same story with men, and five or 10 years ago, everybody would’ve gone, “Yeah, guys! Dixie mafia! Russians! As it should be!” But we’re telling it from a different lens and a different vantage point, and with that, we’re going behind the veil to show the part that would be considered real, you know?
What’s the reaction been like from your fans? What have you noticed since the series premiered about your interactions with them now?
I just got cornered here by an elderly Asian woman who said to me, as if it were my real life, “I’m so scared for you now that Roller’s alive!” And I said, “Oooh-kay, girl.” [She] reached out and grabbed my hand. “I want you to be alright.” I want to be alright! But they’re in it. Message boards, conversations about what you should and shouldn’t do. And I try, if I can, to live-tweet with the fans of the show on Sunday nights, but they are in it. Creating memes and GIFs and all sorts of things to express themselves. And my 140 characters, I’m right in it with them.
Do people approach you now with the expectation that you know how to do nails?
They do not, but I will tell you that we all went to nail school and we all have a particular skill set. For me, I’m good with acrylics. Carrie [Preston] is good with gel manicures. And Judy [Reyes] has mastered the art of massage. We all have something that we locked into. So, if every nail salon in the world burned down for some reason, we’ve got you. The Claws cast can make it happen.
Claws airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.