Onetime activist and Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall wrote a play called Pussy Valley that has now evolved into the new Starz series P-Valley.
The story is set at Pynk, a popular strip club in Mississippi, that is ruled by non-binary bearded boss Uncle Cliffordwho is played by openly gay actor Nicco Annan. Clifford and the women at the club battle racism, homophobia and misogyny while trying to make a dollar to survive.
Raised in Detroit, Annan went to school in New York and trained under Israel Hicks at SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Theatre Arts. Shortly after, he became a choreographer at the Yale School of Drama. Annan has previously appeared on Shameless, This Is Us and Claws before landing his latest role on P-Valley.
Windy City Times: You are originally from Detroit?
Nicco Annan: Yes, I'm a NorthTown boy.
WCT: You studied musical theater growing up?
NA: I studied all things. I was a triple threat. I studied improv and theater at first, then when I was 17 I told my mom I wanted to be Leroy on Fame. Gene Anthony Ray was this Black man dancing around in short shorts, braided hair and doing high kicks. That was my inspiration to study dance, so I joined a small troupe.
I was told that I could never aim too high with my size and could not be a concert dancer with Alvin Ailey because the company was too big. I was told I could never sing in music videos because I would have to look like Al B. Sure!
The transformative moment for me was seeing a deaf dance company perform at my high school. I couldn't believe that, even though they couldn't hear the music, they could still perform. I decided even if I was a paraplegic that I could still tell a story. I went to school and as soon as I graduated I turned to musical theater. I didn't want to be just the singular, Black, gay boy in the chorus so I started choreographing. When one door closes I open another one.
WCT: And you have paid it back in sweat, just like in Fame! I wanted to be Coco from that show.
NA: We could have done a number together!
WCT: How did you land the role in P-Valley?
NA: Katori Hall had a writers group that she called Black Monday, because every Monday that is when the theaters are dark. She wanted to collaborate with other artists and writers on Mondays when they were available. A writer friend of mine introduced us because Katori was looking for an actor that could embrace femininity. I came over on a Black Monday. The script was only four pages at that time and we started a workshop to create Uncle Clifford in New York.
We did a full production of Pussy Valley in 2015 at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. That was the first and only live production of Pussy Valley. I had to audition for that and every step along the way was an audition. There were people behind the camera that had to green light the project.
There was always a misunderstanding of who Uncle Clifford was. Most people envisioned her more like RuPaul. People told me that they pictured Uncle Clifford to be light-skinned and very thin. Femininity equated to small for them. I always wanted to defy that.
I had to jump through many hoops, but I am grateful for that. It is the part that solidified who Uncle Clifford is for me. It allowed me to realize how small minded people are about the LGBT community. I was able to craft a way for the audience to come in and experience the persona of Uncle Clifford.
WCT: Talking about small, this is a small town. Are you worried about Clifford being beaten up?
NA: Let me ask you a question. Are you worried about that?
WCT: I feel Clifford would kick someone's ass if they tried.
NA: There you go! The homophobic and misogynistic energy is prevalent. When you are on the spectrum of the LGBT community, you learn how to deal with that misogyny or combat it in your own way. It is an individual fight and doesn't look the same for every person.
For Uncle Clifford, shethose are her pronouns: she/heris audacious to walk out the front door while being her authentic self. I think that is what both attracts people and scares people. People don't typically cross her. They may say something to her, but then she will say something back. Our community has been defending themselves since they were little, so if you come after someone be prepared for a battle!
WCT: Are the costumes like armor? I loved those kinky boots you wore!
NA: [Laughs] Oh, you have to wear the boots! Something happened to me on set and it speaks to what humanity is. My show runner's children came to the set one day. The oldest son asked me why I had nails on. I explained I was playing pretend and that was my character. He asked if I had super powers like Wolverine. I said yes and he thought it was cool.
When I play Uncle Clifford, I am not thinking about having to armor myself, but my defiance to societal norms is the real fight. That is the protest right there, the miracle and the blessing all in one.
WCT: Does it take a long time to dress up for this role? I loved the red outfit in the third episode.
NA: We called that look "The Wind Done Gone!" It doesn't take that long to get ready. We were adamant about not using traditional drag makeup. The makeup just enhances Clifford's natural features. My beard is already there. The wigs are interchangeable. The costumes are just like another day in the office to me. I think it takes me about an hour to get ready overall.
The costumes are by Rita McGhee and I work closely with a hair and a makeup artist, all three are Black women. We just play together.
People like the pom-pom socks I wear on episode three, also. We don't have to spend a lot of money. Everyone wants to look great, even if they buy from the Dollar General!
WCT: Do you think about a red-carpet look you will have if you eventually win an Emmy?
NA: I believe the stories we are telling on P-Valley are noteworthy. The industry and audiences are realizing this is a whole world they didn't know about. It is kind of like how they react to Game of Thrones or The Handmaid's Tale.
If one of the golden ladies, or men, comes to me, then I will be more than happy to use that to amplify more stories about our community.
WCT: P-Valley was just approved for a second season. What would you like to see happen in season two?
NA: That is hard to say without you having seen the finale.
I would like to see how Uncle Clifford does with romance. I would like to see further development between Big L and Uncle Clifford. I think a relationship between a cis heterosexual Black man and a Black non-binary person with female pronouns is interesting.
I have more ideas, but let's talk after the finale.
WCT: You have played gay characters in the past. Talk about that.
NA: I just had a conversation with my mom about me playing straight characters in the past. I have played straight, but it's a new day where artists don't have to fit into the heterosexual normative in order to have their artistry recognized.
I have only played gay characters onscreen within the last year. I had played characters before that who were possibly gay, but I made choices as an actor and it was not in the script.
Being in the script as gay speaks to the expansion and visibility of the LGBT community, especially to the marginalized pockets of the community, whether that is trans or non-binary.
WCT: Do you have plans for more choreography?
NA: I am a choreographer on This Is Us and All American, so we shall see how that goes. I do have some ideas for a certain dance project as well as some biopics.
WCT: Hopefully, you can come visit Chicago soon.
NA: Listen: As soon as Miss Rona steps aside, we can all go out and shake a tail feather there, because I love Chi-town!
Dive into the Delta on Starz at 7 p.m. every Sunday until the season finale Sunday, Sept. 6.