Actors are always happy to get a few months between being cast in a role and the start of filming. It is time they can use for everything from research to developing small details for their character.
Nicco Annan had years to not only get ready to play the role of Uncle Clifford in the Starz series “P-Valley” but the work started with Annan helping to create the character while Katori Hall was writing and staging the play on which the series is based.
“I started this back in 2009,” Annan says. “It started a long time ago with the New York workshops but I am still learning things about Uncle Clifford.
“That is beautiful and such a gift as an artist. I am learning things about her as she teaches me things about myself like relationships and what matters most in life.
Annan’s work continues as the second season of “P-Valley” debuts Friday. It will be available on the Starz streaming service, app and on-demand platforms that day. It launches on the Starz cable channel at 9 p.m. June 3.
The backdrop for the series – just like the play – is Pynk, a popular strip club in Mississippi under the guidance of Uncle Clifford. It is a place where everyone must fight to survive and thrive especially during the pandemic.
No one is more involved in the struggles than Mercedes (Brandee Evans) who will do what’s necessary to keep the club going until she can open a dance gym. The fact new dancers are being recruited creates tension for those who are Pynk veterans.
Evans says, “I believe the fight for survival is taken up another notch this season because she is confronting the truth of what is happening in the world with the pandemic. Survival is at an all-time high for us.
“You are going to see Mercedes having to go through this journey or surviving the past, the present and the future. How does she get her dreams to come true now because it looked like all had been lost at the end of season one.”
Before taking on the role in “P-Valley,” Evans worked on such projects as “Lethal Weapon,” “The Bobby Brown Story” and “Games People Play.” Playing a dancer came easy to Evans because she was a backup dancer for Katy Perry. Annan’s credits include “Shameless,” “This Is Us” and Snowfall” along with being the choreographer for “All American.”
Shannon Thornton, who plays Keyshawn/Miss Mississippi, agrees with Evans about “P-Valley” being a story of survival. That will be on full display with her character in the second season.
“She is not only providing for her family going on tour but this is a moment for her to see what it is like to be out on her own for the first time in a while,” Thornton says. “She is trying to survive this violent, abusive relationship while because of the pandemic being forced to be in a closed space.”
The complexity of the characters being played by Annan, Evans and Thornton are just three examples of how “P-Valley” flips the script when it comes to the way life in a strip club is traditionally shown in film and TV. Instead of just reducing the dancers to being objects of attention for the patrons, everyone who works at Pynk or comes through the doors offers another textured piece to the series.
Evans says, “I think this show is giving everyone the perspective they should have for women which is beyond their bodies. You are learning about what is in their hearts, their minds and their souls.
“I think Katori has done a wonderful job in making you want to know what is going on inside these women. Yes, they are beautiful. But look inside them.”
Both actors agree that setting the series in the South was necessary. The world of P-Valley exists in an area that is between the distinctly different rural and metropolitan ways of life. This creates the possibilities that a wide variety of people can be part of the story.
Helping tell that story are: Elarica Johnson as Autumn Night; J. Alphonse Nicholson as Lil’ Murda; Parker Sawyers as Andre; Harriett D. Foy as Pastor Woodbine; and Morocco Omari as Big L.
Annan got to keep playing a role that has become very familiar because of years of work. Nicholson found being cast as Lil’ Murda an acting gift because he not only gets to play a very complicated character but gets to show off his musical skills.
“To be a musician a majority of my life and then 12 years ago I started to act,” Nicholson says. “Finally getting to bring my music to television has been an incredible experience.”
At the same time he gets to add to the complicated characters who call “P-Valley” home.