Brandee Evans: “P-Valley is just getting started”

Brandee Evans tells us about how P-Valley season 2 is just the start for Katori Hall's TV series, and how taking the dance routines to another level

Brandee Evans in P-Valley season 2

In P-Valley season 2, we return to the Pynk out on the Mississippi Delta, where a number of dancers, as well as the club’s owners, are still trying to make ends meet. After a triumphant first season, Katori Hall’s drama series is back on STARZPLAY via streaming service Prime Video, and it means business.

Of the main characters, few garnered quite as much attention or praise as Mercedes Woodbine. She’s trying to get out of dancing in clubs, get custody of her daughter, and open her own gym. This was difficult enough before, but now there’s the Covid-19 pandemic to contend with, too.

An unflinching writer, Hall puts all of these challenges front and centre in the TV series, and Brandee Evans, who plays Mercedes, approaches the character with confidence and absolute resolve. We got the chance to speak to Evans about how P-Valley is being turned up a notch this season, how Hall’s work reflects the reality of America today, and her advocacy in the area of multiple sclerosis.

The Digital Fix: The first season of P-Valley took a few years to get off the ground. Was there a greater confidence among the cast and crew going into season 2?

Brandee Evans: Yes. First of all, we were just like, ‘Phew, finally we’re back’, then it was just that moment of ‘We got something to prove’. We didn’t want everyone to think, ‘Oh, it was just a fluke, they got lucky in season 1’. We’re like ‘No, baby, we’re just getting started’.

We’re really excited for everyone to see everything. I can speak for every cast member in saying that we came in here, stronger and bolder and more confident, dropped into knowing who our characters were, and just ready to play this season.

P-Valley’s storyline was straight into the lockdown and everything around the pandemic. Were you surprised by that when you got the scripts? There’s been discussion of how TV would handle the subject matter.

Not when you have a showrunner like Katori Hall. No, I was not, because I know that Katori leads with the truth. With something like this, she was not going to run from it. She ran to it, including the truth about police brutality, domestic abuse – she really delves into it. I’m getting chills, it’s almost uncomfortable, because it should be uncomfortable. She’s just making it very authentic.

Brandee Evans and Elarica Johnson in P-Valley season 2

She wanted to put a mirror in the face of America and the world and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve seen, this is what we’ve been through’. Unfortunately, some of us didn’t make it through it, and those of us that did, look at what you made it through. So yeah, very excited, and wasn’t surprised.

You received a number of award nominations for your performance as Mercedes – congratulations! What do you think it is that attracted people to her character in particular?

I believe it was the humanising factor, because we all know someone like a Mercedes, or many of the characters on the show. Someone who’s driven, who’s had a tough time, but is still pushing forward with trying to pursue their dreams in whatever way they can. We know a mom that’s doing a job that she doesn’t necessarily love, but she has to do it to try to take care of her baby.

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In some instances, like Mercedes, [they’re] trying to get their baby back. We know girls that have issues with their moms, I was one of them as well, having those real life issues with mother-daughter, you see that. I think that’s what’s driving the audience to Mercedes.

I know you have a background in dance and choreography. Can you speak to how big and wild the routines will be for season 2 compared to season 1?

In-sane, have you seen my Instagram? We are going for it hardcore. I actually was just like, ‘Wow’. I don’t want to give away some of the things that we do this season, but I mean, you name it. It was just like, ‘Let’s try that’. Like, really? We’re really going to do this on the pole? OK!

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But we had to because we came so strong in season 1. You have to ask, ‘What’s next?’ – you can’t do anything but elevate. I’m a little afraid for season 3. What in the world will they have us doing – am I going to drop from heaven? I have no idea what could happen next.

P-Valley strikes a balance between a number of modes, from noir thriller and violent backstories, to gentler character drama, and then you have all the dance numbers on top of that. Is it hard to switch between the modes as a performer?

Yes, it is. It’s fun, though. It’s fun, because just like us, we have different modes that we can switch into. So I think that it’s a beautiful way of once again, just showing that mirror to the audience saying, ‘Hey, yes, I can be this way but you know, I can be this way too’.

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It’s been fun playing with the colours of Mercedes. The darker sides are just so heartbreaking. Sometimes tapping into that is difficult, but you have to tell that story authentically, so you have to go there.

I saw you take part in modelling shows, raising awareness and funds for multiple sclerosis. Can you tell us about your advocacy in that area, and can we expect to see that more of that from you?

Absolutely. So if you’re not aware, my mother has multiple sclerosis, and I’m her caregiver. She’s literally in the other room right now. When I am not on TV, I am a full time caregiver. That is very dear to my heart, and also with Alzheimer’s Association as well, because she has early onset Alzheimer’s. That is a huge platform to me.

I think that it needs more light shed on it, because a lot of people, especially with multiple sclerosis, are not aware of what type of disease it is and how traumatic it can be and how different it can be for everyone. So I am definitely an advocate for that. I’ve just started my Strongline just for caregivers as well, because as as a caregiver, I know how important it is to take care of myself in order to take care of her. I’m just trying to lift up those caregivers along the way.

Brandee Evans in P-Valley season 2

I still don’t know how I took my mom to season 1 with me and filmed. I would be filming, and then when we were wrapped, I would go home and take care of her. I’d maybe sleep two-three hours and then get up and film again.

On season 2, I was blessed to make enough to keep her in Los Angeles and have full time caregivers. But I’m still flying back every month to take care of her and check on her and make sure things are well. That’s the most important part of my life.

What do you hope people take away from P-Valley season 2?

I hope that people take away acceptance from this season. Acceptance when it comes to love, acceptance when it comes to people’s choices in life, and just understanding that we are more alike than we are different. We may look different, but in the core of us all, we all just want the same things: happiness, love, stability, and family.

P-Valley season 2 premiered Friday, June 3 on STARZPLAY.