P-Valley season 2 brings us right back to strip club The Pynk, where the employees continue on their journey to find normality and calm. Set in Chucalissa, a fictional city in Mississippi, the TV series features a rich cast of characters, one of whom is Uncle Clifford, the non-binary club owner.
Portrayed by Nicco Annan, Clifford allows the drama series to include the LGBTQIA+ community in its examination of sexuality. Gender and sexual expression are intrinsic to the show, and key to that is Clifford, who’s now transitioned from the stage version of P-Valley to STARZPLAY (available via Amazon Prime). Season 2 has her still just about keeping the club’s doors open, made all the more difficult by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Annan has played her in both interactions, giving him incredible insight on Clifford’s journey, and the southern experience of being LGBTQIA+. We got the chance to chat to him about all of that, as well as sharing dance expertise among the cast, collaborating with P-Valley creator Katori Hall, and what’s coming for All American season 5.
The Digital Fix: I know you were involved with P-Valley back when it was a stage show, so how surreal is it to be sitting here talking season 2?
Nicco Annan: It feels very surreal, in a weird way. I’ll tell you in theatre, sometimes, you have talkbacks after the play, and we talk about the production and all the themes and stuff like that. We had that into production. So everything from the stage production, it felt like it’s playing out in just a bigger way now. So, God got me ready.
With Uncle Clifford’s character, can you tell me about getting to dive into her story over the course of years now that you have that space?
Yeah, digging into her, it’s a journey. Even when I had to audition for the role, and I would go shopping for the role. I would go into the local department store, and look for different things that I thought that she would wear. As a gay man, I had people look at me, like, ‘What are you doing over here in this section? Are those for you?’
Those eyes started to inform me, what some people may go through: what some true non-binary people may go through. When we were doing the stage production, and having to get [my nails done] and knowing, ‘Oh, I don’t know this neighbourhood, and am I gonna wear these nails 24/7 understanding that there is a possibility of physical danger’.
You know, not knowing the neighbourhood and things like that. So, the difficulties and the physical interactions that true non-binary or trans people have to deal with on a daily basis. I experienced that as the actor, and it informs the performance because I want a level of authenticity and truth.
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There is a daily cost to living your truth and to be who you are, and I want it to be able to mesh that in the work. It’s on the page, for sure, and I wanted to just help elevate that. Being able to do so as an artist. It’s been everything. It’s been extremely challenging, yet also fulfilling.
How have you collaborated with creator Katori Hall?
Well, you know, Katori is very specific. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. The show itself really serves to me as a visual novel. You know, it’s a visual graphic novel, in its storytelling style. Katori will ask me questions, like, what do you think about that? Or how do you think that this would ever be? In those questions, I know she already has an answer, but she’s asking for my impulse, my experience from reading a scene or from playing the character.
All of us, she’ll tap in, in that way, because she knows where it’s going. I’ve seen her and the writers actually write and they throw ideas out and she will not type anything until she hears the characters speak to her first. And I’ll say, ‘What are you doing?’ She’s just like, ‘I’m just watching the characters’, ‘Katori there’s no one in the room. The characters are here’.
She’s very intentional with the writing. There’s nothing that feels gimmicky or formulaic in that response, you know, in that regard. It’s a very collaborative experience.
I know you come from a dancing and stage background, like other cast members. What was the sharing of knowledge like behind-the-scenes?
It’s the thing that as I play Uncle Clifford, gives me a little more peace or groundedness because it’s a lot that’s happening, there’s swirls happening, there’s girls swinging, there’s people running around, there’s money falling. There’s a lot that’s happening at the same time. Being a dancer and choreographing and knowing what’s going on in the world and on the stage, it really helps.
Myself and Brandee Evans, who plays Mercedes, we come from a dance background, as well as our core dancers that play Jupiter, Peanut Butter, Extra Extra, Brazil – those women are coming from a true dance background. There’s nothing like, as a dancer, being able to express your story like, I can tell you how I feel without using words.
For me, the dance background helps a lot even when I’m wearing my heels. Just in a scene where there is no dance, so to speak. I feel Uncle Clifford is always dancing when she’s in those heels moving, – ‘How do you make it look so easy?’ It’s like walking on pointed shoes. It’s like doing ballet. It’s a different use of the body to express an idea, and I think that’s a part of what happens in dance culture, in general.
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What is about P-Valley’s depiction of the LGBTQIA+ experience that separates it from other shows, do you think?
I will say that on our show here at P-Valley, the depiction of the LGBTQ+ experience is extremely truthful, because it’s specific to the southern experience, and that is something that you don’t always get to see. It is something that always exists, but there’s not always a light that shines on that community. I also think that the way that our show handles the LGBTQ+ experience, it includes possibility, meaning that it shows you what it is in a true authentic way, but also it presents an option of ‘It could be this’.
What if we as a world could accept people like this? What if we, as a society, could love people this way, and do this thing. So I think that the show doesn’t just bring things up arbitrarily, but I feel very, very happy and grounded in the fact that there is a level of responsibility in there because it deals with a level of hope. Which is what Chucalissa is, it’s Native American Choctaw for hope.
I understand you’re still the choreographer on All American. What can you tell about season 5, now that season 4 has wrapped?
Well, season 4 just wrapped, and season 5, it is coming up. The showrunner, Nkechi Okoro Carroll, would kill me if I did tell you something. But I will tell you that All American Homecoming got renewed for season 2, we got picked up for season 2. And I think Spencer and the crew over there, they’re going to have some new fresh blood coming their way in season 5, I’ll just say that.
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Finally, what do you hope people take away from P-Valley?
I hope that more people get to watch it. I think that the show has had an underground following. It’s definitely a critics darling, but I think there are a lot of people that may not have STARZ, there are a lot of people who may have just dismissed us or think that our network is at a certain level.
I believe that the pedigree of this work is truly, truly of an upper echelon. I hope that more people watch it, because it deserves the audience, and I think that it can help change – and it’s definitely going to make your summer a whole lot better.
P-Valley season 2 premiered Friday, June 3 on STARZPLAY.