Plus, find out where that fabulous Crown Royal cape came from!
When the second season of Starz's P-Valley premieres, it reintroduces its characters after a rough five months. Not only are the events of the Season 1 finale, "Murda Night," still reverberating in and around The Pynk, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to bring out their best creative selves to survive.
That's especially true for Uncle Clifford, the unofficial mayor of P-Valley, who is dealing with internal conflict now that Autumn (Elarica Johnson) has invested in the club. Then there's the external conflict as a result of the city's changing landscape. According to actor Nicco Annan, these are relatable struggles that mirror the world over the past few years.
"This season you will see the gravity of the real life that these people are living," Annan tells Metacritic. "But I think to the characters, you can be reminded of your resilience, of your compassion for humanity, and also a way out. You can see the way to the other side."
Here, Annan speaks with Metacritic about those relatable storylines in the wake of changing politics and the pandemic, the importance of representation in the queer community, and on auditioning for the TV role of Uncle Clifford after playing her on stage.
Why do you think audiences resonate so strongly with Uncle Clifford?
It's interesting because the character was first formulated back in 2009 with the play. Through the different workshops and iterations of that play, we found more and more complexities of the character, whether that was through wardrobe and costuming ideas, or conversations with the creatives. I definitely would sit and talk with our creator, Katori Hall, who went and did all this research. And in that space, she also was speaking with other non-binary people in real life and queer people. Through those conversations, Uncle Clifford was born. Oftentimes, nonbinary people don't get a voice or a platform for amplification for their stories. One of the beautiful things with P-Valley is we are talking about marginalized communities. And in that space, there's still a lot of people who can be forgotten. I'm just blessed and happy that the nonbinary and the queer space is one that is not forgotten, and it's one that's really delved into with detail and care.
After originating this role with the play, how important was it for you to get it again while auditioning for the show?
I took it as an opportunity for me to show them who this character is. I think of auditions in that way in the first place. I don't think of them as, "Oh, I hope I get the job." I come in and I show you how I work. But when it came down to P-Valley, I said, "Let me show you her skin." Because I knew her. Through the process of those workshops and doing the full production, I had encountered so many misinterpretations of Uncle Clifford. I had encountered people thinking she was a drag queen or thinking it's a campy act. I knew that was not the intention behind creating the character. That's not how I felt when I was playing the character. It was important to me to show the original casting director who this character really is and the depths of it.
If the first season of a show is an introduction to a character, what will audiences learn about Uncle Clifford in Season 2?
It's going to get deeper. All of the characters get deeper because of the storytelling. This season we addresses the pandemic and the COVID of it all. And in that space, we are talking about the strip club, which is a small business built on intimacy and gathering. Well, now you can't get that close. It was interesting to see how the character clicked in to her creativity more, and found ways to keep the club afloat, and to provide for all the friends and family. She goes so much deeper in that internal space [and] as an audience member you are able to relate with her more and understand her more. You will hopefully love her more, because you'll see how she came to be and more of her backstory. It was extremely challenging and fulfilling artistically. There was no room for confusion or misinterpretation of who she is.
Between new ownership and dancers, it also sounds like there might be some conflict for Uncle Clifford this season?
Yes, that is definitely true. You know, opposing forces oftentimes bring out your truth. But I will say this: Uncle Clifford has a rule, No. 88, "That just because a bitch is good at keeping the peace don't mean she ain't good at waging war." So be ready. She is smart and savvy enough to find a way but the journey is definitely a roller coaster that takes her all through a range of emotions.
Does Uncle Clifford have political ambitions? There is a big shift in the first episode back in terms of political leadership in Chucalissa.
The politics in the world of Chucalissa, this fictional place, really mirror the country in a lot of different ways. With the pandemic and Donald Trump, many people really wanted change. The level of activism that happened in the pandemic of it all is echoed in the show and in the political ambitions of multiple people. Uncle Clifford is known as the mayor of P-Valley, and P-Valley is a township within Chucalissa. So, even the former mayor, played by Isaiah Washington, Tydell Ruffin, he was always holding over her head that he was the big cheese and she was a little cheese. People may want Uncle Clifford to be the mayor of Chucalissa and I wonder if she would be open to that. That's a thought that has crossed her mind. But there is the reality or the question of will the politics accept someone like her? Is that a world for a person like her?
One of the beautiful things is that in real life, we have true senators and congress people who are coming out and speaking their truth, walking their truths as either queer, trans, or bi, or gay. That is empowering because we as a community don't only exist for your entertainment. We are real, active members in society. That's one of the empowering things about playing the character is that the community at large acknowledges local culture. Everyone doesn't reach out to her, but they acknowledge that she exists. She is not a phantom thought in this world. That helps in the real world with our LGBTQ+ community on multiple levels.
Haunting is also a predominant theme in Season 2. How does that translate for Uncle Clifford?
Haunting to me can be also be an echo of the word "spirit." And spirit is always with you. The show in general always pays homage to ancestry. That's one of the reasons why you have the character Corbin Kyle (Dan Johnson). He owns that plantation where they were once slaves and they picked cotton. Every time Uncle Clifford goes to the plantation, she dresses up. The true intention behind that fan favorite parasol look in Season 1 was paying homage to going to where my ancestors once lived and worked. The club itself, the Pynk, it used to be a cotton mill. Uncle Clifford's great grandfather owned a cotton mill. And then he passed it down to Ernestine (Loretta Devine), and then Ernestine was going to pass it down but something happens, which we'll find out in Season 2. I feel like that spirit of haunting is something that has always been there and now in Season 2 it is amplified.
And what about the present day, following up on the ramifications of the first-season finale?
It's a lot because everyone in the finale has made a decision that feels like Clifford is haunted by. What happened in the Paradise Room? Will she ever find in love? She's haunted by turning 40 and what does that look like? She's haunted by this pandemic and COVID. And by having to be a caretaker for her grandmother who is elderly, and is predisposed to conditions with diabetes and blindness. There is a lot going on and it's a point of relatability with the audience, because so many of us have gone through things. People have lost parents and not been able to grieve them. There was a time just last year where you couldn't go into the hospital. There was a level of trauma that was attached to that and the fear and haunting of what could be. This season, the characters feel so many things from what they have done, as well as the world that we live in.
Are there any iconic Uncle Clifford outfits or looks you want to call out ahead of the season?
In the first episode of Season 2 there is the Crown Royal cape. Crown Royal is a Canadian whiskey that comes in a purple bag. I think that during the pandemic Uncle Clifford had a couple of drinks — maybe one, two, three too many. Come to find out, Uncle Clifford has had, thus far, 153 bottles of Crown Royal. And so having all of those bags and having time on her hands, with the club closed down, she turns those bags into a piece of wardrobe. It is this fabulous cape that she's made. It's really dope. I really like it. So the wardrobe definitely comes from a place of story. It lends a level of depth as an actor for me. It's not just a big fabulous piece.
P-Valley Season 2 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Starz beginning June 3 and also
Get to know Nicco Annan:
In addition to his stage work, Annan has helmed various TV roles for the past decade. Since 2018 he's appeared on Shameless (66), This Is Us (76), Snowfall (63) and Claws (64).