Having longevity in a business where the new young thing is an ongoing search is a daunting task. Actress Nia Long has done that and then some. Since stepping into the entertainment business some 27 years ago, Nia Long has played some of the most memorable characters in black film, most notably Nina Mosley in every black twentysomething’s favorite romantic comedy “Love Jones.”
Recently, I spoke to the gorgeous actress/director about her new role on the hit Showtime series “House of Lies” and how her character Tamara is the latest in a long line of strong female characters Long has embodied. During the funny and candid conversation, we talked about everything from the biggest lie she’s ever told (despite being a terrible liar) to the correlation between Barack Obama’s election to the resurgence of blacks being praised for playing slaves and maids in film.
TUD: What drew you to the role of Tamara on “House of Lies?”
NL: I am a huge fan of the show. I read the script for the show before it was actually on the air when they were getting ready to shoot the pilot. I just thought it was such a great show. The characters are complex and interesting. And let’s just face it, Don Cheadle. That’s the best way to answer that question. [laughs] I’ve always wanted to work with Don Cheadle. He’s an amazing actor and he proved himself to be an amazing person just by being so helpful and gracious. His attitude, in the way he goes about everything, is to uplift everyone that’s there and make everybody great. That’s refreshing because he’s the star of the show and a producer. So he doesn’t have to do that, but the fact that he does says so much about his character.
Don is such a great actor. I’ve worked with a lot of really talented people and he is one of the best actors that I’ve ever worked with because he finds a way to take a scene that’s good on paper and make it great by doing the total opposite of what you would expect an actor to do when you read the scenes. His choices are just always interesting and not what you expect. He’s really funny and knows how to find the comedy even in the most dramatic moments. It’s fun to watch. There were a couple of times where I would completely forget my lines because I was too busy watching him.
What is it like playing opposite him as his foe?
Our characters have a back story. They went to college and business school together. They sort of have a thing for each other, but I think Marty (Cheadle’s character) was all over the place and Tamara was a bit more conservative and wanted a little bit more stability. So the attraction was always there. They challenged each other back then. Tamara is not as nice as she seems. She has an agenda. She is just as clever as the other complex characters on the show. Hopefully, everyone enjoys watching her because I’ve enjoyed getting to know her over the last few months.
Is there an opportunity for you to come on the show as a series regular after your role is done this season?
I don’t know. I signed on to do eight episodes, which is most of the season. It wasn’t extended into next season. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe if enough people talk about the character the producers will bring me back.
What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told someone?
The biggest lie? I’m gonna have to think about that one. I pride myself on being honest because I’m not a good liar. If you’re gonna lie, you have to be good at it otherwise you get busted. I’m gonna have to think about that one.
Oh, I got one. I went away for a business meeting for a potential investment. When I got there I realized it was so wrong and so not what I wanted to do. I was originally supposed to stay for three days and I told them that my children were sick and had to rush home. They were like, “What! You just got here!” I was like, “I’m so sorry, but my babies are sick and I’ve got to rush home. They’ve got high fevers and I’ve got to go.” I hate to put my children in that, but boy oh boy, they can be the best excuse to get out of something.
Exactly. When you’re a kid, you blame everything on your parents and when you’re a parent, you blame everything on the kids. [laughs]
Absolutely! I blame everything on them. [laughs] I will tell you though, 95% of what I blame on them is actually real. I’m nonstop with these two. My big guy is twelve and my little guy is fourteen months so their needs are very different. So I’m constantly trying to balance between the two. I’m always making sure everyone has what they need and it’s not easy, but at the end of the day, when I walk out the door, I can honestly focus on what I’m doing because I know that I’ve done what I’m supposed to do for my babies.