Who is Nia? What’s your story?
I’m an only child. A first generation American raised by my Trinidadian mum in Brooklyn New York. I’m a theater baby who loves poodles, vintage furniture, Shakespeare, spicy food, classic cinema, and hot cups of chai.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Brooklyn but my heritage is from the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
How did acting start for you?
It started for me when I was 8 years old. My mother enrolled me in musical theater classes at a school called The City Lights Youth Theater. I went every Saturday for musical theater, and every Wednesday for drama until I graduated from High School. I did a countless number of musicals and plays there including ‘Once on this Island’ ‘The Apple Tree’ and ’The Music Man’. It was the most magical of places to me.
What inspires you?
I draw my creative inspiration from the classics; they always stand the test of time and inspire my art even when I’m working on a project as modern and millennially relevant as ‘Dear White People’. Shakespeare, Moliere and Sondheim are all friends in my head. Classic music like Cole Porter, Jazz standards, Bob Marley and Dina Washington speak to my heart.
Do you remember your first audition gig?
My first audition was at City Lights Youth Theater in order to be accepted into the program. My Mum was in the room and I think I sang The Wind Beneath By Wings.
How would you describe your style?
In a perfect world of luxury and all things fabulous, I obsess over brands like Balmain, Gucci, and Rodarte. My everyday brands though are Topshop, Zara and H&M. I also live for the French brand Maje. My trick is to upgrade things a bit by having them tailored. My Mum raised me to believe that nothing is off the rack. So I often have darts sewn on the waist of my jeans and EVERY dress I own is tailored no matter where it’s from. Tailoring is an instant upgrade. It’s my little style secret.
How is it playing the character of Kelsey Phillips in Dear White People (TV Series)?
Playing Kelsey is a dream. There is so much that she has to offer our audience. She's out of touch with the political and racial climate on campus and in our country. She's stunned that racism still exists, and traumatized by the intolerance at Winchester. Her perspective serves as a mirror of sorts to expose the audience to their own ignorance and naiveté in relation to race, politics, sexual identity, and socioeconomics. There are people that believe racism doesn’t exist! Her character gives the viewer an opportunity to see how bizarre that viewpoint is in a humorous way. She makes the pill a little easier to swallow. I’m honored to be the vehicle that brings her to life.
How is it being a part of both the Movie and TV Series of Dear White People?
Being part of both the movie and TV show is a unique and gratifying experience. It has been a gift to see this project blossom and morph into the brilliance that is the TV series. I was elated when I was invited to be part of the Netflix cast. The biggest difference for me personally would simply have to be that I get to play Kelsey; she wasn’t in the movie. Being given the opportunity to play a fully fleshed out role in a greater capacity means so very much to me. It’s an honor to be a part of this groundbreaking project and talented cast. Dear White People is an ode to the culture.
How do you think your character and you, as an actress can help amplify the volume within the dialogues about race, and discrimination in the society?
Dear White People is a perfect platform for me to help evoke change and spark new thought in people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to encounter people and experiences beyond their own backyards. Our show does a great job of hitting every nail on the head. If its prejudice, sexist, racist, marginalized, appropriated, too far right or discriminatory we speak on it! Anything that needs some revolution sprinkled on top, or dollop of resistance on the side is uncovered and tackled in the series. No intolerant stone was left unturned.
What’s the most rewarding part of being an actor for you?
The most rewarding part would is to be able to tell stories that are powerful enough to change the atmosphere of people’s hearts and minds.
Who is your acting icon?
Diahann Carroll! Her style and grace are unrivalled. She’s the first African American woman to win a Tony award for best actress on Broadway, and the first to star in her own weekly primetime television series. She is also a Golden Globe winner and a best actress Oscar nominee. I’m encouraged by the trails she blazed despite the obstacles of prejudice and hurdles of racism she endured in the political wilderness of the 50’s 60’s and 70’s. Her career has spanned 60 years and counting... She’s a classic Lady. My muse.
What’s would you say is the proudest moment of your career so far?
Going to the 2015 Cannes film festival for an amazing short film I was a part of called ‘Lady Like’
What keeps you busy aside from acting?
I am quite passionate about interior design, particularly vintage and antiques. I have a boutique design company called House of Jervier. Its my baby. Introducing people to the luxury of a creative and unique living space sparks my bliss. When your home is layered, curated and clean you have a foundation to living your best life.
Any actor that you want to work with (dead or alive) and why.
It would have to be Ertha Kitt. She was a triple threat with feminist and political savvy and wasn’t afraid to use it.
What do you think sets you apart from the pool of actors and artists around the world?
I’m a young Caribbean American woman of color with very classic sensibilities; that somehow connect well with modern film and television audiences. I also have polarizing niches, comedy and period drama.
Top 3 music in your playlist right now.
1. Fast Whine, Marchal Montano
2. Bodack Yellow, Cardi B
3. He Can Only Hold Her, Amy Winehouse
Any advice you can give to young and aspiring actors out there?
Always take class. Professional athletes train and practice every day. If you plan on being a professional actor so should you.
If you’re going to have your own book, what title would you give it?
House of Jervier
If you had the chance to help a specific cause/charity, what would it be?
The Alzheimer’s Foundation. My beautiful grandmother Phyllis passed away from this awful disease. It was heartbreaking to witness her slowly disappear…