Exclusive: Hollywood actress Niecy Nash talks about her character in the new Lifetime Channel movie.
Rhea Srivastava -
Actress Niecy Nash may be known for her comic timing, but lately has been seen doing some impactful dramatic work in shows like TNT’s Claws and Netflix’s When They See Us (based on the real-life Central Park jogger case). Now, she is starring in ‘Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story.’
Produced by Lifetime, Stolen by My Mother is an original film based on the 1998 abduction of Baby Kamiyah from a Jacksonville Hospital. Nash plays Gloria Williams, the convicted kidnapper who pretended to be Kamiyah’s (known as Alexis) real mother till she was discovered 16 years after the abduction. The movie also stars Rayven Symone Ferrell as Kamiyah Mobley and Ta’Rhonda Jones as Shanara Mobley, her biological mother.
In an exclusive live interview with The Wrap on Youtube, Niecy shared her feelings about playing such a character, and the kind of research that went into playing a real convicted criminal. Like many of us, Niecy was aware of the case as it was being investigated and tried. “I had seen some docu-style coverage on the case so I was a little familiar but unpacking the character was a completely different thing,” she said. In her research, Niecy didn’t get the chance to meet the real Gloria (who happens to be completing her sentence at the moment) but the real-life Kamiyah has been on set. Additionally, she went over all the court transcripts and video footage of the same prior to filming.
On January 13, 2017, Kamiyah Mobley was discovered in South Carolina when she pressed to know why she couldn’t apply for a Social Security Card to apply for a job. Williams was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2018, one year for each year the family suffered not knowing if Kamiyah was dead or alive. “I lead into her mindset as much,” she said. “Gloria was a little more composed when she was arrested because she had been preparing for this day for 18 years.”
The film may seem like a true crime drama, but there is plenty of drama and emotion as it’s a mother-daughter story at its core. But knowing that a wrong-doing has been done, it becomes a bit difficult to balance the role in the way that it becomes empathetic for the audience. In one scene, Gloria pulls out a news clipping of the crime to show to Alexis, seemingly carrying it in her wallet all this time. “Her singular focus this whole time is loving this baby, providing a
beautiful life for her, not wanting her to need anything. But at the same time, knowing that one day, it’s all going to fall apart. She can’t keep the baby forever. I tried to find a thread between myself and her to make it feel real. My opinion of Gloria is based on the decisions that she has made from the pain inside of her.” Gloria was in an abusive relationship, had suffered a miscarriage, and lost two sons in a custody battle before she picked up Baby Kamiyah. “I think we have all been in a place where we could look back on something we did and say ‘maybe that wasn't the best decision and I made it because I was feeling this and or that.’ I believe part of the reason that she did so much in her church and community was to right her wrong and compensate for this injustice. I'm sure she regretted later but I would think in a way - how do you regret a decision that that gives you this girl? Even though you know it's wrong, the emotional connection between her and the daughter she knew as Alexis, is so strong that perhaps those years seem enough. Having said that, ultimately there are no winners in this story because you have the lives of three women who were devastated by this one act.” Nash claims that the biggest challenge in the process was playing someone who is still present because the onus to get the constantly changing perspective on her right is on her. The film is told from the point of view of Gloria and Alexis.
Since the film’s announcement, the real Mobley family has made their displeasure regarding it known. Nash feels that this story has many visions, and each person attached to it in reality is protecting that vision because it’s too painful. So, criticism from the families is natural. And Nash understands that instinct. Over the course of shooting, she developed a natural bond with her co-star Raven (who played her daughter) and would constantly protect her and pretend to be her real mother. “Off-camera... you have to develop a connective tissue. So I did the ‘what are you eating? Who was that on the phone? Is that your boyfriend? What is he saying? Why are you wearing those jeans? Why do you have lipstick on? Routine. We began a relationship that they transferred to the lens.”
Nash is a great comedienne but drama is also a passion for her. “I entered into the business in comedy so people were like, ‘oh she's a comedian... we get it, we know what you do.’ And I always wanted to do drama or very dark comedy. HBO opened up this whole new way and after Ava (DuVernay), I got many more dramas. Now I've tasted a little bit on both sides and I'm a happy girl.” But Nash still finds drama easier than comedy in spite of the late transition. “There isn't anyone in the world who can teach you how to be funny. Either you are born with it or you're not. I think you can take a class on how to cry, but people who can make you laugh can make you cry and it is not true in reverse.” Nash has gotten into trouble in her childhood for playing pranks and talking too much. She knew she wanted to be in comedy since the time she was able to make everyone around her laugh. She loves working in general but if she had to pick one genre between comedy and drama, it would be the former - her first and only true love.
Nash’s next few projects include yet another drama though, but everything else is dependent on scripts. ‘When They See Us’ has been appreciated for its hard-hitting realism but the cases of police brutality against minorities in America is also a bitter truth. She is hopeful and optimistic about the future, that it will get better. “We are collectively putting pressure on policymakers to bring justice and I think that's what this moment in time is all about.” Many people feel that popular culture and media plays a huge role (especially these days) in propelling change. “I think that we shine the light on things and you are forced to sit up and pay attention. Even the story of the ‘exonerate five’ was brought forth in a way to make people take attention. I hope people were educated.”
Lifetime Channel has made a series of films on the African-American experience, Stolen by My Mother being one title in the line-up. “I think it is beautiful, I think it's timely, and I think it's necessary. But I also think the world is bigger than just black and white women. It is a step in the right direction but I feel all stories need to be told.
Niecy has also worked behind the camera, directing an episode of Claws. But there aren’t any proper plans to do it again. But she does see a silver lining in the lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Being home under quarantine has allowed us to slow down a bit. Most people can find things that they hadn't found before. We can now have a fuller audience for our work.” Even Nash never had time to catch up on her favourite shows but she seems to be making that effort now.
In the future, Nash wants to play iconic characters like Donna Summer. “There is such magic when you unpack stories that are based around real people. Donna has had such an interesting life.” She also listed a few other inspirational actors from the industry like Lola Falana and Reese Witherspoon. “I’m on Mrs. America on FX/Hulu and I work with Margo Martindale and Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks and Cate Blanchett. They are all inspirations too.” Niecy is also open to producing projects for other actors where she wouldn’t be acting herself. She sees herself as a proper creative producer. Her company is called Chocolate Chip.
Meanwhile, she is enjoying the work she is doing and the characters she is playing as it feels like a new challenge every day. “I like to create story and character threads between myself and my character to make the performance look as grounded as possible.”
Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story is available to watch on Lifetime as part of their ‘Ripped From the Headlines’ series.