CS Interview: Brandee Evans on exciting & therapeutic P-Valley
Ahead of the masterful series debut on Starz this Sunday, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with star Brandee Evans (The Bobby Brown Story) to discuss her work in the upcoming drama P-Valley and discuss her “exciting” and “therapeutic” role as OG dancer Mercedes.
In looking back at her introduction to the series, Evans found her biggest draw to wanting to star in the project as “the script itself,” especially the dialogue, as it took her back to her Memphis, Tennessee roots and being able to speak in her own language or “slanguage,” as showrunner and creator Katori Hall likes to call it.
“That felt really good to me to just be home,” Evans described. “And the storyline was more than just being on the pole, I think a lot of people have been saying that as well, ‘What makes this show different? Is it another show about strippers?’ It is not just another show about strippers and that’s what brought me into it, because had it been just another remake of what we’ve already seen, I would not have been interested in it.”
When introduced in the pilot episode, Mercedes is treated like royalty by her fellow dancers, manager Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) and her clients, but is getting ready to move on to what she feels is a brighter future, planning her final dance at the club while also struggling with her relationship with her mom. Evans laughs thinking about what’s to come for Mercedes, joking that both her and her character are “gonna need some strong therapy after episode eight, let me tell you.”
“It was a rollercoaster ride, Mercedes has so many layers and so many things going on to her, she’s very similar to me as well,” Evans explained. “Shooting this season has been therapeutic for me, if I’m being honest, you’ve got the similarities with Mercedes and being a PK, preacher’s kid, I’m a preacher’s kid. You’ve got her coaching her dance teams, I’ve done that my entire life. You’ve got this toxic relationship with her mom, I had a toxic relationship with my mom growing up and now I’m my mother’s caregiver, so even that in itself is a lot. And then you’ve got her being this OG and putting up this façade, as episode one says, ‘Perpetrate like everything’s okay when it’s not.’ I think I perpetrate a lot too like it’s okay and here I am caring for a terminally ill mom, and it’s not okay sometimes, so I think this was therapeutic and it is a good arc and a rollercoaster ride that I feel a lot of people will be able to relate to.
They may not be in the club, but there are so many women in America who can relate to issues with their mom, there’s so many other things that women can relate to that are coming up that I can’t tell you about because it’ll ruin the series. By the time you get to that part of the arc of Mercedes, you’re going to have a lot of women going, ‘Wow, I’m in that situation too and I’m not even in a strip club,’ so I’m just very excited about the different layers and different ways that Mercedes can reach people in the world.”
Though she felt this strong connection and relation to her character, Evans still found she needed to delve into extra research for the role, going to strip clubs all over Memphis, “every club I could find” and even receiving training from a world-renowned stripper on how to authentically portray the role, showing her the ropes in a much similar fashion as Mercedes does for Autumn Knight in the series’ pilot.
“She taught me all these crazy tricks, she taught me as she would teach a stripper, not an actor, she would just do it and go, ‘Pay attention, pay attention, if you don’t lock your legs, you’re going to fall,'” Evans recalled. “Of course Starz is trying to make sure that I’m safe and I come from the dancing world and at University of Memphis, we try anything, so I’m like, ‘Okay I can do it’ and they’re like, ‘No Brandee, we don’t want you to do that one.’ Some of those tricks in episode one I wasn’t supposed to do, but I did them anyway and that’s that competition world I still have in me just like Mercedes. I would look at the cameraman and go, ‘Okay when you say action, I’m going right to the ceiling,’ and he would go, ‘What?’ and I’m like, ‘Just follow me!’ So it was fun, lots of hard work, but I would not trade it for the world.
Being the OG in the club comes with a lot, she has to be the strongest on the pole as well, so that brought in all of my training because I do about 98 percent of my stunts. It wasn’t just focusing on acting, it was focusing on acting and focusing on stunts and making it authentic to what these ladies do. The worst that could happen is for someone to see a TV show or movie and you’re being portrayed in it or whatever your skill or craft is and it’s wrong and I feel like we got it right. I want you to see the pole burn, the bruises that these ladies go through because they’re athletes. They go through a lot, so that aspect of it was difficult, trying to do the training and acting. But the emotions you go from hitting the pole dancing to crying outside in the cold, it’s just a rollercoaster ride.”
Given her background in the world of dancing, Evans found many of her fondest memories from the set of the series were being able to dive back into that world of high-octane performances, taking her back to her days as a dancer for a number of high-profile musicians.
“I was a dancer and a choreographer for artists, so of course I’ve been on these stages with Katy Perry, Monica, Snoop Dogg, all over the world and that strive and that rush when you hit the stage, there’s nothing like it, so that was beautiful to be able to get that rush again,” Evans warmly described. “Even though I knew I had these pole tricks, it was just like doing aerial with Katy Perry in the ’02 arena and you’ve got thousands of people and you’re like ‘Oh my god, I’m about to go up into the ceiling.’ I just got to fly again and I was performing again and that rush, I would give anything to be able to go right now and do Mercedes’ last dance again or Mercedes’ Sunday routine again, I love that, because it’s just a beautiful moment.”
When it came to meeting her cast and building up a rapport with them to bring to the screen, Evans revealed her and her co-stars all somewhat met each other long before they even hit the set, finding each other on various social media and getting to know one another after hearing about the various casting announcements.
“We’re really friends,” Evans said excitedly. “We sought each other before we even got the show, before we even got it we found each other on Instagram and we had heard so and so got the part of Uncle Clifford, so and so got the part of Mississippi, so we had kind of found each other with Instagram and went to our dms and then to WhatsApp, because Elarica is from London. So we’re all in WhatsApp getting to know each other and by the time we met for the pilot, we kind of felt like we knew each other and it just continued to grow from there. I think I talk to Nicco every single day, like literally texted him this morning when I woke up, we’re gonna talk every day. Alphonse, Lil Murda, moved to LA, so we were able to socially distance see each other and we’re all really, really friends and I’m so glad about that. I come from a sorority life, I’m a member of Delta Sigma Theta, so I’m used to being friends and I know a lot of people a lot of times in the industry it’s just work and keep it pushing, but on P-Valley we actually like each other and I love it, it’s fun.”
This real-life friendship from the cast helped carry over to their performances and scenes with one another, with the group improvising with one another and pushing their scene partners to pick up on little cues and run with them for some memorable moments.
“There are so many moments where it’s just like, ‘I’m going to do something crazy because I know Nicco is going to catch it,’ or he’s like, ‘I’m going to do something to her and she’s going to catch it and ride with it,’” Evans explained. “That’s really how it was, we would shock each other every day with different things. I think that that’s something that usually happens once you get a couple seasons in, but by the time we got to episode three, you’re going to really see how we really meshed in. Every take was something different, you know, ‘Nicco gonna click-clack his heels’ or he’s going to do something where you almost can’t break character because it’s like, ‘Oh my god, he is crazy.’ But it’s so much fun and makes it worth it.”
Being from the Memphis area and with the show set primarily in the southern region of Tennessee, Evans found working on the show “felt so much like home” and that Mercedes’ house itself took her back to “walking down the street where I grew up.”
“It is so authentic when I watch the show that I texted Katori and said, ‘Did y’all do some B-roll in Memphis, Tennessee? Because this looks like going to grandma’s house, that looks like going to my friend Janine’s house,’” Evans laughed. “It’s just really authentic to the world, so it helped me tap in more and that’s a testament to Jeffrey, our production designer because he made everything so perfect. If you pay attention closely and look at Mercedes’ house, those are really my baby pictures, my mom’s in there, my grandma, every picture they made sure was my friends. All of those things are so detail-oriented that you’re able to do your job perfectly.”
Though having starred on various series around different networks over the past decade, P-Valley marks Evans’ first starring role in a series and in looking at getting to work with the premium cabler Starz, the actress calls the Lionsgate-owned network “a star” and finds “they are still shocking me every step of the way.”
“Other networks have been amazing, BET gave me my first experience on TV and I’m very grateful to them,” Evans brightly noted. “I think that Starz has a very large platform and it’s just been amazing learning and watching these huge networks such as Starz show me the way to be that lead and to be able to hold a series this big. I’ve never seen myself on a billboard before, I never thought I would, we dream it, but I never thought that would really come true. So to see what they’re doing, all of the press for the show and having our back in support, it’s amazing, I’m so grateful.”
Created by Katori Hall, the series is set down deep in the Mississippi Delta, where lies an oasis of grit and glitter in a rough patch of human existence where beauty can be hard to find. This Southern-fried, hour-long drama tells the kaleidoscopic story of a “little strip club that could” and the big characters who come through its doors — the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned. Trap music meets film noir in this lyrical and atmospheric series that dares to ask what happens when small-town folk dream beyond the boundaries of the Piggly Wiggly and the pawnshop.
Alongside Evans, the cast for the series includes Nicco Annan (Claws), Shannon Thornton (Power), Elarica Johnson (A Discovery of Witches), J. Alphonse Nicholson (Just Mercy), Parker Sawyers (Southside with You), Brandon Gilpin (High Maintenance) and Morocco Omari (21 Bridges).
P-Valley is set to premiere on Starz on Sunday, July 12!