From the interview archives.
He’s relatively new to the scene but you wouldn’t know it by watching him perform. Actor Nicholas Ashe stars as Micah in Queen Sugar which has been renewed for a third season on OWN, and we caught up with him to chat about the cultural issues the show sheds light on and what it’s like to work on a series with a team of directors comprised entirely of women.
How did it feel to learn that Queen Sugar was renewed for a third season? Given how well received it’s been, was there ever any doubt?
Validating. It proved that there is an audience seeking honest, patient portrayals of what it means to be African American in 2017. And of course; there’s always doubt when you’re making art. Some of the best shows don’t always get renewed, so our team is grateful to come back next year.
Does it surprise you that in 2017 issues of race and cultural representation are still such a hot issue?
Does it surprise me? No. Does it disappoint me? Yes. I think Will Smith said in an interview that “racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
What do you think we as a society could be doing better to be inclusive and help lift each other up?
What’s disheartening is that having rational, historic information is not enough to combat ignorance at large. I think there is huge power in advocating for people who look and love like you— especially if those people are not in a position to use their own voices. What’s great is you don’t need to be a politician or college-educated or rich to feel your voice is merited. You could take a stand (or a knee) for what is right in your very own community. At your school. At work. At a football game.
What is one thing you have learned while working on the show that you believe will always stick with you?
To lead with intention. Oprah, (I love that I can casually reference Oprah), Oprah told a story about how she decided to start asking guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show what their intention was in being on the show. I believe she was looking to make sure their intention matched hers. When she did this, she found her work to be more transformative and impactful. Actually, that was the first season she won the Emmy for!
What would you like to say to those who are actively combatting and raising awareness to these issues in their communities today?
Thank you. It seems relentless, but I am certain there is light at the end of the tunnel.
What’s difficult about the current administration is that it makes you want to turn the TV off, pull out your laptop and watch something on Netflix instead… but we can’t afford to become indifferent to the news because there is so much power in just staying updated with what’s happening.
I know you come from quite a large family. When you were younger, were you the sibling that was always trying to get attention from everyone, or were you more reserved?
There’s nine of us: Nikeya, Jason, Lauren, Stephen, Brittany, Justin, Trentin, and Leah. I’d say that I’ve always been the normal one, but then I’d have eight people disagreeing with me.
How do you think coming from such a large family has benefitted you?
Well, in the same way that children without siblings can be selfish, having a bunch of siblings has the opposite effect. You have to share. You have to wait your turn. You have to be accountable.
What was your family’s response when you were cast in the show? Do they all watch?
It’s funny, when I landed the role in 2016, no one knew what Queen Sugar was because we hadn’t created it yet. Once we aired later that year, it was very special— not just for my family to see my face on TV, but that the show reflected so many different parts of the family and community I come from. They all watch. They’re super proud.
The show has employed almost exclusively women directors. How do you think this helps shape the series and do you believe that employing more women behind the scenes will encourage diversity in film?
Not almost exclusively women directors, exclusively! This informs Queen Sugar’s sensitivity. Queen Sugar looks on every character with heavy compassion. Not that men aren’t capable of compassion, but we will never fully understand what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a sister… These directors have not emasculated the men in turn, but have encouraged and challenged our understanding.
And, yes. Diversity begets further diversity. That’s why representation is so important. If we continue using Ava’s initiative with other poorly-represented demographics, more television/movie sets could actually reflect the world we live in. And the stories told on those sets could too.
What is the biggest way Micah has grown since we first met him and what part of him do you hope really resonates with viewers going forward?
In Season Two, Micah’s encounter with a police officer recalibrates his understanding of the world he lives in. From that experience, he chooses to use his resources in a more responsible, political way. The term is overused, but Micah has definitely become “woke”. I hope Micah coming to terms with the leader he wants to be inspires other millennials to better understand their history before they begin to navigate their futures. It’s so important.
Micah, of course, is younger in the series than you are yourself. If you had to go back, what advice would you give your younger self, or what is one thing you might want to do differently?
It’s so funny that as I get older, all of those cliché, motivational quotes actually begin to mean something. Be yourself. Live, laugh, love. Everything happens for a reason. When life gives you lemons make lemonade. YOLO. Like, when you unpack those… when you apply those… your life really does start to change for the better.
What kind of roles do you have your sights on going forward? Is there something you are really eager to try that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
I want to do everything. I’m really not afraid. I want to do drag. I want to do a sex scene. I want to lose twenty pounds for a role; I want to gain a hundred pounds for a role. I want to do Shakespeare and sign language and sing!
If you could portray anyone in a biopic, whose story are your most interested in telling?
Biopics are tricky because everyone just gets on Twitter and talks about everything you did wrong. Maybe I’ll make a Prince cameo in some biopic about the 80’s. That’d be cool.
What is one hobby or interest you have that might surprise your fans?
I probably know 91% of the words to every musical ever. Try me!