She’s ‘Black, fabulous and on TV.’ Niecy Nash-Betts is living her full self

Niecy Nash
Niecy Nash.
(Erik Carter / For The Times)

The last time Niecy Nash-Betts and I spoke, she was just Niecy Nash, and sitting here with her in a corner booth on the covered patio at Porta Via in Calabasas — her favorite spot, her favorite table — I’m wondering if she’s using her hyphenated name professionally, the one she took when she married singer-actor Jessica Betts in 2020.

“Like ... when they announce ...” I stop myself. We’re having lunch the week before Emmy nominations and I don’t finish the thought, knowing actors can be superstitious about putting something out into the world before it happens.

Nash-Betts fixes me with a stare. “No. Say what you were about to say.” So I say it, asking if, should they announce her as an Emmy nominee for her moving portrayal of Glenda Cleveland on the Netflix limited series “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” if it’d be Niecy Nash or Niecy Nash-Betts.


“My prayer is that they say Niecy Nash-Betts,” she replies. (They did.)

She isn’t finished. She’s never finished.

“How can someone who spoke her whole life and had it manifest be superstitious?” Nash-Betts, 53, continues. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to jinx it.’ If you are a person who goes by the Bible, it says, ‘God says it.’ It doesn’t say ‘He hoped’ or ‘He imagined’ or ‘He dreamed.’ He said it. And that’s what I’m gonna say. And that’s that.”

For actors Riley Keough, Emily Blunt, Kathryn Hahn, Niecy Nash-Betts, Murray Bartlett and Paul Walter Hauser, learning new skills come with the job.

June 15, 2023

Nash-Betts and I have been spending time talking about living in gratitude. When she was 5, she saw Lola Falana on TV and started wearing fancy dresses, Mickey Mouse sunglasses and scarves because that’s what ladies do. That’s what Lola Falana does. Nash-Betts’ family thought she was a bit ... touched ... for good and for bad because she would no longer answer to her name. Only to Lola. She believed her destiny was stamped on the canvas of her imagination and told her grandmother as much.

“I want to be Black, fabulous and on TV,” she said. “The Black part I couldn’t do anything about. But the fabulous and the being on TV ... I got to work on that.”

You probably know how that turned out — plum roles on TV series that showcased her comedic talent (“Reno 911,” “The Soul Man,” “Getting On”) and, over time, opportunities to prove her worth as a dramatic actor in shows like “Claws” and projects with filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “When They See Us”).

“I’m blessed beyond measure, you know what I mean?” Nash-Betts says. “Which is not to say that I have not had a life that has been filled with a lot of pain. That is true too. But it still does not take away from the fact that in the moment, it is so charming. It is so divine. And the cherry on top is that I get to share my success with someone I love.”

She’s giving off strong still-in-the-honeymoon vibes. I ask how long it was between her second and third marriages. Nash-Betts laughs. “Five minutes.” Five minutes?

“Let me tell you why,” she says, leaning in. “The reason why is they don’t let me stay single. Let me tell you something: I’m a hot ticket. If I want to be with you, I’m going to make your experience feel custom and not off-the-rack. A lot of people show up and say, ‘This is just how I am.’ No. I’m going to show up and make sure I provide the proper provision for the patient. What do you require? What do you need? And once people know that you regard them that way, they’re swirly-eyed, they don’t want to let you out of their clutches and they always want to marry you. What can I say?”


She doesn’t have to say anything. She’s convincing. So convincing that, without knowing all the facts, I feel sorry for her first two husbands. How did they let her leave?

“You mean, why didn’t they do more to keep me?” Nash-Betts answers. I apologize. Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. “Well, you know what they say. When a woman is finished with you, by the time you find out about it, she was gone months ago.”

Niecy Nash-Betts wears large eyeglasses and has her hair pulled back for "Dahmer -- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story."
Those who have watched “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” want to talk with Niecy Nash-Betts about one scene and pretty much one scene only, what she calls the “sandwich thing.”

I’m beginning to understand why Oprah recently asked her to write a book on relationships and love. She met Betts, a.k.a. Nash-Betts’ “better half,” a.k.a. her “hersband,” years ago. They were friends — until they weren’t.

“I had never been friends with anyone” before starting a relationship, she tells me. “I always started,” Nash-Betts lowers her voice to a sultry tone, “‘Hello, stranger.’ And I’d give them the eyes and bat my eyelashes. I never was friends with anyone. I was like, ‘I have friends. I need a lover.’ This time was different. It’s so different and good and special.”

And unexpected, I imagine?

“I surprised a lot of people,” she says, laughing. “Surprised myself. You could have bought me with a penny and got change back if you had told me I was gonna be married to a woman. I never saw it coming. But I am open to love. Period. I just didn’t know it was gonna come like that. But I’m proud that I didn’t limit myself. I was just like, ‘This is the person and I’m gonna go for it and I don’t care what anybody thinks.’”


I had read that there were people — because there are always people — who advised Nash-Betts against the marriage, telling her that it would damage her professionally. Which makes it all the more delicious that she’s thriving professionally, working more than ever and just earned the best reviews of her career for her portrayal of Cleveland, the woman who alerted police about her neighbor, Jeffrey Dahmer. (Her repeated calls to authorities about Dahmer’s suspicious activities went unheeded.)

Those who have watched “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” want to talk with Nash-Betts about one scene and pretty much one scene only, what she calls the “sandwich thing.” It’s in the seventh episode when Dahmer (played by Evan Peters) pays Cleveland a visit after the apartment building’s manager has evicted him based on Cleveland’s concerns. Dahmer brings along a gift, a plate wrapped in tin foil that contains a sandwich — white bread, the meat of uncertain origin. (“I used to be a butcher. I made it just for you.”)

“Everyone wants to tell me what they would have done in that situation,” Nash-Betts says. “I wanted Dahmer to believe that I was unafraid, but I wanted the audience to know that I was in fear for my life. I needed the audience to get both, but Dahmer to get just the one thing.”

The acclaim she won for her work in “Dahmer,” along with a lead role in the ABC crime drama “The Rookie: Feds” as well as hosting Fox’s game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” and voice work on animated series “Agent Elvis” and “Human Resources” and a key part in DuVernay’s next movie, “Origin,” would seem to suggest that those people telling Nash-Betts that her marriage would hurt her career got it backward.

“Say it louder for the people in the back,” she says, when I point this out.

“It is not lost on me that being in the best relationship I’ve ever been in in my life comes with a side order of the best moment in my career,” Nash-Betts continues. “When you are loved properly, you can show up in the world as your full self. You show up appreciated. You show up not wanting anything. You don’t need affirmation. You are feeling your full self.”

“She’s unlike anyone else I know in the most beautiful way,” observes DuVernay, who counts Nash-Betts as not only a collaborator, but one of her closest friends. “She’s a very consistent person. What you see is what you get. Nothing is an act. She is herself and herself is made up of a lot of things, a lot of really rare things and she brings all of that to the screen. That’s why she connects. People can sense that there’s something real there.”

Niecy Nash
Niecy Nash.
(Erik Carter / For The Times)

Nash-Betts grew up in the church, though she was the only member of her house to go. She sang in the adult choir at Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Compton, not because she was a prodigy but for the simple fact that she couldn’t get a ride with her neighbor when the youth choir was singing. Noticing a glittering cross necklace she’s wearing with her burgundy jumpsuit and Goorin Bros. fedora, I ask if she’s still a churchgoer.

“I live in a space now where it’s more about the spirit and your relationship with a higher power, whomever he or she may be in your life,” Nash-Betts says, noting that the necklace was a gift from Betts, the daughter of a pastor.

“We know ‘the word’ — and I’m pulling these air quotes from heaven — but it’s interesting because being in a same-sex marriage, what I can tell you for sure is that there’s no hate like Christian love,” Nash-Betts says. “People will come to your page and damn you to hell but never invite you to church. People will say you are not living right and that you’re an abomination but will never say you a Scripture or pray for you. And if that’s what you stand on, I don’t want no part of it.”

I tell her that I’ve never understood people who take the time to write hateful comments on social media.

“But you know what that means?” Nash-Betts says. “You’re not happy. Because if you were happy, if you were somewhere skinny-dipping and drinking Champagne, you wouldn’t have time to be on my page telling me what I’m not. In my mind, I’m already on my way back home right now, taking off my jumpsuit to see if the pool is still warm.”


Nash-Betts lets out a boisterous laugh, the effervescence that DuVernay says is a “massive blessing” to anyone who knows her, a joy that comes from loving life and a genuine desire to live in gratitude. She’s happy. And she wants everyone else to be happy. She looks around the restaurant, pointing out couples, some of whom are probably friends, some of whom are probably related, some of whom might be romantically involved. Who knows which box they check, she asks. Who cares?

“I don’t have to like your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your comings, your goings. You happy, baby? Salud! That’s the point,” she says. “Because nobody has come back from the other side to tell us nothing. You only got this go-around. And if you live your life in service to other people and what they think, you’re wasting precious time.”

Leaving the restaurant takes a bit of time, as well-wishers (is that Elizabeth Berkley ... yes it is!) greet Nash-Betts, basking in her energy and enthusiasm. After we part, I’m standing by my car, checking messages, when she drives past in her gold convertible sedan, honking her horn and telling me to have a blessed day. Who am I to refuse?