Niecy Nash on her new HBO comedy 'Getting On': 'We are not doing 'Scrubs,' okay?'

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Image Credit: Dale Robinette/HBO

Niecy Nash is trying something new. The comedic actress and author is currently starring in HBO’s latest half-hour comedy Getting On, a far cry from her days as the loud-mouthed Raineesha Williams on Reno 911!

From the writers of Big Love, Getting On tells the story behind the doctors and nurses of the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach, California. A remake of the BBC series by the same name, the comedy stars Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, and Nash as three women who spend their days helping the elderly live their day-to-day lives.We caught up with Nash to talk about her latest career choice, and Getting On‘s pilot, which aired Sunday.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to this project? How did you get involved?
NIECY NASH:
I had had a meeting with my agent and I just said, “Why don’t you guys try to think outside the box in auditions for me? I just want to do something different.” My agent called me back and said, “There’s this project, you should go in and read for it. He sent it to me and I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is delicious. You’re right.” And when I went in and read for it, I actually went in and read for the part that Alex Borstein plays, Dawn Forchette. I read for a different part, and I asked them when I was there, could I read for the part of Nurse Didi Ortley. And at first they said no, because in the BBC version, that character is a 60-year-old white woman. But they allowed me. I was very persuasive and they allowed me to read for her. And it has been the biggest blessing, because it has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone in a major way.

It’s such a different role for you.
So different! It’s deliciously different.

So what was your favorite thing about playing Didi? She seems to be the quiet one, and from what I saw, she’s kind of the moral center of the group.
What I love about her is that she’s every woman. I love the fact that you kind of get to discover this world through her eyes. That has made it so interesting to play her. I have had the best time with HBO, not to mention the fact that HBO is extremely thorough. They put us in two weeks worth of boot camp prior to this, where we had to shadow real nurses on their rounds, we had to serve the elderly, we had to visit hospice care, we had a medical technician who we had to take classes with. It was serious.

That must’ve been so interesting.
I was like “Wow. I’m glad they didn’t ask me to have a baby in this series, I would be somewhere pregnant right now.”

There aren’t many, if any, shows about an extended care unit, especially not comedies about it.
No and there’s a lot of comedy in it, I’ll tell you that. But you know what I’m happy about too is it is a place that a lot of Americans have found themselves, whether you’re taking care of a parent or a grandparent, an in-law, an outlaw, it is a very real place that people find themselves in every single day. So I’m happy that we turned the camera around on it, and I couldn’t be co-laboring with better ladies. Laurie Metcalf is brilliant. Alex Borstein can improv at the drop of a dime. It really was a very delicious experience.

How much did improv play a role in this show?
One of the impressions I got initially was that they had not planned on it, and then I showed up. And then Alex showed up. And the next thing you know, we were kind of doing things and it was like, “Hey wait a minute, we like that. Can you keep that in?” And then that kind of turned into where we were allowed to get some takes where we could just play. And Laurie always said, “I don’t improv. I go by the script. I don’t know what to say, so don’t say the wrong thing.” But she met us where we were and it all came together. It’s funny when we watch it because we never know, of the stuff that we throw in, what’s going to make it. Like when I watched last night, that whole bit about all the Jacksons having perfect teeth? That was strictly a make-me-up. And I was so surprised that it was in there.

We have to talk about that translation scene in the pilot. Was that just a field day for you all? Did you lose it?
You know what? We honestly did very good I think at holding it together. It was the crew, the camera men, it was those people who were laughing. We tried to wait until we finished it to laugh, but it’s like, “Okay, can we do it over because the crew was giggling in the background?” But yeah, that was a good time.

You all have filmed all six episodes at this point, correct?
Everything is in the can and now we have our prayers go up and our fingers crossed that it’s well received.

Is there an episode or a Didi moment you’re most excited for fans to see?
That’s a hard question because there are so many little fun moments that I really enjoyed, but in episode 2, I have a very difficult, very difficult patient who is not medicated, who has dementia, she’s a racist, she’s just a very busy, busy woman. And she and I have a lot of interesting scenes together that I really enjoyed filming.

I can’t think of any other comedy that it reminds me of on TV. When you first looked at the script, was there anything that came to mind?
It’s so funny that you say that because I do not. I do not have anything that I think it’s like. Not in America. It’s much like the BBC version, but in our American catalog of TV shows, I can’t call anything that I say it reminds me of. Because not only does it feel fresh, but we’re playing in a world that we haven’t seen yet in a comedy. Not this sort of a comedy. It’s a dark comedy about extended care. We are not doing Scrubs, okay? That’s not the story we’re telling right now. It almost feels like a documentary, and the good thing about the way we filmed it was that the cameras were, a lot of times, far back, so we’re just having a conversation and then you may turn your head to the side and see a camera peeking out from behind from behind the couch and you’re like, “Oh yeah.” It gave you that room to really connect with each other, which is the reason why it seems docu-style.

I love that it’s about three women. There aren’t a ton of comedies centered around women …
Especially not women that look like old hags! Girl, they didn’t let us wear make-up. You can probably find some comedies with some pretty girls in it, but I don’t know what HBO was thinking. They were like take off that makeup. Tie your hair up. I was talking to Alex Borstein and we were talking about the fact that maybe if we make it to the cover of a magazine the title was going to read “These Brave Actresses” because we look so horrible.

As your fans start tuning in, what do you want to say to them?
I just want to say that I’m very happy that HBO saw me in a different light. And I’m so happy to share this new experience with my fans. It’s very different from Reno 911!, very different from what I do on The Soul Man with Cedric the Entertainer, and I think my fans will be excited and pleased. That’s my hope.

Getting On airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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