On her new NBC show The New Normal, NeNe Leakes takes a comedic turn as the loudmouth, shopaholic assistant to co-star Andrew Rannells (who plays Bryan). Uh, sound familiar? The supporting role could soon lead to NeNe hanging up her reality TV Louboutins. Here, the Real Housewives of Atlanta star breaks down her gift for gab, the difficulty shifting from reality TV to Hollywood and why she’s a small-screen anomaly.
VIBE: Everyone knows you as the other loudmouth blonde on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Now you’re doubling up on TV with Glee and The New Normal. How did you get here?
NeNe Leakes: Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, asked me to come on Glee and do a recurring role as Coach Roz. He liked my work and told me he was writing a new show called The New Normal and would I want to play one of the characters. I told him send me the script and I’ll look at it. So he sends me the script. It’s about two gay guys who’re looking to have a surrogate to have their baby. The character I play is Rocky, the assistant to one of the gay guys. I’m a fabulous assistant. I’m very different than I am on Glee.
On Glee I’m in jogging suits and sneakers. On The New Normal, I’m in the latest fashions, in high heels. I wear blinged out watches, I wear nice suits, and I wear all these things because I use my boss’ credit card and he doesn’t know it. I buy myself all this fabulous stuff. There are people that come into our office and they will, what we call, “come for” or get smart with my gay guys and I’m very protective over them. I don’t play that. It’s super funny.
Is your character mostly comic relief?
There’s some seriousness to it as well, but I’m definitely comical. I’m smart mouthed. We’re an odd bunch of people that have come together to do this show. I didn’t know any of the actors before meeting them. I heard about them. I didn’t know anything about Ellen Markin. When I met them all, they had heard of me.
What made you want to do this particular series?
I was really afraid to do it at first, because I really love Glee, and I don’t want to leave Glee in any kind of way. I’m such a huge fan of Coach Roz, but I have to say I love comedy. And a lot of people don’t know, long before I was reality star I was an actress in Hollywood trying to make it. And I could never really get a big part or a role that helped me out in any way. So just to have directors and creators and producers look at me as a serious actress, it’s an honor. Ryan is very sought after in Hollywood and for him to believe in me… He’s very loyal and I’m very loyal to the people that are loyal to me.
Have you been taking any extra acting classes?
I don’t take classes, but I have a private coach I see in L.A. I don’t do classes ’cause I haven’t had the time to really do a group class, but I would love to get into it. My one-on-ones really help me a lot. I see two different coaches because they both give me great insight. One is great at drama, one is great at comedy, and they’ve really helped me out. As far as comedy is concerned, I don’t feel like that’s something that people can teach. I think it’s a gift that I have. I’m not a comedian who’s standing on stage and telling jokes, but my timing with comedy and just being funny is very natural and real.
Did you still find trouble being taken seriously as an actress?
Actually, everybody’s really taking me serious. I haven’t had any negative feedback or anybody treat me any different than any other actor that would come into an audition. I’ve felt really good about it. I’ve heard all sorts of things about actors thinking that reality stars come in and take their jobs, but I’ve gone into auditions where I’ve seen tons and tons of actors auditioning and there’s plenty of roles that I didn’t get. This past pilot season, I went out for several main characters and I didn’t get them. What’s for you is for you. I don’t think anybody can take anything that’s yours.
How’s it been for you trying to separate the reality persona from your Hollywood goals?
I really would love to have my Hollywood stuff going. I’d love to just focus on that. I don’t know if I’m gonna move to L.A. yet. I just come and work and go back. But I’m thinking if things work out, I’m gonna get me a place. I want to make sure The New Normal works. At some point, I don’t want to do reality. At some point, I’m definitely going to leave... I couldn’t be more proud of myself. No other reality star has come from reality and had two TV shows on two major networks. It’s not easy, but people have embraced me.