The Quintessential Gentleman continues its digital fashion series, Turned Gentleman, spotlighting the new and next wave of cultural disruptors. This series features the rising talents of today who are impacting the world around us. A Turned Gentleman is confident, distinguished and a rule breaker. We explore their stories through their lenses and learn of the inspirations that have molded them. From their communities and upbringings, they've embraced the culture that influenced their style.
Nicco Annan is an actor that is causing waves in the entertainment industry. In his role as Uncle Clifford on the hit show P-Valley, Annan has pushed boundaries with regard to culture, fashion and gender expression. The Quintessential Gentleman had a chance to speak with Nicco about his career, personal style and the impact he hopes to have on the culture.
How did you get your start in entertainment?
I got started like a lot of artists - in school plays. My mother will tell you that the first play I was in was ‘The Pledge of Allegiance’ for kindergarten, then I played Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 4th grade. I was in dance classes in middle school, which led to improv classes, which transferred into theater. One of my first professional auditions was actually for Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfeiffer.
You were born in Detroit. How would you describe your experience growing up and how would you say that experience impacted you?
I mean listen, Detroit to me is interesting because this world of P-Valley is quite familiar. It feels like parts of Detroit, and like parts of Ghana where my father is from. Growing up in Detroit, I didn’t call it the Midwest, I called it the up south. There was such a special culture, from the hair shows to the clothes. You always knew a Detroit girl from her hair. The brothers always had the medallions and chains, so there was a level of expression that was specific to the 90s and early 2000s era. People may have gotten a little citified, but they never left that country behind.
You have had a lot of interesting roles across your career, but undoubtedly the one you are best known for is Uncle Clifford from P-Valley. What attracted you to that character and what was the process like bringing their unique sense of style to life?
The first time I read about her, Uncle Clifford, I was like ‘who is that.’ I have been blessed to be with this project since 2009 when it was a play called Pussy-Valley, which was the name of a housing project in Memphis. When I first read about Uncle Clifford, I was mesmerized by the description – it talked about eyelashes like butterfly wings and acrylic nails like eagle claws, so those two animals for me were like spirit animals. When I think about the butterflies, I think about transformation, and the eagles I think about protection, but also them teaching their little eaglets to fly, which all helped me bring the character to life.
Did you realize the phenomenon the character and show would become?
I wasn’t surprised because I was just being present. When we did the first fully produced play in 2015, it was in the middle of that production where I was like ‘this is some special stuff.’ We really took the audience into the club, we had live pole dancing and one night we were acting out an outbreak, kind of like murder night from episode eight, and the audience forgot they were watching a play and got up and ran. I realized that there was a hybrid of some things that were familiar to us, but also an elevation of the text. The themes brought up in the storytelling and the styling all have contributed to the show’s success.
We don’t always see a lot of Black men in roles that are not stereotypically “masculine,” and Uncle Clifford is a unique character in a lot of ways. Have you faced any backlash from the Black community because of this?
When we first started doing the play, we would have talkbacks with the audience, and at some of the talkbacks, the way people were responding to her was definitely of its time. Remember in 2015, the use of correct language and pronouns was so new, but I was happy to be a part of that growth. Now, I will honestly tell you, I know that there are people out there that have said derogatory things or expressed views from a limited perspective, but most of the things that I get or have heard have been positive. While Uncle Clifford identifies as she and her, I think there is an equal amount of masculinity and femininity in the character, which is present in all of us. Uncle Clifford is not limited to your identity of her. As a gay man, I get to represent a demographic that does not get this much shine, and to have people reach out to me is great.
Uncle Clifford is also known for her over-the-top fashions; have you been able to infuse your personal style into the costuming?
I am very much a part of it. Our costume designers for the show are so imaginative. I have been blessed to have Black people working with me regarding hair, makeup, and everything and I am connected to people in the culture, so whenever I have a question about a specific look I just ask them “what would you wear in this situation?” When you first see Uncle Clifford in season 1, I did say we should pull back on the wardrobe a bit for that specific introduction to the audience. However, I know Black people know artists like Prince and Parliament, so I didn’t want to go too far over that line at the beginning of the show until the audience got a chance to meet her, and then we could take it further from there.
Fashion and style have become a big part of the entertainment industry. What role, if any, does fashion play in your life and work?
I like to wear some nice threads and to hang some clothes on me as they say, but to be honest I like to be so chill these days, especially since playing Uncle Clifford. You will usually catch me in a hoodie, t-shirt, and a fitted, but I do enjoy dressing up and looking ‘sharp.’ Fashion is an expression of what I am feeling that day. For instance, during the pandemic, I was wearing a lot of “God is Dope” t-shirts because of all the negativity going on in the world. I needed to amplify that message for myself and everyone around me.
What characteristics should all gentlemen possess and what do you think being a gentleman looks like in 2021?
Well, honestly my thoughts go to action. I feel like so many of us have had this time to be still, so we’ve had time to think as a man, and ask ourselves, ‘what do I want to do?’ We’ve now all had enough time to think, and many of us have also learned about self-care, which hopefully causes a level of vulnerability, which does not mean crying all of the time, but more so listening and applying to our lives and what we ultimately want to achieve.
Which three celebrity closets would you like to shop and why?
I would say Idris Elba and I say Idris because he wears a lot of clean, well-tailored suits. Andre Leon Talley because he is a big dude like me, but over the years he has had access to some of the finer couture things they don’t have in Macy’s. And lastly, LaKeith Stanfield because he has been rocking some funky stuff lately, and I like that.
What is the impact you hope to have on the culture, specifically men of color, through your work?
I want people to embrace themselves, and in that space not be fearful of someone that is different than them. My experience as a Black gay man has been amazing. I have had rough times, upsets, and I have been bullied. But I have also had so many blessings, and so much love shown to me, and I recognize that every person on this LGBTQ+ spectrum does not have that, and every Black person does not have that, regardless of economic status. So, I feel like if you can take this story from the show and apply it to your life, it might make it easier for people to love themselves and others.
Creative Director: BYoung Agency
Groomer: Marquis Guthrie