You smell Nico Annan’s presence immediately when he enters a room. Between his 6-foot-2 height, vibrant modes, and melodic baritone, his energy dominates. But not so dominant that it engulfs. Instead, her energy is as warm and generous as it is regal and captivating. Similar to Uncle Clifford, the beloved stay-at-home mom he plays in “P-Valley,” Annan feels right at home.
It is not a surprise. For two seasons, the Detroit-born actor invited viewers to The Pynk, a legacy stripper from the fictional Chucalissa, Mississippi, where you can get a lap dance, extra wet lemon pepper wings and a brush with Plunge seduction – but only if you follow Cliff’s rules. With its flashy modes, unique prowess, country twang, and granny phrases that make you laugh and think at the same time, it’s hard not to feel Uncle Clifford. Really feel his. And you’d be hard-pressed to find another character like her in TV history.
Annan, 33, has been playing the non-binary HBIC for about a decade, ever since he was cast in Katori Hall’s “Pussy Valley,” the piece from which the TV show was created. The play was only performed in Minneapolis.
The actor, who worked closely with Hall to model Uncle Clifford, knows that this character represents the intersection of the real life experiences of so many people. Annan breathed life into Cliff. That’s why the breakout character was able to keep viewers thrilled in all its glory.
Season 2 shows Uncle Clifford at risk of losing The Pynk, yet again, while navigating the weight of a world plagued by COVID-19. She cares for everyone — her grandmother, her dancers, her club’s legacy — but has neglected to care for her heart as she battles the honest, raw love she shares with a rapper local who is half his age, Lil Murda. Her story speaks of vulnerability, trials, triumphs and community care. Her story is about learning to choose love, despite what the world thinks a non-binary black person should go through. She represents humanity.
The key ingredient for Annan to harness the power of Uncle Clifford? “Intimacy,” Annan said.
When Annan auditioned in 2009, Hall invited him to read for the role of Uncle Clifford in his flat. She was originally only in one of two scenes in the five-page script. The depiction of Uncle Clifford – in combination with the dialogue between dancers Mercedes, Mississippi and Gidget – energized him.
“It was literally the thing that kind of woke me up,” Annan said in reference to Uncle Clifford. “Who is this character? Because normally when you read a character’s breakdown, it said, “Black, man.” Or he’ll say, ’30 years old, man.’ Or “Black, gay, flamboyant”. And he didn’t say that.
He recalled one of the highest marks he ever received from Hall portraying Cliff. “Dare to bore me,” she told Annan. This allowed him to “breathe and just be”.
“I think Katori created the character to be everything,” Annan said. “It resonates with me when tall or full women and full men who are straight, who are gay, who are non-binary, and everyone identifies with her in some way This is a gag for me, for real. I’m like, oh, that’s why the SlimFast didn’t work for you when you were a kid. That’s why it took me a while to be comfortable in my body and being able to walk in this light, stand in this sun; it’s an honor.”
The world Annan grew up in didn’t want him or other young black gay men in the Midwest to see characters like Uncle Clifford on screen. He knew he wanted more out of life than to be the heir to his family car wash. He was teased for having dark skin and Ghanaian roots and being heavy.
“Growing up, I didn’t see myself, but I knew there was something else about me as an actor, as a person,” he said. “I feel like I got through this fire because I was given a testimony. That’s really how I feel because there are people who look like me, people who come from the Midwest , there are people across this whole LGBTQ+ spectrum who haven’t had a level of visibility.
He first visited Ghana, his father’s home country, when he was 10 years old. He was hesitant to take the long plane ride, especially after a classmate told him he would sleep with animals. But that trip to Ghana helped shed light on some things about Annan that the United States wanted to hide from him. This trip helped him embrace his dark skin, plump lips and gap between his front teeth – “With me, having a gap is distinguished. It means that God has smiled on you.
He sat on the chief’s throne on a floor of pure gold. It was a gradual process, but Annan, whose first name translates to “firstborn son of a prince”, began to come into his own.
“Having that kind of experience as a kid, even being teased and all that before, it changed for me. I was like, ‘Oh, you’re worth something. And not everyone knows. Everyone everyone just doesn’t know.
As Annan’s dance and choreography career merged with an interest in acting, he encountered agents, executives, and others along the way who failed to recognize his true worth. They told him he had to lose weight to be successful on TV. But with nods from legends like poet Maya Angelou and dancer George Faison, Annan knew he was destined for more.
That’s why his slow rise to success as Uncle Clifford means so much to him. Through this, he was able to create a framework that made his television dreams come true. It also led to roles in “This Is Us” and “All American,” and choreography work on “All American: Homecoming.”
He also acknowledges that characters like Uncle Clifford have only recently begun to have the space to exist on television. GLAAD’s 2022 “Where We Are On TV” report found that a record 11.9% of all characters on primetime television are from the LGBTQ community.
While filming Season 1 of “P-Valley,” Annan recalls, a non-binary production assistant thanked him for the work he was doing on the show. When Annan told them he was just doing his job, the AP told him they were dressed all in black for work but normally they dress like Uncle Clifford. They told Annan, “If I had seen a character on TV like Uncle Clifford when I was younger, I wouldn’t have tried to kill myself.”
Annan said he was “stuck”. He said, “Because, my God, what pressure, but also what a gift, what a gift. It taught me that, Nicco Annan, you have a place.
Embodying this role has done a lot for Annan, also remembering his rightful space in this industry.
“If this had happened in 2009, when we started the project, it would be a very different experience. I don’t think the world was ready,” Annan said. “I think the world is in a place where we can see women for who they really are. We can see black bodies, we can see full bodies in a space that’s not too sexualized. There’s a level of art, there is a level of appreciation for brilliance, for stretch marks, for tiger stripes and sunbeams.
Annan has television and film projects on the horizon. He hopes, more than anything, that more people like him experience true celebration in Hollywood, and not just in the form of awards and accolades.
“There will never be another Nicco Annan. I’m not trying to be anyone else. There are a lot of people who came before me that I stand on their shoulders, and I love that we can all have time and shine. It’s really great to be there, especially in a pop culture type of show, and to bring that level of artistry and integrity to the characters. I always want tell serious, tough, beautiful and complex stories because there is light. There is fun and there is joy. That’s what this life experience is really about. .