For Courtney Nichole, playing Leah in Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living is a special role. She has several things in common with her character in the BET series; such as being from Chicago. As the first season rolls on, I spoke with Courtney about those commonalities as well as her history as a teacher and the things that she’s passionate about outside of her TV show.
Brittany Frederick: You’re from the Chicago area, and the family in Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living is from Chicago. What did it mean to you, to have the character be from the same place you come from?
Courtney Nichole: When I saw that, I was like oh, this is like one of those moments. Where you’re like this was actually meant to be. I’m from Chicago. Leah has a son and a daughter; I was the oldest sister and I had a younger brother. I actually grew up with my grandfather in the house; my mom’s dad stayed with us when I was a child. So coming to live with grandpa, I’m like, I know what it’s like to live with a crazy granddaddy. (laughs) Perfect.
BF: Tyler Perry shows are notorious for being pretty fast-paced. So was it a bit of an adjustment to jump into the project?
CN: Assisted Living is brand new. There were no reference points to tie into. Luckily we were able to get there early enough to rehearse, so it was interesting to get into our rhythm. I’m sure that’s any pilot; you’re finding your moments, cast and crew. But the fast-paced approach Mr. Perry takes is unique in a whole other way. It’s amped up to a whole other level. What I love is he sets you up for success.
We used earwigs for the show and I had not used one before. They had us fitted so that we can have these earpieces in, so that we could hear the laugh track and also hear Mr. Perry give us notes…He considered having a live studio audience but kind of went against it. And interestingly enough, here we are with COVID…I think he was like you know what, this isn’t a good idea. And it worked out because we were filming right around that time.
BF: You also have a background in education, which similar to acting, is about connecting with people and being able to communicate. So has your teaching experience helped in your acting career?
CN: I would say so. I tell people all the time that I use my life experiences and my experiences in the classroom. Like you said, you’re connected, and think about how many personalities the teacher has to connect with on a daily basis. As an elementary school teacher, you get 25, 30 new kids every year. Or as a middle school teacher, I’m dealing with 100, maybe 150 kids a day. I’m dealing with 150 different personalities. So it kind of allows you to stay on your toes and to be a good scene partner. It also gave me some things to work with for my own characters that I can pull from.
I used to tell my kids the first day or maybe the first week of school, this is my stage. And we are performing, honey. So we’re going to come in here and do what we need to do. And we all have roles in this classroom and everybody has to play their part to make sure that our production runs well. I would say that before I even started back acting as an adult. Because I started acting young, and then I went into education, and I was like you know what? I’ve got a dream. Let me work on that.
BF: Are there moments or episodes from the first season of Assisted Living that you particularly loved as you were filming?
CN: Absolutely. Episode 11 is really special to me, because we got to talk about sex trafficking. I just think that right now with so many people speaking up – with the Me Too movement, with Black Lives Matter, with all of these movements where we’re [talking about] social justice and we’re asking people to speak up and look out for each other. To be able to talk about a topic that was so serious, and deep, and an area that needs to be highlighted more, it was so special to me,
I’m glad that I was able to have that moment in the midst of a sitcom. Any of our good shows, from Good Times to Family Ties or Saved by the Bell, though they were funny, we always had those real moments. I was very happy and proud that Mr. Perry let us live in that world and allowed us to use our colors to paint, to help tell a story and bring awareness to something that’s so important for so many people so that we can save more of our babies. Me as an educator, just thinking about that, I’m saving any of my babies. If I can help bring awareness to that, then I’m doing my job as a citizen, as a human being.
BF: What are some of the other things you’re passionate about? Do you have favorite shows, movies, hobbies that you love?
CN: This is something that I found later in life that I love: golf. I didn’t grow up golfing, but I took the class in college and I was like, I really liked it. I would like to do more of it. And when my husband and I met and started dating in Atlanta, that was kind of our like little date thing. He would go get a cart and be like, 18 holes. And go play and just practice. And he kind of taught me the basics.
So it’s been a sport I’ve been playing for like seven years now. That’s one thing that I really love. And right now with COVID, it’s outside, so I’m actually able to go sometimes. Wear my mask and feel safe being outside in that open space.
One of my favorite movies is Love & Basketball, with Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. I just thought that was a beautiful story of a young couple, and some of what young couples go through, and how they get there.
And now I’m just kind of telling you some interesting things. My father is Haitian and so I’m half Haitian. My mom was born and raised in Chicago. My daddy’s from Haiti; he ended up moving to Chicago, so they met there. But that’s an interesting fact that not a lot of people know.
Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on BET.