Wendy Davis has experienced a lot in her journey of life, particularly on her path to success in Hollywood. It’s a unique insight that comes in handy when playing her character Wiser Nuri on the OWN relationship dramedy Love Is ______. The show chronicles the ups and downs of a young couple trying to make it in the complex social world of Black Hollywood, told from the perspective of their more seasoned older selves as they reflect on the metamorphosis of a relationship that began two decades prior. Davis is certainly wise in real life too – she’s a passionate advocate for destigmatizing ADHD, a diagnosis which she and her daughter share. Her experiences are invaluable to both her own career and fellow families living with ADHD. She sat down with Cliché to talk about what makes Love Is ______ so compelling, her aspirations for the future of Black Hollywood, and navigating ADHD in daily life.
Cliché: When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
Wendy Davis: I grew up in a small town in Maryland and becoming an actor wasn’t on my list of potential career paths. My senior year of high school I had to change one of my elective classes at the last moment. The only thing left was drama class, so I took it.
At that time I had absolutely no intention of being on stage as an actor. I was happy hiding back stage as the prop master, which is the person in charge of the crew that moves the furniture on stage during the play and make sure the props are in their correct place when the actors need them during their performance.
Opening night of the play was absolutely magical, and as I stood in the wings the thought occurred to me that I wanted to be on stage. It was a light bulb moment. From that moment on, I was focused on becoming a professional actor.
You’ve recently joined the cast of Love Is ______. What attracted you to the project?
What attracted me to this project was the script, hands-down. I fell in love with the story and the characters the moment I read it. Mara Brock Akil is a master wordsmith, and her writing is emotionally alive, knee slapping funny and brutally authentic. Her characters are beautifully human, flaws and all, and they’re BLACK! The story is loosely based on the real life love story of our creators Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.
My favorite thing about the show is that it takes you on the journey of how these two people, seemingly from opposite ends of the spectrum found love and manage to keep it alive for over twenty years of marriage. Their story illustrates not only the beauty of love but also the challenges people experience in relationships in a very honest and truthful way. That’s right y’all they air some dirty laundry up in this piece. Ultimately, what you walk away with is the understanding that love isn’t perfect, but it’s worth it.
How would you describe your character, Nuri? What is she passionate about? What motivates her?
The lead character in the show is Nuri played by the talented Michelle Weaver. I play the role of Wiser Nuri, that character 20 years later. Nuri is a young woman, equally confident and insecure, finding her way through the shark infested waters of Hollywood. She’s developing her ideas about life and love.
My character, Wiser Nuri, has been through the fire and grown wiser for it. She’s a queen fully realized and yet, she’s still on the journey of life. What motivates Wiser Nuri is love for her husband, family, and community.
These characters are navigating the complex social codes and norms of Black Hollywood. Do any of their experiences resonate with you?
Absolutely, watching these characters navigate the mean streets of Hollywood makes me chuckle and sometimes laugh out loud. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt! I’m thrilled that people get to see the real inside scoop on what many of us have gone through to reach success here in Hollywood.
Do you feel like certain aspects of your career have been dictated by social norms of race or what it means to be a Black woman in Hollywood?
Yes I do. Things have gotten so much better for people of color both in front of, and behind the camera. I am truly thrilled to see so many brown faces in television and film, but we still have a long way to go. We must continue to develop ourselves as content creators. Expanding the diversity of the stories about us, and our community. We are many things, and I’d like to see the broad spectrum of who we are shared with the world.
Part of the series is set in the near future. How do you hope Black Hollywood will evolve and change over the next few years?
I’m looking forward to the day when Black Hollywood becomes mainstream. Much in the way music created by African American artists is embraced all over the world.
You’re very open about discussing ADHD, which you were diagnosed with as an adult. Has the knowledge of your ADHD contributed to how you see yourself and given you a sense of wholeness to your identity?
I wouldn’t say being diagnosed with ADHD gave me a sense of wholeness in my identity. I was already whole. Being diagnosed as an adult was extremely helpful though. I’ve always felt that my brain works a bit differently than others and my diagnosis reassured me that I wasn’t alone. It was a great starting point for research about management and treatment. Hopefully sharing about my diagnosis will minimize the stigma that is affiliated with this condition and support others living with it. ADHD makes me different not defective. It’s easily managed, and frankly isn’t a big deal once you set up systems in your life to stay organized.
You’ve stated that ADHD has helped you as an actress. How so?
One of the hallmark characteristics of ADHD is a vivid imagination, which is perfect for acting. When I play a character, I just let my imagination run wild. Remember when you were a kid and you played cops and robbers with your friends? Your imagination gave you the ability to believe wholeheartedly that imaginary circumstance and live it. I still have that vivid imagination that dissipated for most people, as they became adults. It gives me the ability to believe in the given imaginary circumstance and play at it all day.
Your daughter shares your diagnosis. Would you say the experience has brought you closer together?
My daughter and I are very similar and ADHD is just one of the many things that we have in common. We are very close. Time management is big for us. Calendars are “a thing” at our house. We often joke about the day’s occurrences and even though she’s 15 now, we still find mommy and me time. She’s whip ass smart, and gifted in many areas. I can’t wait to see what she does with her life.
What advice do you have for parents with ADHD? And for parents of children with ADHD?
First off, ain’t nothing wrong with you. The ADHD brain falls well within the spectrum of what’s considered normal for the human mind. You are different not defective, in the same way that being left-handed is different from being right handed. We live in a dominantly right-handed world so if you’re left-handed, you’ve got to make adjustments to how you do things to complete the same task. ADHD does require management, but once you get the hang of it, you’re good.
The main advice I’d like to give parents of kids with ADHD is, everything is going to be alright. Stay positive, and help your child discover what they’re good at. When your child finds something they’re passionate about and they begin to thrive in that area, run with it. The confidence your child builds in this one area will soon spread into other areas of his or her life. Be your child’s advocate at school, go mamma bear if you have to. Embrace technology, it can support you and your child in completing task the ADHD mind isn’t fond of. Start by getting your child tested. You’ll get clear about how their brain works and how to best support them.
What is love to you?
Love is…embracing everything that your partner is, and everything they are not. Love is… a leap of faith. Love is… grace. Love is… life.
See more of Wendy Davis on Twitter and Instagram @realwendydavis.
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Getting Wiser With “Love Is ____” Actress Wendy Davis. Photo Credit: Cynthia Shaffer.