We chatted with the actor/writer about working with Angela Bassett and Kym Whitley, shaping roles around her identity as a black lesbian, and her love of "Sex and the City."
Photos courtesy of Netflix
Critically-acclaimed and certified fresh Netflix series Master of None is teeming with universally lovable talent: Noël Wells' complication of the manic pixie dream girl, Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim's real and rare friendship, and the simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching Mr. and Mrs. Ansari. But perhaps the greatest gift audiences received was our new favorite Netflix BFF: Lena Waithe.
Though most were introduced to Waithe through Master of None, she's quietly built a career over the last few years with consistently smart work as a writer (including an episode of Bones about a lesbian psychic), producer (Dear White People), and actor. An alchemical blend of quick-witted talent, disarming thoughtfulness, and casual charm, Waithe has the coveted ability of making a character likable just by being herself. Broadly chatted with Waithe to discuss her favorite moments of Master of None season two (premiering today), her first celebrity crush, and her plans for the future.
Broadly: Can you tell us about how you came into the role of Denise?
Lena: I think all they knew was they wanted a girl to be a part of the crew. They sort of assumed that the girl was straight, which could've been a cool thing. But for me it was like, I just sort of played it as myself. I never tried to play it "straight." I think they kind of found that humorous and I think they were like: Well, since you are a lesbian and you are a black girl, why don't we lean into that? And so they did.
I think people kind of assumed they wanted a black lesbian character for some added flavor, but the truth is it was organic. They really liked me for the role and bended the role to meet me in the middle, which I appreciate.
Even though Arnold and Brian seem to have more lines as Dev's friends, Denise really emerged as a fan favorite. Why do you think that is?
I don't think people really see women that look like her on television. I also think I have a very unique way of walking through the world, a unique cadence, in terms of the way I carry myself. I think people really look at me and appreciate the character which I'm really grateful for, because you never know. But I think also, Aziz and I have a very unique chemistry. We have a very interesting vibe when we're together whether we're on or off screen. I think people really saw that. The biggest thing is that there aren't many characters out there like myself, so I think because it's me, it's like a breath of fresh air, which is kind of cool.
Will we see Denise's origin story in season 2?
Absolutely. Denise is in all episodes in this season. And I will just say: episode eight. You'll get her origins story. I really think people will be happy about that, and I think they were really smart about giving her her own platform. Melina Matsoukas directed the episode and Angela Bassett guest stars, [along with] Kym Whitley. We just really had a fantastic time. I'm really excited for people to see it. We got a lot of love from those who have seen it. I pop up here and there but that's sort of like her big hoorah. I think for a lot of Denise fans out there, it'll be a real treat for them.
I'm sure everyone's going to want to binge watch this season of Masters of None, but I want to ask that they really check out episode eight. Like, give it some love, give it some time. Don't be folding laundry while you watch it. Tweet about it, talk about it, share it, spread the word, because we put a lot of heart and soul into it. For me, that episode has a special place in my heart.
I have so many. I love Love Jones any day of the week. That's my jam, it's a perfect movie, in my humble opinion. I also love Boyz n the Hood, [and] Do the Right Thing.
Favorite TV show?
One of the shows I really love is on HBO called The Comeback; I actually have a small appearance in the second season, but it's a phenomenal show. But also me and my girl love watching Sex and the City. It's always on. We always go back to that, but The Comeback is one of my all time favorite TV shows. It's so smart, it's so well done, and the fact that I got the chance to be part of season two was like a dream come true.
First celebrity crush?
This will come up in the show. Jennifer Aniston was a big one. She was like the longest, but Jasmine Guy from A Different World, Hilary Banks from Fresh Prince, and then Janet Jackson.
Up-and-coming talent you think we should look out for?
DC Young Fly. I think he's really funny, really talented. He has a great look. He's like really up-and-coming. He's just really really funny and has a cool vibe.
And then also the girl who does a really fun Beyoncé impression. Her name is Jade Novah; she's a singer, an actress, also very comedic. SNL should hire her. She's so good. She can actually sing really well too, so there's that, but she's also just really funny and smart. So those are my two up-and-comers; those guys are doing okay. I'm super proud of them.
What's can we look forward to seeing you do next? The Chi?
Yeah, we're in the writers room right now. We're going to be shooting in Chicago and we're going to try to do it right. That's all we can do is try. It's a lot of pressure for sure, me being from Chicago, but I think with the first season, it let us try to find the voice and figure out what the show is, especially because this hasn't been done before. These stories haven't been told in this way. It's going well. We have a wonderful group of writers who I love. It's a predominantly African-American writer's room so we're in there, that's where the paradigm's shifting.