[FEATURE] JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF ERICA ON 'THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS" WITH PRESILAH NUNEZ [ @PRESILAH ]...
We recently had the pleasure of featuring cast members from Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have Nots here at U.G. Digital. The current season is heating up, and in support of the show, we’ve taken some time to catch up with some of the cast to look at their roles in the show, in addition to some of the other things they have going on.
This week, we feature Presilah Nunez, who plays the role of Erica on OWN’s most popular scripted series to date. For the past few seasons, Erica was thought to be besties with Candace, played by Tika Sumpter, but in recent episodes, it was ultimately revealed that she’s not only against Candace, but a part of the big plot with recently-turned nemesis; Warwick, to take her for everything she has. The storyline has indeed gotten much-heated, and Erica sits down to chat with us about the show.
U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you ever so much for the opportunity to speak today. It’s one thing to interview a megastar like yourself, but it’s a completely different thing to connect with someone you admire, and watch every week on a television show. You’re amazing at what you do, and you play your roles so wonderfully. Thank you for not only entertaining us, but inspiring us. UGD is all about entertainment of course, but my side-mission in this is showing our youth, and even adults, that you can do what you love, and have a blast, all while making a decent living.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you so much…that means a lot!
U.G. Digital Mag: What’s been your experience doing this show?
Presilah Nunez: Straight off the bat, my experience was one of those Tyler Perry stories in the sense that the character was supposed to be that one interaction with Benny where she sold him the car…
U.G. Digital Mag: Wow, that was my next question…
Presilah Nunez: Yep. That was all they had written. Contractually, it was supposed to be three episodes, but two out of those three were phone conversations. For die-hard Haves fans, they’ll remember that Erica called Benny twice, and on one instance, Mitch is in the episode, and Benny is like “yo, this is that girl that sold me the car for $500”, so that was one episode, and you see Erica do the whole interaction. So it was supposed to be three episodes, and we’re doing our thing. Tyler Lepley and I are doing our thing, and we really hit it off. Tyler Perry came up to me and asked how long I had been acting, and I don’t know … he’s just a visionary. He just saw something, and from there he pulled me aside and said “I’ll see you soon”. I’m like Ok, I didn’t really know what that meant. You know, you’re in L.A., and a lot of people say stuff like that. They’re like I have a part for you, or whatever, and you never hear anything. That’s not to say I didn’t believe him; it’s just one of those things you chalk up as a grain of salt. Nine months later, I’m sitting in an acting class and I get a text message from this Atlanta number. I had also missed a couple calls. It was Mr. Perry, calling to say he was bringing me back, and how he had all these ideas for Erica. So we spoke, and I was freaking out [laughing]. You have to understand, I grew up watching Tyler Perry. My mom had The Diary of a Mad Black Woman on DVD, and she had two copies. She would keep one, and lend the other out to her girlfriends. I was like 15 at the time, and now I’m talking to Tyler Perry on my cellphone and it’s like an out of body experience. He just kinda went through the character. He’s always evolving characters and has ideas. He wanted her to go a certain way and said we would see what happens. He said my agent would have it on their desk the next day, and that’s how Erica came to be.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s so amazing, and you speak of it being an out of body experience. Do you ever get to that point where it kinda becomes a regular thing and the excitement of getting the new part fades? Like, I’ve been in Journalism for 15 years, but anytime I connect with someone, I’m super excited about it. Are you just as excited with each new thing?
Presilah Nunez: I feel like I’m always just as excited. I feel like if you’re not that way about what you’re doing, why are you doing it, especially in this profession. What people don’t see is there is a lot more rejection. There’s a lot more no’s than there are yes. I have a lot of younger cousins who didn’t see me grow up because I’ve been acting since I was nine years old. All of my family that’s older knows I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid, but I have a lot of younger cousins who see me on TV and I have to remind them, you don’t remember coming to my shows? I have to break it down to them. I keep a spreadsheet of all the auditions I go out on and the opportunities I get. One side is the yes column, and the others is the no column. It allows you to never be complacent in this industry because you’re always fighting. Even the people who are on the covers of magazines right now, they’re fighting to maintain it. It allows you to remain humble.
U.G. Digital Mag: I love the fact that you do a spreadsheet because it lets you see not only who said yes and no, but you see your success and all you can do and accomplish. Look at what people said yes to. I love what you’re doing, and especially what Tyler is doing, because it creates so many more opportunities for minorities. I absolutely love it, and we haven’t seen it before with a show like this to do the numbers it does. People are clamoring for what is to come. How do you deal with the crazy success of the show, and the way people have really taken to you even more as an actress because of your involvement?
Presilah Nunez: What’s great is the show was already the number one show on OWN and cable on Tuesday nights. It’s easy to come onto a show when it’s already successful, but what’s been great is to be a part of it as it maintains that success. I think that the audience is able to see that Tyler added a few more cues to it when he added Erica and Officer Justin. It was great because we came onto this show and met everyone. I always tell this story because Tika Sumpter and I had never met. So we met and it was my first day on set, and we had to shoot this scene where I’m up in her room, and we’re talking about the whole house thing, the money she owes and the mortgage. I’m freaking out because I said War is really dangerous and he killed my sister, and all that stuff. I remember going onto set and we shake hands. Tika’s like “nice to meet you, I guess we’re playing best friends now”. I’m like yea, apparently we’re girls, and that was it. That was our first scene. What’s funny is the tweeting that came about when that scene first aired, and everyone was saying that we were definitely girls and you could see the chemistry. If only they had known we had just met. I say all that to say Tyler has an eye for talent and personalities. It’s almost like he does background checks because we mesh so well off camera. It really helped translate on camera, and it’s a big part of the success of the show. There’s a lot of chemistry so it’s been great. Renee, who plays Katherine, she is amazing, and hysterical. In the make up room, she’s always singing. There’s all these people my character never gets to interact with; Crystal Fox, who plays Hannah, she was hosting Barbecues every weekend. A couple of months ago, when we shot in Atlanta, we would hang out at her house. That’s what has allowed the success to permeate.
U.G. Digital Mag: I’m glad you mentioned Crystal Fox because we ran a feature with her last week. I absolutely love the show and we’re working to feature everyone. Angela has done the cover for us, and we’ve also featured Ro Brooks. I think it’s great what everyone has been able to do. I also believe Tyler is a visionary. I’ve been in management before, and even in that, you have to be able to find people who not only can do that job, but people who also can work well with the people you already have. No one would have ever said that you and Tika had just met. It’s a testament to your talent and also hers. It’s huge and speaks to the credibility of you as an actress.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you so much.
U.G. Digital Mag: Now getting right to the meat and potatoes, Erica is my type of character. She can turn the drama on and off at the snap of a finger. She can be a mess all the way, and then be an angel the next minute. Nothing would have ever said to me that she would turn against Candace and work with War. Where did that come into the role at?
Presilah Nunez: Look, you and me both. I had no idea. When you’re in TV, it’s different. I grew up in theater. Even my first couple years as a professional actress, it was all theater. What’s different about that is you get a script, and you know the beginning, middle, and end. Your job as an actor is to find the moments of excitement. Now that you know the whole story you have to make sure you don’t play the end too soon. If you know you’re going to die in the end, you have to make sure the audience doesn’t know that because you want that element of surprise. When you work in TV, the writers kinda help you in a sense because you never know what they’re going to write for the next episode. All you can play is what is in front of you. I remember getting that script for the episode, at the end of last season where Erica and David are in bed and War walks in, and I screamed, like me, myself, Presilah, reading it by myself in my hotel room. I’m like what!!, I remember saying to Tyler “you’re kidding me, like, me and War”? He was like, “it’ll be fun”. I thought it was interesting. Now, I have to play that in my mind. It’s like, you get added a few more colors. Now I have to play with this. I love reading the tweets because some of you are very insightful. You guys can see things and I never notice it. Some can see that Erica is a little shady.
U.G. Digital Mag: That was my thing…
Presilah Nunez: Yea, then you’re one of those people who are really smart. I didn’t even know what was happening with War. That wasn’t until the next year that we filmed that. As an actor, there was no way I could play that at the moment because I had no idea where it was going. I just thought Erica was helping Candace get money. As far as her turning against Candace, I start to realize it and analyze it all as it is given to me. That’s when I start to piece it all together and realize that oh, she’s a lot more conniving than I thought. It’s a lot more fun to play. Angela and I have so much fun. Angela is a sweetheart.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s so weird that her character is so out there. When she visited the girl in the hospital and was slapping her around, I was floored. It’s crazy how she can play that so good, and meeting her in person, she’s the total opposite. Nothing like the character.
Presilah Nunez: Right. Nothing like it. So Erica came in a little slow, and what’s airing right now is when I began to realize there’s a lot more to it. Even as her relationship develops with David, there’s still a lot about her that Tyler hasn’t told anyone about. It’s like, where does she really come from, and what is her story. Why is she like this. These are all things that sometimes, you get told in the back story. When you don’t, it’s kinda freeing because you can make it up. It’s like you meeting Angela. Every time I shoot, I feel like I’m meeting Erica and learning more. I’m doing what’s written, but it’s so out of this world.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s strange because when you look at the past episodes, I’ll catch things, like when Erica and Candace were together and Erica spoke about what happened to her sister with War. Then to see them together, I was like, how could they be working together? It’s crazy to see it unfold. How is it for you, considering you shot all this a year ago. How difficult is it to sit on it without telling anything?
Presilah Nunez: It’s hard because you’re excited. People ask and you’re like, if only you knew what was going to happen. It’s exciting to know, but I don’t get to see a lot of what is shot because I’m not in every scene. A majority of time, I with Peter Parros. I started working with Angela, Tika, Jon, and that’s it. I never see Benny anymore. All these other stories are unfolding that I don’t know much about. It’s fun to watch because I get to see what other people are doing when they’re at work. I know what I’m doing, but now I see everyone else. Like the other night, Christian, who plays Landon, had this whole elevator scene after my elevator scene, and I’m like excuse me, I wonder where he learned that from? He was laughing because we never see them. It’s exciting to watch with the audience because I’m seeing things I had never scene yet. Even this past week with my scene in the elevator…
U.G. Digital Mag: Oh my God. I love both of your characters, so I was back and forth like get her Erica, and no, slap her Veronica. I loved it, and you two did an amazing job.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you. In that scene, we had a really good time shooting. Funny thing is all the shit talking was really us, but when hair was being grabbed, those were body doubles. So at that moment, Tyler had us step out and brought in the stunt doubles. They started actually fighting. They had this whole choreographed fight, because everything is choreographed to be safe, and he throws Peter Parros in the middle. He tells the doubles to just go at it, and Peter is supposed to keep them from touching each other. At “Action”, they starting going …and going … and going, and by the time they stopped, his tie is over his head, and Tyler is cracking up because Peter is breaking a sweat. These stunt doubles are jacked. Peter is trying his hardest to keep them apart, and looking at Tyler like, ‘Can you yell cut?”. Finally Tyler yells cut and is like, “Peter, you look a mess”. It came out so good.
U.G. Digital Mag: How into social media, are you? I ask because when you look at Facebook, there are a number of groups created for the show where everyone talks so much about the characters and what they think will happen next. Do you ever join in on comments at all?
Presilah Nunez: I do, but moreso on Twitter. I definitely do, though. I’m not as active as others, mostly because I don’t feel like my life is that interesting [laughing]. I go to auditions, I go to Trader Joes, I walk my dog, like it really isn’t that interesting. But on Tuesday nights, I will tweet. I do it usually on east coast time. For them, it’s just premiering. I respond and it’s a lot of fun. Overall, this show has forced me to be a little more active. Otherwise, my Instagram, in my opinion, is a little boring. I think other people’s lives are interesting. Another bazaar thing about me, I watch family blogs on YouTube. There’s a family I watch from Wyoming, and I think it’s so fascinating to see the things they do. My boyfriend thinks it’s ridiculous but I like it.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think it speaks to how down to earth you are and how much you relate to the average person.
Presilah Nunez: I guess that’s a good way to look at it [laughing]. Have you seen them?
U.G. Digital Mag: I do watch a lot of YouTube. I haven’t want her them, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. Now you were recently in “Dear White People”. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Presilah Nunez: So “Dear White People”, my role is Kerry Washington. It’s a parody. When I first moved to Los Angeles, Scandal was still really big and everybody would be like you’re like Kerry Washington. I don’t think I look like her, even though she’s beautiful. I think they meant more like her essence. Erica is a lot more flirty, but my natural essence is a lot more grounded. So when I got this role, I loved Kerry Washington and now I had to make fun of her. The writing is so funny and it was a blast to be a part of. Dear White People as a whole is so monumental. The timing on it is really perfect. It’s great to be a part of it in a sense that speaks to the culture, gathering around to watch, and it was a fun little Diddy I did.
U.G. Digital Mag: Also, what was your experience being a part of Rosewood?
Presilah Nunez: Rosewood is interesting because my ethnicity is Dominican. I’m Latin. It’s funny that people from the east coast will pick up on it, because there’s a lot of Dominicans on the east coast, especially in New York and Florida, but other people, like here in Los Angeles, have no idea. Most think I’m mixed in terms of White and African American, which in a sense, I am. The Dominican Republic is basically a country made up of mixed people, half African and half European. I’ve never played a Latin role until Rosewood. America thinks Latin and they think Sophia Vergara, or Jennifer Lopez. They’re eyes haven’t been opened yet. It’s happening, like there’s a lot more roles for women of color now, and people of color in general, so they’re eyes are being opened. So people are realizing we are African, but we come from a country that speaks Spanish. With Rosewood, it was a cute role. I was like, I’ll go in , audition, a lot of girls will look like Sophia Vergara, and whatever. But it was different. I went in with my name plaque on, which is a very Latin thing. It’s like a gold necklace with your name on it. I wore that necklace, and did an accent. Naturally I don’t have an accent, but I have a lot of aunts who do. I spoke it from the time I walked in until I walked out. I got the role, and then went for the table read after I had been hired. I walked in and the producers are looking at me funny. Finally they go around the table, and then they take a break. They finally said they had no idea who I was. They were shocked that I could just do an accent. It was great and I felt honored to play a Latina because I never had. It was so much fun; the mannerisms, accent, and flavor I grew up with but never had been able to put into a character.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s really cool. Do you see yourself playing more roles that speak more to your ethnicity?
Presilah Nunez: I think if the role is appropriate and if that’s what the role and character is about, then sure. It’s always important to be in touch with your ethnicity, background, your people and culture, but to be honest with you, it’s never something that I felt like I needed to force down people’s throats. I think when the time comes and when the character is there, then it’s great. I’ve just love to tell stories, which was why I wanted to be an actor. I love the details about storytelling. If the character necessitates that element in terms of her being Latin, I would love to play it, but if not, it isn’t necessary. With time, I know that because of the way shows are going and being diverse and showing what America is, and people being more accepting, it will happen. I have a lot of family who will be able to understand what I’m saying [laughing].
U.G. Digital Mag: What else can we look out for from you? You’ve been put on a larger platform and people recognize you now…
Presilah Nunez: “Dear White People” will be back for a second season.
U.G. Digital Mag: That’s amazing.
Presilah Nunez: Absolutely. It was a little bit of an experiment. That was another character that was booked initially for one episode, and it was expanded. That will be fun. We just filmed another season of The Haves and The Have Nots that will air next year.
U.G. Digital Mag: I like that you mention filming more of The Haves and the Have Nots. A lot of fans, including myself, often look at various sites about the show, and I had seen something that kinda timelined you on the show as ending in 2017.
Presilah Nunez: Oh no, there’s more. There is definitely more of her, and it’s a lot of fun. That will air, and you know, we’ll see what else is to come. I just got a puppy. I didn’t realize it’s like having a child. No one told me. OK, correction. My boyfriend did tell me this, I just didn’t listen. But, I’m doing that. I’m on the show, and I’m grateful. People don’t realize that in our off-season, we still hustle. I still audition for things. I try to get the next job and gig. It helps that with all of these things, you ride the steam. You have to go with momentum and put yourself out there. I’m still hustling. That’s my job. The cake and batter is the audition. Getting the job is easy. The meat and potatoes is pounding the pavement.
U.G. Digital Mag: Where can people keep up with you in terms of social media, and online in general?
Presilah Nunez: All my social media is public and it’s all my first name, @presilah. My mom and dad were dating; she was like 15 and he was 19, but anyway, my dad wanted to name me Presilah. My mom said absolutely not. They argue, break up, get back together, have a daughter, and name me Presilah. My mom is like, you win, but I’m changing the spelling. She starts deciding, and comes up with my spelling. Phonetically, it’s actually how you say it in Spanish. All of that is to say that it’s all my first name because no one else spells it that way.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think that’s great. You’re showing so many people that dreams really do you come true. I love it and thank you for that.
Presilah Nunez: Thank you. That means a lot.