“Oooh, okay, darkness!” actress Jenn Lyon said approvingly, reaching over to take a closer look at my shimmering black manicure. I played it cool, but I won’t lie to you like I did to her: that shimmery polish was 100 percent a trap for this exact occasion. After all, if I was going to talk to the cast of Claws — TNT’s new drama starring five tight-knit manicurists, premiering on June 11 — I figured I’d better come prepared.
But my own vanity aside: Claws isn’t at all like the sleek promotional event in which I met Lyons and her castmates, all decked out with fake palm trees and white walls splashed with neon pinks. The drama takes place in and around a dingy South Floridian strip mall, where ambitious salon owner Desna (Niecy Nash) rules with an iron fist and strategically sharpened nail extensions while the men trying to run a drug ring out of the back of the salon keep complicating things.
The show starts off not quite sure what its tone should be — it could stand to be either 10 percent more serious or 10 percent campier — but its Floridian noir aesthetic is immediately and undeniably different enough to help it stand out in the oncoming glut of summer TV.
Still: the best thing Claws has going for it is its cast, headed up by the ferociously good Nash.
Claws spotlights a group of ferocious, bored, ambitious women
Nash has been a reliably fantastic actor in comedies (Reno 911, The Soul Man), dramas (Masters of Sex), and everything in between (Getting On), but with Claws, she has a starring role that’s catered to her talents.
“So often times when I get [a script], it’s the sidekick, to someone, or you know, there’s a guy leading the charge,” Nash told me. “But this was like, five badass women leading the charge of this story, and I thought, ‘yeah.’ I wanted to be a part of it right away.”
Next to Nash, two of those “badass women” nodded vigorously. Lyon (Justified) plays Desna’s righthand woman Jen, while Carrie Preston (The Good Wife) plays Polly, whose “bless your heart” Southern sweetness keeps her together as she struggles to restart her life after being incarcerated for identity theft.
“It’s women supporting each other, not tearing each other down,” Preston insisted, before pausing. “For the most part.”
Lyon, no doubt thinking of the Claws scene in which Desna literally throws new manicurist Virginia (Karrueche Tran) out onto the street, chimed in. “I mean, we’ll throw down,” she said, laughing.
“For sure,” Preston replied, “but usually it’s in service of the group.”
And having seen the first episode, that’s a fair assessment. As leering men with too much power and not enough smarts get in deeper over their heads and abuse the women in their lives just because they can, Desna and her loyal employees slash best friends stick ever closer together. It’s not always the case — again, there is a literal beatdown in the salon’s parking lot — but more than the larger drug conspiracies or any inter-salon rivalries, the five women at the show’s center take priority.
“So many times when you put a lot of women in a movie or a TV show, it’s all about catfighting and all of that,” said Preston, “which becomes pretty uninteresting.”
To foster a real sense of sisterhood amongst the cast — which also includes Judy Reyes, sadly absent from the Claws brunch and its strawberry champagne floats — Nash said that she made it a point to “date the women individually” before they even stepped on set in Florida. “I came to New York and I was able to have lunch with Jenn, I hung out with Carrie at an industry party, I took Karrueche to dinner,” Nash said. “My favorite thing is the fact that it goes beyond what you see on camera.”
“We have a text thread between the five of us that goes all day long,” Preston added, as Lyon threw back her head and laughed that it’s just full of “stupid shit.”
But for Nash, the unequivocal star of the show (and it’s about time), getting the core cast to love and support each other in real life wasn’t just fun for sharing dumb links, but also crucial to having the same kind of dynamic translate on camera.
“There’s a real connective tissue underneath,” she said, then grinned, “which I think is delicious.”
Claws premieres Sunday at 9 pm EST on TNT, and will be streamed on Twitter at 10 pm.