‘No one can prepare you to go viral on Twitter every week’: ‘P-Valley’ star J. Alphonse Nicholson talks about his role as Lil Murda

TheGrio caught up with the "P-Valley" star ahead of the intense two-part finale.

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If you’ve ever visited Twitter on Sunday nights, you’ve probably seen a few tweets from the #PynkPosse discussing the critically acclaimed show, “P-Valley.” Headed by showrunner and writer Katori Hall, the Starz series about the lives of workers at a Mississippi strip club called the Pynk does not shy away from taboo topics that for many years were even too hot for Hollywood. 

Premiere Of STARZ Season 2 Of "P-Valley" - Red Carpet
J. Alphonse Nicholson attends the premiere of STARZ season 2 of “P-Valley” at Avalon Hollywood

A character at the center of many of those online conversations is rapper Lil Murda, played by J. Alphonse Nicholson. Lil Murda was definitely put through the wringer this season—growing his rap career, struggling with his sexuality, dealing with his complicated relationship with Uncle Clifford and even witnessing the suicide of his former boyfriend. It’s a complex role that would push any actor to his limits, a challenge Nicholson welcomed. 

“What Katori has given me the opportunity to do is show an immense amount of range in one character, the most range I have been able to show on TV,” Nicholson explained as he reflected on how this role has changed him as an actor. “This has been a masterclass for me, learning and honing all of my tools. You have this amazing playground and because of the pandemic, you had to shoot for 10 months. It’s 10 months almost every day, coming in and chopping it up. From season 1 to season 2, I had the opportunity to grow a lot not only in my arc in the character Katori has created but as an actor.” 

To achieve that level of growth requires a lot of preparation, especially for a character as complex as Lil Murda. Nicholson told theGrio that the top goal of capturing the emotional highs and lows of his character was making sure the narrative was told correctly. “The main conversation is making sure I am prepared to tell this story. Mentally, that I am OK with the direction of the show as a heterosexual male. Katori does her due diligence to make sure that that conversation is had first and tries to give you as much information as possible.” 

Premiere Of STARZ Season 2 Of "P-Valley" - Red Carpet
(L-R) Nicco Annan, Elarica Johnson, Brandee Evans, Shannon Thornton, Katori Hall and J. Alphonse Nicholson attend the premiere of STARZ season 2 of “P-Valley” at Avalon Hollywood

Nicholson cites his wife as a huge supporter when it comes to preparing for his role and juggling the intense storylines. Although he isn’t a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the North Carolina native said being supportive of the community is crucial to him. “Being an ally is super important. All of us have a Lil Murda or Uncle Cliffords in our lives, especially in the Black community,” he said. “I know I grew up with family, friends and everyone in between in that community. It was important for me playing this role to be an ally and push that narrative forward and be teachable. You have to learn things about the community if you’re not a part of it, and you have to open your mind and heart to receive that information.” 

But anyone who’s spent even a second on social media knows there are some fans who have a problem accepting Lil Murda’s storyline. Nicholson admitted that he does see the comments. “I don’t think you can prepare for going viral on Twitter every week. There are so many conversations that are started because of a character you play and there is no way to really prepare for that.”

He compared the Twitter experience to being on a rollercoaster, but he’s thankful to bring these conversations to light. “I’m just glad to be at the forefront of it, and it’s a blessing to start a conversation that is so taboo for our community, unfortunately. But with that comes a lot of love and hate, and you have to choose which one you have to indulge in the most,” he said.

Another moment that went viral on Twitter was the tragic suicide of Lil Murda’s former lover Big Teak. Nicholson admitted that when he first read the script, he cried, but he also was ready to take on the challenge of sharing this narrative. “It gives you mixed emotions because you are sad. But it’s a bittersweet thing that goes into storytelling.” 

Although this season featured several dark situations, one of the more spectacular moments was the guest appearance of Megan Thee Stallion, playing the role of her alter ego, Tina Snow.

Nicholson said he was thrilled when he found she was coming on the show. “It’s just been dope working with Meg. We previously did a campaign together called the Yardrunner campaign. It was a Nike campaign focused on HBCUs. She was representing her school TSU, and I was representing North Carolina Central University. So we met virtually, and I said, ‘I heard you’re coming down to the Valley.’” 

When the time finally came to shoot on set, he said it was definitely a “wow, this is happening” moment and something he couldn’t have predicted. “If you would have told me two or three years ago I would have a song with Meg Thee Stallion, I don’t think I would believe you.” 

Watch “P-Valley” on Sundays at 9 p.m. E.T. or catch up by streaming the show on the Starz app.

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