Woman to Woman Talk: Nikiva Dionne

Talkers Talkers!!!! We are BACK at it in 2019! — As you see we came nice and strong to start the year off, with this phenomenal woman of faith and purpose! She was not always an actress and didn’t get her start the way most actresses do; but nevertheless, she manages to accomplish BIG GOALS… and make money moves that many women seeking a position in tv or film work hard for years upon years to accomplish. You may recognize Nikiva from CBS TV’s S.W.A.T., alongside the legendary Shemar Moore, as District Attorney Nia Wells. — We asked Nikiva what it was that confirmed for her in her life, that it was her passion and plan to become an actress.

I actually wanted to be an actress as a child, and it was kind of written off as a childhood dream. It was never really ‘considered’ a viable career. I moved to LA from New York after getting my degrees in Fashion and I actually launched/staffed and ran a chain of retail stores. In my heart of hearts I knew I wanted to act, but I still didn’t know how to go about it and well honestly, I knew how to ‘make money’. I was doing well and just thought I’d hire actors and give them a flexible schedule and that would make me happy. Thennnnn, I did my first ever fast and read the book The Alchemist and the rest as they say is history lol. I resigned from my job the following Monday without giving a 2-weeks notice; and I’ve been a full time actreds ever sense.

What is the process like, booking roles and securing a spot on a major TV network? 

Stressful, lol

Well, not all of it! Not all audition processes are the same, but in general for my current role on S.W.A.T. I had an audition where I think I read three scenes at the casting office (it may have been four scenes). The casting office that cast for S.W.A.T is just so inviting and welcoming that I arrived and chatted a bit about how much I loved the slides. We read through them a couple times, making adjustments according to their direction and I said thanks, and left. (laughter) — I had two other auditions that day so I was off to change clothes in the car and head to my second audition that day for another show that I had auditioned for about 5 times. I honestly thought I was going to book the second audition and didn’t think much about S.W.A.T. It felt good and I just released it, and headed to the second one, who obviously ‘liked’ me because they keep calling me back in to audition.  Then I got a call saying I was pinned for S.W.A.T; but the same say I got an offer for amother film I had auditioned for. So I talked to my team and I told them I wanted S.W.A.T. They called to see if I was still being considered, and then I was asked to meet with the Creator, Show runner and one of the producers of the show.  I met them, had a great convo about EVERYTHING, and then learned I booked the job, but I had to do a chemistry read with the star of the show. This process was pretty painless, but not all of them are so seamless. Grant it, it wasn’t a two day process there was some waiting and praying going on! (laughter)

What have been some of your proudest accomplishments thus far?

Ehhh… I’m proud when I wake up and get through my to do list, haha. I just feel like you have to be self-motivated and self-appreciated daily. I definitely get hit with the big moments of ‘wow, this is actually my life, i’m living my dream’ but I’m just as excited when I realize my bills are paid and it’s from doing what I love. Acting is an insane business it’s an accomplishment to say I’m a full time actor and have been for 8.5 years. So, I’m proud that I say YES to my purpose everyday, even on my ‘hard’ actor days.

I realize that acting has afforded me the opportunity to do other things and those are truly the accomplishments I get excited about. For instance I created Lyric Party Game, which is a party game app. It’s a huge undertaking to launch a game app and acting afforded me the flexibility in my schedule among other things, to birth this dream project. That’s probably my proudest accomplishment. That I use one thing to birth something else, lol. 

Did you have fears when you first thought about going into performing arts?

Yup, like how in the, what in the, where do I even start!? (laughter) My ‘fears’ were wrapped in the fact that I didn’t control much of anything. I had previously had a job since I was in the 6th grade. I always had a check every week or every two weeks, and at this point I was in a business where you didn’t know where your next check was coming from and then if you knew where it was coming from you still didn’t know when it was coming lol. I never had the fears about can I do it, I knew I had/have an unparalleled work ethic so If I wasn’t good, I’d get good at some point! (laughter) For awhile there was this looming fear of how long will it take to make a living and how much will I lose before I start to win.

Let me tell you, nothing quiets those very realistic fears like unwavering FAITH that you are in your purpose and God will provide; it may not be steak but there will be manna! (laughter)

When it comes to taking roles, are you most excited about roles that align with your natural personality, or ones that offer different vibes and characteristics than you are used to? 

Every role that challenges me gets me excited. I think the most beautiful thing I’ve learned is, good actors bring a piece or pieces of themselves into every role they play. I’m an outgoing very direct person but if a role comes and she’s a passive, introvert, I don’t try to create from imagination. I start from within, what are the moments (there was at least 1 moment in my life lol) when I was passive and introverted. Then I explore that, asking myself honest questions, figuring out the needs of the character and the blocks that are stopping her from getting those needs met and how she handles or avoids those things. Then, I take her outside of Kiva, and figure out how she walks, how she communicates with her body — that generally helps me establish a characters voice. I also think we all have several layers to our personality so I’m capable of identifying with thousands of roles, if i’m willing to explore it honestly. I’m not a serial killer but I’ve ALWAYS been intrigued with the criminal mind. I took Forensic Science courses in college because I always wanted to know, explore what happens in someones life or in someones genetics that makes some people say, this is the only way to deal with this. So I enjoy people, the good, the bad, the ugly so bringing a character to life for me includes Kiva but also a childlike inquiry that makes me say, she is totally justified in her responses, now let me prove it to you. (laughter)

Do you add real touches of yourself to the characters you play?

Yup, definitely! I add touches of people I know as well. I know someone who brushes his teeth with his eyes closed and that blows my mind. I can’t wait to play a character that I feel would do that, I’m so gonna steal that trait for a character! (laughter)

What has been one of the best things about being a black woman in film?

The best thing about being a black woman in film, is being a black woman in film, being a black woman in the super market, being a black woman in Paris. etc. I love being a black woman and wherever I go, I am honest enough with myself to know that is who I am.

The fact that I wasn’t able to conceive acting as a career path for me, yet some how look where I ended up — man I pray I can shorten that trip for someone else. If it took me 10 years, I sure pray it takes someone else 5 years or less!

Tell us about some of the more unpleasant sides/challenges of being a black woman in film? And how you manage to overcome!

People are comfortable receiving you how they have been exposed to you. If you grew up in the 50’s and you were a white male, you saw black women taking care of your kids or cleaning your homes. If your thinking hasn’t evolved past that,  when it comes time to cast for a maid or nanny you will think, black woman. Until we implore people to see beyond their personal limited experiences one of the challenges for minorities in film will be getting people to consider you outside of the stereotype they have accepted as real life representation. 

How much of your script on SWAT do you get to freestyle?

Not much! There is definitely room for improv but the scripts are so good you find little need to. However, there are moments that are created the more comfortable you get with the cast mates and the more you develop your character. 

What is it like working alongside Shamar Moore in SWAT?

It’s great! — I’m a complete student. I’m learning so much and the great thing is, some people show you how to be a star and Shemar does that without trying. I watch how he treats the entire cast and crew. I watch how they respond to him and how contagious his energy is and I just have so much respect for Veteran actors who hold the job with such a high level of respect and integrity. — He is also so silly, so he keeps you laughing. 

Would you say that there is an age cut-off to making it in the Tv industry?

Nope! If you were suppose to be a Nickelodeon kid than you would have been. Maybe you were actually suppose to be a teacher on a Nickelodeon show, I don’t know. I just believe the moment you decide not to accept no, is the same moment the Yes’ have to get in formation!  — If you know yourself, then you won’t concern yourself with what ‘the business’ says, you will put your head down and become so good they can’t ignore you. AND don’t waste precious time trying to ‘act’ younger than you are.

Listen, I don’t care what age they say my character is or what age they have in mind for her to play, the best I can do is show my take on the character and if I’m too old or too young maybe I’ll force you to rethink her age; and if it isn’t possible than I’ll see you for the next role. 

What advice do you have for women looking to pursue a career in film?

Know yourself, Know your worth!

I want to say more, I could say so much more but if you really KNOW YOURSELF and KNOW YOUR WORTH, you know everything that I could tell you. When you know those two things you know it all. You know what to say yes to when you know yourself and know your worth. In fact, use those questions as a barometer for every decision you make and you won’t make the wrong decision, you won’t settle, you won’t sell yourself short, you won’t play small when it’s time to play big, etc. etc. 

We love this!!! What’s next for you? What do goals look like for Nikiva Dionne?

Well, I introduced two recurring characters this year; Stacy Sutton on Insecure and Nia Wells on S.W.A.T, so the possibility of seeing more from those characters is already present and speak to my goals as an artist.

I want you guys to know Nikiva can do Drama and Comedy; and I’m not leaning more into one than the other. I love them both and I want to be on your TVs every week. There are some super talented writers in the game right now and I’m excited to partner with them to bring some incredibly layered, complicated, flawed, creative, intriguing women to life, so I’ll see you soon, wink wink! (laughter)

I’m also the creator of Lyric Party Game as i’ve mentioned; that’s a full time obligation as well, so i’m spreading the word about the party game app and expanding the game genres in the new year. Lyric Party Game app is in the app store and google play, download it today and play with your family/friends. I gotta keep reminding people that less than 1% of party game creators are black women, so releasing this game required and requires some door-kicking as well!

How does it feel, being a positive and successful representation of women of color on TV?

It feels like purpose!

It’s humbling to even read that question because I’ve always been who I’m just now becoming. I never thought of myself as the exception but I was always aware that other people did, and I hated it. Yes I’m a black woman from Baltimore and Yup I grew up in a single parent household, and if you think for even one second you know what to expect after hearing those things, you are sadly mistaken. There is talent everywhere not just in Hollywood, not just in two parent households, there is more than The Wire in Baltimore; I didn’t ‘make it out’ — I chose to pursue purpose and moving to LA was a requirement for me, but you can create anywhere! This Platform is for a purpose and the type of women I look to portray will surely open eyes to the many facets of who we truly are. I pray my presence on television inspires someone else into their purpose, and I commend you Brittany for using your platform for a purpose, for recognizing the light in others and knowing it doesn’t dim your shine; For being a resource for women and empowering us with tools. I’m honored to be apart of your vision and I look forward to meeting you in person. 

photo credit: @photosbyjamaal