As a series regular on Mad TV and The Big Gay Sketch Show, Erica Ash is no stranger to comedy. Yet she now has the opportunity to also showcase her dramatic skills as M-Chuck on Starz’s funny, yet surprisingly heartwarming series, Survivor’s Remorse. The talented actor and singer chatted with AfterEllen about M-Chuck’s past and her hopes for M-Chuck’s romantic future.
AfterEllen.com: What drew you to the role of M-Chuck?
Erica Ash: To be honest with you, I was drawn to the show, more so than the particular character. Originally I auditioned to be Missy. They had sent me the script and the sides for Missy about a week in advance of my audition. Then literally, the night before my audition they sent me the M-Chuck character and said, Oh, by the way, read this character, too. When I read for M-Chuck I really didn’t have time to get into her and think about her the way I did for the Missy character. When I went into the room, I did the Missy audition and had to work a little on the M-Chuck audition. So, of course, I left thinking I nailed Missy. I had to work on M-Chuck. I thought I was going to be Missy and that was that. A couple months later, my agent called and told me that they wanted to test me for the M-Chuck role. It kind of threw me for a loop. Then I went back and read the script again and you know, worked at the M-Chuck character.
What I like about her is that she’s tough, but she’s not—I don’t find her stereotypical in anyway. She’s the aggressor when it comes to relationships just because she’s aggressive in life. That’s who she is. I like the fact that she doesn’t seem to be afraid of too much. That fearlessness mixed with a little bit of naïveté means that she doesn’t let her circumstances or her location or the amount of money that her family is now making change the core of who she is. You know, she’s loud. She’s brazen. She says what’s on her mind. She tells it like it is. She’s a potty mouth. And she likes girls—and that’s it. She’s grounded in who she is.
AE: It’s so interesting that you originally auditioned for the role of Missy. Now that I’ve been watching the show, I can’t imagine anyone else in these roles. It feels like the role was written for you. I’m thinking about how it would be different if you were Missy.
EA: I don’t think it would be this show. I don’t. And I’ve had this conversation with Teyonah (Parris)—I can’t imagine anyone else being Missy. I really can’t. And I certainly can’t imagine anyone else being M-Chuck. She’s mine!
AE: I’ve heard you say that, like most actors, you put a little of yourself in every role you play. For instance, comedy is something that comes naturally to you based on your upbringing and the way you relate to your siblings, so you can’t help but bring some comedy to all your roles. What else do you bring you bring to the role of M-Chuck from your own personality or personal life?
EA: Definitely the diarrhea of the mouth. I often say the things that other people are thinking. And I get these looks like, “Really? Did you just say that?” I was the kid growing up with my mom giving me the evil eye, like, “Close your mouth right now!” In my mind, it’s like, we’re all thinking it, so why doesn’t someone just say it? And that’s different than comedy because sometimes that’s really not funny the things that you say. Sometimes you’re brining to life someone’s truth that they’re not willing to face. Or you’re bringing to light your truth that others are not willing to face. Or you’re shouting things out that people are trying to hide. It’s not malicious at all you just think, why isn’t anyone addressing this? Why isn’t anyone saying anything? I prefer to have things out in the open.
AE: M-Chuck has just been made head of Public Relations, and with her mouth, I think that is a comedy of errors just waiting to happen. What kind of hilarious trouble can we anticipate M-Chuck getting into?
EA: I would think that she’s going to be a problem for Reggie more than anything. I think he’s going to have to do a lot of damage control. At least in the beginning. I think it will serve her well to have Missy help her with certain social graces, because clearly Missy is the pro in the family when it comes to that. I know M-Chuck will give her all but her ways, as we saw in episode three, may not be the most traditional, the most politically correct or even legal. M-Chuck needs to find the balance between the M-Chuck solution—which is get it done without regard of what’s wrong or right-and following the rules and regulations which will be brought to light by Reggie and Missy. It’ll be a funny process. I’m anxious to have the viewers go with me as I embark on this journey.
AE: We often talk about how foul-mouthed, crass and tough-as-nails M-Chuck is. But what I really like about M-Chuck, what made me fall in love with her, is that she seems to be equal parts tender as she is tough. There is a vulnerable side to her, which is slowly coming out. I was wondering if you could speak to that. What are some vulnerable more tender aspects of M-Chuck’s character that you try to bring out?
EA: Her family is a soft spot for her, as mine is in real life, and I think we’re unfolding more and more of her soft spots as we go along. That’s one of the things I’d like to see as we grow M-Chuck from season to season, I’d like to expose more of her vulnerability, and her tenderness and her softer side. I think the toughness has been established in this season. Not that you won’t see it again because it’s a big part of who she is, it’s a big part of who she’s always had to be. But this tenderness, this vulnerability, I think is going to be something that will allow her connect to an even larger audience.
Maybe she’ll realize reasons why she has had to be so tough are over now, and she can surrender to her more vulnerable side. I think that would be where I’d like to see this character grow. I think that M-Chuck can also be vulnerable in love. She kind of takes the player’s role, and maybe that’s because she hasn’t found the right person. But what if she did? If she did find the right person, you might see another side of M-Chuck.
AE: Speaking of M-Chuck’s family, one of the refreshing things about the show is that M-Chuck’s sexuality is never in question and never a problem. She’s gay. Her family loves her. The end. I love that in episode four, Cam comes to M-Chuck’s defense and tries to find a place for her in the church where she could be herself. Yet, the show still deals with important topics like discrimination or the intersection of spirituality and sexuality, but it’s coming from outside the family.
EA: I think that is really important. I think it’s amazing that this is a black family. Because coming from the bible-belt south myself, I know that it can be tough in the black community. You know, to have everybody in the family to be so accepting that it doesn’t even come up. It can be especially hard in the black church. That’s something that I brought up with the writers when we had one of our first meetings. As the daughter of two preachers I said, “We have to talk about the church thing.”
Just so you know, in episode four, we had a lot of extras walk out. What you see in the church scenes are maybe half or three fourths of the extras we originally had. Some people left because they didn’t agree with the content and they didn’t like the subject matter. They just didn’t want to be a part of it. I think that’s really saying something.
AE: That’s very telling. And it reflects the end of the episode. It could have been written with a happy ending when the pastor realizes the error of his ways and changes the culture of the church, but that’s not reality. It’s a compliment to the writers that they didn’t take the easy ending.
EA: I think this show does that a lot. We don’t take the easy way out. I have to credit Mike O’Malley for that because he really goes there.
AE: Another thing I enjoy about the writing is the complexity of the characters. M-Chuck is obviously a very layered character.
EA: She’s also very smart. I’d like for people to see just how smart she really is. Don’t let her vernacular fool you. She’s got a good head on her shoulders.
AE: Yes, I think you can see that as the season progresses. You get a sense that all the characters are more complex than you might have originally thought. I have to admit that in the beginning I did see her as a one sided, womanizer who is just out to get laid. But then I realized that she was more than that. So, I was wondering—
EA: Can I actually speak to that?
AE: Yes, of course. I was just about to ask you to do that.
EA: Because that’s something I haven’t had a chance to touch upon in any of the interviews I’ve done so far. And I think it’s important. I think that sometimes when you have a characteristic about you that’s not widely accepted, we tend to deflect. So I think that with M-Chuck, growing up in the hood, having to deal with guys who were very much interested in her, even though she was interested in women, I had to ask myself what that must’ve been like for her. This could not have been a cakewalk for her. At some point she must’ve had to deal with some jerk in the Dorchester projects that felt scorned because he couldn’t get with M-Chuck. Maybe he even sought revenge as a result. Maybe to deflect attention away from her, she sort of joined the boys. Then the focus would’ve been on the girls [they were chasing]. It’s like, “Hey, don’t make fun of me. I’m one of you guys!” Maybe that was a defense mechanism for her. And that sort of just becomes who she is. Does that make sense?
AE: Yes, absolutely. Thank you, for anticipating my question.
EA: And that’s what I meant about going forward, once she realizes that she’s not in that situation anymore, she doesn’t have to protect herself or deflect attention away from her identity, maybe perhaps she can be more vulnerable, including being more vulnerable in love.
AE: Can you give us any teasers as to what to expect for the last episode or perhaps any inkling what we can hope for in the second season in terms of M-Chuck’s romantic relationships?
EA: Unfortunately, I cannot because I am just as curious as you are. I am looking forward to what will unfold. They’ll be other girls this season, but in terms of which relationships are substation and who will come back into her life—that I’ll have to keep under wraps.
Fair enough, Erica, fair enough. There’s only one more episode of Season 1 of Survivor’s Remorse. But if you are just getting hooked on this show, have no fear. It has already been renewed for a 10-episode second season.
The Season 1 finale of Survivor’s Remorse airs on Starz on Saturday, November 8 at 9/8 pm.