Nicôle Lecky and Michaela Coel on the Multi-Hyphenate Grind
Nicôle Lecky is coming for America. After trying her luck in Hollywood, the multitalented Brit regrouped and wrote her way to London’s Royal Court Theatre, where she scandalized audiences with Superhoe, a provocative one-woman show about an aspiring rapper who turns to sex work for survival. Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Coel before her, the 32-year-old expanded that work into a TV show that announced her as a major talent back home. Now, Mood, a six-part series based on her play, is hitting U.S. screens, and, as Lecky tells Michaela Coel, it has her feeling some type of way.
MICHAELA COEL: Hello!
NICÔLE LECKY: How are you?
COEL: Babe, I’m all right. I’m sorry I had to push it back. I’m struggling.
LECKY: Don’t worry. Listen, I saw your Vogue piece, and I have to say, stunning.
COEL: Thank you, babe. It was lit.
LECKY: It looked it. And you were roller skating!
COEL: I was. Can you roller skate?
LECKY: No, I don’t.
COEL: You got to get on it, babe. There’s a whole roller skate club in Hackney somewhere.
LECKY: I’m down to roller skate if there’s other people because I would fall on my ass.
COEL: We’ve got you. Pads. So when does the world see Mood?
LECKY: November 6. It’s wild that it’s here because it’s aired in the U.K. It’s a much bigger audience.
COEL: I never got to ask you what your favorite part of making it was. Are you more into the writing part? The performance part? The production part? The songwriting part?
LECKY: That is such a good question. It would depend on how I was feeling. I loved making music so I loved being in the studio, and that’s not always something you really get to do. The newest part to me was the executive producing part, which I had never done. I just love the creative buzz and control and shaping something to your vision.
COEL: Was the exec producer role difficult to get, or was it easy?
LECKY: I don’t know if it was easy but luckily nobody questioned it. When it was a play first, people kind of let me run with it. I knew so strongly how I wanted it to feel and look, so I just went, “I’m going to exec produce it.” And that was a really beautiful thing in the end, because there was a lot that I knew about the world that they didn’t, because I had researched it so intricately.
COEL: Obviously, I saw your play. What year was that?
LECKY: It was a reading in 2018. I had met you a couple times before, but before I went onstage someone came to me and said, “Michaela Coel is in the audience.” It was a good omen. And you came up to me afterwards and I was just so happy. I can’t remember what you said, but you bolstered my confidence.
COEL: I was stunned at how incredible it was. I’d seen you in some plays, but plays that other people had written. And then I heard, “Nicôle has written a one-woman show,” and obviously, my start was [the play] Chewing Gum Dreams, and I went, “Okay, there’s this Black girl, mixed-race girl”—I don’t know how you identify—“who’s written this one-woman show.” The name was different.
LECKY: It was called Superhoe.
COEL: And I thought, “I need to see Superhoe!” I was blown away. Does America know anything about you?
COEL: How do we introduce them? Because you are a new face.
LECKY: Totally. The last time I went to the U.S. was maybe four or five years ago. I was just auditioning, bumming around L.A. I had the idea of Superhoe in my head, but that was it. At one point I ran out of cash and I had to walk seven miles to an audition.
COEL: Oh my gosh.
LECKY: Nobody walks in L.A. And I had enough money to get there in an Uber, but I didn’t have enough money to get back. And I wore these heeled boots, and meant to bring some trainers in my bag and I forgot. It was for some sort of cop show because I remember I had this leather jacket. I had to walk seven miles back to La Brea.
COEL: In the heat.
LECKY: In the heat! In the leather jacket! And my phone died and I had to go, “Right, the phone’s going to die. You need to memorize the navigation.” I probably cried on mile three.
COEL: So where did the idea come from? Because even that audition and that story of this young girl trying to make it in L.A. resonates with your character in Mood.
LECKY: Totally. It’s not autobiographical, but there are definitely a lot of similarities in terms of the aspiration—having this dream, not having financial security, and just running at something headfirst to see what sticks. Somebody showed me this website called Tag Your Sponsor. They were basically finding these Instagram profiles of young women who said they were models, singers, actresses, and they were tricking them, via DM, into agreeing to do stuff for money. Some of them were secretly working as escorts, but some of them weren’t. I saw a girl on there that I followed on Instagram who was exposed on this website. I still don’t know if she was or wasn’t working as a sex worker, but that was the moment that I was really intrigued. And I had been struggling with social media anyway. What do you expose of yourself? What don’t you? And I just wanted to write about it.
COEL: You probably get a lot of people assuming that it’s autobiographical because the story is so specific. Where did your inspiration for the plot come from, beyond that website?
LECKY: At the time, people were really going mad for Snapchat. And the more I reached out to people, the more came my way. Young women really want to talk. A lot of it is done in secret, so I thought everyone would shut me down. But I’d reach out to somebody and be like, “I’m writing a play, I’d love to talk to you.” People in America and England were like, “Yeah, okay!” And they were just hitting me up. Honestly, if I watch a film or a movie about someone seeking self-fulfillment or trying to reach their dreams, and they get it, I’m going to cry all the way through. You should be able to go out there and do it. And that’s why, even though Sasha’s got her quirks and her flaws, I think you root for her when you watch it.
COEL: Do you think your visceral feeling when you watch these movies about people trying to reach their goals is partly a reflection of your own striving? Because you’ve been hustling for a minute.
COEL: And you’re so talented. It’s odd that it’s taken such a long time for the world to see you.
LECKY: It feels like it has and it hasn’t, that’s the interesting thing. Time-wise, I guess it has. Nothing has been handed to me. Everything unfolds in its own time. I do think a lot has changed since I entered the game. People like you or Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] making work, I don’t necessarily know that I would be in this situation without that happening a few years ahead of me.
COEL: Were you always planning on writing the whole thing?
COEL: Had you written for TV before?
LECKY: Yeah. I’d written on other people’s shows, but it was always the plan to write it myself. The biggest challenge was how we were going to weave in the music. How can we take the music from the play and put it into the TV show?
COEL: And what made it easier?
LECKY: I worked with a guy called Kwame [Kwei-Armah].
COEL: Does he have locks?
COEL: I think I know him. Dope.
LECKY: So we just vibed. I worked with other producers, but I could throw a lot his way and he’s really deft at keys, guitar, everything.
COEL: With the layer of music, you’re essentially giving us a drama with music and music videos. I remember watching it in my living room and being disoriented. I was so blown away because you were playing a real-life character who was very raw, someone we could all identify with. But you are also really cool. There was a write-up on you in The Guardian and she calls you cool. And it’s true.
LECKY: I don’t feel cool, Michaela.
COEL: Cool people never feel cool, Nicôle.
LECKY: I’m low-key a weirdo, but that’s okay.
COEL: It’s a very extreme, multi-hyphenate domain that you’re in, and it’s really beautiful to witness. What was your favorite part of the process?
LECKY: Do you know what? I actually love the edit because there’s more quiet around it and you’ve got what you’ve got, for the most part. And it’s like, how do you now weave the story as close as possible into what you really want to do? That was quite exhilarating. I felt almost like I had a nine-to-five because I was getting up every day and going to an office. So there was also a beauty in the light regime of the edit. I don’t know how you feel about the edit.
COEL: I completely agree with you, Nicôle. I loved the edit. I didn’t know that I would love it. You go from writing and being this nerd in your head, making these stories by yourself, then you get feedback from people who are trying to understand what you’re trying to do. You’ve got actors, directors, costume designers, they’re all trying to understand you. But then you get to the edit and it’s these other nerds that are not necessarily trying to pluck too much from your brain. They get it too, and then you nerd out together. If there is an easy part, what would you say it was?
LECKY: The writing. It’s where I can actively be like, “My phone is off, I’m writing,” and just go someplace else. You can do anything and let your imagination run wild. There’s not a “wrong” when you’re writing. Everything is exactly how you would want it to be. Even when I was on set and I was shooting, somebody asked me, “What did you do this weekend?” And I was like, “I was just writing.” And they’re like, “Writing what?” And I’m like, “Just for fun.” I think it does come quite easy to me, in a beautiful way. It’s painful, but I find beauty in the pain.
COEL: We spoke when I was in Atlanta filming Black Panther. I think you were talking about a musical for Broadway, or something. And I was like, “Wait, wait. Nicôle, why are you already thinking of other ideas?”
LECKY: Yeah, my brain really was a lot. I remember that call. Afterwards, I was like, “Why didn’t I call her before?” Because I remember calling you for some advice and you were so helpful and it reminded me I need to reach out more. As humans, sometimes we just plod along with things, but actually know there are people you can reach out to who have done stuff before you to an amazing degree. I remember texting you when you had said something about not being afraid to disappear. It’s something I really carry with me. I think people pressure you, especially if they like something you’ve done. People want more, more, more, and they want things quick, quick, quick.
COEL: How do you resist that?
LECKY: Turning off my phone. I just got back from a retreat.
COEL: Oh, fantastic. Where did you go?
LECKY: I went in Europe and there were 30 women, all kinds of creatives. You do retreats.
COEL: By myself.
LECKY: Yeah. I had to apply. I had to interview for this retreat.
COEL: Okay. So you can’t say what it is. You have to tell me when this interview’s done.
LECKY: Yes. It was on an island in Europe, offshore. There was no signal or wifi, and we stayed in this house. It was just really restorative being around all these women. So much so that I’ve got one of them in my house right now. She’s from America and she was coming to England. So I was like, “Just crash with me for a bit.”
COEL: Were you writing?
LECKY: There were writing workshops. But you could go off and do whatever. You could just go on walks. I had just been gifted this really beautiful camera, so I was taking photos and getting inspiration and recharging. You’ve inspired me, because I remember you telling me about that retreat you went on.
COEL: Yes. I’m all about a retreat. I’ve never been on a retreat with other people. You mentioned you ended up doing a little bit of photography. Is it important for you to keep being creative?
LECKY: I think my brain gets very full if I’m not having an outlet to create. And I’m almost like a kid in a candy store, when I’m walking down the street and I see these characters and these people and things. I’m just like, “Oh, my god, life is so mad and frightening and fucking mental that I have to unpack it.” And whether that’s writing or directing or writing a song, it will just come to me naturally. Somebody asked me recently, “How do you retain play?” And I was thinking about that. As an adult, how do you keep it? I couldn’t quite work out what I do to keep it, but I know I do. Maybe it’s creating. How much do you play?
COEL: Well, I like skating. Is that playing?
COEL: Okay, yeah. I like fighting, too.
LECKY: We talked about fighting.
COEL: Oh, how could I’ve forgotten? That we share a passionate love for UFC.
LECKY: And boxing.
COEL: Before we have to go, is there anything else you want to say?
LECKY: Just thank you. Thanks for taking the time. One thing I will say is you have always found the time for me. People don’t think about it that much, but time is a real finite resource and you always have championed me, so I’m very appreciative.
COEL: Nicôle, I think you’re an incredibly important person, voice, talent. It’s an honor to be able to interview you. There was no way I wasn’t going to do it. You’re my sister. We are connected in this game. I’m proud of you. I’m happy for you. I’m excited for you. I’m flying your flag. I cannot wait for America to see you.
LECKY: My sis, thank you.
Hair: Michael Delmas at Total World
Makeup: Carol Lopez Reid at Carol Hayes Management
Production: Town Productions
Set Design: Olivia Giles at Jones Management
Photography Assistants: Robin Bernstein and Gabor Koncz
Fashion Assistant: Sanda Bell