Interview: 'Assisted Living's' Courtney Nichole on Connecting with Laughter and Love

Courtney Nichole

As 2020 rolls along, folks are finding ways to stay connected with family, friends and neighbors. From Zoom meetings and group chats to peaceful protests and donation drives for healthcare workers, individuals are coming together in ways big and small. Whether it’s to fight for racial justice, support local non-profits, or simply to check in with old friends, the need for connection is as great – if not greater – than it ever was.

Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based actress Courtney Nichole has the perfect way for people to share 30 minutes of self-care with loved ones near and far, by tuning in to her new BET series Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living. The Tyler Perry-created sitcom tells multi-generational stories full of life lessons and lots of laughter (AKA the best medicine).

“People should tune in because it is hilarious. It is relatable. It is family,” said Nichole by phone in October. “You’ll get a little bit of everything. I think about shows like Family Ties or Saved by the Bell or The Cosby Show or A Different World. All of those shows were fun to watch, but they also had a message and a theme. Tyler Perry does not miss on that mark.”

On Assisted Living, Nichole plays Leah, the matriarch of a family that moves down to Georgia to help her husband’s grandfather run a retirement home. Shot at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta before the pandemic, the show features a talented crew and cast – led by the incomparable David and Tamela Mann – who, as a collective, Nichole describes as nothing short of “amazing.”

“I’m going to work on another word, but I don’t have one. This cast and crew is amazing from the top down,” said Nichole. “First of all to be booked by Tyler Perry Studios, Mr. Perry himself and even the executives over there – you talk about Mark Swinton or Michelle Sneed – it’s just amazing. Then you get to the cast. I remember in the audition they asked, ‘Do you know who David and Tamela Mann are?’ I looked at them and I was like, ‘Who are you asking that question to? Who doesn’t know who David and Tamela Mann are?’ So, that was awesome. And then to round it out with J. Anthony Brown, who we’ve heard on the radio for years, love him, and Na’im Lynn. He’s not from Chicago but we have a bit of a connection too because we were born in the same year two days apart. We have fun with that, and it helps us build character. The cast is amazing. It’s star-studded.”

Up-and-comers Tayler Buck and Alex Henderson are also featured in the cast.

Nichole noted that while on set, Perry was not only an inspiration in his talent and work ethic, but also with his heart.

“We filmed in January and February right before the pandemic hit. We were there during Black History Month, and he had this sign on a banner where it said, ‘Take someone with you.’ I really believe he does that. All the people there have great energy on set. To watch him throughout this pandemic buy groceries for the older community there in Atlanta and give away gift cards to help the police and citizen relationship that they are building in Atlanta was inspiring,” she said. “Forbes recently dropped an article saying that he’s a billionaire. With his philanthropy, he’s a shining example for others. He’s always giving, and seems to be giving from his heart genuinely. He continues to be blessed. Being able to watch that kind of greatness at that level is very inspiring.”

After filming wrapped, Nichole found inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement and the many ways everyday people are coming together to exercise their rights and fight for racial justice and equality. In late-May, despite the risks presented by the pandemic, she and her husband, Jamald Gardner, marched in a protest in Los Angeles following the murder of George Floyd. While there, she made sure that the message of Black Lives Matter wasn’t damaged by provocateurs.

In a now-viral video, she condemned a pair of vandals, who appeared to be white, for tagging a coffee shop with graffiti, an action that she points out will be wrongfully attributed to the movement.

“I know that every protest that is documented throughout history there are always provocateurs. There are always instigators and agitators. I was just like, ‘We cannot let this message be glossed over by actors like this.’ I believe that now is a great time for people to start speaking up or speak up even louder because the world is listening,” said Nichole. “That Chicago came out in me. That no-nonsense, no ma’am, not on my watch and also the teacher in me came out. The Chicago, the teacher, and the mama in me came out in that moment.”

Nichole went on to explain that she also wants to encourage others to use their voice when they see someone misrepresenting the movement.

She added, “You’re out here protesting and you’re protesting peacefully to convey a message. If you wouldn’t let anybody come in your home and wear their dirty shoes on your white carpet, do not come in here and let somebody dirty up your message.”

Likening conversations surrounding racial injustice to early therapy sessions, Nichole explained that despite growing pains and uncomfortable moments, real change is not only possible, it’s already happening.

“We’re in this moment where so much can happen and so much is at stake. There’s so much work to do but we’re so prepared. I want people to know, you were made for this. It’s OK and we’re going to be alright. Conversations are hard and we need to have conversations and build friendships, that’s what it’s about,” said Nichole. “I’m very proud of some of the things that I’ve seen happen. The Black Lives Matter streets, and the places that have been brave enough to actually reimagine public safety like in Minneapolis, places like Asheville that have taken the stance to say, ‘This is our version of reparations. We’re going to sow funding into the inner cities in our Black and Brown communities in our area and make sure they are up to par like the parks on the other side of town, make sure their schools are resourced.’”

She continued, “I like to ask people to choose a cause. There’s so many things to do, we can’t do all things, so pick yours. Mine is education. Pick yours. Yours may be law. You may want to get into politics. Pick something and that’s the part that takes a village. There’s that circle that’s your neighborhood, and there’s another circle that’s outside of that, and we can do it together.”

Nichole also encourages people to connect with their inner creativity while spending more time at home helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. She is creating several projects – including writing a TV series with her husband – and she believes that everyone can use their imagination to think outside of the box and get innovative in their chosen field.

She also calls on everyone to make time for love and laughter and hopes Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living can provide 30 minutes of joy to people of all ages.

“It’s a multi-generational show. The family unit is so important,” Nichole said. “I think the world can use a laugh right now. I’m glad we’re able to help do that, bring a little joy. We have to remember to bring joy to others and find things that bring us joy during this time. “

Tune into BET on Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m. ET to watch Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living and click here to keep up with Courtney Nichole on Instagram.

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.