A CHI-PROFILE ROLE
Kenwood Academy alum, who went viral in protest video, stars in Tyler Perry series about Chicagoans in Georgia
When it comes to a Chicago actor playing a role that has a local backstory, is it acting or going with what comes naturally?
Actress Courtney Nichole, a Roseland native, does a little bit of each in her debut as a series regular on BET’s “Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living,” where she plays the matriarch of a Chicago family in which the father (actor Na’im Lynn) loses his job and finds work in Georgia helping his grandfather, who recently bought a run-down assisted living facility.
“I had to throw some ‘Chicago’ in there. I had Na’im do a little Chicago stepping with me so they could take some pictures of that,” said Nichole, a Kenwood Academy High School alumna. “All of the stars are lining up. … And you’re like: OK, this was meant to be. My son on the show is actually from Chicago, this family is from Chicago, I’m from Chicago.”
The series, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, includes cast members J. Anthony Brown, Tayler Buck and Alex Henderson, along with David and Tamela Mann, longtime Tyler Perry collaborators who will reprise their roles as Mr. Brown and Cora Simmons (“Meet The Browns”).
“When I got the role I think I was so filled with so many emotions,” said Nichole. “I remember saying in the room that I couldn’t find any words, other than when preparation meets opportunity. And I am grateful for the leadership of Mr. Tyler Perry for [the film production studio] he’s built there in Atlanta.”
Nichole revels in playful Chicago high school banter with her co-star and TV son Henderson, a Whitney M. Young Magnet High School grad.
“We met going up on the elevator to go have the conversation about the cast’s first meeting,” said Nichole. “That’s a bit of a rivalry with Chicago high schools.”
Nichole has garnered acting roles in FX’s “Snowfall” and CBS’ “SWAT” but may be familiar to most viewers from a viral video of her confronting two vandals who were spray-painting “Black Lives Matter” on a Starbucks location during a Los Angeles protest.
“I think it was the teacher in me; the mom in me, but I just couldn’t let that moment pass without acknowledging and saying something,” Nichole said of the event in June. “We’re out here to peacefully protest, and you’re not going to say anything to this person who was vandalizing this building? To me, it’s going against what we’re fighting for because I know they’re [the press] going to try to spin those stories and make it seem like it was one of us.
“And if you walk past the next day and you’re like: ‘Oh yeah, Black Lives Matter,’ but I’m like: That wasn’t even a Black person. … If you’re going to be out here representing us at this march, I need you to do it how we would like for you to do it.”
Nichole takes her South Side experiences with her wherever she goes — a history she credits for being the impetus behind her activism.
As a child, her mother took her to see plays at eta Creative Arts Foundation, a Grand Crossing-based cultural performing arts institution.
“It was definitely a place that nourished that creative side that I was leaning toward,” said Nichole. “I remember taking Katherine Dunham dance [classes] there; I remember taking piano. I remember doing my first stage play at eta. I remember my daddy bringing me my first bouquet of roses afterward, and I think that was the moment that I was bitten by the bug — the acting bug, as they say.”
As a 17-year-old, she left Chicago after graduating from Kenwood to attended Alabama A&M University in Huntsville.
Nichole, an educator by trade, hopes to be a role model for young Black girls.
“If anything, I’ve always wanted to be an actress so that I can represent women who look like me,” said Nichole. “When people see me, they’ll see that I’m not your average small, model actress or something like that. I’ve always been a thicker girl.”
After the filming for the “Assisted Living” season was done, Nichole gave the studio employees she worked closely with a Chicago-centric gift.
“The guy who was my hairdresser and the beautician, and even Tyler Perry, I gave them a can of Garrett’s Popcorn as my going-away gift,” said Nichole. “So I’m trying to sprinkle Chicago all up and through there.”
Na’im Lynn and Courtney Nichole play a Chicago couple transplanted to Georgia on “Tyler Perry’s Assisted Living.”