There is something about Nia Long. 

She is arresting. Both in energy and in beauty. She exudes an aura that does not demand your attention but rather welcomes your intrigue with open arms. Maybe it’s because she’s been the girl next door of our dreams for a few decades now or maybe it’s because she never feels inauthentic or disingenuous. When you see Nia Long onscreen or, in this case, spend time talking with her one afternoon about life, her career and her staying power, you leave better than you came. More grounded. More at peace. Her soft and smooth voice glides over answers filled with truth the same way it slow dances with the dialogue in some of her most memorable performances. She holds nothing back while simultaneously teaching us how to save a little for ourselves too. And that is comforting. Rare, even. 

Nia Long is a vibe all on her own. Without striving, without force. The something, that thing that enraptures you, is simply her. As she prepares to step back into one of her most iconic roles, Jordan Armstrong, in the heavily anticipated The Best Man series, she is also stepping out into uncharted territory in her first commercial (insane, right?!) with Old Spice for their ‘Men Have Skin Too Campaign’ alongside comedian Deon Cole and actress Gabrielle Dennis. 

21Ninety caught up with the screen queen for a chat. 

Iman N. Milner: We’ve been watching you for a long time and I am sure there has been so much growth since we first were introduced to you, so who is Nia Long at this point in your life?

Nia Long: That’s a real big question but here’s what I’ll say: my goal is to keep growing and learning. My goal is to be a good mom and keep creating good content, giving the folks out there in the world something to feel good about. I want to give them something to be proud of, learn from, cry, laugh—evoke emotion. That’s what I would say without getting to deep but life is good. And the more we follow what our truth is—the things that make us curious or even intimidated and scared—I think that’s where the beauty in life comes. 

Iman N. Milner: I had a conversation with Morris Chestnut, who you’re about to work with on The Best Man series, about longevity. I assume that it’s much different for a woman, especially a Black woman, what would you say is the key to your staying power in this business?

NL: Pace and process. If you pace yourself and trust the process, you will find your sweet spot. And the work finds you. There is no one out there who can block your blessings and what’s for you will be yours. One thing I love about Morris, and he’s my brother, is that he just does Morris. He’s so smart in business. Of course, acting is the main thing but he’s got so much other stuff going on. I really appreciate and love that about him. He’s one of the smartest men that I know. He’s always talking about new things, I love the way he processes information and I cannot wait to start working on this series with him. That’s my brother. I have to say that. 

For me, I always just take my time. I don’t worry about what other people are doing or not doing. I am happy for them. I try not to compare myself to people in this business—95% of the time, you’re being compared to another person. The truth of the matter is: artists evolve. The more opportunities we get to show different sides of ourselves and our artistry, that’s what makes the career beautiful, bountiful and long. That’s where the longevity comes in. It’s about the opportunity and following what’s true to you. 

Iman N. Milner: It’s hard to believe that this is your first commercial. How is that even possible?

Nia Long: The beauty in it is that I’d given up on the idea that I would ever get a commercial. I just said “maybe that’s just not for me” and then it happened. That’s the lesson; sometimes you have to let go of the idea of something in order for it to actually come to you. And I was so excited because I am such a fan of the Old Spice commercials and the brand, honestly. 

Iman N. Milner: This campaign is so funny, how did you feel stepping into something so comedic?

Nia Long: I’ve always done comedy. I feel like I’ve already been a little bit in both worlds. Pretty much my entire career I’ve worked alongside some of the most brilliant comedic actors—Will Smith to Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence—and I’ve learned so much from each and every one of them. The key to comedy is to play is just to play the reality and let the circumstances bring out the funny. As a woman, often times, you’re being the support—the number two to the number one—who is often the big comedic actor and the key is to just flow. That’s also the key in drama is to just flow with it. You stay authentic and in the moment. 

Iman N. Milner: You seem to have such a great hold on the direction you want both your life and your career to go. Was there ever a time that you felt the need to reclaim that power for yourself?

Nia Long: I don’t think I’ve really had to reclaim anything. I am just living my life with my purpose, my plan, my faith and my family. I live in my truth. I am never afraid to do the things that make me uncomfortable and that I’ve never done. There is no formula, that doesn’t really work for me. I don’t know how to be calculated. There are two different types of personalities: there are people who think their way through life and there are people who feel their way through life. I tend to feel my way through things more than overanalyzing and when I need to use strategy, I tap into that part of myself. But I, honestly try to feel my way through things. 

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