EXCLUSIVE: Jenn Lyon Talks Playing A Real Woman, Going To Nail School For ‘Claws’

If you haven’t heard of TNT’s newest summer drama, Claws, you need to get with it, baby.

Claws is the latest must-see dark drama/comedy about five very different women who paint “hooves” in the very Floridian town of Manatee County. The dazzling cast is rounded out by Niecy Nash, Jenn Lyon, Carrie Preston, Karrueche Tran, Judy Reyes, Dean Norris, Harold Perrineau, and Jason Antoon.

Spoilers ahead!

From the jump, Claws wastes no time in muddying the water with the murder of Roller (Jack Kesy), a thuggish redneck trying his best to run a hardly legal pain clinic as a front for Uncle Daddy’s (Norris) larger drug operation, proving anything can happen. True to the Sunshine State it takes place in, this show is anything but predictable.

“It’s just crazy! I feel like every episode there is something that pulls the rug out from underneath the audience and it’s the same way for the characters,” Lyon, who plays Jen, said. “Just get ready — I’ll sell you the whole seat but you’ll only need the edge!”

Being from North Carolina, Lyon had no problem connecting to the sugar sweet blonde bombshell (with whom she shares a name), who is down for a good time but will definitely put you in your place if need be.

Let’s talk more specifically about your character, Jen. An underlying driver for her is being a mom and trying to make a better life for her kids, wouldn’t you say?

Yes, absolutely. She’s got one baby-daddy in prison and another with Bryce (Kevin Rankin), so he’s raising a kid that’s not even his and I just love him so much and he’s the first man I’ve ever been with that has kindness and compassion. She’s had a series of terrible stepdads and abusive boyfriends and this has been like an avenue she’s never gone down before so she doesn’t want any thing to disrupt it. Of course, stuff does and you’ll see how mama bear handles it.

 

I honestly can’t wait. Jen is sort of sitting on these two time-bombs: one, she’s very aware of Bryce being a recovering addict and getting sucked into the family business, and then there’s the other one with Desna, who is basically family and the catalyst to the storm Jen is getting caught in.

I think you’re right. It’s a tenuous spot that will test her loyalty. Desna (Niecy Nash) is her ride-or-die. Desna was there before Bryce was there, she’s been my best girl for so long and, in a way, Desna has saved each and every one of us [in the nail salon], so we owe her our lives. I’m also a recovering addict, so if he starts to go down with the ship, I’ll start to go down with the ship. It’s held together by spit and love, it’s just barely holding on. When something comes in and threatens that, she’ll do whatever it takes to keep it from falling apart. But, also, she’s capable of falling apart and her relationship with Desna is capable of falling a part. So, you’re right, she’s sort of drawn into quarters.

 

One of the things I really love about this show is how perfectly subtle — subtly and unsubtly — it captures the Florida’s culture.

(Laughs) Yeah, totally.

 

It feels very authentic without feeling cliché or too over-the-top from the writing to the acting. How do you navigate staying balanced on that very thin line?

Well, we’re lucky that the writing is phenomenal and funny and dark. The cast that has been assembled — they’re all a very interesting mix of super playful, dedicated, smart, emotionally available, and we just understand dark comedy. We’re all a little bit twisted — the crew, too — and mischievous and weird. Even down to the props, it’s all brilliant. At the funeral, if you look, instead of a chocolate fountain it’s a ranch or BBQ sauce fountain and the nails [from] the art department, it’s amazing to be in this kind of company.

 

It’s true. The funeral for Roller was so over-the-top and not what you’d expect to see at a funeral —

But, everyone’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, okay, here we go.’ It’s not outlandish for them because they know where it comes from.

 

What kind of research did you do to prep for this role or did you know right off the bat who Jen was?

I did research of the town and I looked up pictures of what it looks like, but I’m a southern girl, I know these people like the back of my hand. I know the laughing and crying when something terrible happens at a funeral. My daddy’s a preacher and I grew up in church, and there’s no place that’s more mystical, absurd and funny, and I think that’s how Florida is.

 

Yeah, I think a lot of people would agree with you there. Have there been any whispers of a second season yet?

Well, we whisper it to each other all the time. The rumor mill is up and running but until we get official word, I’m just going to sit on pins and needles, I guess. I would give anything to do another season because the opportunity to play these kinds of complex characters in this world with these rules just never comes along. It’s such a gift. We get along little kittens in a paper bag. We have the best time with each other; we’re there for each other, we laugh with each other, we cry with each other. I’ve never been in such a utopia.

 

I think that definitely comes through on screen. The camaraderie doesn’t seem forced at all, it looks like you guys genuinely like each other, except maybe with Virginia (Karrueche Tran).

We are tight and it’s hard for us to be mean to Karrueche. I mean, we do it because we have to, but she is so generous and kind and funny and has really blossomed into this great little actress. We all protect her like our little sister, we just love her.

 

Did you have to learn how to put nails on for this show?

Oh, what about it, girl. What do you need to know? We went to nail school.

 

Really?

Oh, yes. I think we went for, like, 5 days before we started shooting and it was taught by this great New Orleans nail tech named Beedy Williams — you can follow her on Instagram — she taught us everything with her assistant Danielle: cutting, filing, polishing, gels, acrylics, stone work, design, so that we could look like we were doing something on-camera.

 

That’s amazing. Did you learn anything surprising about the trade?

The fact that it’s such artistry and that’s overlooked, it’s like a craftsman-type endeavor. The stuff they do freehand, the way they form an acrylic — I really believe it’s artistry and so does Desna and the other girls.

 

I love that you guys went to nail school!

Oh, yeah, we have so much time in the salon, you don’t want to just be doing a clear top coat. You want to know what it’s like to put a nail on someone’s finger and use a drill. All that helps make it look authentic.

 

Is there anything else we should know as season one carries on?

Stay tuned in. There’s a lot of surprises coming up, and I hope that you root for these women the way they root for each other. I think it’s important that we see real female solidarity on TV and women of a real size on TV, and I hope we get to keep doing it.

 

You know, that is a great point. The diversity on the show is really strong.

Oh, yeah, and we’re all at our natural weight. Nobody is dieting. We’re playing women, real women, and that’s unheard of on TV.

What does that mean to you as an actress in an industry that’s known for putting pressure on being thin?

It means a lot to me. I’m not afraid to talk about this: I got out of eating-disorder rehab about a year ago and I’m probably 65 pounds heavier than I have been before on TV. I got really tiny to get on TV. I was super thin and never ate — you can look it up online, it’s a stark difference. I was in rehab and they were like, ‘We need to pick you another career because this is like an alcoholic working a bar.’ This industry is not built for people to be recovering from eating disorders. The fact that I get to do the work I love to do and be the size that I just am is — it feels like a miracle to me.

 

Wow, congratulations on getting healthy.

Thanks, man, and congratulations to casting for being diverse enough to not just put some little skinny white girl in this role. They really took a chance on me and I’ll never forget it.

 

I think that’ll be a big driver of the success of this show. Like we talked about, it can be over-the-top but it’s also very relatable.

That’s what I think, too. This woman has two kids, she lives in the backwoods of Florida, so why would she look like an actress? Why would she be bony and angular, you know? This girl eats Doritos on the way to work, just like a lot of us eat Doritos on the way to work. I am familiar with her, like, let me be brave enough to play her like I think she is.

 

Catch up on Claws on-demand, and don’t miss all new episodes Sundays at 9pm ET on TNT.

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