“Claws” Actress Judy Reyes On Saying More With Less
In the first episode of “Claws”, the new TNT series about manicurists from Florida’s sunny west coast, the women are ready to celebrate. They’re putting off their troubles from a side hustle, a money laundering business, to celebrate. It’s New Year’s Eve and the ladies at Nail Artisans of Manatee County are partying at a loud strip club. The woman known as ‘Quiet Ann’ is true to her moniker.
Judy Reyes plays Quiet Ann. At the club, decked out in a dapper black suit and matching fedora, she gets a booty call text. Ann meets a woman outside for a quick tryst. But Ann’s lover asks why so quiet?
Ann’s answer: “Words are bullshit.”
Since dialog is an almost mandatory vehicle to move and shape characters from the page to the stage, Reyes says being mostly mute wasn’t easy.
Reyes tells MBG, “It was a scary thing for me, I have to tell you, a challenging journey. I think as an actress you’re used to making your career with words and stuff,” says Reyes. “It’s been nerve-wracking and challenging to make it real...but let it, obviously, evolve and grow into something.”
On “Claws” Quiet Ann is the strong, silent type. Reyes describes her as “the security muscle/macha/lesbian lover of the show. She’s a love ‘em and leave ‘em type.”
Is Ann’s strength amplified by her silence?
“That’s a really good question. I feel she says more by saying less,” replies Reyes.
If there’s something familiar about Reyes, but you can’t quite place the makeup- free, freckled face, the tight dark brown cornrows, construction boots, baggy shirts and shorts...you’re right. Reyes, 49, has been acting steadily in the business for about 20 years. Television audiences may best know her as Carla the head nurse, in her breakout role on NBC’s “Scrubs.” More recently as part of the cast of “Devious Maids”, “Jane The Virgin” and a recurring role on the reboot of “One Day At A Time” Reyes says “Claws” is different. The cast is mostly women of color, most over 40.
Says Reyes, “A series of circumstances in their lives have brought them to a really intimate relationship there. They’re completely loyal to each other and they’re in it to realize something for themselves,” says Reyes. “And they’re in it together. Getting ahead the only way they know how. Whatever their history has proved to them, rising above their circumstances and moving forward.”
Onscreen, bad breaks tend to pit women against each other. But according to Reyes, the “Claws” dynamic is unique. Their colorful, glittery, 3D sculptured nails may be as fake as acrylics, but theirs is a natural bond.
“That’s the beauty of this whole group. Everybody is accepted for who they are. And that’s why they are so loyal and so close to each other,” says Reyes. “And loyal to (salon owner) Desna (played by Nicey Nash) who’s given them a shot from wherever they came from to function and be a real part of this thing,” says Reyes, who outside the salon carries a baseball bat but inside, she tends to feet awaiting pedicures.
“Our writer's rooms are getting more diverse and that’s absolutely welcome,” says Reyes. “And we need much more of it because there are so many more interesting stories to tell and more interesting ways to tell a familiar story.”
Reyes says growing up in the Bronx, she saw a lot of movies but she also watched a lot of television. Favorites included “The Love Boat”, “Three’s Company” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Offscreen, she took her cues locally.
“The people who gave me more inspiration were activists, other Latinos heavily involved in the theater,” says Reyes. “I came of age within in a strong theater community with a lot of diverse actors, Latinos in particular.”
As someone who’s been in the industry for decades, Reyes says there’ve been great experiences.
“The best is obviously the work and the opportunity to grow and change with every opportunity. Like “Scrubs” launched my career. I’m indebted to Bill Lawrence forever,” says Reyes. “And to be able to be trusted in that character to make my own contributions. It was a totally safe environment to create and grow.”
Reyes credits another, more recent show “Devious Maids” as a chance to work with other Latinas while having campy fun. The show is based on a telenovela, a medium Reyes consumed as much as American sitcoms.
“That’s a huge influence in my growing up and I didn’t think this before. I related and communicated and bonded with my mom and sister and they were everything,” says Reyes. “And the fact that they have such an impact on television today says a lot.”
Favorite memories? “I remember one called “Colorina” (with Lucia Mendez) and some of the themes were heinous and wrong. Women who fell in love with their bosses. Fairytale shit you would never buy today,” says Reyes with a laugh.”
Reyes says with the rewards there’ve been hurdles. “There are issues with being curly haired or dark skin, not as ingenue as opposed to a character....Those are the frustrations that I’ve experienced a lot,” says the Dominicana. “Trying to break out of a typecast once you’ve been known as a character for so many years. Which is why I’m so grateful for Quiet Ann right now. I have a real blessing to play something completely different from anything that I’ve played before.”
“This is a gift. There’s a give back opportunity here. If we want it to get better and if it’s not good enough then you have to do your part behind the camera. And those are the steps I look forward to taking,” says Reyes. She with her husband George Valencia and former “Devious Maids co-star Roselyn Sanchez are producing “La Golda,” described as a prosocial animated series bringing awareness to issues affecting children.
“She is a 8-year-old orphan, Colombian, passionate about soccer and passionate about doing good for other kids in the world through soccer which is the biggest sport in the world. It speaks to real issues that kids often ask questions about,” says Reyes. “So she goes around playing soccer matches and addressing issues all over the world.”
Reyes says that work is a natural extension of her career, her work as a mother and Latina actress.
“There are not enough writers, what are you going to do? There are not enough shows, what are you going to do? Explore those opportunities. It’s not so much about being humble but knowing you have something with it. You can be the change you want to be,” says Reyes.
“I get shy and self-conscious about that. (and say) no, no I’m just an actor. Nobody is just an actor anymore. So it’s about doing good with the good that you have. Maybe in a creative way or an artistic way. In a way that generates work for other people.”
“Claws” airs Sunday nights on TNT. Check local listings.