I watch a lot of television (duh, I’m a television writer), but I can’t imagine the fandom freak out I would have if I actually got to star on one of my favorite shows. But that’s the life of Sierra McClain, who plays newcomer Nessa on Empire . Nessa is a new protégé on the show, a singer who bailed Jamal out of a bad situation, a love object for Hakeem, and a love interest for Andre. (As in, unlike in the case of Hakeem, Nessa and Andre actually mutually like one another and are a current power couple.) McClain was an Empire fan before she was cast and sat down with Bustle about how she got into the hit series. “My mother watched the show first, and I was like, ‘Hey, let me check this out!’," she says. "It was one of those shows that you watch and then you get hooked, like, ‘I have to watch the next episode now.’”
According to McClain, it's both thrilling and nerve-wracking to go from sitting on your sofa watching your favorite show to sitting on set on the show. While some of us might consider it a dream come true, and it certainly was, it's also a lot of pressure. “It feels like a full-circle moment. I was nervous at first, because this is Season 3, and Empire is a monster hit, obviously… I wanted to make sure that I came in at a really high level and added to the show, you know?" she says. "The challenge has been amazing. I love it, and I love being stretched as an actress. I can’t wait for people to see [Nessa’s] character arc and where she goes."
Nessa is a protégé of Shine, a former associate of Lucious Lyon’s, and, before she started lighting up the screen with her chemistry with Andre, she was singing with Hakeem. Though McClain had fun with that (“Yazz is amazing," she says), she has her sights set on another Lyon brother for a duet. “I know we kind of did this already, but I want to — and people have tweeted me about this — they want to see Jamal and Nessa just really do a song," she says. "I know she sang background, but I would love to do a full song. That would be awesome. I am in love with him, so that would be cool to see.”
As the vocalist of “Need Freedom,” a song about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, McClain delivered an important message. “We really needed this song,” Mshe says. “And I was honored to be able to be a part of something like that and to be a part of the message that’s being spread.” Empire is an important show, and it’s clear that McClain is still dedicated to being a fan as well as a member of the cast.
“There are times that I don’t read portions of the script so when I watch it I still get that element of surprise,” she says, sounding like every Empire fan ever despite being right in the heart of the action. “I still want to have that week-to-week, sitting-on-the-edge of my seat anxiety like, ‘What’s going to happen?’”
Images: Chuck Hodes/FOX (2)