“I call myself Black Sue,” Nene Leakes says with a laugh about her character on Glee (the season finale airs tonight on Fox). Leakes was cast in the recurring role of swimming instructor Roz Washington on the musical comedy series because creator Ryan Murphy needed someone strong enough to stand up to Jane Lynch's ruthless Sue Sylvester. As fans of Bravo's Real Housewives of Atlanta and NBC's Celebrity Apprentice (on which she famously battled Star Jones) know, Leakes is not afraid to speak her mind. Besides her brazen television image, the 44-year-old is also an outspoken advocate for raising awareness about domestic violence against women. Leakes tells The Advocate about sparring with Lynch on Glee, her new gay-themed sitcom The New Normal, her thoughts on marriage equality, and how she'd react if her child revealed he's gay.
The Advocate: How did you land the role of Roz Washington?
Nene Leakes: Ryan was looking for someone to play the character and he saw me on Housewives. He called and told me that I’m his guilty pleasure. He said, “I watch you on Sundays while I have my coffee and make my bed. I watch you guys and I just crack up.” He told me he was looking for someone who could take on Sue and was auditioning a few celebrities. He said, “I don’t think anyone can take her on like you can.” He never told me to audition. He said that after watching me on Housewivesand Celebrity Apprentice, he knew I could do it.
Were you a fan of the show before you got the part?
I was scared and nervous. I’d never seen Glee before. I’d heard about it. I’d met the Glee kids a couple of months before that in New York. They were on tour. We were at the same hotel and they came over and asked for my autograph. He said they all told him he had to get Nene. I was so shocked. He gave me the script and told me to go home and study it. Now I love Glee. I’m now such a Gleek.
How did you find working with Ryan Murphy?
I didn’t know who he was at first. I was blowing him off when he reached out to me. I talked to my manager who said, “Nene, he is the hottest thing in television.” That made me nervous. He’s very creative. He gets it. He lets me just kind of go off script and do my own thing. When I watch the show I see that sometimes they kept my own thing and sometimes they don’t. Ryan gives you room to do stuff. Some shows want you to stick to the script, which I do, but Ryan gives you the chance to go off script. He’s really easy on set. I thought he was going to be something else but he’s really easy. He’s been really good to me.
What was it like going head-to-head with Jane Lynch?
At first I was scared. I was like, “Lord have mercy, I’m going to work with Jane Lynch.” I was asking people about her before I worked with her and they told she’s actually shy. When I got on set we clicked. I was really happy we clicked. I’d been worried that it would be another Housewives set where there’s tension and she’s going to scratch my eyeballs out. But she was so welcoming to me. The first day we took pictures and tweeted them. She was really good to me. I also liked to work with Dot Marie Jones. I liked that we’re all three grown women and we all want to just work and go. We all came in prepared and knew our lines and what we were going to do and knock it out and go home. I love that about Jane. She comes prepared to work.