Nyambi Nyambi Avoids Black Trauma in ‘The Good Fight’

Nyambi Nyambi’s character Jay Dipersia has been through a lot the past four seasons of The Good Fight. From facing deportation to fighting pay gap disparities, Jay has been given difficult circumstances to overcome. But, in the fifth season of The Good Fight, which premiered yesterday on Paramount+, Jay is given multiple obstacles that he must deal with — the aftermath of COVID, Black Lives Matter Marches, and losing three of his colleagues — two have moved (Cush Jumbo and Delroy Lindo left in the season five premiere episode) and his fellow investigator Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele) has decided to study law.

“Everyone in this country — in this world — has their own personal sort of ‘in memoriam’ of people that [are] no longer with us,” says Nyambi during a phone call with The Nerds of Color this past week. “For me, family members, friends, and people that I looked up to, you get to see how Jay deals with it. I don’t want to give that away, but I was gonna say, I’m exploring loss. Yeah, I have loss of taste, loss of smell, but I’m also losing my right-hand person. Jay and Marissa Gold are no longer investigating together. She’s done. She’s gonna move on and try the law. And then, for me, losing Adrian Boseman (Lindo) was like losing the patriarch. He’s the guy and like [a] father. Losing him and losing one of my close friends [Marissa] and Lucca Quinn (Jumbo).

Nyambi Nyambi as Jay Dipersia of the CBS All Access series THE GOOD FIGHT. Photo Cr: Patrick Harbron/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jay is still reeling from the effects of COVID. It’s pretty bad. At one point, he begins to hallucinate famous Black historical figures like Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and Black Jesus. Nyambi himself is excited to explore this side of the virus, because it’s very real and more than half a million people in this country have died from it. He felt a responsibility to tell this story as real as he could. He also wanted to showcase the isolation of having COVID. Like many who received a positive diagnosis, many had to isolate alone in their homes or in the hospitals.

“It’s just a lot of loss and feeling isolated, except for these hallucinations that you’ll see throughout the season of these historical figures,” Nyambi explains. “It’s going to be very gut-wrenching, funny, [and have an] important exploration through Jay, personally, as he tries to find himself and find reason in all the madness.”

We got to further explore Jay’s psyche and what to expect this season. Nyambi shares with me how he felt about the last season ending abruptly because of the pandemic, what’s it like working with Mandy Patinkin (again!), dealing with portraying Black trauma, and what his spin-off show would be called (it’s pretty good). 

Alright, we need to talk about last season’ finale of The Good Fight. Please explain to me what happened — Epstein, Memo 618, etc. That cannot be the last thing we see — the frozen brain and penis — BUD. Tell me what was going through your mind filming that.

NYAMBI: Well, what’s crazy [is] we didn’t see it. Marissa and Jay didn’t see it. We actually didn’t go far enough to actually see what was in the back of that room. Thank God, as characters, we didn’t see it. That would have been traumatizing. To end the season abruptly and that [being] the last moment, I was just like ‘wow, this is poetic.’ What an incredible way to end the season with that image.

We know there was supposed to be three episodes after the Epstein episode that would have helped conclude everyone’s story. What was pitched to you for the final three episodes? What were we missing that they told you ‘these were the plans,’ but then COVID happened?

I actually don’t know because we started shooting episode eight. Of course, they were still trying to figure out what Memo 618 was. That tells you that we don’t even deal with it anymore for the season. We deal with it in the first episode so you will know what happens with that. And then, Sarah Steele and I had some amazing and really funny stuff in episode eight [that never finished] that will never see the light of day. But it was so much fun. It was really going to be more about [Memo 618] and then also closing out both Lucca Quinn and Adrian Boseman, but because of the pandemic, we had to shut down abruptly. And, rightfully so. It was March 12 that we did that in 2020. Now, with the first episode, it’s called “Previously On,” [it is about] everything that’s happened between mid-February of 2020 through the insurrection [on January 6, 2021]. So things that you guys did not see in terms of what has happened with our characters and how we [have] evolved over the course of that time. So you’ll see what’s happened with Adrian [and] Lucca Quinn; how Marissa is no longer an investigator and is now going into law; and, my character has caught COVID [and is dealing with] the lasting effects of that. Yeah, [you’ll find out about] Julius Cain (Michael Boatman), in terms of, [as a] judge who has gotten in a lot of trouble not going with the program and how that affects him as a judge. There’s so many different storylines that happened in terms of transitioning us into this new season.

Nyambi Nyambi as Jay Dipersia of the CBS All Access series THE GOOD FIGHT. Photo Cr: Patrick Harbron/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Speaking of this season — based on the trailer, it looks completely nuts — Mandy Patinkin has his own courtroom, the firm dealing with the idea of Diane being a white woman in a Black Firm, and the idea of being culturally sensitive among the team with “passes.” Your character even makes a comment about that. Can you tell me what to expect from this coming season — with cultural sensitivity and “cancel” culture?

We have some playful things throughout the season on how we’ll go about tackling our ability or inability to tell the joke — what’s right and what’s wrong. How do we go about [it]? You know, what kind of permission can we give ourselves to be able to at least attempt to joke? That’s something that’s explored — what’s right, what’s wrong. It’s explored throughout the season through our law firm. It’s explored through the kangaroo court that Hal Wackner runs, played by Mandy Patinkin. He’s making up the rules as he goes along. It gets crazier and crazier and crazier as the case is getting realer and realer and realer. So, yeah, it’s gonna be a fun season exploring the fundamental foundation of comedy.

Jay has gone through so much during his time with the firm — deportation, pay disparities, etc. But, I want to know more about his personal life. We have seen your character’s backstory, but not really anything forward. Will we see him deal with some outside-the-firm situations?

Yes, you definitely will see that with Jay. I don’t want to give away [spoilers]. The big thing for Jay is that he has come down with COVID. This is what one would call [the] long haul. A long hauler. You know someone who has recovered from COVID, but there are some lasting effects with the stress put on his body and the way it manifests itself are through the loss of smell, loss of taste, and then hallucinations. Those are the things that [are explored in a] fun way as an artist. We [get to] explore that element. But then, ultimately, leading into a tragedy that we’ve all been through over the course of the last year. It’s heartbreaking when you get there — very heartbreaking. It was very important for it to be told. I feel honored that they trusted me to do [that]. 

Would you say that he has PTSD from experiencing the pandemic and COVID?

Yeah, definitely that. I don’t want to give away too much, but there’s just a sense of just trying to figure out who I am [after] everything [that] has happened. Not only [with] COVID, but also, [the] huge uprising of thoughts and consciousness when it came to matters of race. Losing Breanna Taylor and George Floyd the way that we did, it was front and center for the masses. We couldn’t leave. We could only be in front of our televisions and so it opened the consciousness of white folks. But, it was also for people like Jay [that] made him [wonder] ‘how do you protect yourself — the Black man in this country. How do you protect oneself from all of the impending dangers that surround us? That’s something that he’s dealing with as well. How do I battle those oppressors? Jay is somebody who uses his brain and doesn’t use brute force. But, now, he’s exploring the idea of carrying a gun. That’s a heavy decision for him to weigh things like that. You can’t battle a pandemic with a gun, but he’s like ‘what else can I do? I don’t know what to do.’ You can’t battle some of these issues with a gun but there’s got to be a feeling that ‘I’m protecting myself.’ As Jay, I think that’s the biggest thing — how do I protect myself against all of this chaos?

Nyambi Nyambi as Jay Dipersia of the CBS All Access series THE GOOD FIGHT. Photo Cr: Patrick Harbron/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Well, I know that show is light-hearted as well. I understand Jay is going through a lot, but will we see any happy moments from Jay? Because, lately, we always see Black trauma. I just need to see some Black Joy.

I know [what] you’re talking about in terms of Black trauma. There’s so much of it and you want to see joy. You’ll see a lot of that. You’ll see a lot of that, for sure. This is the story that we’re telling. No one is telling it. It’s important to tell the story but, within that story, there’s the way [the writers have] gone about doing it and you’ll see it’s comedic. I don’t want to make light of it because what we’re dealing with isn’t light. Over 500,000 people [have] died from it. But, at the same time, most of them were Black and brown people. That’s something that’s not being explored and discussed. I think the way they sort of deal with it is, in a way, there’s some levity to it, while at the same time, [it is] very grounded. I know that’s a huge hot button topic — Black trauma. That’s something that me and my Blerd group talk about all the time. We don’t want to see it anymore. I’m tired of it. There’s got to be something where I’m just seeing Black joy. For me, I get to explore everything. When I look at the full keyboard, in previous seasons, I got to play like a quarter of the keyboard, sometimes half [of] the keyboard. This season, I get to play the whole dang thing.

Good. We really wanted that for you. Yes, we do want to see some seriousness coming from you and your backstory, but your character also is the heart [of the series] and you’re funny and a huge nerd. Are we going to see that side of you? Will we see him get more personality outside of the office? Maybe fall in love? 

Yeah, you’ll definitely see that. I mean because we deal with comedic elements on ‘cancel culture’ and sort of the fundamentals of telling [a] joke. We have a lot of fun with that. You’ll get to see a lot more about our personalities. One of the characters, Carmen Moyo, played by Charmaine Bingwa, brings that out of Jay. So, you’ll see. You’ll get to see Jay very playful. As tragic as the story can go, you’ll see Jay, on the other end of the spectrum with absolute joy in the storytelling.

Because The Good Fight is a spinoff, what would your spinoff be? Maybe Jay quits being a private eye and becomes a pastor in The Good Light?

Okay. That’s so funny. I’ve been trying to think of that. What would that be? Would it be The Good P.I.? The Good Eye? He’ll only have one eye [with an] eye patch [on the other eye]. And, excuse my language, but you know some people call the private investigator, you know, you know I guess they call them, you know…

A Dick?

The Dick.

I’m not sure if CBS would be okay with that. 

They may not be.

So… The Good Dick?

Yes, The Good Dick. 

We’re looking forward to seeing more of Jay’s growth, beyond being an investigator, so we’re really looking forward to that.

Thank you. But, you know, in many ways, as an investigator this season, a big bulk of my investigation is investigating self.

Also, we cannot wait to see you with fellow nerd, Mandy Patinkin as well.

Oh my god, I did my first play out of school with Mandy Patinkin. We did The Tempest. I just graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and my very first audition out-of-school was for The Tempest classic stage company. He played Prospero. I played Caliban. He’s en route for me out in the real world acting. I learned a lot from him. It was a joy to have him join the cast and reunite with him.

Check out Nyambi Nyambi on The Good Fight with new episodes every Thursday on Paramount+.