The Essence Of Nia Long

Nia Long Graces The Cover Of Essence Magazine Nia Long, who recently costarred opposite William Shatner, Candice Bergen and James Spader in the acclaimed ABC drama Boston Legal, is having a girl moment. Dressed in gray leggings, she’s curled, kittenlike, in the corner of her overstuffed sofa, in front of a fire, sipping red wine and estimating the number of pairs of shoes she owns. “Umm,” she says, squinting her eyes, “I guess, 60?”From across the room, her longtime girlfriend CBS Paramount TV exec Abra Potkin laughs. “Ha,” she says, “you are so bad at math!”

The figure, it turns out, is closer to 150, each pair lovingly arranged in a floor-to-ceiling closet in the corner of Long’s airy bedroom. Shoes, Long says, are her passion, falling somewhere on the list below her career, her girlfriends, her son and God. And that’s precisely why the widely circulating rumor about Long losing her shoe while running from a street brawl she was allegedly involved in seems so, well, absurd. But surprise, surprise: The gossip is partly true. Senior writer Jeannine Amber visits Long’s Los Angeles home to dish about men, shoes and what a nice girl like her was doing at a throwdown like that.

Essence: Last summer everyone was talking about how you were involved in an ugly scuffle at The Grove, an upscale shopping mall in Los Angeles.

Nia Long: I know! It was all over the radio and it was really blown out of proportion. They said after the fight, I was running around looking for my shoe; they kept calling me Cinderella. But come on, you see my shoe closet. I love my shoes; there is no way I’m leaving one behind.

Essence: So there really was a fight?

Nia Long: Yes. But I want to get this straight: It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t start it; I didn’t throw any punches. It was one man’s ego against another man’s pride. It was all about them.

Essence: But how do two grown men start fighting at a mall?

Nia Long: What happened was, I’d gone out to dinner with my son and a friend of mine. This was the first time I’d ever brought my child around someone I was dating, so it was a big deal. After dinner, my son’s father (to whom Long was previously engaged; the couple broke up when their son was a toddler) needed to pick him up, so I told him to meet me. Really, I had no intention of introducing him to my friend right then, because my life is my business. He knows I’m a good mother, and that’s the most important thing. But he got to the mall a lot faster than I thought he would. It’s like he put on his Batman wings and flew (laughing).

When I saw him I thought, Okay, this is nothing to get excited about, and I introduced him to my friend. They shook hands, and then I guess my son’s father just got emotional, because he basically punched my friend in the face.

Essence: He shook his hand and then popped him for no reason?

Nia Long: Words were exchanged, but I’m not going to repeat them. Really, I don’t think that fight had anything to do with me. I think it had to do with our son. Men are very protective of their children, and ours is his first and only child. I think my child’s father was like, “This is who’s around my son?” and just kind of lost it. Then they started fighting, so I walked off because I didn’t want my son to get the idea that this is appropriate behavior. That’s when the mall security came and broke it up, and the police were called. (Long’s ex did not return repeated phone calls from Essence.)

Essence: How did you explain to your 6-year-old son why his father just hit a man in the face?

Nia Long: I told him his father got emotional and lost his temper, and he didn’t use his best judgment.

Essence: Did the friend you were with happen to be 21-year-old first-round NFL draft pick Reggie Bush? Because that’s what I heard.

Nia Long: I’ve never even met Reggie Bush! Actually, that’s not true. Just before he signed his contract (with the New Orleans Saints) I was at an NFL party in New York, and this man comes up and asks if his boy can take a picture with me. His boy is like, “Hi, I’m Reggie.” We shake hands, that’s all, and the next thing I know, I’m his girlfriend. After the fight, everyone was calling me, asking, “Did Reggie Bush beat up your child’s father?” And I was like, What?

Essence: So who was the guy at the mall?

Nia Long: Nobody famous. Just someone I was dating. We’re not even seeing each other anymore. The thing is, where I come from, having spent some of my youth in South Central and part of my youth in Brooklyn, this wasn’t that big a deal, except that I’m famous, and it really isn’t a good look. Do you know I’m not even allowed to go to The Grove for a year? We’ve all been banned! But, whatever. They don’t have any good shoe stores there, anyway.

Essence: Did this change your relationship with your child’s father?

Nia Long: (Pausing) I was pissed. But it wasn’t like I stopped letting him see his son. That’s the gangster in me: No matter how crazy things are, you have to maintain your cool. Anyway, he apologized to me, my son and my friend. The bottom line is, he’s really a good father—an amazing father. The only thing I demand is that he speak to me with respect and that we maintain healthy communication.

Essence: Speaking of dating, I see there’s a giant vase of long-stemmed red roses on your kitchen counter. Who are they from?

Nia Long: My friend.

Essence: Oh, really? Just a friend?

Nia Long: Actually, I think we’re changing into more than friends. We’re exploring the possibilities. He’s soooo nice. For my birthday he sent me a giant flower arrangement and all these chocolates.

Essence: What does he do?

Nia Long: I guess you could call it a form of entertainment.

Essence: Sports?

Nia Long: (Giggling) I’m trying to be protective of it because I don’t want it out in the open.

Essence: You were on Third Watch and before that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. How are you enjoying being back on television?

Nia Long: The writing on Boston Legal is so beautiful, so layered and full of life, and I’m working with the crème de la crème—true professionals who take their craft very seriously. So it’s been challenging, but in such a great way. Of course, there’s the constant struggle to find the balance between work and motherhood: You know, dealing with my son’s school and school plays and the bake sale and the million things mothers do.

Essence: You have played the love interest of a fantastic array of men: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, Will Smith, Larenz Tate, Martin Lawrence, Taye Diggs, Mekhi Phifer, Jude Law. Who was the best kisser?

Nia Long: The most natural chemistry was definitely with Larenz. But Will set the standard for leading men. He really knows how to make a woman feel special. He likes to cater to a woman, and you don’t need to be his wife for him to do that. If you are his costar, he’ll take care of you.

Essence: Black male actors have been getting great opportunities to showcase their talents. Last year Jamie grabbed an Oscar, and this year there’s buzz around Will Smith, Forest Whitaker and Derek Luke. Black women don’t seem to be getting the same chances to shine.

Nia Long: It’s not just Black women, it’s women period. Many times we’re cast in supporting roles; meaty roles are few and far between. Also a lot of Black men are branching out and doing mainstream films that don’t necessarily have all-Black casts. And they aren’t really giving those same opportunities to Black women. They’ll cast an ethnic woman, but she won’t necessarily be Black. But I can’t really get caught up thinking about the situation because it’s depressing. Personally, I tend to mind my own damn business. I’m on a great show and I have two films (Premonition), opposite Sandra Bullock, in March, and Are We Done Yet? with Ice Cube, in April]. I’m happy. I have great friends. I have my mother, my grandmother, my son….

Essence: And your shoes.

Nia Long: Yes, my shoes (laughing). Every single one of them.

Nia Long: In Her Shoes
Black America’s sweetheart Nia Long never batted an eyelash at the pesky rumors about her personal life until the gossip about a date that turned disastrous took on a life of its own. Now, with a recurring role on a popular television show and two films on the way, Nia takes time to clear her good name.

By Jeannine Amber


Read this story and more in the February issue of ESSENCE on newsstands now.


  1. Can’t say she told us anything we didn’t already know.I still think Essence has fallen off when it comes to interviewing the sistas these days.This interview is similar to the one they did with Sanaa Lathan where they grilled her about Denzel.It’s so gossipy.Over half the interview was devoted to the fight and only a hint of what was happening with her career wise was spoken about.Nia needs a website too.Every actress should have an official website and Black actresses rarely if ever have official websites or even working fansites.We have got to do better and come into the twenty-first century. 🙄

  2. Nia hasn’t been in a quality movie since Love Jones.I gots to go see who made that movie and what is up with him? We need more movies like that with more roles like that for Black men and women.I love Nia as an actress but I feel like the stuff she does just doesn’t utilize her full potential.Love Jones and Soul Food are her two best movies if you ask me and I could use more of them both.

  3. [quote comment=”2481″]Nia hasn’t been in a quality movie since Love Jones.I gots to go see who made that movie and what is up with him? We need more movies like that with more roles like that for Black men and women.I love Nia as an actress but I feel like the stuff she does just doesn’t utilize her full potential.Love Jones and Soul Food are her two best movies if you ask me and I could use more of them both.[/quote]Nia’s career really hasn’t been that grand.Outside of LS and SF every other movie she has been in has been crappy.Oh wait, she was in that movie with Taye Diggs and Sanna Lathan that was cool.Outside of those 3 I can’t think of anything else.Black actresses are going to have to start creating their own roles or they’re going to be unemployed.Drew Barrymore and some other White chick put together their own company to do just that and they produced all those romantic comedies Drew starred in.Sistas got to B smarter or they are going to find themselves with no work at all.With more and more roles meant for sistas now being given to Hispanic and White women, where does that leave Black actresses? It’s time sistas take the reigns and start looking to run thangs.

  4. I don’t know why anyone would say that it doesn’t look like her..She is much older now..she had her child or children..She’s not that young anymore…She is still a beautiful woman though


  5. Yes Nia is much older but she sure doesn’t look it.The cover is bad.It does not look like her and it is bland.

  6. This issue was very good. I agree with the above poster in that she really didn’t say anything we don’t already know…but perhaps there’s not much else?

    What I tripped out on was the amount BLOG “letters to the editors” that were sent in regards to December’s issue of Essence…and primarily in regards to Puffy and Kim’s “relationship”. Check it out. There was an overwhelming response that was all along the same wavelength: Kim, why you letting him dog you like that and why are you so nasty when you refer to Jennifer Lopez?

    Interesting that people/women from all over agree on the same thing.

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