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So Many Questions: Actress Nia Long finds there's always more to do

| Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Nia Long as Tamara in House of Lies (Season 2, Episode 3). SHOWTIME

There's nothing quite like parenthood to put life into a clearer perspective. By her own admission, actress Nia Long knew it was a risky move to take time off of her career in order to focus on being a new mom. But raised eyebrows did little to sway her decision to take a breather, allowing herself to develop personally and professionally. It was a gutsy move, but one that was made with no regrets.

Her return to work, however, wasn't quite as smooth as she had planned. The game was the same, but the rules had changed dramatically. Luckily, though, the situation lent itself well when it came to getting acquainted with her new role on Showtime's “House of Lies.” Her character, Tamara, has returned to the corporate game after taking time off to raise a family, a familiar situation that clearly hit close to home. For Nia, that fish-out-of-the-water feeling she had in real life lent itself tremendously to portraying her character on the show.

Given all of her achievements on the job and off, it might seem as though she's checked off every box on her bucket list. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. She's finally coming into her own, getting into her groove and learning to roll with the punches. That “To Do” list looks a lot different than it did 10 years ago because, she says, life has only just begun.

Question: Film, television, directorial debuts, philanthropist, mom. Is there anything left on your bucket list?

Answer: Oh my gosh, there's so much — I don't even think I have accomplished half of what I want to accomplish. Because, as you get older and more mature and get to know yourself more, you start to hone in on what's really important and what you really want. So your bucket list changes, and I've just started to write the bucket list now. The one thing that I would say is that I really appreciate taking the time to develop personally and professionally — especially in the industry we're in. There's this pressure to hurry up and get everything done, don't have kids in the middle of your career. ...

Motherhood has made me a better artist. I understand people more, I'm a lot more patient. I'm learning how to be vulnerable again. In my life, there was a time where there was no room for that … and I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not Superwoman, and I don't want to be. “It's OK to need” is my big lesson.

Q: Did that mentality kick in once you experienced motherhood?

A: Yeah, and I think there's a lot of strength in being vulnerable. Because in order to be vulnerable, you have to really know yourself and be OK with putting all of your cards on the table, and that's not very easy to do. Especially in the business we are in. I think kids do that to you — they make you want to be better and grow.

Q: Did you feel pressure from people who questioned your decision to take time off to focus on your family?

A: I don't think anyone really said that, because they knew that would not be a good thing to say with me. There were a few raised eyebrows. But now, with baby No. 2 it's like, “Oh, that's kinda cool … good for you.” But it's time to get back. The mommy thing is all under control, and it's time to get back to work.

Q: You've said one of the things you love about the show “House of Lies” is that it's the perfect combo of good, bad and ugly in corporate America. Do you think the show is a pretty accurate portrayal of the real thing?

A: I do. I think everybody is out for self. ... Your competition is two steps behind you trying to find out how to get the meeting before you get the meeting. Sharks are people who can sniff out and get to the blood. There's a little bit of that in all of us. I refer to that as hustle. Doesn't mean I'm a bad person, just means that I know how to get what I want. I think people do what they gotta do to close that deal. I think people will cut the next man's throat if there's $80 million dollars on the table. And in this world, money is power. No one cares about feelings on “House of Lies.” Being vulnerable in that world is not to your benefit, which makes for a really edgy, exciting show where it's completely unpredictable.

Q: Having taken time off in your own life, were you able to relate better to your character Tamara, who also is getting back into the game?

A: Absolutely, because on my first day on set, I felt like a fish out of water. I walked into a well-oiled machine. The characters are all kind of twisted and complicated and not really nice people. Not the actors — the characters. The actors are amazing. So, I kind of felt like the freshman walking into the senior dance, and I had a couple cobwebs I had to get rid of. And I thought, “Wow, this isn't as easy as it once was.” And it was great, because it reignited that passion and that fire to do great work.

Q: When it's all said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?

A: I want people to remember me as funny, kind, a great friend, a great mom, a great partner and, you know, a girl that just did a couple movies that people seem to like. I want to keep it humble. I think I want to do the things that make me happy as an artist, but most importantly, I always want to do the right thing for humanity. And it's not because it's the popular thing to do, it's because these things really matter to me. At the end of the day, if I can do something good for humanity, hopefully I'm creating a better space for my children.

Kate Benz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kbenz@tribweb.com or 412-380-8515.

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