‘Daisy Jones & the Six’ Star Nabiyah Be on Simone’s Queer, Black Joy

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Episode 7 of “Daisy Jones and the Six,” now streaming on Prime Video.

Simone Jackson doesn’t fade into the background. While readers of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Daisy Jones & the Six” just got a taste of the character, Prime Video’s series adaptation gives the disco diva, played by singer-songwriter Nabiyah Be, a much more significant arc outside of her relationship with Daisy (Riley Keough).

In Episode 7, titled “She’s Gone,” Simone’s story is front-and-center, as viewers follow her meteoric rise as a disco pioneer in the New York underground scene. She does so alongside Bernie (Ayesha Harris), who becomes both her musical partner and romantic interest.

Be hasn’t publicly commented on her sexuality before, but she tells Variety that she identifies as queer, which helped her relate to Simone’s story. “That was easier than if I were someone playing this role without that background. Maybe I’m not a gay actor playing a gay role, but I’m definitely not a straight actor playing a gay role.” Her connection to the queer community made her all the more eager to bring Simone’s story to life. “I think that making her queer definitely added a level of profundity and truth to how impactful music was to the LGBTQIA+ movement and community. I think it made a made her story more truthful to history.”

Speaking with Variety ahead of her big episode’s premiere, Be broke down Simone’s love story and musical journey.

What was your reaction when you first saw how much larger Simone’s role was in the script?

The first new piece of information I got from [showrunner] Will Graham was that she was going to be queer. I dropped the book, because I was like, “I have to focus on this.” In the book, she goes from Point A to Point B, but the middle part, we didn’t have. I understood that a lot of it was going to come from me being one of the few Black bodies, and just living this story in my body. It was extremely collaborative. I wrote a three-page paper, sent it to Will, and we called a writers’ meeting — and some of those things did go in. It was super important to me that she actually had this musical drive: that she was really trying to create a new narrative, a new sound.

What was in that three-page paper?

It was a lot about not falling into a typical “Black woman in the musical industry” story. It was important to me that she was innovative. At that time, there was a lot of like, “We already have the one Black woman singer doing this kind of sound.” So it was important to me that she wasn’t aware of how much she was still trying to fit that mold and how much of herself and her truth she was kind of squandering.

There were a few things that also didn’t make the cut. There was beautiful scene right before she goes and sings at The Troubadour with Tom [Wright], who plays Teddy. He breaks it to her that the label is dropping her, and it was hard for him being the only Black guy in that label. And hard for her: “What did I do wrong in this first album?”

It’s funny how we get the first thing we get to see from her, she’s singing a cover, which is very common for singers of the time. And it was just really delving into this face she puts on to play the game. She’s constantly smiling, she’s constantly being pleasant. We also see that in the hair: she only lets her natural hair down when she’s in the house. As soon as he steps out of the house, she puts on the wig. She thought that the only way to make it mainstream was to silence some of those things.

Simone and Bernie’s love story is so beautiful. How did you and Ayesha Harris build that chemistry?

It was so important that we got to really focus on the joy of it all, the romance of it all, and not so much how difficult it might have been for them. We had some real-life stories that we got to draw from: we looked at some pioneers of the disco scene. I remember a lot of notes from Will and a lot of conversation about how difficult it might have been to feel worthy of a healthy, loving relationship and how that felt different in Simone’s body.

Bernie carries such confidence. It’s funny because Simone becomes the star, but really, I find that Bernie is that holding ground and that sparkle of joyful defiance that helped so many marginalized groups of people through that time.

We’re telling the story of early disco days, and those underground birthplaces of disco music were a place where being joyful was safe. Historically, the stories we carry in our bodies, in our consciousness, in our DNA, are that it’s not safe to be joyful and to let your guard down.

I’m remembering what was in that three-page paper now! I was really trying to explain to the group how the biggest difference between 1970s sociopolitical conversation and nowadays is that the conversation about mental health is not there. As historically marginalized groups of people, a lot of us have an easier time with the toughness: “I’ll take it on,” kind of like Amazonian warrior archetype, rather than the subtleties and that softness. We need more conversation and space for healing, and we also need to be aware that that softness exists.

The theme of women supporting women was translated very effectively from the book to the series. How did you and Riley Keough flesh out your characters’ friendship?

Riley and I talked extensively. It was definitely in our minds what it meant for these two women to be drawn to each other, and have such a pure exchange. They’re experiencing different levels of loneliness, and they needed each other. I think I think it’s very important for a lot of us to see what it means on screen and in our lives what it means to have chosen family, and how that’s just a huge part of navigating life. You get to choose who resonates with your path and your mission. That’s what we get to see with Daisy and Simone.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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