'Harlem': Shoniqua Shandai Talks Working With Tracy Oliver and Portraying the Millennial Creative (Exclusive)

There's been a reprise of series centering around the dynamic love lives, careers, and friendships of 20 and 30-something Black women. Tracy Oliver, the genius behind the 2017 comedy Girls Trip, decided to create her own version. This December, Oliver's latest project Harlem will debut on Prime Video. The show stars Meagan Good, Shoniqua Shandai, Jerrie Jones and Grace Byers as four 30-somethings in different phases of life, love, and career. Their friendship is what sustains them as they navigate the ups and downs of life in Harlem, New York. Shandai stars as Angie, a struggling and talented singer who refuses to settle for a 9-5 as she finds her voice through songs once again.

Though Angie may be viewed as the less successful one out of the bunch, she doesn't let her circumstances bring her diva persona down. PopCulture.com spoke with Shandai about how important this role is to her and the audience, how she relates to her character and working with three amazing actors who are now an extension of her family. Scroll through to read our full Q&A with Shandai. (It's also available in video form at the top of this article.)

PC: What made you want to be part of a show like this?

SS: There are so many reasons, but the first one was Tracy Oliver. Before I had even gotten a chance to read the script, I received an email with a notification that I got an audition and the role required nudity. And I was like, "Uh-uh, negative." I told my agents immediately, I'm like, "Why are you sending this to me? You know I don't do that. That's not my brand and da, da, da." And within less than five minutes, my agents called me back and said, "Tracy said you don't have to, it's not a big deal. Just as long as you're willing to kiss someone or anything like that, you're fine." And with her deciding to change her expectations of the character within five minutes, not having to have a conversation with her, not having to plead my case, not to defend my morals or anything like that. I was like, this is immediately a project that I want to be a part of because the head cares. She cared immediately.

Yes. And like you said, that's good that you didn't have to adjust your moral compass in any way to be a part of a project, which is sometimes unheard of in the industry. And one of the things I love the most about the show is that your character Angie really represents the idea of the struggling creative and that whole moment of going into your thirties and having a dream, but trying to figure out if this is something you should continue to pursue because you are in your thirties and you should be settling down or doing something else or, you know…

She has not made it yet.

And I think that that's such a pivotal representation, not just in your group, but obviously in the world that we work in. The creative aspect of life is always booming. Whether you're a singer or a writer or an actual digital artist or painter or whatever. So what do you feel like your character gives to the audience?

What I love the most about Angie is that she does not take "no" for an answer. She treats herself and expects other people to treat her as the superstar that she knows she is. And there's a lot of condemnation and shame that can be associated with artistry, right? People say, "What do you do?" And you tell them that you're an artist and [they're] like, "Oh no, but what actually do you do?" And Angie would never take anything like that. She treats herself like she's Beyonce and everyone else around her acts the same.

I love the one scene..I can't give too much away, in the debut episode where you're kind of, I will just say you don't have your own place. And your character is staying with her best friend in the show and you had to get her together real quick and stand in your queendom and let her know, listen, like you said, it doesn't matter where I am and what I'm doing. Just know that I will get to that point and I don't need any pity party. I don't need any handouts. I'm just as equal as everyone else in this group.

Mm-hmm Exactly. And that's what I love about her.

Was it fun being in this dynamic group of friendships? Did you guys feel like you really formed a sisterhood while filming?

It's absolutely a blessing to be able to work with these incredibly beautiful, talented, kind and intelligent women. Immediately, there was a rapport. And again, it starts with the head. Tracy was adamant about creating an environment where we all felt safe and familiar. And Meagan was the same way. I met her, my first time was in the bathroom of our chemistry test. And she hugged me with such conviction that I thought maybe she thought I was someone else. I'm like, maybe she's mistaking me for someone that she might have met before. But no, she's just genuinely that kind. And when you have the leadership or the heads of a project creating that energy, you can't help but follow. Everyone's so generous and so beautiful. So it was instant chemistry. And honestly, God blessed this set. God blessed this project for sure.

And obviously, the show chronicles the struggles or the complexities of dating in a major city, within a certain age bracket, within a certain tax bracket. What do you feel like audiences will take away from that aspect of the show? Because we all can relate.

I think audiences mostly will be able to, I mean, you already said it, it's like being able to relate. Because honestly, sometimes I don't always see the conversations me and my girlfriends have or what we're going through currently as millennial Black women dating via apps and dating in big cities and all these things, I've never quite seen it. Excuse me, I'm so sorry, on set before. And so I really think that the audience will feel represented in a way that we've never been, in a way that I think they'll be able to see themselves reflected in it, their cousins. And if not, you know somebody who's gone through this.

All episodes of Harlem are streaming now on Prime Video. You can watch our full video interview with Shoniqua Shandai at the top of this article.