Naturi Naughton currently stars as Bunny Brenda on NBC’s The Playboy Club, but depending on how old you are, you might just remember her as part of the '90s female R&B group 3LW.
Since that time, Naturi has gone completely retro. In 2009, she was the highlight of Notorious, where she was the spitting image of the Queen Bee herself, Lil’ Kim. That same year, Naturi starred as Denise Dupree in the remake of Fame, and in 2010, she appeared as, oddly enough, a Playboy Bunny in the '60s era drama Mad Men.
Naturi continues to kick it old school with The Playboy Club, and last week I had a chance to speak with her about the show, Bunny Brenda, and where she expects her career to be five years from now.
What can fans expect from both the show and your character, Bunny Brenda, this season?
I think what people can expect is a world full of fun and excitement. We have so many awesome music artists from the time period. [On the show], Sam Cooke comes to the club and performs, and Raphael Saadiq is playing [Sam]. It’s super exciting. Hopefully we’ll get to work together some more. I’m a fan of his work as an artist anyway. That’s the fourth episode.
I can’t wait for the audience to see how we’re going back to a nostalgic time. The hair that I wear—oh my God—it’s such big, coifed hair. I’m falling in love with all the styles of the '60s. We’ve got a Sam Cooke character. We’ve got Sammy Davis Jr. We’ve got Tina Turner [and] Frank Sinatra. And I think that’s something that can really take [viewers] back to the oldies but goodies.
My character is a black woman who has chosen to be a Bunny, which is not a popular choice and it’s not always easy to tell other people. I think at the time, it was very progressive, and a lot of people didn’t understand what it meant for a woman to make her own money, to provide for herself, and to be able to embrace her own sexuality. [Bunny Brenda] is a strong little Bunny.
You have a strong background in music. Do you and the other Playboy Bunnies get to sing and dance on the show too?
Yeah, we do. That was our last episode, episode 3, which was directed by Kenny Ortega. He rocked it out.
We have a big performance number that I get to be a part of. It’s a fun, uptempo song from back then, and I get a chance to sing and dance. It’s the first time you get to see my character let loose. For me as a singer, I was so excited.
Most viewers only get to know actors from their limited screen time each and every week. But what’s a day in the life like on the set of The Playboy Club for a young actress like yourself?
A day in the life, for me, it’s hard. It’s not easy, long hours on my show. I [just] had a sixteen-hour day. I get a chance to try and sleep a little and then jump back up and do it [again] the next day. It’s a fast paced world. It’s a journey. What happens in TV is that you have to remember what happened in the last episode for [your character]. You have to connect the dots every episode and continue to grow with your character.
So for me, it’s been an ongoing growing process. I’m learning every day how to contribute to creating Brenda. I think the process is fast—a lot of work. I think it’s the most fun experience because you get the chance to see your product on NBC.Along with The Playboy Club, what else can we expect to see you in?
Right now, I have another independent film that I did with Kimberly Elise and Danny Glover and Rockmond Dunbar called Highland Park. That’s an indie that I shot last year. I can’t wait for people to see that.
I try to take one day at a time, and The Playboy Club has been so wonderful and so exciting for me that that’s been my focus.
In 2010, you played a Playboy Bunny on an episode of Mad Men. Now, you’re starring as Bunny Brenda on The Playboy Club. Is that a coincidence?
Pure coincidence. I played a role in Mad Men, and I was a Playboy Bunny, and six months later I got an audition for The Playboy Club. But [they’re] not connected. People of course saw my performance in Mad Men and thought it was great, but nothing about that was planned out or connected. If you do good work and focus, then hopefully down the line someone will respect what I’ve done and hire me.
Five years from now, where do you want to be professionally in this business?
I want to have a solo album out. I think five years from now, I can be on tour, have a platinum selling album, and also a number one movie in the box office. And hopefully a hit TV show. Of course, that sounds like a lot, but I want to do so many things and achieve so much. Similar to my character on the show, I’m very ambitious.
I want to do more Broadway. I’d love to be a lead in a Broadway show. So all these different forms of entertainment, I see myself getting more established in all of them. I really want to establish Naturi Naughton on so many different levels. And hopefully in the next five years, or even ten years, I can look back and say, “I’m getting there.” One day at a time, but of course, looking ahead and dreaming big.
The Playboy Club airs every Monday night 10/9c on NBC.