Mekia Cox talks joining The Rookie, why her new character is a 'wild card'
On Sunday, the actress officially joins the cast of the ABC drama as Nyla Harper, a former undercover detective turned John Nolan’s (Nathan Fillion) new training officer. Harper steps in to take over for Nolan’s season 1 training officer, Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson), after the actress exited the series amidst claims she was harassed and bullied on set. An official investigation ultimately cleared all parties of wrongdoing.
But Cox is here to inject the series and Nolan’s policing with some new energy. “My character is a wild card, and I don’t know that [Nolan’s] dealt with that,” she teases to EW. As seen in the exclusive clip above, Cox joins the squad in Sunday night’s episode, “Warriors and Guardians.” She’s not just shaking things up for Nolan, but the whole crew as we watch her get off on the wrong foot with Grey (Richard T. Jones) and take some of the shine off Bradford’s (Eric Winter) badge when she dishes out his own bluster right back to him.
Harper is still very much figuring out who she is after spending years deep undercover, but Cox is grateful for that character journey, considering as an actor she had very little time to work out who the character might be. Due to Williamson’s sudden departure, Cox joined the cast in a whirlwind process that went from an audition on a Monday to shooting on a Wednesday. “Nyla Harper doesn’t know who she is anymore, and so I ended up using that,” she says of her efforts to find a way into a character on such short notice.
In advance of the episode, EW called up Cox to talk about what we can expect from Nyla Harper, what this means for Nolan’s journey as a rookie, and what it’s like to become a network TV series regular on an accelerated schedule. And watch the clip above for more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve gotten teases, but can you tell me more about your character and where she’s coming from?
MEKIA COX: She is a former undercover cop. She used to work for years and years undercover and very deep undercover, and she actually is taking what some might call a demotion and coming back to get into her blues to work with Officer John Nolan as his training officer.
Might her background as an undercover detective complicate things for her or make her a non-traditional T.O. in some ways?
Yeah, you’ve got it there. What I really like about this character, she’s got a ton of layers. Clearly, she’s been in this undercover world for so long that she’s kind of lost who she actually is, so the Nyla Harper when she was a rookie like Nolan is a rookie, she was a completely different person than who Nyla Harper is now. Now, she’s trying to re-find who that person is or was and see who she is now that she’s been through everything she’s been through as this undercover cop.
In season 1, we saw a specific dynamic between the three T.O.’s. What is that dynamic like now that you’re the new person coming into their team?
What’s interesting is I like the female power that’s happening on the show because Lopez sees Harper, and all of a sudden, she falls in love with this character. Because she’s like, oh she’s this badass that’s coming in and shaking things up. Harper and Bradford butt heads. She’s the only one who can go at him and knock him off his balance, and he tries to go back at her and he never fully gets to her, which I think gets to him a little.
We’ve seen Nolan without an anchor these first three episodes. He’s been moving between mentors like Lopez, Grey, and Detective Armstrong (Harold Perrineau). What is it like for him to have a new constant in his life again?
It’s jarring for him at first. He’s been working with Grey, who’s a little bit more grounded. Even Bishop was definitely grounded. She was a bad-ass in her own way, but she was more grounded than this character is. This character has sort of lost herself, even though she is really good at her job. What needs to be done gets done. But she goes about it in ways that John would probably not, but he still has a lot to learn from her and he recognizes that he has a lot to learn.
We saw him bond with Detective Armstrong in episode 2 and seize on a new goal to make detective in four years. Will there be tension between looking up to Nyla and having her as an example and his idolization of this other new detective?
I guess that would be more of a question for the writers. As of right now, unfortunately, I’ve only been able to work with Harold [Perrineau] once, and I wasn’t even in the scene with him. He happened to be in the beginning of the scene and I came in later. John has a way of learning from any and everyone that is above him. He admires Detective Armstrong, but then there are also things that he admires in Nyla. He is sort of a sponge. He’s able to soak up whatever information from all the people around him and so I don’t think there’s any animosity between those characters. Because I think he really does admire both and wants to be like both in ways.
Nolan has to contend constantly with people reacting to his age and the fact that he’s a rookie. Is that something that throws Officer Harper off or has to make peace with in terms of how it makes him different?
She thinks it’s funny. She just thinks this is something I can poke fun at, great. I don’t think it throws her in any way. There are parts of her that are interested in seeing how she is going to deal with this person and how he is going to react to things. Because it’s going to be different than some new 20-year-old coming on to the force. But for her, it initially might be strange, but she ends up liking it a little bit.
So far with all the series regulars, we’ve gotten glimpses into their love life. Is that a journey we’ll see Officer Harper have?
She’s had a little bit of a journey before we’ve been introduced to her. So, she has a past and a past relationship and actually a past family that she is dealing with. So, in terms of romance, that’s the only romantic relationship that she has had. Not to say it will continue, but as of right now, I don’t see a lot in terms of romance for her because she is so focused on trying to restore who she once was.
What is the biggest challenge for her this season?
What I just said, trying to restore herself to who she once was. Because it’s so fresh for her, because she has been undercover for so long, she doesn’t know how to not be undercover. So, any chance she gets she ends up finding herself back in that same world, even though she’s trying desperately to get out of it and that’s a real struggle for her. She doesn’t know who she is anymore.
What was the process for coming on board like? I imagine it was perhaps a quicker turnaround than becoming a series regular on a show might normally be due to the extenuating circumstances?
So, I auditioned on a Monday. I found out I got the job on Tuesday, and I started working on Wednesday. When I found out I got it on Tuesday, I found out let’s say around 10 or 11 o’clock and then had to go in for a wardrobe fitting. In the first fitting for a series regular role, they have to find your entire closet. They have to find what you’re going to be wearing for the majority of the episodes, so they can just pick from that when it comes time so you don’t have to constantly come back in. So that takes some hours. Then I had to go in for a hair and make-up test because in the first episode, I end up playing three different characters. So we had to do hair and make-up tests for all of those characters. So that ended up taking several hours. So I get home at 9 or 10 at night and I still haven’t seen a script. So I have to read a script, memorize lines, then go in and say all those lines at 6 a.m. or something like that the next day. It was a lot in the beginning. I was a little nervous because I did not have time to prep with this character like I normally would. Because of that, I was a little unsure of who she was and as I was saying the lines, I was trying to find and learn who this character was. Now I’m on episode 9, so I’m figuring her out a little bit more, but at the time I was unsure of who she was. But I was like “Ok, just use that because it works because she’s also unsure of who she is at this moment in her life.”
In terms of coming on to set, what was that like as the newbie when everyone else has been there an entire season? Was there a learning curve?
First of all, Nathan Fillion is one of the nicest actors I’ve ever worked with. The first day I arrived in my trailer, there was a gift basket of things he had picked out that are perfect for your trailer. For example, extra long phone chargers because you always need that when you’re in your trailer. A pair of really great sunglasses that I wear all the time. Just little things that are exactly right for you being on set every single day. With a very kind note and card saying, “We know that this is really fast and we understand there will be a learning curve. We’re just very happy to have you.” I thought that was very sweet. It immediately made me feel super comfortable. And I’ve just had a pretty awesome time on this set. It’s a wonderful cast, amazing crew. I’m very happy.
The Rookie (TV series)