Nancy Drew spin-off star Tian Richards unpacks Tom Swift and Nick's kiss: 'The ultimate scene!'
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's episode of Nancy Drew that featured the backdoor pilot for spin-off Tom Swift.
Wednesday's episode of Nancy Drew featured Tian Richard's first episode as gay Black billionaire Tom, and the CW is currently in development on a potential Tom Swift spin-off series to continue his story onscreen. But in just one episode, Tom managed to seamlessly join Nancy (Kennedy McMann) and her Drew Crew for a case that combined her supernatural expertise with Tom's science and tech background. He bonded with Nick (Tunji Kasim) on such a deep level that Nick helped Tom publicly come out to his father with a pic of that aforementioned kiss.
Below, EW got Richards to break down that Tom-Nick kiss, how a Tom Swift series is going to shatter some outdated barriers when it comes to onscreen representation, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What has been your favorite part of playing Tom so far?
TIAN RICHARDS: I just want it to help our culture understand we can be all of the things — queer doesn't look one way, being a Black man doesn't look one way, and being both of those doesn't look one way, so we're putting a different face to it and showing that it can be so many different versions. Tom has so much masculinity, but then there's moments with Nancy where he is able to bring out his femininity. I'm a kid who grew up playing with dolls, loved Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy Dandridge and Carmen Jones, but also I played sports and roughed up with my cousins on the weekend. It was all a part of my journey because I had a parent, my mom, who let me express myself to the fullest, and she didn't judge any of it. She didn't try to repress any of it. She just let me exist as I am.
The way we're able to bridge together what Tom was historically known as in the earlier novels and the impact that he had on so many different people in tech, and now we're getting to see him exist in today's world in such a different form, that is so cool. When I read the books, I wasn't able to relate to the source material for several reasons. [Laughs] Because in the early 1910s and '20s, the all-American boy was represented by this blond-haired, blue-eyed white kid that was of the times. But now to see me, this 20-something Black queer man step into that and to be just as cool and to see the world represented and reflected how it is now? If I were just watching it as a viewer, for my younger self to see that, I mean, come on, I get goosebumps just thinking about that! You think about how different life would be if that existed in my childhood.
What would bringing Tom Swift to series mean to you?
Fingers crossed, prayers up, God willing, if everything goes, Tom would be the first Black gay male lead on network TV. That's not lost on me because we're still making so much progress in the Black community, in the LGBTQIA community, and a lot of doors still need to be broken down. This is one of those positive pieces of change where not only are you going on this fun, cool sci-fi journey in this coming-of-age story, but you're also getting to see a different person take the reins and take the lead on that. I'm hoping we can take a very long cool cosmic intergalactic journey with this world and with Tom.
You came into this episode with such a clear vision of who this version of Tom Swift is. How did you approach playing him?
The same way Robert Downey Jr. used Elon Musk to design his Tony Stark, for me, it was this amazing young tech guy, his name is Iddris Sandu. He's worked at Google, Uber, doing their algorithms. So I used him, Jaden Smith — that's fashion, that's culture, but he also has that connection with a very visible father — and again, you can't do aerospace without reading or at least watching some videos on Elon Musk, so those are my three [inspirations].
If Tom Swift goes forward, what are you most excited for people to see from that series?
We will see Tom go on a journey to find his dad. At its core, it's a father-son love story, a father-son hate story, it's a coming to terms with that entire relationship, and we get to see that take place in the middle of so many intersections. We get to see culture be explored in the Black elite and the 1 percent, which is a society that hasn't really been explored in depth on television. We get to see so much cool tech and the sci-fi world. And we'll get to see a beautiful queer man's journey come to life and so many other people from the community as well. You will get to see reflections from all points of view, all walks of life, and I mean that from our hetero brothers and sisters to our trans brothers and sisters, our fellow queer brothers and sisters.
A lot of this episode touches on how Tom's father hasn't accepted that he's gay and how that's affected Tom, but by the end of the episode, he's come out in such a public way that his father can't deny his sexuality anymore. How is that going to affect Tom moving forward?
It gives him more pride, more confidence. He has a sense of faux pride that he falls back on with his persona, being the billionaire, son of Barton Swift, but it's really the inner work and his introspection that's going to lead him forward. Every queer person knows there's two coming outs, there's coming out to yourself where you have that moment where you realize this is who I am and how I identify, and then there's coming out to your family, your loved ones, and how they accept that. And in the Black community, there's three coming outs. [Laughs] Because you can tell your Black family one time, and they'll be like, "Shh, you're just playing." [Laughs] In our community, we need that conversation because there is a sense of homophobia and this repression that happens. It's not always the loving embrace, and it's not always the hate; it's a little bit of both sometimes and not only proving that to yourself but also getting the people around you to accept that.
Tom has so much confidence, but it's relatable to see how something like a parent's acceptance can still cut through his armor. What was it like bringing that part of his story to life?
Though Tom is loud and proud and bold in his actions in the world, there is a tenderness and a deep vulnerability that comes from the person that you look up to the most not accepting you. The whole world can sing your praises and lift you up, but if it's not coming from the person that you love and revere and respect the most, it means nothing. The father point, that's something I know verbatim. It's something I've lived; it's something that's in my skin and my fabric and my DNA. Moving forward, I will have to dissect it more, but that meant a lot to me. I wanted to give it the respect it needed. These are conversations that need to be had. And even more so, conversations between Black men, and we see that with Nick: how our love for one another can take so many different avenues and it doesn't look one way. But in our community, we're often plagued with toxic masculinity and having to be so repressed in our actions that we're not able to be equally brothers, lovers, and understand our children.
Speaking of toxic masculinity, Tom kissing Nick is a great way to flip the script on that!
That was the ultimate scene! [Laughs] It was interesting to figure out how to play that because that's George's [Leah Lewis] man, and I definitely am not going to overstep, but it was a bigger call. It was a thing of brotherhood to the fullest extent. This isn't me trying to sexualize him or to have my way, but it's like, we've spoken, and in this amount of time we've connected, we've seen each other so visibly that that's such a great act of sacrifice to help me have this moment. Just like Tom gives Nancy the gifts, Nick gives me that gift and allows me to take some of the shackles off and to free those chains and be a little more confident in my step walking in my own journey.
It was great seeing how Tom's arrival helped Nick open up more about how he feels being the only Black person in this small Maine town. What did you think of those scenes?
I've watched the show from the pilot, and there was always that tokenism. And we've often, as Black people, felt that we've always felt alone whether it be at school, at a certain job, on sets; I've had that happen. I've been that. The way Tom relates specifically is feeling alienated in his world, having to be this golden child, having to always be on and not be understood. But in his Blackness, Tom has gotten to be as free and as expressive as he wanted to be; it's his queer journey that hasn't been fully explored and realized for himself. And for Nick, his love life and trying to figure that out has been beautiful, whether it be from Nancy to George, but when it came to understanding his Blackness in this town, away from his family, he felt alone. And immediately Tom peeps that. That's what I see when I go into a room. So that's what they connect on, and it's so real. And George feels that to an extent as well. Me and Leah and Tunji all had those conversations on set about what it's like to be the sole representation for your group of people. You don't want to be seen as a monolith, and you want the fullness and the full breadth of experience to be realized and communicated. We touched on that beautifully and explored those things without hitting it over the head.
Nancy Drew airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.
The CW updates the iconic teen sleuth for 2019, making Nancy (Kenney McMann) flawed and real in this supernatural thriller.