When Night Court kicked off with a two-episode premiere last night on NBC, the theater community recognized a familiar face. Lacretta – known for stage performances in Disaster!, Avenue Q, and the first national tour of The Book of Mormon — stars as Donna "Gurgs" Gurganous, the night-shift bailiff at a Manhattan arraignment court. The series follows Judge Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch), the daughter of Harry Stone (Harry Anderson), the unorthodox judge who presided over the courtroom during the series' original nine-season run from 1984 to 1992.
Though Harry always had at his side two bailiffs — Bull (Richard Moll) and Roz (Marsha Warfield) were the longest-running duo — Gurgs will enforce order in the court solo-dolo. We recently spoke to Lacretta about taking over the court security officer reins on Night Court and how theater helped ready her for the role.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did this role come into your life?
Oh gosh, it came into my life during the pandemic. When I got the initial appointment and read the script, I was like, "Oh yeah, I want this." Gurgs is weird in a great and interesting way. She's smart — she's just different from our typical big, Black woman, and I really want to embrace that. I've worked and gotten to the point in my skill and talent where I'm able to be honest as well and not just be weird for the sake of being weird.
So, I went through the process of a callback, and then a test. The great thing about it was I got to do everything at home, so there was a level of comfort and familiarity just being at home. I didn't have that added stress of leaving my house in the Bronx to go into town in the middle of a pandemic. That gave me more freedom to really dig myself down into Gurgs. At the end of the test, I was like, "Oh yeah, that was good. That was your best work." So, regardless of if I would have booked it or not, I would have been proud of the work I did.
Then my agent calls — I'm, again, at home in my bedroom — and he was like, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "Oh, thinking about playing some video games." And he was like, "OK, well, you know, at some point you're going to have to figure out what you're gonna take to LA with you." I swooned. I literally had to sit down because the room was spinning.
So, working on the show was your first time being on a set since the start of the pandemic?
Yes. So, we shot the pilot almost two years ago, and then this chunk we did last year.
In the original series, there were always two bailiffs. What's it like to essentially carry the load of two roles?
I never really thought of it as a responsibility. What I had kind of likened it unto was that I'm a full-figure woman, so of course I can play two people at once. [laughs]
Did you have a favorite bailiff from the original?
Oh gosh, I love [Bull and Roz]. But I think I loved Roz's sensibility and her sense of style. Because there was always an earring or bracelet or some rings — and then her cute little skirts and her socks. Yeah, I was obsessed with Roz.
Did you study them while preparing for the role?
Once I had an appointment and had my self-tape submitted, I didn't watch the show anymore. Just because I didn't want to be influenced even though the influence was going to be good. I wanted to stand in my own character because Gurgs is her own character and is not Marsha Warfield, and she's not Richard Moll. Once I booked it, then I was like, "Oh yeah, now I can watch again." And then during the taping, I didn't watch because I didn't have time; I got to learn these lines. [laughs]
Did you put any expectations on yourself or feel any pressure to live up to Bull and Roz?
No, I'm staying reserved and level-headed about it. I'm the kind of person that doesn't really raise my expectations for things. I'm a short person, so I like to kind of stay low to the ground, so if I do fall, it's not so far to go. I hear great things, and people seem to be happy about it, but we'll see what happens when it airs and people are watching it week to week.
And I didn't put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure that we were heralding the legacy of what came before us because I think it was just a given — it was there already. So, I'm just trying to protect my mental health and just ride the back end of it and be pleasantly surprised.
In what ways were you able to bring yourself to Gurgs?
Hmm, I'm a weird person. And I think that Gurgs is even weirder. It was nice to just kind of relent to her weirdness. I've gotten to see some of the episodes and there were some moments where I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. What was that? That was an out of body experience." Like I had to watch it back because I was like, "How did you even do that?" I think because I was so concerned about memorizing my lines that I got to the place where the lines were in my cells to the point where I could just step back and just let her do her thing and not comment on it.
Do we get to see you sing in the series?
I do some weird kind of singing thing. We're always praying for more seasons to come, so things will probably happen in future seasons. But for this one, as far as what I've been trained to do, we don't touch on that just yet.
Is there any way your theater experience helped prepare you for Night Court?
Absolutely. We have a live audience, so we're on set basically the way we're onstage. We got these three walls that are finished and then we got this fourth wall that is the audience and another fourth character that is the audience, so that translated seamlessly for me. It was more of a step over the gap as opposed to feeling like this is something that is out of my purview.
Single cam was a little trickier for me because it is so quiet, and you really have to trust yourself and trust that you're funny. But it's just a matter of having more experiences doing it, then it'll become second nature.
Can we anticipate seeing you on stage in the near future?
I would love that. That's where my heart is. That's where my beginnings came from. I would definitely like to do more plays — Hint, hint, wink wink; call me. I definitely want to do a lot more musicals, and it would be great to do some plays, and some more dramas, and just kind of rest in that world for that was something that I didn't get to do when I was there before.