‘Nancy Drew’: Tian Richards Is the Perfectly Tailored Swift… Tom Swift, That Is

Nancy Drew + Tian Richards + Kennedy McMann
Q&A
Shane Harvey/The CW

Horseshoe Bay hosts another literary gumshoe tonight when Tian Richards (Dumplin’) swings by Nancy Drew as billionaire inventor Tom Swift.

The iconic adventurer-slash-genius was originally immortalized in a classic series of novels that began publishing in 1910 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate—the same book packaging company that gave us Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys—but this version is way more modern than any of the ahead-of-their-time gadgets Swift cooked up back in his day.

Nancy Drew + Tian Richards

Colin Bentley/The CW

Positioned as a backdoor pilot for a potential spinoff (which we DEMAND), the episode’s introduction of the fashionable and funny Tom is sure to shake things up for Nancy (Kennedy McMann), given that his specialty is a bit more sci-fi than the Drew Crew’s supernatural bent. Here, the absolutely enchanting Richards celebrates the “young, black, gifted and queer” vibe of this new Tom, gives a few clues as to what he’s up to and looks ahead to what we may see should he score that spot on The CW schedule.

How’s it going, role model?

Tian Richards: Thank you! I will fully receive that. [Laughs] I always see you on IG and I’m so excited to finally get a chance to talk to you

Same! I’m so excited for this, for many reasons, I’m obsessed with Nancy Drew, so the idea of the Drewniverse actually expanding is amazing. But also, do you understand how important this character is going to be to people?

Man, going into it, that was one of the main draws because…[if the spinoff goes] forward, this will be the first black gay male lead on network TV. So that is in and of itself…

It’s astounding. And also a bit horrifying that it’s 2021 and we’re just getting to it. But considering the platform that you get, the universe that you get to work in, the writers that you get to work, even if it doesn’t go forward, this character stands for so much.

Yeah. There was that level of pride and it was feeling that beauty and that triumph going into it. And not only that, but to see us as in the sci-fi world, to see us intelligent, to know little queer boys will watch this—or girls or whoever—and feel inspired, seeing somebody that looks like them. Because that was always a void for me growing up, not seeing anybody I typically related to.

Unless it was like a caricature.

Of course, there was always somebody that fit the stereotype or they were very overzealous in their behavior. But we come in so many different shapes and sizes and types and just to see somebody in the STEM world and to see somebody that’s creative, but also is snarky and edgy and can save the day. That’s the beautiful part for us, to not to have to be the martyrs or have to be the side-kick that is only there for comedic relief. We can be our heroes and we’re seeing that with “Black Panther,” with Watchmen, with Lovecraft Country. So now, just getting to have a little bit of that legacy to continue on? It’s everything.

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Back when the character was created, the idea of Tom Swift being a black, gay, billionaire, inventor literally would have made people’s heads explode.

[Laughs] Listen, listen, those are some of the ones I’ve been seeing online. Like the old, old, Stratemeyer Syndicate fans…

“Oh, this is not my Tom Swift!”

When I first got the role and was preparing everything, I was like “Well maybe I should read the source material to see what it’s about,” knowing that he came out in the early 1910s and twenties and whatnot. But then once I got through some of it, I’m like, “Oh, this language is not only really dated, it’s really offensive.” And I understand it was written for and of the times, but the biggest takeaway that I got from it was their version, the first version, of Tom Swift—this young, all-American, blonde hair, blue-eyed kid—that was the idea of having endless possibility in this country.

Today, that looks so different. It can be somebody that’s black, that’s LGBT, and queer, and all the beautiful intersections that I represent and that Tom represents. And you know what, we can also be very empowered in that. And it’s not a victimization and it’s not feeling ashamed of it, but it’s having full pride and it’s having full capability. And I think that’s the beautiful thing.

It’s so exciting. So what brings him to Horseshoe Bay?

Well, Tom’s a billionaire, so there’s a lot of different stuff that he has to do for his dad’s company and he’s just figuring things out. So maybe it’s something there or it’s somebody I need to see.

Nancy Drew + Tian Richards + Kennedy McMann

Shane Harvey/The CW

And as a New Yorker, what is his take on the Drew Crew? Because these folks are all, “If there’s a problem, it’s probably a ghost!”

[Laughs] This Tom is totally out of his element. Culturally, and not even as far as race, but just even in class. Tom is used to being in the 1 percent, being in the city, being in the corporate world. Because also, Tom’s a bit older. Like they’re kids and I am a grown-ass man. [Laughs]

And you will see some of that in the episode, as well. Like Tunji [Kasim], who plays Nick, we have some great moments where we connect. And also George (Leah Lewis). We all understand what it’s like to be a fish out of water in a lot of circumstances, because even in my world, in Tom’s world, he’s not exactly the one who has it all figured out. So he fully knows what it’s like to not belong or feel like he doesn’t have it all.

Nancy Drew + Tian Richards

Colin Bentley/The CW

And he brings with him some very cool toys?

Oh yeah. I mean, billionaire inventor! [Laughs] Tom’s into aerospace engineering and AI [voiced by LeVar Burton], all these cool things. So you will see a lot of his inventions, what readers fell in love with in the first series of books. Things like the taser and the electric rifle and all the things that we got to see before, but in a 2021 version. Where technology is now and how much we’ve progressed, we’re able to see that.

In preparing, I was looking at a lot of things with Elon Musk and this amazing, amazing young, black inventor, Iddris Sandu. He’s most known for being one of the youngest people to work at Google, and at Uber, he helped develop their algorithms. So in the same way that Robert Downey Jr. used Elon Musk to prepare for Tony Stark, Iddris Sandu was that for me in this. I just so admire it. And then a little bit of Jaden Smith. Those are the people I feel like are young, in tech, and are definitely aware of their privilege, but they get the job done, you know?

Nice. And what is his experience with Nancy? Because two sleuths with very different methodologies…

Well, that’s the thing, too. We’re both people who have our worlds. We’re Know-It-Alls. So we were very much sure about what we want. You’ll see a lot of that kind of stuff, some Cagney & Lacey energy, yeah.

Wait, you are way too young to even know Cagney & Lacey.

There’s a 45-year-old man living in his body. [Laughs] But I mean, yes, that’s her world, and tech is my world. So maybe some of the things I don’t understand, I’ll need a little bit of help with. And I have to search and find the best to help me to do that….so who other than Nancy Drew, right?

Obviously! Now, I’m sure Tom has somebody back home, but does he notice like, “Oh, OK. Ned, Ace, Carson Drew…this town is full of hot guys.”

Hot guys! But that’s another thing…we will get to see that maybe Tom gets to have his eye on somebody in particular, it could be in a very special way. We’ll have to see.

I love it. I love this. Even Detective Tamura (Ryan-James Hatanaka) is hot.

Literally being on set, I’m like, “OK, I know I need to work, but like y’all are cute,” right? [Laughs]

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So the hope is that this guy goes forward into his own series. Have the producers talked to you about what that would look like?

I’ve heard bits and pieces, here and there, but, again, most of my experience this far has been in the Drewniverse with Nancy Drew in her world specifically. I do know the hope is to expand out. Tom has a very specific mission with his father, so essentially we’d get to see a good father/son, love/hate story kind of happen. A good back and forth. His group, we call it the “Swift Squad,” would go on a very cool mission to figure out that relationship. And we’d explore a lot of his own internal stuff because Tom is somebody that does exist so much in his persona and what he’s able to be. But when he’s actually forced to take a look inward and do some deep introspection, we’ll see what that looks like. Again, going back to what we were saying before about identity and pride and feeling, being who we are in the world, that is just beautiful.

Well, I cannot wait. There are gonna be kids who will see you and see Tom and feel the safety of knowing this is here for them. So you’re giving that and I love that.

Wow, that feels so surreal to hear, because even in preparing and just talking with the producers and everything, that was always something I kept saying. Not only is it great to be a part of this and to play this character, but this is something young Tian would have wanted and needed to see for so many reasons. And it just goes to show the evolution that we’re moving towards and the work that was done before. We had shows like Noah’s Ark and Looking back before us to really embody that world. But to show that we can be more than just our identities? That our identities are just a part of who we are and they don’t make the entire story? That we’re people just like everybody else? That’s the beautiful part.

Nancy Drew, Wednesdays, 9/8c, The CW