2021 was a roller coaster for Nicci Carr, formerly of Richmond, Va., who started the year being part of a popular Geico commercial and ended it battling breast cancer.
The first half of 2021 couldn’t have gone much better for Nicci Carr, the actor who found sudden acclaim as one of the stars of the funny “Scoop, There It Is” Geico commercial.
“As far as exposure, that has been the biggest,” Carr said of the commercial, which was named by industry trade publication Adweek as the No. 1 ad of 2021. The success of the commercial left her, she says, on “cloud nine.”
“All of a sudden,” she said, “this happens.”
“This” arrived in July when she felt a lump in her breast. In years past, she had been diagnosed with benign cysts, but, “this,” she thought, “feels different.”
In early September, Carr, 50, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, and, as you might expect, the news hit hard.
“I was like, for real, God? This is how it’s going to go down?” she recalled.
It felt so overwhelming and so unfair and, well, like a “death sentence,” she said, acknowledging now she was in a “dark and scary place” back then. At first, she didn’t even want to proceed with treatments.
“I was so deeply depressed,” she said.
Her outlook has shifted entirely from that “initial panic,” as she describes it, when she was afraid of what people might think about her for being sick. “Which doesn’t make sense, I know,” she says.
Now? She is in a much different place. She is deep into weekly chemotherapy treatments, which will continue until surgery — likely in the spring — to remove what’s left of the shrinking tumor.
“Now, I’m just a woman who’s conquering it,” she said, part of a legion of women and men who are doing the same. “I’m stronger and more courageous than I thought I was.”
Carr moved to Richmond from New York when she was about 8.
She taught school in Washington and moved to Los Angeles, where she scrambled to find acting jobs (which included roles as an extra in “Beauty Shop” and “The West Wing,” among other films and shows), completed a master’s degree in student development in higher education, worked at UCLA and the University of Southern California, burned out on acting as a career, moved to Atlanta and settled into a job at Georgia State University.
In Atlanta, she relaunched her acting career, landing gigs on shows such as “Atlanta,” “Good Girls” and “P-Valley,” which led to the Geico commercial. It was shot in November 2020 and debuted on Christmas Day.
The commercial opens with Carr as the apron-wearing “Tasha” in a kitchen, cutting vegetables, but by the end she has joined in the dancing with the hip-hop duo Tag Team as they joyfully scoop ice cream in a comical version of their 1990s hit “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
Nicci Carr as “Tasha” in the Geico commercial featuring Tag Team and “Scoop! There it is!”
The upbeat commercial, which couldn’t help but make you smile, was produced by Richmond-based The Martin Agency, whose senior vice president and creative director, Sean Riley, said Carr “brought so much energy and humor to the spot. Just a perfect performance.”
Riley said “all of us at Martin are thinking about Nicci and wishing her the best.”
The success of the commercial left Carr “at the top of my game,” making her feel she was turning the page on a new chapter in her life.
At Georgia State, Carr was undergraduate coordinator in the biology department, but she was also a student, seeking a bachelor’s degree in film. She was planning to graduate in August after completing her final project: production of a documentary about James Solomon Russell, founder of her alma mater, Saint Paul’s College, and a major figure in the history of Southside Virginia. The college closed in 2013.
Carr is producing the film for the James Solomon Russell-Saint Paul’s College Museum and Archives in Lawrenceville, which hopes to use it as an introductory orientation video for visitors, said Bobby Conner, a founder and vice chairman of the museum’s board who has become a friend of Carr’s in the short time he has known her.
“When she came [to Lawrenceville] to work on the documentary, everywhere we went … people recognized her from the commercial,” Conner said. “People may not know her personally, but they connected with her, and they just love that commercial.”
However, her diagnosis put the documentary on hold — and everything else in her life, which was already in a state of flux as she had quit her job, sold her house in Atlanta and relocated a 90-minute drive east to Athens, where she enrolled in a graduate theater program.
The dark days after the diagnosis eventually gave way to a more clear-eyed view. And hope.
“I shouldn’t have doubted myself,” she said. “Shouldn’t have doubted the process.”
A turning point proved to be in a meeting with one of her professors when she and a classmate were performing a scene from August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” As she immersed herself in a poignant part of the scene, she began to think of the “hard stuff” she has endured throughout her life — her difficult younger days, her divorce, fighting for her health in a new city — and the emotions poured from her.
“I felt so alone,” she said, “and I left it in that scene.
“In that moment, I thought, ‘I want to win an Oscar,’” Carr said with a laugh. “How crazy is that? But in order for that to happen, I have to live.
“It was the hope I needed in such a dark place.”
As she started treatment, she also remembered what her sister, Adrain Walls, herself a survivor of breast cancer, told her soon after the diagnosis: “Do you think for one minute that what you’ve gone through is just for you? It’s for you to help somebody else.”
At the time, Carr was having none of it. She had no interest in telling anyone, as she put it, “the Geico lady got cancer.” But everything is different now, and she’s pleased to use whatever platform a funny commercial has afforded her to provide encouragement and comfort or simply a little assurance to others.
She knew chemo was going to take her hair, so she cut it all off on Oct. 31 — after the first clump of hair fell out while she was on a Zoom call — and in late November she went public with her battle on her Facebook page.
She has been gratified by the support she has received and by those who say she has inspired them when it comes to their own health. She even enlivens chemo treatments by making fashion statements, wearing bold and bright clothes from Philthy Ragz, a company operated by a California friend and designer, and posts pictures on her Facebook page.
She is out of work at the moment and some days the chemotherapy leaves her feeling awful, but she is embracing the challenge and is able to look back on the roller coaster that was 2021 and say, “My year was pretty good.” As she enters 2022, she begins a new, even more intense round of chemo.
“I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I just know I’m ready to live.”
AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File
Britney was freed. Bennifer came back. So did Broadway, yay! And actually, the Beatles! As for Bond — James Bond — he said goodbye, at least the Daniel Craig version.
Harry and Meghan spoke to Oprah, and boy, we listened. We listened, too, to Taylor Swift, who sang about a failed affair and a still-missing scarf (ex-lovers: hang onto knitwear at your peril!)
It was a year for reunions: The cast of “Friends,” for example, and three of the “Sex and the City” foursome, in a reboot. And revivals: “West Side Story” made an Oscar-buzzy splash 60 years after the original. Even Tony Soprano came back, sort of, for a minute.
Live entertainment brought a wary joy — wary because at any time, it could stop. And nice guys won out — at least in TV comedy, where “Ted Lasso,” Jason Sudeikis’ show about an endearingly earnest American coach transplanted to cutthroat British football, swept the Emmys. The whole “Ted Lasso” cast was great, but if we’re seeking to capture the mood of the year, let’s maybe look to the goldfish.
You know, the goldfish. The happiest animal, Lasso likes to tell his players, because it only has a 10-second memory (though science may beg to differ). That’s good when you’re holding a grudge in sports, but also when you’re trying to get through a rollercoaster year like 2021, when we thought we were up and then we were down again. And again. And again.
So here’s to you, happy goldfish. And here’s our annual, highly subjective trip down pop culture memory lane:
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool, File
On Inauguration Day, a star is born, and we’re not talking about an elected official.
AMANDA GORMAN, 22, captivates a nation, reciting “The Hill We Climb” in her distinctive yellow coat and red hairband. Within hours, the eloquent national youth poet laureate has gained more than a million followers on Instagram (now close to 4 million); soon, she has million-print book orders, a modeling contract and a hosting gig at the Met Gala.
Runner-up inauguration star: BERNIE SANDERS’ MITTENS, inspiration for many a bobblehead.
AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey
“Could this whole night have been an email?” co-host TINA FEY asks of the Golden Globes, an awkwardly virtual ceremony that still has its moving moments, including a heartbreaking speech by TAYLOR SIMONE LEDWARD, widow of posthumous winner CHADWICK BOSEMAN: “I don’t have his words.”
These Globes will be remembered, though, for revelations of the shocking lack of diversity in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
A judge upholds — for now — the conservatorship governing BRITNEY SPEARS, as a new documentary, “Framing Britney Spears," shines light on the troubling case.
Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP, File
It’s a big night for women at the Grammys, where SWIFT becomes the first female performer to win album of the year three times, and BEYONCÉ gets her 28th win to become the most decorated woman in Grammy history.
But the biggest news this month is HARRY and MEGHAN's bombshell interview, in which Meghan speaks of a fairytale life that turned dark and made her suicidal, and alleges experiencing racism in the royal family.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool
It was about time. CHLOÉ ZHAO takes the best director Oscar for her lyrical “Nomadland,” only the second woman in history (and the first woman of color). The in-person but stripped down Oscars bring back red-carpet glamour — that abrupt ending was super weird, though.
April is also Titanic anniversary month — worth noting because of BOWEN YANG’S hilarious impersonation, on “Saturday Night Live,” of the iceberg itself, who's moved past that sinking thing but is eager to promote his album.
Terence Patrick/HBO Max via AP
Let’s devote this month to friends – meaning “Friends,” aka Joey and Phoebe and Chandler and Monica and Rachel and Ross, who hold their long-awaited reunio.n Among the revelations: A mutual, previously unknown crush between JENNIFER ANISTON and DAVID SCHWIMMER, and LADY GAGA'S fondness for Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat.” Also: the monkeys who played Marcel weren’t nice, and this is the last reunion (we’ll see about that).
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File
One of Hollywood’s more compelling relationships i s apparently finished. KIM KARDASHIAN WEST details in “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” why she filed for divorce from KANYE WEST in February: “I don’t want a husband that lives in a completely different state,” she says, and “I want someone who wants to work out with me.”
SPEARS speaks, telling a judge that she wants her life back. “I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK,” she says. She was not.
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File
Nice guys don’t always finish last — especially not in 2021, when audiences seem to crave something upbeat and folksy and guileless. The second season of “Ted Lasso" debuts this month, bringing a new set of challenges to the amiable coach and his underdog club, AFC Richmond. In two months, the show will sweep the comedy Emmys — we’re just telling you now, because our September entry will be packed! “Heck of a year,” Sudeikis will say, Lasso-like.
Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
Who saw this coming? It’s BENNIFER! Almost 20 years after their very public romance, JENNIFER LOPEZ and BEN AFFLECK have found each other again, and they’re packing on the PDA, with paparazzi pics of kissing at dinner, on a yacht, on red carpets ... The Internet rejoices.
On a sad note, it’s the end of a rock ’n' roll era as ROLLING STONES drummer CHARLIE WATTS — the beat AND heartbeat of the band — dies at age 80, just before the Stones go back on tour.
“There’s no place like home!” That’s the original Glinda, KRISTIN CHENOWETH, welcoming Broadway audiences back to “Wicked.” Enthusiastic post-pandemic theatergoers — masked and vaccinated — also flock to hits like “Waitress,” “Hadestown,” “The Lion King” and “Hamilton.”
The Met Gala is back, with mandatory PCR tests and a decidedly young vibe led by hosts TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET (in sweats and high-tops), BILLIE EILISH, GORMAN, and tennis star NAOMI OSAKA.
At the Emmys, it’s Lasso time, and also time to hail comedy heroine JEAN SMART, who takes a trophy and basks in her “JEANaissance.”
New on TV: the South Korean survival drama “Squid Game," making an audacious entrance. In the courtroom, music star R. KELLY is convicted of sex trafficking — a milestone in the #MeToo movement, especially for Black victims of sexual abuse.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File
In an almost too-good-to-be-true, life-meets-art moment, CAPTAIN KIRK himself boldly blasts off into space. An overwhelmed WILLIAM SHATNER, at 90 the oldest space traveler, describes the atmosphere keeping mankind alive as “thinner than your skin.”
DANIEL CRAIG makes his final Bond outing in “No Time to Die.”
And while TONY SOPRANO may be dead or not, depending on how you viewed that diner scene in the finale, he’s back as a teenager in the prequel “Many Saints of Newark,” played by none other than MICHAEL GANDOLFINI, James's son. The film, though, doesn't thrive at the box office — unlike Sony Pictures’ Marvel sequel “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which enjoys a huge opening.
Real-life tragedy strikes a movie set as a gunshot fired by actor ALEC BALDWIN accidentally kills cinematographer HALYNA HUTCHINS, horrifying an industry and spurring calls for all guns to be banned on sets.
Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File
It's not quite a BEATLES reunion, but the PETER JACKSON doc “Get Back” gives hungry fans eight hours of yet-unseen footage.
And it’s BRITNEY’s time: a judge finally terminates the conservatorship that controlled the pop singer’s life for nearly 14 years. “Best day ever,” she says.
SWIFT releases a 10-minute rendition of the blistering single “All Too Well.”
A saddened Broadway community says goodbye to STEPHEN SONDHEIM, beloved titan of musical theater.
Unimaginable tragedy strikes the music world: At a chaotic TRAVIS SCOTT concert, eight people (and later, two more, including a 9-year-old boy ) are killed as a crowd surges forward to the stage.
Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios via AP
More reunions and returns. SPIDER-MAN is back, as is 50-something CARRIE BRADSHAW (and buddies MIRANDA and CHARLOTTE but not SAMANTHA).
Nostalgia peaks with the exciting new “West Side Story” directed by STEVEN SPIELBERG, with screenplay by TONY KUSHNER and vivid choreography by JUSTIN PECK.
With more troubling pandemic news on the horizon, we can all do with a stirring distraction like this one — as we keep waiting, to paraphrase the Fab Four, to get back, get back, get back to where we once belonged.