‘Black Lightning': Cress Williams on Rebirth and the Importance of Representation

     January 23, 2018

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Based on the characters from DC, The CW series Black Lightning follows Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), the father of two daughters (Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain) and the principal of a charter high school, who also happens to be the masked vigilante Black Lightning. Gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, Pierce struggles to find a balance between using his power as a superhero to protect young people and families in a neighborhood overrun by gang violence and being there for his family.

While at the TCA Press Tour presentation for The CW, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actor Cress Williams to talk about being a self-proclaimed nerd, what it’s like to get to be a superhero, the appeal of Black Lightning, what he’s most looking forward to audiences getting to see with this TV series, the family drama at its core, not being a part of the Arrow-verse, villains, stunts, and the journey of Season 1.

Collider:  So, what’s it like to get to be a superhero? Is it what you’d imagined?

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Image via The CW

CRESS WILLIAMS:  It’s what I’d imagined and more, actually. I’ve always wanted to play a superhero, so I’m getting what I wanted. It’s a mixture of so many different things. It’s something different, every single day. Some days it’s just fun, some days it’s physically taxing, some days it’s just about special effects, and some days it’s like being a kid. When you’re on wires and they’re lifting you up out of the air, you’re like, “Oh, my god, this is so much fun!” Some days, you’re just exhausted. It’s everything!

People cannot get enough of these kinds of stories, as we can see with the popularity of comic book and superhero TV shows and movies. Who, in your life, is freaking out the most that you’re playing this character?

WILLIAMS:  I am a self-proclaimed nerd and I have tons of friends who are nerds, so they’re all equally like, “Woah!” They also know that I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. Being 6’5″ and broad-shouldered, they’re like, “Yes, finally!” I think they’re all equally excited.

This is not a superhero origin story. It’s more of a rebirth of a man who’s trying to learn from his past mistakes. Was that part of what made this appealing for you?

WILLIAMS:  For me, the appeal is two-fold. I’m a fan of the genre and I watch all of these things. I like the variety. We usually get origin stories, so I like that this is a different story. And then, the appeal, as an actor, is that I am the age of and am physically going through things like Jefferson. I’m happy that I’m not having to pretend I’m younger than I am. I’m playing what’s going on. If I wake up, after a day, and my knee hurts, I can just let that go because that’s who Jefferson is.

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Image via The CW

We’ve seen black superheroes in supporting roles, but now they’re really taking the lead, with Luke Cage, Black Lightning and Black Panther, and hopefully, that’s only the beginning. What are you, personally, most looking forward to audiences getting to see with this character?

WILLIAMS:  That they get to see an older person doing these things and being pertinent and active. Ultimately, I’m really happy for us, as African Americans, that kids at Halloween will want to be Luke Care or Black Panther or Black Lightning, and that eventually the girls will want to be Lighting and Thunder. Honestly, I hope that we also see Hispanic superheroes and Asian superheroes. I grew up watching television. I’m a television addict. I had all these heroes, but they didn’t look like me. I hope that this opens up, so that next year, we see a wide variety. It sounds so pie in the sky, but I want to see everybody represented. I want everybody to be able to go, “Yeah, that’s me! I see me on screen!”

Jefferson Pierce is somebody who struggles a bit with being a superhero. Do you think he’ll struggle more or less, once he realizes that his daughters are going through it, too?

WILLIAMS:  You know, I think he’s gonna struggle more. I’m sure there will be a bit of relief because, at least when they’re home, there won’t be secrets. Right now, he has to keep the secret when he’s at home, so eventually, he won’t have to keep the secret anymore. But then, he’ll have to worry about his kids, so that’s an extra worry. All the while, he’s getting older and trying to use these powers. It’s never gonna get easier, but that’s good television. It shouldn’t get easier. It should only get harder.

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