Exclusive Interview: DCN Talks With Black Lightning’s NAFESSA WILLIAMS

by JC Alvarez
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For Nafessa Williams, the legacy of Black Lightning is as powerful as her role on the new CW series as Anissa Pierce, aka “Thunder”!!

With The CW expanding upon their primetime pantheon of DC universe characters, their latest addition to the roll call has already far exceeded expectations and truly has proven that lightning can strike twice…especially on Tuesday nights! Black Lightning is the story of Jefferson Pierce, a celebrated Olympic athlete, educator and one-time super-powered avenger that gave up his career as a superhero and retired from crime-fighting, but with social injustice on the rise and criminal corruption seeping into his neighborhood, the Black Lightning’s power is needed again!

This time he won’t be bringing down the reign on evil-doers all on his lonesome! The Black Lightning will be rolling in with the clouds and bringing the Thunder! Played on The CW series by actress Nafessa Williams, Jefferson Pierce’s eldest daughter, Anissa Pierce will prove an indomitable force of her own. Opposite Cress Williams, who portrays the titular hero, Nafessa Williams admits she is prepared to walk in the footsteps of the DC Comics legend and proudly reveal the legacy of the imprint’s first black superhero to headline his own comic series.

So, please check out our exclusive interview with Nafessa Williams below:

DC Comics News: Were you aware of Black Lightning, the DC Comics character, before taking the roll?

Nafessa Williams: Oh yeah, sure…Black Lightning was the first black character to stand-alone in his own comic published back in 1977 and created by DC Comics.

DCN: How will Black Lightning compare to his comic book alter-ego?

NW: Black Lightning’s not your typical superhero, [or] in his earlier twenties — you watch him navigate those challenges of having to come out of retirement — and the effects that might have on him physically and mentally, along with his family.

DCN: He’s played by Cress Williams on the show, who really appears to embody all of the qualities that you’d expect of Jefferson Pierce.

NW: Yes! I love what Jefferson Pierce stands for. He’s an advocate for education; he believes that through education we can all come out superheroes. I studied as much as I could about who he was, the essence of who Black Lightning was, knowing that I inherit a bit of that essence.

DCN: You play Anissa Pierce, Jefferson’s daughter, and you will be joining the Black Lightning in his crime fighting adventures as the hero Thunder! What was it like seeing Cress in his suit, knowing that eventually you’d be suiting up as well?

NW: We freaked out when we saw him! He IS Black Lightning — his voice, his physique — he really just embodies Black Lightning. He just gives you the vibe! I’m looking forward to following in his footsteps — Anissa is like the son Jefferson didn’t have…although she’s very feminine, there’s a tom boy inside of her.

DCN: Before discovering her superpowers, Anissa has already proven to have a truly formidable personality.

NW: There are so many dynamic layers to who [Anissa] is — that was one of the reasons why I was really excited to take on this role. It was unlike anything I had ever done before. She just comes with a really strong voice that I believe little brown girls [and boys] who look just like me need to hear from.

DCN: At the center of Black Lightning there is this family…

NW: Yes! The chemistry we all have — was just instant! When I first got to my audition and I saw China Anne McClain [who plays little sister Jennifer, the soon-to-become “Lightning”] in the hallway and we spoke. It was like an immediate sisterly bond — from the minute we saw each other. It was beautiful — it was destiny!

DCN: So many actors in the industry today are pursuing roles in the superhero genre. What is it about the creative process of becoming a hero that is so attractive?

NW: The creative process starts long before you put on the suit, but I will say, I felt really bad ass! I cried. It was an emotional moment. The colors are beautiful, the yellow just looks beautiful on brown skin, but sometimes I do have to remind myself: Girl! You cannot pick up that heavy box!

DCN: It won’t be long before you have little girls and boys wanting to dress up like Black Lightning and Thunder. Are you ready to become a role model to them?

NW: I know — that’s freaking me out…and in cornrows! But I believe that this [role] is just part of my purpose, so I’m here for it — let’s go!

DCN: Some might say that you were laying down the ground work to becoming a superhero. You were part of the D.A.’s office working in the homicide division before leaping into your passion as an actor.

NW: I grew up in Philly, which is very similar to Freeland, the place where the characters in the show live. I went to school and studied criminal justice, but it wasn’t what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life — although it was a really good experience. It was in that moment that I began to walk in the steps of my own superhero. It’s helped me give over a lot to my character.

DCN: Triple threat singer/songwriter and actress Jill Scott has been cast as the villainous Lady Eve.

NW: She really embodies that role! I think everyone is going to love her.

DCN: There are so many references in Black Lightning to major civil rights heroes. Even your own sister, Jennifer, teases you by calling Anissa “Harriet Tubman” after the heroic American liberator who championed for freedom leading slaves through the Underground Railroad.

NW: There are these wonderful messages placed so well within our script, and I’m honored to be named after Harriet Tubman — it keeps these legends alive. In my dressing room I have pictures of Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. — I want to be a voice for them — reminding myself in my creative process that I am a voice for them.

DCN: Showrunners Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil have proven themselves as one of the more powerful voices in the industry, and along with Berlanti Productions have championed diversity and inclusion on many of the DC/CW universe series.

NW: The fact that they were a part of the show was the number one reason why I wanted to do it.  I’ve been wanting to work with them since the beginning — I love the way they tell stories. They are keeping things really true and authentic to who we are as people and as a culture — and it’s not just about being a black family — it’s about love, and inspiring people. Being true to who you are makes us all superheroes.

Black Lighting airs on The CW, Tuesday nights @ 9pm.

Black Lightning’s NAFESSA WILLIAMS Photo credit: Ricky Codio
Black Lightning -- Image BLK_FIRST_LOOK_THUNDER.jpg -- Pictured: Nafessa Williams as Thunder -- Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW -- © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

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