Cress Williams talks Black Lightning season 2, Static Shock and how to be a real hero
The actor opens up about the new season and if we'll ever see Virgil Hawkins in Freeland.
Black Lightning provided a much-needed jolt of energy to the CW’s ever-expanding lineup of DC Comics-inspired shows when it debuted in January. Although the series features your typical superheroic action, Black Lightning became a critical darling for its ability to tackle important, real-world issues while also showcasing an amazing cast of diverse performers. Ahead of the premiere of season 2 on Tuesday night, we caught with Cress Williams to chat about what’s in store for the super-powered principal and his family this season.
From racism to police violence, the show tackles so many of today’s biggest issues. The first season’s finale was especially timely, as it touched upon the crisis at the border with the storyline of Black Lightning exposing the government’s experiments on missing children. How does the world at large influence the direction of season 2?
Cress Williams: What’s interesting is that, now that we've established everything, I guess it kind of really resembles life. People have families and they're trying to do things and maneuver through the drama of their own family, while they happen to do that in the midst of the drama that's going on in the world. That's exactly what happens in our show. All the things that are going on in Freeland, the repercussions from season 1, that snowball just keeps moving. A lot of the worldly things, the missing kids and whatnot, that snowball keeps moving. But, our family dynamic gets even more complicated and that becomes a major thing that we're having to deal with in the midst of society and in the midst of the world. It really makes for a lot more dense and complicated storyline.
There’s more than one superhero in the family on Blacking Lightning. How does the family dynamic play out this season?
Cress Williams: With Anissa, she's embraced her powers and is a superhero in her own right. It's that dynamic when a lot of parents with older kids understand, once your kids are 20 and 21 and moving forward, they're technically adults but they still live under your roof, so you're still trying to parent them. We kind of tackle that with the idea that her occupation, in a sense, being a superhero. My character having done it and having an idea of, "This is how you do it, these are the lines you don't cross," and he's got basically an adult daughter who, push comes to shove, can do whatever she wants. So that gets played out. Then on the other end of the spectrum, it picks up where season 1 left off where Jennifer has these powers that she can't fully control, and still hasn't really embraced them yet. That dynamic is, I think even more complicated and it's going to take a lot of time to play out.
Jefferson Pierce picked up a few new super powers along the way during season 1. Are there any cool new moves you can tease heading into season 2?
Cress Williams: We established flight last season, so we'll see some more of that and some new things as well that I don't want to spoil. It's always building and evolving over time. Season 2 picks up about a week after everything that happened at the end of season 1, so it's a lot about trying to resume life as normal, but realizing that's not even going to be possible. We have to define a new normal.
Black Lightning seems to be part of this wave of amazing projects to really showcase and celebrate diversity on the big and small screens. What are your thoughts on Hollywood’s attitudes on diversity in 2018?
Cress Williams: What's really amazing is that, we all live in this world and, I don't know about you, but what was always kind of frustrating over time is that my friends and my communities, the people that I know around me that I see when I'm out in the world, is incredibly diverse. But film and television didn't really represent that. I think the goal of film and television is to really, most of the time, be a mirror to what the world looks like. What's kind of cool is that it's starting to do that. I say starting because it still has a long way to go. I hope that with the success of diversity that people don't get complacent because it'll just swing back. We have to be diligent and know that there's progress, but still a lot of progress that has to be made. All we really want is just for the screen to accurately reflect what's going on in the world, the make up of the world.
I think what's really fueling it is that when these diverse endeavors are put out there, they prove to be successful. That's what generates more success. Unfortunately, the bottom line is the dollar. So if these things don't produce the dollars, then it makes it that much harder for the next person to break new foundations. Now that they are producing dollars, hopefully, it will just light a fire and we keep moving in that direction.
How can every day people act like superheroes in that regard, and not fall into the trap on complacency?
Cress Williams: With social media, we have access to the world, really, and what's going on. We can be superheroes by not just staying in our little bubbles and getting through the day of grocery shopping, putting kids to bed or trying to get dates or whatever. When you see those things that are out there, things that ring untrue to you, then you got to speak up. You got to get the word out. Even with social media, we can be in these circles, but I think a lot of times people—whether they're on Facebook, Twitter or whatever—they kind of follow what makes them feel comfortable. They follow what they know. They may be exposed to some things, but then there may be a whole other aspect of what's going on in the world that they're not exposed to because they're not following other things. It's up to everyone. If you see something that's not right, you got to expose it. If you something incredibly right, you got to expose that as well. I think that's really the super power, because if enough people know about it, then a movement can happen.
Who was your personal superhero growing up?
Cress Williams: Mentorship is a huge thing. When I look back at when I was in college and going to school, there was an old college professor of mine by the name of Tom Blank. He's really the first person to take me under his wing. I kind of went, acting wise, a traditional route of going to college and majoring in theater. He was the first person to take me on as a father figure and a mentor, and to recognize something in me and cultivate that. He was a great acting teacher, but also a great mentor. Not just the skills I have as an actor, but also the mentorship quality he planted in me, unbeknownst to him. I went on to be a professional actor, but also I taught for about eight years, kind of volunteer-wise. I taught acting and I love mentoring young actors on set and just sharing what I have. I think that comes from him. He was definitely a big hero of mine and I think it’s something that the world can adopt. I think we lost a little bit, at times, the idea of mentorship. If you’re passionate about something and happen to be really good at something, then I think, no matter what it is, the honorable thing and the awesome thing is to find those young people who seem to be interested in the same thing and pass on what you know.
Speaking of mentors, any chance we’ll see Black Lightning become a mentor for Static Shock any time soon?
Cress Williams: That would be cool! I don’t want anybody to get too excited. What I’m saying right now is not founded on any info. It’s really just my creative idea. I think it would be a cool idea at some point. Just the fact that Jefferson is an educator and a mentor, and we’ve established that in Freeland there’s metas and things like that. I think it would be a natural thing. But nobody’s really confirmed that. God willing, we have a lot of seasons to go. This season, we still have a lot to go on with the family and we’re ramping up to a really great season 2 ending, so I don’t think something like that would happen this season. But I do hope down the line, after we firmly, firmly established the rest of the family and their powers and their storylines, I think that could happen. I think it would be really fun.
Black Lightning season 2 premieres Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 9 p.m. on The CW.