Black Lightning Strikes Dragon Con Again

The cast of Black Lightning once again proved to be a class act as they visited with Dragon Con attendees in the Hilton Grand Salon on Sunday morning in anticipation of Season 3, which drops in October. The titular superhero himself, Cress Williams, was joined by Nafessa Williams, James Remar, and Jordan Calloway and talked about everything from how it feels to be the only primarily black drama ensemble to their own fanboy moments and how they stay in shape. They even thanked the audience for being as diverse and inclusive as the show is, and continually strives to be, but they steered clear of most spoilers, only letting it slip that deaf actor Warren “Wawa” Snipe will appear again.

Fans were eager to know if the cast was looking forward to the challenge of filming the crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, which will see them team up with the Arrowverse, involving a week-long story covering episodes of The CW shows Arrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. “Yeah,” Cress Williams was quick to say, “I mean, it’s really the first time really working with a full team of people. I only work with my family. I imagine it’s gonna be challenging and nobody wants to watch unchallenging television.” He said that while fans have wanted a crossover since the pilot, he wanted at least one season to establish Black Lightning’s world, but now welcomes the opportunity for more exposure. He also said that having interacted with the Arrowverse casts at San Diego ComicCon, it will be fun “to play with them a little bit,” calling them really cool people.

When asked if Gambi would want to team up with fellow tech whizzes Cisco or Felicity from the Arrowverse, Remar said, “Sure, why not? As long as it serves the greater good, that it doesn’t impede my family and compromise what’s left of my integrity.” Remar, who has been acting since the 1970s and appeared on Dexter and Sex and the City, has an avuncular quality the cast seemed to respect. He continued to philosophize about his character: “You know, Gambi’s a guy that’s been struggling back from a very difficult past. I mean the allegory is that he was guy that fought in a very unpopular war and tried to repair things and stepped in a lot of trouble and a lot of landmines with that too. So, sure, I’m happy to team up with other techies. And further the cause of Freeland and, most important, the Pierce family.”

Being a superhero, or an actor, isn’t easy, and the full panel stressed the need to treat the body well, as its their instrument or main tool. “I don’t stay in shape for the role, I gotta stay in shape so my pants fit!” Remar, who plays tinker-tailor Gambi, joked. He compared long-term acting to being a professional athlete for 40 years and stressing the need to eat well and stay active, even if the routine and activities change with age. He’s gone from boxing and surfing to walking and golfing. “I kinda do my best to stay in shape so I don’t have too far to go to get back in shape.”

Calloway, who plays Khalil/Painkiller, said that the stunt team helps keep them accountable on set and that when they aren’t filming, they are still training or setting up the next fight. “It’s a lot of work,” he said, “but it’s a lot of fun at the same time.” Nafessa Williams, who thinks of herself as an athlete, echoed that, saying that she enjoys the stunt training, likening it learning choreography.

Cress Williams said he drinks a gallon of water a day and “keeps it tight” six days a week, but goes “buck wild” on Saturdays. “I have a home gym called Krypton,” he also told the audience, noting that that is the actual name of the color of the room.

When asked about favorite scenes, Cress Williams said the blowing up a police car felt “hella good,” even though he respects the police force, because he was doing something that so many people want to do. Similarly, Nafessa Williams enjoyed blowing up a Confederate statute, which also acted as real-life social commentary. She also, just generally, loves the family scenes as they depict positive black families and good father/daughter relationships and likes to help normalize lesbian relationship in mainstream media through her character.

Remar could not narrow it down, saying he’s loved the whole arc of Gambi, starting with his first moment on screen with Cress, where he goads Jefferson Pierce back into being Black Lightning. He’s loved several tender moments with Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain, as Jennifer Pierce, including the challenge of making an informational/exposition download relatable and palatable enough for an audience to connect with.

Calloway said it would be easy to say his favorites were all the action, all the fighting, and anything related to the stunts, which is a blast. But he said that, like Remar, Khalil’s whole arc has been enjoyable—starting from the march and getting shot and watching the transformation. Khalil always had his mind right, was a good kid, and kept Jennifer (McClain) accountable, as a friend. But, after he’s shot, suddenly, we see who he really is.

They all agreed that the rich comic book history helped them give life to their characters, with Nafessa Williams talking about the creative challenge of playing a lesbian. Even an old Saturday Night Live featuring Sinbad, Remar said, played a part since it was the first time he learned of Black Lightning, but after he got the part—which he called “a real honor” since he was batting about .100 at the time and looking for a good part like this one—he walked to a nearby comic book store and bought a reprint of the whole comic and read it cover-to-cover.

”Jordan knew a lot about everything,” Nafessa Williams teased Calloway, who didn’t know that his character would turn into the villain Painkiller after Khalil is shot and paralyzed.

Cress Williams had his first fanboy moment over Denzel Washington. For Remar, it was late actor Richard Boone from the 1950s–1960s TV western Have Gun—Will Travel. Boone also helped guide him into acting, imparting some wise advice and giving him a recommendation letter of sorts that got him into a neighborhood playhouse. Calloway, whose father worked in the industry, always stood in awe of the late Gregory Hines, who set an example of kindness and respect he wants to emulate, and also mentioned that he once approached Emilia Clark in an airport right after an awards show and was impressed by how grounded and humble she was.

When asked about the most difficult scene to film, Calloway said that having his spine ripped was ruthless. “It was a bloody mess,” he said, but added that he and Marvin Jones III, as Tobias Whale, also had a lot of fun with it, ad-libbing some of the dialogue and calling for more blood.

Both Cress Williams and Nafessa Williams talked at length about the night they filled the reveal of her character’s new suit because it was very cold, describing it as “going through your bones freezing” or “brick,” which adds to the challenge of playing a superhero, when you have to look and act as if you and invincible. “That night it was hard as hell to do,” Nafessa Williams said, as she and Cress Williams recounted, with good humor, about sitting in a van and by a fire between takes to warm up.

Cress Williams, at the end of the panel, reminded the audience that acting—and making a show like Black Lightning—takes a lot of sacrifice. It is a 24/7, 9-to-9 job. There are no sick days. No off-days. No I-don’t-feel-like-it days. You have take the work home with you. You have to be ready. You have stay ready. You have to keep picking up that bat and taking a swing.

The cast of Black Lighting. Superheroes, indeed. On, and off, set.

Author of the article

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.