Black Lightning's Williams Reveals the Secret Life of Jefferson Pierce

Black Lightning Cress Williams

Black Lightning is back! When the series makes its debut on The CW next week, the titular character will have to get back in the superhero saddle after nine years of retirement. For Jefferson Pierce, that means putting everything he has worked towards -- his family, his job, even his morals -- on the line. On top of that, his life gets even more complicated once his daughters Anissa and Jennifer begin to develop a few metahuman powers of their very own.

Speaking to CBR during a set visit, Black Lightning himself Cress Williams discussed the different lives of Jefferson Pierce. He offered some insight into Jefferson's moral code, his relationship with his two very different daughters and the challenge of juggling a job, a family and an alter ego. He also teased his character's reaction to learning about his children's superpowers, his future with his ex-wife Lynn and more.

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CBR: What's your favorite part of playing Jefferson Pierce?

Williams: Okay, so this is going to be odd. I mean, it's weird. You know, I wanted this job even before I read the script. I wanted this job just because I've always wanted to play a superhero. I've been watching superhero cartoons for as long as I can remember, and -- as it became a genre in film and television -- it just quickly shot up to the top of my list. I'm like, "I want to do that someday!" With that said, you'd think that it would be flying or wearing the suit or fighting or shooting, but actually my favorite part is all of the Jefferson Pierce stuff. I mean, I love the scenes being a father. I love the scenes talking to [Detective] Henderson as a friend. I love the scenes -- just the relationship scenes! The scenes with Lynn and I where it's almost like we're married but we're not and it's weird. Those are kind of the most fun, which is weird.

Between work, his family and crime fighting, how is Jefferson doing with balancing all the different facets of his life?

Well, I mean, he hasn't been found out yet! It's a struggle, you know? And it's a struggle of doing all of that at a not young age. He's struggling is the best way I can describe it. I think, at this point, you've seen one and two, so he hasn't fully stepped in and committed to being Black Lightning again. To do that means he's going to have to give up his hopes of his family being one big family unit under one roof again, so he's struggling with it all.

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How does he reconcile using violence while preaching non-violence?

It's interesting, because I think that the series is picking up watching Jefferson -- in a weird way -- find balance. That if we can go back and kind of time travel back to the first time he had the suit on, and if we look at non-violence as Martin Luther King and violence and militantness and "by any means necessary" as Malcolm X… I think, when he was younger and he had the suit on -- the classic suit -- that he was more Malcolm X: "This is the way we're going to create change." Through a lot of loss and to ultimately keep his family together, he put that away and then spent nine years of learning how to be Martin and learning that, no, education is the way to bring about change and to heal the city. He saw some success with that -- kind of in his bubble, he saw that success: in his family, in his school. But everything around that was not doing so well, and so now we pick it up and I think he has to learn the balance that it's going to take both, that when in doubt it should be non-violent and educational, but sometimes you've got to some kick ass. So it's a little bit of both.

How does Jefferson approach his relationship with Anissa vs. Jennifer, who are two very different people?

The thing is, with Anissa, she's so much like him. [laughs] She is like who he was when he was in his 20s, and she -- in a lot of ways -- is Malcolm. She wants to get in and make change and force it to happen. She's extremely emotional and has all the best intentions. She wants positive change, but she's just coming from a very, very emotional place. He can identify with that, because it's pretty much a lot like how he was.

With Jennifer… Jennifer is a bit of an enigma, because she is more of a girly girl, and I think I wouldn't even say that she's like Lynn. I think she's kind of her own person that he's still trying to figure out and discover. She's also at that age. She's 16, as opposed to 22, so she's in a much more confusing time. So it's a challenge.

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Can you tease how Jefferson reacts to his daughters becoming superheroes?

Here's the thing: just because they have powers -- or discover powers -- doesn't mean they're going to use them or how they're going to use them. I think it's a mixture. You know, he's proud, because the powers come from him and so he's proud of that. But then he's extremely fearful, because he knows what the toll has taken on his life. I mean, it split his family apart. He's seen death. It just is almost like a hunger that won't be satisfied, because there's always a new challenge. There's always somebody new to beat. So he's extremely mixed, but I think -- by the time their powers manifest -- he's going to have gone through some things… the whole family, really, will have gone through some things so that it's different.

If it popped up in episode two and Jefferson from episode two suddenly saw his daughters with powers, he would lock them away and say, "Don't ever do that!" Lynn would hold the key and say, "I'm keeping it!" [laughs] But we're going to go through some things so that it's still a traumatic, tough experience but it's a little different.

Do you think he still sees a future with Lynn?

I think he still holds onto hope. He still wears the ring. It was something that, creatively, Salim [Akil] and all of us decided. I was like, "No, I think he still wears his ring because this is what he hopes will happen." Even after that, he's still wearing it, so I think he still holds onto hope -- not so much that he will never be Black Lightning or he can actually put it away again, but that she will come back and go, "This is a part of you and we can do this." She did do it for a lot of years! She put up with it for a lot of years. When it first happened, she was encouraging, like, "Oh my goodness, this is amazing!" So I think he hopes that she will come back around again.

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What can you tell me about Jefferson's relationship with Gambi?

So basically... we discover that Gambi knows pretty much all about Jefferson. He knows all about Jefferson, but Jefferson and Lynn know very little about Gambi. There's a lot of things that have been left unspoken, as far as we haven't asked and he hasn't told, as far as what his life was like before he came into my life. So, as time progresses, that's going to kind of be forced out. What's going to be happening in the city and with Black Lightning kind of forces Gambi to have to share some of those things, and it's going to create some ripples.

Debuting Tuesday, January 16, Black Lightning stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, China Anne McClain as his younger daughter Jennifer Pierce, Nafessa Williams as his older daughter Anissa Pierce, Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce, James Remar as Peter Gambi, Damon Gupton as Henderson, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III as Tobias Whale and Chantal Thuy as Grace Choi.

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