After Black Lightning‘s father Alvin Pierce was murdered, his friend Peter Gambi stepped up to help raise Jefferson. Over the years, Gambi became a father figure to Jefferson, even going to so far as to encourage him to use his powers to fight crime. Now, Gambi is a part of the Pierce family, but — like Jefferson — he has a few secrets of his own. As those secrets start to come to light, his past will put some of his closest relationships to the test.
Speaking to CBR during a set visit, Gambi actor James Remar offered some insight into his character’s motivations and relationships. He teased Gambi’s history in covert operations and what other inventions viewers will see from him down the line. He also explained why Gambi encourages Jefferson to return to Black Lightning, how that will affect his relationship with Lynn, Anissa and Jennifer moving forward and more.
CBR: What is your favorite part of playing Gambi?
Remar: Well, my favorite part of playing Gambi is that I get to do it. You know, I’ve been an actor a long time, and each role is precious. When you get to be a part of a series where you’re investing months at a time, you’re living your life in that character. So, aside from the simple fact that I’ve got a job and that I’m getting paid and I like the people that I’m working with, the character has got challenges internally that make it challenging for me as an actor. He’s got a backstory. He’s got secrets. He’s got a very rich emotional life. He’s torn. When you get to play characters that have got a lot going on, that’s what the doctor ordered. That’s the recipe for a satisfying, meaty role as an actor. It allows me to not be too complacent. I’m challenged by this part. I have to step up and bring my A game.
What can you tease about Gambi’s background?
I can say that he has a background in covert operations, maybe a little bit of military, prior to his becoming a “tailor.” So all this scientific expertise and technological know-how is birthed from his backstory, which will be revealed as we go on. But I think it’s cool that, in the beginning, he’s got this tailor shop with a sliding bookcase and — all of a sudden — you’ve got this inner sanctum with all this cool stuff!
Are there any pieces of tech or gadgetry that were particularly fun for you to work with?
The suit really is the deal. I mean, I do have surveillance equipment and things of that nature, but the suit is the thing that holds it all together. Within that suit is a lot of technological bells and whistles. There’s a lot of stuff going on there.
So we’re going to see improvements to the suit as we go along?
Oh, you’ll see improvements, and you’ll also see other suits because other people may turn out to need them.
How would you describe Gambi’s relationship with Anissa and Jennifer Pierce?
They refer to me as Uncle Gambi in some later episodes, and then you’re going to start to see that — as Anissa comes into her own — our relationship deepens. Jennifer is just being teased yet. She’s the baby, so she’s doing her baby thing for now. Anissa is a little more grown up, so she can play with bigger toys.
What would you say is motivating Gambi to motivate Jefferson to become Black Lightning again?
I’m telling him to be true to himself, is the thrust of that. If we’re anything but a father-son sort of relationship, I’m telling him, “Look, you’ve been keeping it all under wraps for nine years and now you’ve done it again. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it all the way.” So I’m encouraging him to be himself. Your powers were given to you for a reason! And Lynn doesn’t like that. [laughs] She’s not too thrilled with that, but I’m like, “Hey, your powers were given to you for a reason.” He’s one of a kind!
Is there a scene or a moment coming up that you’re particularly excited for people to see?
I’m excited for them to see the whole thing. We did a nice scene a couple of weeks ago that he and I had a falling out and then we have a coming back together, but we’re going to fall out again. There’s a big reveal in episode 8 and 9 and 10 that all remain to be shot, but I’m aware of the arc at this point. I know 8 and I’ve glanced at 9 and I’m excited to play them, so hopefully that translates into people being excited to see it.
Does that mean we’ll get to see him outside of the shop?
Oh, I go outside of the shop a bunch! Yeah, you see me outside of the shop a lot.
So we’ll see him visiting the Pierce family…
All of the above. We haven’t had a sit down dinner at their house yet, but maybe we will.
How will Lynn and Gambi’s relationship progress from here?
She never shuts me out. We have a mutual respect and affection for one another, and we both have Jefferson’s interests at heart. So neither one of us is going anywhere. It does turn out in some future episodes that I actually have to look out for her, and I don’t shirk that responsibility. So it develops. We’re on the same team. We may have different views on how the game should be played, but we’re on the same team.
Will we learn more about Gambi’s connection to Alvin Pierce, Jefferson’s father?
Yes, you will learn more about that.
Did you pick up any comics to research the character, or did you go in clean to create your own specific version of the character?
Well, regardless of the research, I’m going to do my own take, because this is the first one. Nobody has ever played Gambi before. So, prior to that, it’s very two-dimensional. It’s drawings on a page with dialogue balloons, but now it’s 3D with a living, breathing person, so my take is the first take.
Airing Tuesdays at 9 pm ET/PT on The CW, 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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