No matter what Cress Williams does the rest of his acting career, he'll always be remembered as the first to play Black Lightning.
The 47-year-old actor with roles on ER, Grey's Anatomy and Friday Night Lights is now that face of a DC comics franchise, and he'll be making an appearance at MegaCon Orlando this weekend. On the CW's Black Lightning, he plays the titular character, a.k.a. Jefferson Pierce, who has the ability to channel and wield electricity.
The show wrapped up its first season to rave reviews and think pieces on how it redefines the superhero genre by featuring a middle-aged father and poignantly tackles social issues without being preachy.
Black Lightning quickly established itself as a genre that showed the community's impact on the superhero, rather than the hero's impact on the community.
Now that Williams plays a bonafide superhero, it means he's being booked for comic cons, including a stop Friday through Sunday in Orlando, where fans will pay $40-$60 for a photo or autograph. He'll be joined by co-stars Nafessa Williams and China McClain, who play Black Lightning's daughters and eventual wielders of their own powers.
We caught up with Williams earlier this month to talk about being a superhero, being a longtime nerd and what's next.
I think you're the first superhero I've ever talked to, but I've always wanted to ask this: How does it feel to be the face of an iconic superhero?
It's really cool; I'm a big superhero fan, and being able to play any superhero has been something I've always wanted to do. A friend of mine kind of revealed to me that idea that there has been countless Supermen and Batman. But I'm the first person to play Black Lightning. It's exciting to originate a character. I'm used to people recognizing me (from past shows), but now people say "Hey, you're Black Lightning." Yeah, that's me.
What is your level of nerd? Did you read any Black Lightning comics to prepare?
Growing up I didn't really read a lot of comics; we didn't really have the money to get them. But I grew up a universal fan of fantasy and sci-fi and watching a lot of TV. There's always this question of "Are you a fan of sci-fi or fantasy?" But can't you be a fan of both? We love everything fantasy, my wife and I. We just saw (Avengers) Infinity War over the weekend, and last time I came back from a convention I surprised my wife with a new set of Dungeons & Dragons dice. And when I was fortunate enough to get the part, I quickly delved into the comics, reading the original stores from the 1970s, 1990s and the 2000s.
The series feels so much different than other comic book shows — and that's the best thing. Why do you think that is?
First and foremost the creators of the show (Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil), prior to (Black Lightning) came from a character-driven background. The husband and wife team are extremely connected to their family and kids, and the show is really about a family that's rooted in the real life and social issues. And when you look at the issues in the original comics, take away the afro and they're still applicable to today. The superhero is now a genre in its own right, and it allows movies and show to have more socially conscious stories and family drama.
The first season delved into so many relevant topics like police brutality, racial profiling, gang violence, race and gender stereotypes … Where do you see the series and characters going from here?
Our show moves pretty fast; we tackle a lot pretty quickly. … Season 2 is set to be more serialized and grittier. All of that excites me. The goal is to not necessarily be a typical CW show, but to be like The Wire with superpowers. Once you've created these characters, people grow to care about them. … We want to continue to develop these characters, continue to show both sides — the good and bad of having superpowers.
You just started attending fan conventions, so what have your experiences been like?
The fan reaction has been great. It's great to hear stories and just get a chance to get a pulse of what people feel about the show. I've heard stories that touched my heart. I love when people come up saying something like, "My grandmother doesn't watch superhero shows but we got her to watch Black Lightning and we watch it together and she loves it."