Black Lightning star Cress Williams reveals his potential future in the Arrowverse
The actor breaks down the series finale, including the line that changed slightly because of his possible Arrowverse future.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Black Lightning.
In the CW superhero drama's series finale, Jefferson Pierce (Williams) blasted his way out of the grave that Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III) buried him in after his team shut down the emitter that was blocking their powers. From there, Black Lightning challenged Tobias to a rematch, and this time he didn't hold back.
In the brawl, Tobias tumbled out of the window and got impaled on a spire. But the crime boss wouldn't go down without a fight and kept shooting at Black Lightning, forcing the hero to kill his nemesis with a jot of lightning.
After the fight, the Pierce family — including the real Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain) — gathered at Anissa's (Nafessa Williams) apartment for a party. During the festivities, Jefferson announced he was stepping back as Freeland's hero and allowing Anissa, Jen, and Grace to take over for him. But that doesn't mean he's retiring from the superhero business completely. In fact, another Arrowverse show has already reached out Williams him about possibly guest-starring as Black Lightning.
"I have had people from The Flash reach out, asking if I'd come do some work with them," Williams tells EW. (UPDATE: The CW and WBTV didn't have any additional info to share with EW when we reached out Monday. But on Tuesday, CW chairman Mark Pedowitz revealed that The Flash's eighth season will begin with five "crossover-type" episodes featuring heroes from across the Arrowverse. Who is participating isn't confirmed yet.)
Below, Williams discusses his potential future in the Arrowverse, Black Lightning and Tobias' long-awaited fight, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The final season put Jefferson through the wringer. How did it feel to take Jefferson to such a dark place this season?
CRESS WILLIAMS: The biggest thing is that it just felt appropriate, you know? When we started the season, we didn't know for sure that it was our last season. So I was just happy that we didn't gloss over [Henderson's death] because I thought that was a huge thing for Jefferson. Then you know, by the time we got to the kind of new Jennifer, I think we knew that it was our last season. And so I knew that we were just going to go through some things and that we were going to end big. But yeah, I just felt like it's a fitting end.
Did you find it challenging playing Jefferson in this headspace?
Oddly enough, I didn't. Typically when I'm doing a show — and this even applies to when I was back doing Hart of Dixie — I would do a season and then I'd go on a hiatus. And then the first week of acting again, of coming back, I would just leave work feeling like I was a horrible actor. I just felt so rusty. And I was like, "Wow, I really suck."
From day one, scene one, of this season, I remember feeling no rush whatsoever. As an actor, I tend to really lean in and work hard, and muscle things a little bit. And for some reason, this season I decided to just kind of lean back, and it made things easier. And I felt like the emotional things, the dark things, they just kind of came easier if I leaned back as opposed to leaning forward, if that makes any sense.
What was your reaction when you read the finale script for the first time?
I just thought it was appropriate. I liked the fact, you know, that Tobias finally gets his end, because I was like, "Oh, I hope we don't do this, like, him walking off into the sunset thing." I like the fact that the family gets their happy ending. You know, [Gambi's fate], I think that was one of the biggest things, just because anybody who's a fan of most of the Black Lightning comic books [knows that] Gambi ends up dying [in most stories]. So I was just pleased that we didn't do that because I just wanted a happy ending for the characters, for the fans. And so I think the fact that we tied everything up and didn't really leave any loose ends, I was happy with that.
I'll admit, I was surprised that Jefferson actually killed Tobias after avoiding it for so long.
I was surprised too. It definitely left no room for interpretation of like, "Oh, maybe Tobias is still alive," or something like that. It's like, "Well, no, that's clear." But on some level it almost reminded me of Man of Steel, a film where Superman had no choice but to kill Zod. It was just a realization that Zod was never going to stop and there was going to be a lot of death in his wake, and he was kind of forced into a position to have to kill him.
Black Lightning purposefully kept Jefferson and Tobias apart for most of its run. How did it feel to finally reach this long-awaited confrontation?
I can say from a work standpoint it was a lot. It was the first time we had so many different issues on set that the whole scene took days [to film]. And normally fight scenes don't take that long. Like, the first day we were shooting, we had one of Marvin's stunt doubles go down with an injury. They scrambled and found another one. And then he immediately went down with a dislocated knee.
My suit was acting up for the first time in all these seasons, where the lights just weren't working. We were trying to troubleshoot why they weren't working, and it was taking lots of time. I remember the first day we started to shoot this whole fight sequence, we didn't even get close to being done. And it was a day that just felt like, "Wow, are we under a curse?"
How did you feel about Jefferson's decision to retire at the end?
Well, I tweaked it just lightly. A bit of an inside story: The original piece of dialogue said that I full-on retire. I don't know if any of these things are going to come to fruition, so they're not set in stone, but I have had people from The Flash reach out, asking if I'd come do some work with them. So they had kind of tentatively reached out months before we shot the finale. So in anticipating me leaving that door open, and anticipation of that being a possibility, that's why I changed it slightly to basically say, "I'm done in Freeland and just kind of like giving Freeland over to my daughter." So that if I show up somewhere else, I haven't contradicted anything.
It's funny, I was going to ask you if you were opening to returning as this character on one of the remaining shows. It sounds like you are?
We're moving back to California, and so Vancouver, for short stints, to pop in and do something and pop back out, is not as challenging for me and it doesn't require packing up and moving my whole family. I wouldn't be able to suddenly join another show that's not in California. So there's that logistical thing. But also, you know, I really enjoyed the crossover last year. Specifically, I think me and Grant [Gustin], we're just very like-minded in how we approach the work, and we had really great conversations. One of my favorite scenes of doing this character was the scene between me and him in the library [on the Waverider in "Crisis on Infinite Earths."] So the thought of being able to go back and do an episode here or an episode there? Oh yeah, no, I'm down for that.
Is this anything confirmed yet, or are you still in the talks phase with The Flash?
Just in the talk phase. I was really surprised because it was months ago, I think in the fall, when they first approached me about, "Hey, do you, would you do something with us next season?" And so I initially said yeah, or my representatives said, "Yeah, we're interested, but you know, that's quite a ways away, and who knows where we're going to be at that point." And they just kind of came back saying, "Hey, we'll work around your schedule. We just want to know if you're interested."
Then probably about two months ago, they came back with like, checking again and saying, "We're thinking about a couple of episodes, and these are the months that we're thinking about, and want to just, again, see if you're into it." And basically we said the same thing, like, "Yeah, yeah." So I imagine at some point the next thing will be something a little bit more final.
What do you remember from your last day on set?
[My] last day on set, I had a scene in which I'm buried alive and I think I'm about to die, so I had this kind of dreamlike sequence with my father lamenting that I failed. In the end, he gives me the inspiration that I need to break out and survive. It was interesting that the very last scene was just me and the guy, the actor playing my father, sitting on some steps just having a father-son conversation. It was so simple. Again, it felt really easy. And it was really cool, it was fitting. I remember just wanting to make sure I let the crew know how much I really appreciated them, and to let them know how important they are. Because I think, you know, actors, we get all of the attention, but a show, a movie, nothing happens without the crew.
Looking back on the past four seasons, what do you think you'll take away from this show and miss the most?
The biggest takeaway I think will be this is now a part of history. And I think one of the things I'm most proud of is that there's now a mainstream — or at least, there's more than one now, but Black Lightning definitely contributes to that — Black superhero that's now part of the pantheon. I'm most proud of that.
And also surprised, because I remember one day at home, we were living in [Decatur, Ga.] and my neighbors kind of know that I'm an actor. And I was working out in the basement and my wife came and she said, "Hey, there's two little boys at the door. And they really would love to meet you." They're like, "Does Black Lightning live here?" And so I came up and she didn't say anything about their ethnicity, but I guess I just assumed that they were two Black children. And I came up and it was two little white boys. And I was just like, "Whoa, hey." So things like that were really surprising. But I am, I guess the legacy that it leaves, along with characters like Black Panther and Luke Cage and now Black Lightning, and Batwoman, is that there are now African American heroes [and] hopefully enough are out there that it becomes the norm.
Then I guess the thing I'll miss is some of the actors that I worked with, just seeing them on a daily basis and the conversations we would have. I remember talking about sci-fi with James Remar. He was reading the books of the television show The Expanse, and I'm a big fan of the show. Actually, James and I just had so many conversations, and he's knowledgeable. And I remember Damon Gupton and I would talk theater and razz each other [because] he's a Clippers fan and I'm a Lakers fan. Even most recently, the actor Wallace Smith, who played Detective Shakur this year, he was a theater, guy so we talked about theater. I think those are the things I'll miss the most.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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