China Anne McClain Talks The CW’s Black Lightning

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China Anne McClain Talks The CW’s Black Lightning
Posted by Jacqueline Coley

November 22, 2017

This past summer at San Diego Comic Con, Blackfilm.com got to sit down with the cast of The CW’s new series Black Lightning, which will premiere on Tuesday, January 16 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), following a new episode of THE FLASH (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT).

Based on the characters from DC, Black Lightning is from Berlanti Productions and Akil Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti, Salim Akil & Mara Brock Akil, and Sarah Schechter. The Black Lightning character was created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.

Black Lighting stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce, Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce, China Anne McClain as Jennifer Pierce. dditional co-stars include Damon Gupton and James Remar.

Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a man wrestling with a secret. As the father of two daughters and principal of a charter high school that also serves as a safe haven for young people in a New Orleans neighborhood overrun by gang violence, he is a hero to his community. Nine years ago, Pierce was a hero of a different sort. Gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, he used those powers to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning. However, after too many nights with his life on the line, and seeing the effects of the damage and loss that his alter ego was inflicting on his family, he left his Super Hero days behind and settled into being a principal and a dad.

Choosing to help his city without using his superpowers, he watched his daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) grow into strong young women, even though his marriage to their mother, Lynn (Christine Adams), suffered. Almost a decade later, Pierce’s crime-fighting days are long behind him…or so he thought. But with crime and corruption spreading like wildfire, and those he cares about in the crosshairs of the menacing local gang The One Hundred, Black Lightning returns — to save not only his family, but also the soul of his community.

Also part of the cast are Edwina Findley, Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, and Jill Scott.

Below is our chat with China Anna McClain and her experience working on this new series.

Blackfilm: Okay. Great. Let’s get started. So, how familiar were you with Black Lightning before the cast?

China Anne McClain: I’ve heard of Black Lightning, but I didn’t know too much. It came a little ahead of my time, but once I found out that I made the show, I mean, I have not stopped reading the books since. So I’ve definitely engulfed myself once I … I read comic books when I was a kid, but definitely, you know, didn’t stay on it. But now, it’s like, okay. I’m addicted.

Blackfilm: Do you watch any of the other superhero shows on CW?

China Anne: I do. I love Supergirl. I have been familiar with Flash, and all of them. And yeah. It super exciting.

Blackfilm: Other than reading the comics, is there anything that you saw that you’re like, “I can’t wait for my part to reach its focus?”

China Anne: I’m ready to suit up. I’m ready.

Blackfilm: What drew you to Black Lightning?

China Anne: I read the breakdown. A breakdown is a description in your print for your audition, and who your character is and what she represents. And I’ve read the script and in my spirit, I was just like, “I have to play her. I am her.” And I mean, I just love what she represents. She’s an advocate for education, and she’s fighting the injustice in the city. And with everything that’s going on in our country right now, I want to take on roles that are gonna help change things. And that’s what I feel like Anissa is. That’s who I feel like Thunder, and Black Lightning and Lightning is.

And I’m just really, really excited for what she stands for. She’s just strong. She’s a power. She’s a force of her own, outside of her father. She has her own strength, and she knows what she wants. And she fights for what she wants, so she’s not afraid. So I think as all women, we could take a little away from Thunder.

So yeah, I mean, I read the breakdown of the character and I was sold.

Blackfilm: Thank you.

China Anne: Not to mention, Salim and Mara Akil, I’m huge fans of. So that was a no brainer for me. I get to work with them and play a superhero? I’m good.

Blackfilm: Have you had any particularly exciting moments on set yet?

China Anne: Seriously? We are truly like a family already. I think I have the most fun with China. We just kind of get each other, and it’s truly … you’ll get that sister bond. You’ll get that from us. We read our chemistry read together, which is the final audition with you and the other cast mates, and we just hit it off instantly. And I was just like, “Wow.” Like it was really meant to be. For sure.

Blackfilm: Now, the series takes place in Atlanta. How significant is it to have the series take place in the South, and especially with the turmoil that’s been going on over there? How important is it your character’s a black woman?

China Anne: It’s very, very important. I think it’s very authentic to have it at a setting such as Atlanta, with everything that’s going on. So it makes it more real, you know? We could have been shooting in L.A., but I definitely love the idea of us being in Atlanta with everything that’s going on. And a lot of things that are going on are happening in the South. So it’s, again, we’re bringing awareness with Black Lightning. We’re bringing hope that we can change things here in America and across the world.

Blackfilm: How important is it to be authentic, when you talk about authenticity, for the black family, as well? A reflection of you yourself and television for other families assume that.

China Anne: It’s very important because we need to have those positive images of ourselves on TV. Lets first say that we’re the first black superhero family on network TV like … way too long. And we’re here now and I’m just really honored to be a part of that. And what I believe we’re focusing on is the father being the positive image because a lot of times we see it being the female. And there are fathers out there, black fathers, who are doing what you are gonna see Black Lighting do. He is fighting for his family, he is protecting his family, he is making positive choices based on his family and their future. I think it’s gonna be really good for black men and for black little boys as well as black little girls, seeing superheroes on TV. I didn’t have that on TV, so to be able to give my voice over to that I’m just truly honored and grateful.

Blackfilm: Are you feeling any additional pressure because of the breakthrough of being the first black family to superhero?

China Anne: Not necessarily no. I mean if anything, the pressure of staying true to what everyone knows Black Lightning to be, but other than that I think we’re good. For sure. I think just being true to the images that everyone knows Black Lightning and his daughters to be. Marceline got it the authenticity is going to be there. I trust them.

Blackfilm: What would you do if you found out your own father was a superhero?

China Anne: I’d probably freak out. That would be insane. I don’t really know if I could say what I would do. I think that would have to happen.

Blackfilm: Great. Did you ever dress up as a superhero as a kid?

China Anne: For sure, as cat woman.

Blackfilm: Cat woman.

China Anne: Cat Woman, right. I love Cat Woman. And Halle Berry did an amazing job, so a little pressure filling those shoes of the women who played superheroes before. But I’ve just been studying, and watching, and learning them and watching their moves. And obviously, wanted to bring my own thing to the table, but I think there’s something that I can learn from the women who did it before me.

Blackfilm: What’s it like having a superhero sister as well?

China Anne: Oh, it’s lit. It’s so, so cool and so much fun, and Nafessa is just the coolest person ever so we’re really working together on this show. She’s my protector so it’s nice to have that.

Blackfilm: Could you tell us a little bit about your audition process?

China Anne: I have to say that there were probably more people in that audition than any audition I’ve ever done and I’ve gone in for Disney a few times, so at least 25 people. It was a theater, so it’s very intimidating walking in it’s like you’re performing a play. But once you get into it and get into the scene you don’t even see faces anymore you’re just in it. And then when I auditioned with Nafessa it just clicked.

Blackfilm: We’re you at all familiar with Black Lightning before you tried out?

China Anne: I was not familiar with Black Lightning before I tried out. After I saw the audition I was like, well, this is awesome and I found out on the internet that he was one of the first African American superheroes and after reading that I was like, I have to be a part of it, I have to.

Blackfilm: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing to prepare for the role?

China Anne: Oh, my gosh. Well, just from practicing my lightning powers, you know (laughs). No, I’ve been working out a lot. My character runs track in the show so I’ve been running literally any time that I can get a change. And also just reading comics as much as I can between time. I just finished the press tour for descendants two so now I can really, really get into the comics and dig deeper into my character.

Blackfilm: Last season in the Arrowverse they had the musical crossover between Flash and Supergirl are we going to be able to see you in the next musical crossover teaming up with the Arrowverse?

China Anne: You know I would love that.

Blackfilm: Of course.

China Anne: Black Lightning is not a part of the Arrowverse, at least right now. Not in the first season, but maybe next season. Who knows, fingers crossed on that.

Blackfilm: What does it mean to you to see a black family on television as superheroes for the first time?

China Anne: It’s incredible, it’s inspiring, it’s overwhelming to be a part of it, and like I said it’s just a huge honor. To be playing his daughter and to have superpowers and to be that powerful on screen and to show girls that you can do anything that you wanna do. Also, she goes through a lot on the show. You see her develop her powers so she feels alienated and like she’s different from everybody else, and I’m really excited to portray that.

Blackfilm: Are you looking forward to seeing other little girl who wants to dive through the comics because you’re on the show?

China Anne: Yes, yes, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that. I don’t want them to try to fly or anything like, jumping off anything trying to fly like my character, but I’m excited for them to see that and have that example.

Blackfilm: The series are a midseason show so you’ll probably be airing right before or after Black Panther comes out. How do you feel just joining that now pantheon of black superheroes that we’re seeing in the media?

China Anne: I didn’t even realize that. The timing is so perfect. You have it on the movie side and then you have it on the TV side, and I just think that all of it’s beautiful. All of these superhero shows and movies is just an escape for people. It allows you to dive into a different world and not think about what’s going on in your own life. And I feel like that’s why a lot of people relate to it and love it so much. That’s why I do at least. That’s an understatement Black Panther was awesome, so awesome.

Blackfilm: What’s going to happen when you come back here next year and you see people dressed as you from Descendants as well as Black Lightning?

China Anne: My mind’s gonna be blown. You’re going to find me laying on the floor somewhere because I’m not gonna be able to deal with it. I’ve already seen kids dressing up as Uma, but once the Lightning costume is made and it’s for purchase and you can make it and buy it, it’s gonna be too much for me. It’s gonna be too much for me.


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