Black Lightning’s Cress Williams: “Playing a superhero topped my wish list”

Black Lightning star Cress Williams talks about wearing the suit and learning to fight

For Black Lightning actor Cress Williams, winning the show’s title role was a dream come true. “I’m a huge superhero fan,” he tells us. “I mean, since I was a child I’ve been watching superhero cartoons. So once all these superhero movies and television shows starting coming about and it started becoming a legitimate genre, it topped my wish list to do one of these someday.”

It was a little over a year ago when Williams first read that Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil were writing a script for a new series about DC hero Black Lightning, and he instantly knew he wanted to get involved.

“I didn’t really know about the hero specifically; I was just excited about the idea,” he explains. “And then during the pilot season, the script came and I read it and it was phenomenal. It was more than I could have hoped for, you know? I expected a superhero story but the hair on my neck stood on end because the city in which it took place was alive and it was rooted in real life and a loved the family aspect and all the other aspects that were different from your typical superhero story. I just got excited and started the audition process, and fortunately they liked that I was doing, and the rest is history.”

As a comic book enthusiast, putting on the Black Lightning suit for the first time was one of those unforgettable goosebumps-inducing moments for Williams.

“Oh, wow! It was awesome,” he says. “I mean, it’s a long process from sketches to having it fully made. You see the sketches and start with measurements and you’re having fittings multiple times a week and each fitting lasts at least an hour, and so it takes quite a few weeks. Once it was finally done and I was in it, I mean— I’m six-foot-five, but I felt taller! I was anxious to run through a wall! I was like a raging fire! I just couldn’t help but be excited!”

With mostly dramas like Hart Of DixiePrison Break and Friday Night Lights under his acting belt, Williams hadn’t done much action in the past. But as a keen boxer he didn’t find himself out of his depth when it came to amping up the aggression for Black Lightning‘s complicated fight sequences.

“With Jefferson and Black Lightning, it’s kind of a boxing/martial arts hybrid, so it’s a new skillset that I’ve been learning. Also, at my age it’s a little harder. I’m a person who loves to work out, but with the work schedule it’s a struggle trying to find time when you can actually work out, and then with every episode there’s a new fight sequence to learn, so it’s pretty taxing.

“Fortunately I was kind of ahead of the game. Right around the time I turned 40, I really started embracing eating right and working out, so it’s been something that’s been part of my life for a while now to the point where I even have a home gym, so I was already doing that. Once the show came around I had to increase the weight that I was lifting and stuff like that, but that part was already engrained in me. I think the only thing was adding the fight training and trying to get some of the techniques down, but fortunately I didn’t have to start from scratch. When some actors [start something like this] they’re not really physical people so they have to start working out from scratch. But that’s something I do and, oddly enough, I really, really enjoy. Thankful that was already who I am.”

Black Lightning is airing weekly on Netflix UK. Get all the latest superhero news with every issue of SciFiNow.