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Black Lightning's China Anne McClain Flirts with Destruction

Black Lightning's China Anne McClain Flirts with...

By Tim Beedle Monday, November 11th, 2019

With all the horror taking place within Freeland this season, it was quite a surprise when the last episode of Black Lightning ended on a moment of pure beauty. Jennifer Pierce, struggling with uncertainty about Freeland’s plight and the necessity of the ASA’s occupation, rockets into the stratosphere where she’s enveloped by vibrant energy that swirls around her like living, multicolored streams of light. Jennifer smiles, then laughs in joy.

It’s a fleeting moment. The scene and episode end with the energy seeming to overwhelm her, but for a while we’re reminded of the pure glee that can come with being a superhero, at least when things aren’t so bleak. In a season where desperation and oppression has prompted a variety of reactions from Black Lightning’s family of heroes, Jennifer’s uncertainty and openness to the ASA has been compelling, but also terrifying. After all, it’s not a coincidence that Bill Duke’s Agent Odell seems to be targeting her—she’s the most powerful member of the Pierce family and could become one of the most destructive weapons in his arsenal.

It feels like Jennifer is quickly approaching some sort of tipping point, and how everything will shake out remains to be seen. But as we learned when we recently spoke to China Anne McClain on the Black Lightning set, when it happens, it’ll be much like that pivotal scene—brilliant and hard to look away.

Note: The below interview has been edited for clarity.

Jefferson and Anissa have two totally different approaches to being a superhero. Jefferson’s more MLK while Anissa is maybe a little more Malcolm X. As Jennifer comes into her own, where can we expect her to fall within that spectrum?

Oh, I think she falls somewhere in the middle. I mean, part of her is very mature. She understands what her father is saying about “Don’t kill. It’s not necessary. Find other ways.” But part of her also understands what Anissa is saying. I think that she's going to switch her opinion depending on the different situations that she's in and depending on how her own personal emotions are attached or not.

Jennifer was really affected by the link that Agent Odell sent her showing the violence that the Markovians were responsible for. What effect will that have going forward?

You saw on the show, it was very difficult for Jennifer, and that's why I think she's allowed herself to go against her better judgment and start working with Odell because she knows she doesn't need to trust Odell. She knows that, and you can see it in the way that she deals with him, but he's using the humanity in her to try and turn her into his own personal weapon. So, whether or not she's aware of that yet, I've been aware of it for a while reading the scripts and knowing where it's going. And for me, it's hard. It's difficult with where this family is, and the fact that they're in an occupation and they can't leave and they're stuck there. Being able to play that, it's very emotional on a daily. Very emotional.

We heard you had an interesting reaction the first time you had to act with Bill Duke.

I avoided him after that. I really did because I was scared when he crept in and we're dancing and then we turn around he's just in the living room, which has turned into his new norm. It scared me! And then when he said the lines and he was standing in the suit, it just creeped me out. So, I avoided him for a long time, but then I actually had a conversation with him and he's like the coolest guy on planet Earth. He's just amazing at his job.

Jennifer doesn’t know about Khalil and Painkiller yet. What do you think is going to happen when they meet up?

I can't say I know whether or not that's going to happen, but I mean, it's bound to happen at some point. Jennifer loves him and she doesn't know that he's alive right now or whatever he is. So, when that catches up to her and she finds out that information, some stuff might go down and it might not be too pretty.

Do you think she’ll be able to separate her emotions from what she might need to do?

Yeah, definitely. And if she can't at first, I think she will be forced to, because at the end of the day, she's not going to let anybody hurt her family or herself. You know, so by any means necessary, she's going to keep her family safe and alive, even if that means lighting up her ex.

Anissa and Jennifer seem to be on two very different paths right now with regard to the occupation, but they’re still very close as sisters. How will their differing views affect their relationship in the episodes ahead?

Anissa is busy fighting crime as Blackbird, and that's where her heart is. I think that Jennifer's trying to just stay under the radar as much as she possibly can. Her powers are growing. It’s getting pretty painful to try and control them. They are definitely on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to that, but I think that it’s going to bring them closer after some damage. I think that Jennifer is probably going to cause a little bit of damage and Anissa is going to realize, “Okay, we need to come together. We need to stop being so secretive with each other and not including each other in our plans. We need to do this together.”

Who is the biggest threat to Jennifer this season?

I’m at a crossroads between Odell and herself. I’m going to say herself, though, because in season two, she really struggled with trying to control her powers and trying to control her emotions. And we got to a point to where it was clear that she could destroy herself if she kept going down the road that she was headed down after Khalil died. So, now that her powers are continuing to grow and they're physically getting painful for her, I'm worried about how much of a danger she is to herself, so I'm going to go with herself first and then Odell second because he's just a sneaky little something.

Let’s talk about Garfield. Things there are changing, and now there’s this new student, Marcus.

I'll just say that not everything is what it seems right now. A lot of things are going to be revealed to the audience as the show goes on. And certain characters that kind of came out of nowhere—there's always a reason for them being there. But yeah, the school is definitely going to continue to change and the levels in the school are definitely going to get higher.

With everything that’s happening and the fact that Jennifer is going to have to play a role in the fight against the ASA, how are things between her and her father going to change?

I think that they're going to get closer. You know what I'm saying? In the past, we've seen that the family is close, but the events that happen this season are going to have to bring them closer, because right now she's being so secretive and it’s really destructive. The road she's going down is destructive. She shouldn't be trusting Odell, and she's not trusting her family. She's not trusting Jefferson by not telling him this information. So, I think that once he finds out and everything comes to light about what she's been doing behind closed doors, it's going to bring them closer. Like I said with Anissa earlier, it's going to make him realize that he has to be closer to her.

What’s been your favorite scene this season?

I don’t even have to think about it. It’s when I flew up into space. Yes! That was so much fun to shoot. When you're doing it, it's just green screen. So, you really have to use your imagination and listen to the people around you when they tell you what it's going to look like after they do all the visual effects. But after really trying to just throw myself into it and trusting people, knowing what they were going to do on their end, it turned out so well. I was really happy with how it looked and the music and everything else.

Like your other fellow DC shows, Black Lightning will be involved with the big “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover in some way. We know Jefferson will be involved. Will you and Anissa?

The daughters are definitely going to be involved in the crossover in some sort of way. We're not going to be in the Flash episode. But, yes, here in Freeland, we're going to be dealing with the effects of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” And not just our family. It's going to be bigger than that.

I will say that this event is leading to something. It's not just a crossover episode. Things are going to change after this crossover in a very big way.
 

Black Lightinng airs Mondays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST) on The CW. Visit our Black Lightning page for more features, news and articles about the Pierce family.