How quickly things change.
For the first two seasons of Black Lightning, Tobias Whale ruled the Freeland streets. Elusive, persistent and powerful, Tobias had grand ambitions and with his army of thugs and metahumans, the resources to achieve them. There was little that Black Lightning could do but clench his fists in frustration as Tobias evaded arrest or was released from jail again and again.
And then Agent Odell arrived. With the ASA behind him, the cold-as-nails operative has been able to do what the Freeland PD couldn’t—bring Tobias Whale to heel. Held within a sparse, compact cell, Tobias has—at least until very recently—been denied the drug that keeps him young and provides him with super strength. Without it, he’s been slowly dying, rotting into a shell of his former self.
It’s been a dramatic change for the former crime lord and the performer behind him, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III. So far this season, all of Jones’ scenes have taken place within the glowing confines of the ASA, but he’s certainly made the most of them, sharing dramatic exchanges with Bill Duke’s Agent Odell and Christine Adams’ Dr. Lynn Stewart. Tobias may share a name with an aquatic creature, but you can’t help but be reminded of what they say about tigers in cages. And when he gets out, as he seems likely to do, heaven help whoever’s in his path.
Fortunately, Jones is far less menacing in real life than he is on screen, as we learned when we recently spoke with him on the Black Lightning set. He was happy the share his thoughts with us on where things might be going for Tobias, along with how it feels acting alongside Duke, whether Tobias is obsessed with Black Lightning and if he could ever see his villain teaming up with the show’s hero.
Note: The below interview has been edited for clarity.
How much of a change has it been going from being the big guy on the Freeland streets last season to being imprisoned by the ASA in season three?
I think it's been an interesting dynamic. If you look at the three years of Black Lightning, I think it's been interesting what the writers have been able to do with Tobias to keep it interesting for him and for the viewer. I think you've seen so many sides of him, so many facets of his maniacal way of thinking and behavior. And we were only into episode five. We’ve still got a little ways to go.
But so far this season, wearing the makeup and playing my actual age in physicality and not just theory has been a challenge, I must say.
He still has a lot of grit, though. You see it in that episode where they’re torturing him. Is there going to be a lot of hurt coming for a lot of people once he gets out.
I hope so! Don’t we all hope that there is? That would make for good television, I think.
The pit is giving us a chance to really see his internal strength. For two years, we've witnessed his physical strength, his ways of manipulation and things like that. I think this year we're starting to see the internal, mental, emotional and spiritual strength that Tobias has. What we witness in episode 3, for him to endure such torture and to bounce back the way he did, I think shows strength from him that we've yet to see in the previous seasons. So, I love that we're exploring that.
What would you say is Tobias’s take on Agent Odell?
I think Agent Odell creates space and playing field for Tobias to not seem so bad, even to himself. Not just to the viewer and the neighbors in Freeland, but even to himself. You’re starting to see now that he might be even more justified than he thought in being who he is. It's interesting, because I believe that Tobias was aware of Odell’s existence the whole time. You know, like, this is something that has been a looming thing for him, and now it's coming to a head and we're actually able to witness what's transpiring.
What makes you think he’s been aware of Odell?
Well, because Odell is part of the ASA, and the ASA has been around for a long time. If you look back to season one and Jill Scott’s character, we've known about the ASA. We’ve been hearing about them for quite some time. They've had several different facets and levels that have been revealed over time, but we've known about them, even going back to episode one.
I’m curious about Tobias’s relationship with Khalil. Does he know that he’s still alive and has become Painkiller?
I don’t think he knows yet.
What do you think his reaction will be when he finds out?
I don't think he'll be happy. You know, Tobias is one that doesn't like to leave ends loose or stones unturned. I don't know if he knows it yet. I mean, he's in the pit right now. He’s very much isolated from the happenings of the rest of the world. He's really secluded in there.
You mentioned Jill Scott and I’m just reminded that you’ve shared some scenes with some amazing performers.
My god, haven’t I? Yeah, I think about it every day.
You recently shared a great scene with Bill Duke. What’s it like working with him?
Unbelievable. It truly, truly is.
It’s funny because I sit at home and I study film all day. I was just watching Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins—you know, the third installment of the Hannibal Lecter series. And Bill Duke is in that as the police chief. I’ve watched those movies several times and I didn't ever put it together. And now here we are, and to work with someone like that, such a great performer, actor and director. I've learned so much from him in such a short time. He's become a mentor to me and a big brother, so sharing scenes with people like that—not just him, but Christine , Jill Scott and Gregg Henry, who played Martin Proctor in season one. Gregg Henry’s an amazing actor. I mean, my god, you know it's just a dream upon a dream on top of a dream come true. Bill Duke, from Car Wash to Predator, there's nothing he hasn't touched. If you are a director or writer, he's on your bucket list to work with. He’s cinematic royalty. He just is, you know. I don't care that he's black or one of the first black directors or any of that. He’s just cinematic royalty. So, when I look at that scene, I just am in awe of it.
Another one of my favorite Tobias scenes from earlier was where you were talking to a picture of your sister Tori while playing chess with her...
Oh yeah, those scenes were fun. Being in a scene where you have that much dialogue and there's no one there is always fun because you get to play with some things and create some choices that you wouldn't normally create. You know, Robert Townsend was directing that scene. That’s more royalty there. Just working with him and having him direct those scenes was just incredible. It was great.
What’s driving Tobias this season?
He has to get back on top, you know, where he’s most comfortable. I don't think he's comfortable in the position and place he’s in. It’s fun for me to play because for the first two years, I've played Tobias as very powerful and very manipulative, and I've been very successful at that in terms of the show. I’ve had my way. So, it's been fun to not have my way and to be isolated and confined. Even for me as an actor and as a man, it's been a humbling experience. But to answer your question, I think he wants to get back to himself. I think he wants to get back to the suits and the beautiful groomed presentation. It’s unbeknownst to him how he’s going to get back to that, but I would imagine, if I empathize with the character like I do, I would imagine that that's what he wants.
Seeing Tobias brought down was very satisfying for fans of the show who have been seeing your character torment Black Lightning for two seasons, but as the actor who plays him, how does it feel? Do you have dual feelings about Tobias’s defeat, or do you just want to see the guy regain his spot?
Yeah, I think it's both. Going into season three, I was really excited to see how the world reacted to the reveal of where Tobias had landed and how the story developed into him being in the pit, not having the serum and now aging and, for lack of a better word, dying. I was really excited to see how the world reacted to that because of what we've presented for the last two years.
I think that, you give people this certain image and they believe it. I think that's the beauty of our writers and our show’s creator, Salim Akil. He understands how people are feeling about it. So much so that he's able to twist you and turn you just a little bit and hopefully keep you interested and intrigued in what Tobias is going to do with his next move. I know, for me as an actor, it's kept me that way, so I was anxious to see if it was going to affect the viewer that way. If it was going to create a whole other understanding and maybe some sympathy or empathy for him. He’s this guy who you love to hate, and now you kind of feel bad for him. You feel sorry for him and you kind of want to see him get back to where you know and love him to be. That's all in Salim Akil. I can't say enough about him. He's taken such a stance.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever articulated it this way, but he's taken a stance not only with having the first black superhero television show and black superhero lesbian and even with me as a character, being a black man with albinism—he’s taken that uniqueness that is my appearance and created a world around the character where you have a changing of perception. I have to give Salim that credit because he's taking a stance on it. He's not touching on it. He's not just scratching the surface of it. You see what I’m saying? He's getting in depth and taking a stance that is beyond what any creative has done. I am evidence of it.
It's fact at this point. It's fact. I live it. I go out in the world every day and I am who I am. And he's created a world where beyond inclusivity, he's taken a stance on not just the black plight in America, but the uniqueness of the black plight.
Do you think Tobias has an obsession with Black Lightning?
I think it's a mutual obsession. I don't think it's one-sided. I think what you saw there was the idea that there's something internal with those two. If you think about how it's been written from season one to season three, they're parallel now. As opposite as they are then, now they're parallel. So, I think it's this thing. It’s Magic and Bird, you know what I'm saying? They're obsessed with each other. They need each other.
Can you see the two of them fighting together to get Freeland back?
Wouldn’t that be awesome? I would hope so. What is it, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Yeah, I thought about it. I thought about it in season one, to be honest. Now here we are in season three, and as we watch it, we see that this wouldn't be a far-fetched idea. We haven't worked together yet, so hopefully, we will come to that place. It does totally make sense, if you think about it, and again, we're already seeing the parallel. They're both in the pit. They're both prisoners to do the ASA, and I just find that to be very interesting writing.
Black Lightning 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.