Exclusive Interview with Black Lightning’s Jennifer Riker

You might not recognize her name, but Jennifer Riker has been in the acting game for a while with roles on The Walking Dead, Nashville, House of Cards and Castle. Now she is showing off her acting chops as Dr. Helga Jace on The CW’s Black Lightning. I got the chance to talk with her about how she got into acting originally, whether or not she was familiar with her character, Dr. Jace, before she joined Black Lightning, what she nerds out about and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say.

Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting.

I am very lucky in that when I showed an aptitude and interest in performing as a little girl, my parents rallied behind me straight away and enrolled me in The Young People’s Theatre Co. of the Delaware Valley, in the bucolic town of Bucks County, Pa. I landed the lead in the first-grade production of The Little Red Hen and (as a recovering “people pleaser”) was instantly attracted to the applause and laughter from the audience. That began my love affair with performing and specifically comedy. As I became older, I became obsessed with such genius pioneers as Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, and Gilda Radner. I was in all the school plays and was sent to performance arts camps during the summers. At twelve, I landed my first agent and my mother would drive me into NYC for auditions without a second thought. As I said, [I was] very lucky.

Do you have an acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?

I would have to say that I am doing it right now. The role of Dr. Helga Jace on Black Lightning is a dream come true, and I am in absolute heaven getting to portray her.

I love period pieces and anything “based on a true story,” so probably portraying a person in history would be a giant thrill. I am particularly drawn to the 1920s and the Renaissance Period. I adore accents, so throw on a dialect and I’d be over the moon.  

Let’s talk about Black Lightning. What was your audition process like? 

I was asked to put myself on tape, which is how most auditions are done now. Gone are the days with genuine human interaction anymore. I much prefer being in the room and getting the opportunity to create a relationship with the casting directors, but today things move so much quicker, and many industry professionals tend to work remotely and electronically. So, after the initial tape is sent off, you are many times asked to tape a second time as a “callback” and given some new direction to work with. There are times when I am booked straight from tape and no in-person callback. This was one of the times where I was booked from the first tape I sent.

Tell me about your character, Dr. Jace. What’s she like and how does she fit into the story?

She is a brilliant (albeit sociopathic) computational scientist (only one of three in the world who can do what she does) who conducted 11 unauthorized and illegal experiments on Freeland’s Green Light pod kids resulting in 10 of them losing their feet and one dying. She was imprisoned for this but was recruited by the ASA to use her expertise in analyzing a way to free the kids from the pods. Because she can’t be trusted, an implant was placed in her ankle that will shock her if she gets out of line. As she advances in her research more of the pod kids die, but as Dr. Jace unapologetically says, “At least we have data now.”  

Were you familiar with the comics, and specifically Dr. Jace, before you joined the show? If not, did you go back and read any of the ones she was featured in as research?

I was not. The Digital Imaging Technician on the show, Justin Paul Warren, brought in a copy of The OUTSIDERS comic book from his extensive collection to get me to sign the copy. It was thrilling to see considering I had no image of her in my mind other than her description. There she was on the cover with her spectacles, grey bun and lab coat. They obviously took liberties with her image from that of the 80s. I am on a webpage with a huge fanbase who are constantly uploading images and posts so I am learning day by day about the comic universe.  

I know you’ve done most of your scenes, up until this point, with Christine Adams. What has it been like working with her?

I am not shooting as much with her as my storyline has shifted, but she was a true delight and great comfort to me on set. I was the new person in that world, and she made sure I felt right at home. I am so thankful for her mentorship. Everyone on set is so exceptional at what they do; it’s a master class daily.

Last time we saw Dr. Jace, half of the Green Light pod babies ended up dying and Dr. Jace counted it as a win. I know you’re in a few episodes when the show returns in January, so what will Dr. Jace be up to?

I am dying to tell but think you should just tune in for yourself to see all of her new antics. You won’t be disappointed! We are back Monday, January 21st which is episode 10 and I will appear next, a week later, on episode 11.  

In terms of other projects, I know you’re also starring in Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase, which is set to come out sometime next year. What can you tell us about the movie and what your experience shooting it was like?

I had so much fun on that set. It’s such a small world. The stand-in for me on that movie is currently my stand-in on Black Lightning. Katt Shea, the director, was so giving with her cast. She wore two hats – that of director but also acting coach. Many directors don’t get involved in the coaching aspect on-set. I really appreciated her desire to work with the talent to help achieve her desired effect. It was a playful set and I felt very encouraged to try many things.  

Last question – we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd so what is something you nerd out about?

Oh boy… where do I start? I am a huge nerd. I love words and grammar, so I often catch typos and spelling mistakes even in published books and magazine articles. The nerd in me wants so much to write to the publishing company to let them know, but that borders on obnoxious, yes? Other nerd interests are dissecting notes and profiles of fragrances. If I was not an actor I may have gone on to study olfactory sciences, as in being a fragrance chemist. I am nerding out to all things Bourbon. Oh, also forensic science and forensic psychology… oh, and mitochondrial DNA research…ugh. Now, see what you’ve done

Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW. Make sure you follow Jennifer on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo Credit: Tom Fahey

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