We recently had a chance to do a small Q&A with the star from Black Lightning, Jennifer Riker (Dr. Helga Jace).
She has also been seen recently in the direct to DVD release of Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. Ms. Riker will also be in STUBER, a movie released from 20th Century Fox, later this year. You may have also recognized her from such hits as AMC’s “Walking Dead”, AMC’s “Lodge 49,” and USA’s “The Purge.”
We have a large following of CW fans, so if you don’t mind, we’re going to start with “Black Lightning”. Dr. Helga Jace seemed to play to two different sides throughout Season 2, do you think this is just to further her scientific research or is she a character adrift just trying to find her place?
Dr. Jace does what she has to do to further whatever is in her best interest and that is advancing science and being the best at what she does. She, of course, was recruited against her wishes to come to Freeland, from Markovia, with the ASA because they have a job for her to do. Although, it isn’t where she wants to be working, it is still a lab for her to experiment and that is enough to keep her sane. I don’t believe anything is unintentional with with Dr. Jace; everything is well thought out and considered. Aligning with Tobias is a means to an end.
Will Season 3 bring us more information on Dr. Jace and how she came to be where she is and why she is so important to the Markovians and the ASA?
Yes, I imagine that is what the writers intend. I learn as we go through the season as well. As she said in early Season 2, she helped the Markovians with their meta-program before the ASA helped her defect to help with the Pod Kids – Greenlight epidemic. The Markovians, as we now know, have sent for her to return and finish what she started. I imagine she will not be met with open arms once the teletransporter delivers her in Season 3.
Other than family moments, “Black Lightning” is a pretty dark show, what was the feeling on set? Does everyone crack jokes between takes just to lighten the tension that filming brings?
The set is one of friendship and family. The spirit is one of generosity, collaboration and support. I couldn’t ask for a better working environment. I believe the camaraderie begins with the at the top with the showrunner and director. When the show is run like a well-oiled machine, and professionally, it gives the cast and crew a level of safety and comfort to be themselves and in return give 100%. I can’t say that I have had that experience on every set I have worked on. There are a lot of jokes both on set and off. Some days it boggles my mind that I get paid to play with the talent I am surrounded by.
How much background were you given on your character before stepping into the role?
None. I only knew what the character description was in my original audition but not how it pertained to the story at large. I learned bit by bit, scene by scene. I also had no experience with this genre and therefore never heard of “Black Lightning” but it has been a wonderful master class for me on set. Many of the cast and crew were eager to fill me in and educate me on the history of the Masters of Disaster, Young Justice League and The Outsiders.
How would you define Dr. Helga Jace to someone unfamiliar with the character?
She is a master manipulator and by outward definition sociopathic. She knows she is one of three people in the whole world who can do what she does in computational science and feels even then she is number one so. So, suffice to say, she has quite the ego. She is without social graces and prefers to be kept to herself and her work.
Moving past “Black Lightning”, what drew you to audition for your character in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase? Were you a fan of the books?
I was a fan of the books but to be honest I was offered the opportunity to audition for it through the casting directors and my agent sent over the audition scene. I have limited comedy on my resume as I tend to play many white-collar professionals. I was and am still eager to play in more comedic roles.
You have a movie coming out this year called STUBER, can you tell us anything about it and the character you play?
It is a supporting role in a very fun scene where once again I get to play some comedic relief. If this keeps up I may have a balanced resume after all!!
Any other projects in the works that the fans should know about?
I am auditioning most weeks these days. There is so much happening in the southeast, so it is a real exciting time to be an actor.
I heard you are also a professor with the film genre, what do you teach and how does that differ from your days acting on set?
Yes, I am on the Teaching Faculty at my alma mater, Florida State University, in the College of Motion Picture (although I got my BFA Degree in The School of Theatre) where I teach On-Camera Acting to the junior BFA theatre students. We weren’t offered this unique course when I went here so it really sets us apart from of the other acting programs and is an incredible opportunity for my students to get ahead in the industry. My students get a thrill out of the fact that after I shoot an episode of “Black Lightning” I come back to the classroom and show them the scenes to further illustrate my lessons. They appreciate that their teacher is simultaneously a working actor as well as being in the classroom.
Okay, just for fun, I have a few other questions, my first is what has been your favorite character to play thus far and why?
Without a doubt, hand to my heart, this one. Dr. Helga Jace is a dream come true for me. I very much enjoy delving into her psyche and discovering her motivations and even her vulnerabilities. She is an outspoken, tough as nails, independent, strong, articulate, brilliant woman. Not too many women that I have portrayed have this impressive list of qualities.
Who has been the best actor that you have ever worked with?
I’m going to risk an eye roll here and say it is impossible for me to choose. This cast (“Black Lightning”) has the classiest group of souls and, never mind all other shows I have been fortunate enough to work on, I couldn’t even choose the best on this set. There is just too many.
And finally, if you could choose an actor, living or dead, that you could act opposite of, who would it be and why?
I am pretty obsessed with Sir Daniel Day Lewis (Gangs of New York and Phantom Thread) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book and The Lord of the Rings trilogy) so either of them would be a bucket list dream come true for me. I am wholeheartedly impressed by their gargantuan talent followed by their rich inner lives and renaissance quality lifestyles. They have lives and interests independent from their acting careers that provide them with a richness and meaning that inspires me greatly. I think it would be quite something to know them and work opposite their light.
We at Entertainment Jolt wish Jennifer Riker a big thank you for taking time to talk to us. Here is also wishing her all the best in her current endeavors and all the ones to come.
Photo Credit: Tom Fahey