Actor Cress Williams: The Importance Of Playing A Black Superhero

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Actor Cress Williams’ 20-plus year career acting in Hollywood has had its share of highlights, including regular and recurring roles on a number of television series such as Beverly Hills 90210, Veronica Mars, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, Friday Night Lights, Living Single (you might remember him as Queen Latifah‘s love interest, “Scooter”) and even a leading role on Hart of Dixie. The talented Williams will return to The CW this midseason to star in the Black superhero series based on the comic-book, Black Lightening.

The storyline goes a little something like this: After nearly a decade out of the game, former Olympian and high school principal, Jefferson Pierce (played by Williams), is forced to suit up again as the electricity-manipulating superhero Black Lightning when his daughters get caught up with local gang The One Hundred.

“He’s a strong leader in his community,” explains Williams. “So when he first wore the suit, he was a teacher, so he was trying to uplift his community through education, but he was also on the streets as a hero. For the sake of his family — his wife wanted him to come home safely every night — he decided to put that side away, and has since become a principal. He’s done a lot of good through education, but there’s also something lacking on the streets. Because of that, he gets pulled back in. His family gets tied up into it and simply his daughters are in direct danger, which forces him to step up.”

“I’m excited that we are portraying this. This family and this family man. This is really a family drama, with superpowers sprinkled on top. Family is hugely important to me. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for my family so to put this out is extremely important.”

On The CW’s new series — from executive producers Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Salim and Mara Brock Akil — the reluctant hero has powers, but his foes are much more grounded, particularly in socially conscious issues that are just as prevalent now as they were when the Black Lightning comics launched in 1977. With some upgrades, Jefferson now has a new bullet-proof suit. “When I put on the suit for the first time, I felt taller, I felt like I could go through walls,” Williams says with pride. “I was extremely excited.”

(Williams in ‘Living Single’ episode)

“I grew up in a time when we didn’t have this. We didn’t have a plethora of this. All I had was the “Super Friends” and Saturday morning, and they really didn’t even have Spider-Man at that point, so I was always a Superman fan.

“Now, [Black Lightening] lives in the community, and he’s in a really nice house in the community, but he lives in the community every day. It’s not like he left. He’s there, so he can’t help but want to make a difference and that’s important.”

Just like his school principal character, Williams also has some experience teaching.

“Prior to this I taught acting for about nine years, and so there’s a teacher in me, and there’s a director in me. Initially I tried to step back from that, because I wanted people to have their own experience, but also knowing…