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February 24, 2020
Online Originals

All the Way Jasika

Jasika Nicole has found a way to be seen.

Cecily Knobler

Actress and artist Jasika Nicole learned at an early age that she had the power to control her own narrative through art.

Growing up biracial in Alabama, she wanted to be "seen" on her own terms, as opposed to standing out for anything others might deem "different."

Soon, she learned that performing not only came naturally for her, but that she genuinely enjoyed embodying characters as she herself evolved.

After her path led her to North Carolina, New York and then finally the West Coast, she continues to build a phenomenal acting resume (including a current role on ABC's The Good Doctor), her own clothes and a beautiful life with her wife, Claire.

Do you remember the moment you realized you wanted to be in entertainment?

It was actually my mom who always said, "Oh Jasika, you are such a performer!" She always said I should put myself out there and I hated it because I went to a mostly white school in a mostly white neighborhood and I was always trying to fit in. I didn't want to do anything that made me stand out at all.

But in fourth grade, I got cast as Betty Body in a play called Shaping up Santa which was unfortunately about getting Santa to lose weight. I played this fitness instructor and this was a pivotal point because I remember not being nervous. I went out on the stage and I just did what I was supposed to do.

So it was a less of an "Oh man, I love being on stage" and more of a way to be seen without having to expose myself. You're playing another character and even in the fourth grade, I understood I could be seen but wasn't giving anybody a part of myself because I was acting like this other person.

As an adult, I don't feel scared or vulnerable, but at the time it was a way for me to put myself out there without having to fully commit to being "all the way Jasika" because I wasn't exactly sure what that meant to me yet!

Where was home?

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I didn't know a lot of mixed race kids growing up so we stood out because of that. I was so sensitive to it because I just wanted to fit in and have no one look at me. So it's really interesting that I found a peripheral way to get to the same place by putting myself out there.

I said, "Hey you have to look at me because I'm on stage." As opposed to walking down the street and feeling I had all these eyes on me for no good reason.

What came next?  

By the time I was in high school, I thought I'd see if I could actually do this for my life and career. I ended up going to this really small liberal arts college that had a great theater program. I studied musical theater and then moved to New York for theater for about three years. But I just got more work in television and film. Even though Broadway was kind of the ultimate goal for me at the time.

Then the show I was on at the time, Fringe, got moved to Vancouver and so me and my partner ended up moving to the West Coast.

Speaking of Fringe, were you a Dawson's Creek fan before the show? Did you have a Pacey vs. Dawson preference?

I was actually a Mighty Ducks fan! Of course I watched Dawson's Creek but I feel like my first real connection to Joshua Jackson was due to The Mighty Ducks. It's wild to watch people on TV and admire their work and then get to work with them. That's when I felt like I had made it because I was working with Joshua Jackson!

You currently play a physician on The Good Doctor, which just got renewed for another season! Tell us about your character.

Dr. Carly Lever is a pathologist who works at the hospital. She develops a friendship with Shaun (Freddie Highmore) towards the end of season two. And he ends up asking her out on a date and she says yes which was kind of a big surprise!

So season three is about Shaun and Carly's characters discovering how to have a romantic relationship together. In a lot of ways, it's like any other romantic relationship. And in some ways, they face obstacles that other couples might not necessarily face because one of the characters is neurotypical and the other is neurodivergent.

Initially, their storyline is about navigating a lot of firsts. It's been a real joy to portray a relationship that we really don't get to see a lot of in television and media. Although there are more pieces coming out that represent a broader community of people who are neurodivergent. But it still feels new and it feels like something that a lot of people who are neurotypical are being introduced to for the first time.

Which of the many roles you've played do you connect with the most?

This is a hard question because I am a die hard Carly fan! I think she's great but that's a very important distinction. I want to be like her. I wish that I wasn't afraid of what people thought. I wish I were as confident as she is. She's really smart and funny and cool in all the ways I'm not. So maybe I connect with her because I want to be that person?

I think I had the best connection to this character I played in a show called Underground. I played a woman named Georgia who was a multiracial character. She had privileges in her life because she had light skin. And she was trying to work against that privilege and help people who were traveling on the Underground Railroad to get them to safety.

I think she was dealing with a lot of conflict of all that she was given and privileged to have to try to funnel that energy into something that would have some positive change on the world and in people's lives. She was a really complicated character, so I think I identify with her!

We interviewed Anthony Hemingway when he was working on Underground.

He was wonderful and lovely. And I actually got to work with him on Fringe. He directed one episode and then years later, I got to work with him in a bigger capacity which was very exciting!

This actually brings me to the next question. If you could put together a dream team of directors, writers and other actors you'd like to work with, who would that be?

The Good Doctor is so fresh in my head so Freddie would be on my dream team because he's probably my favorite scene partner I've ever had! I would also love to work with Anthony Hemingway again!

And also Liz Friedman and Tracy Taylor, both writers for The Good Doctor. My character had this big episode, the one with all the zebra fish, written by Tracy and Liz.

I remember showing up to set and I hadn't met them before. And I had a queer, white woman on one hand and a black woman on the other hand. And I thought "Oh my gosh, both of my identities right in front of me have written this script for me!" And it just felt so frickin' exciting!

They're always pitching for diversity in the writer's room, producers arena, etc. And so to see it happening right in front of me was so cool. I love those women so much. They have written some beautiful stuff for me and they are definitely on my dream team as well!

Sounds like a great group!

I feel like this tight knit supportive feeling of the production has translated to real life. I believe them when they say it's important that we take care of each other and take care of ourselves. That seems to be a really big part as to why the show is so successful. This is by far one of the most compassionate, most fun projects I've had the pleasure of working on in my whole career.

The fact that our number one, Freddie, is just so genuine and kind and patient and not ego-driven and present. I didn't even know there were actors like him. So now I feel like my tolerance is really low for anyone who's difficult to work with.

You've been an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

Yes. I am queer so it seems natural, at least for me, and organic to be vocal about my queer siblings out in the world. My partner is non-binary. They just came out this past year so there's been a lot of transitioning in our household, navigating slightly new terrain. It's an ongoing process and it's exciting and scary and strange and uncovered territory for both of us in a lot of ways.

But it's been really good and I've felt really supported in so many areas of my life.

You're quite the visual artist and designer as well. What kind of art do you like making?

I used to kind of moonlight as an illustrator. I've been a visual artist all my life and when I was in college, I learned how to sew because I was in a costume design class. I wanted to make all of my clothes and didn't want to have to be dependent on ready-to-wear. I love fashion, I love clothing, but it's not an industry that is very kind to people or the environment.

So I wanted to see if I could find another way to still enjoy fashion but make it more personal and find something creatively fulfilling in it, which I did!

I also knit and do woodworking. I built a lot of furniture in our house. I love to keep my hands busy. If there's a book out there that will tell me how to do it, that's what I'm gonna do!

When I draw something or write a short story, or if I've built something or sewn anything, I get to be the final say in how it looks and what's gonna be done with it. To be able to not have to answer to anybody else and to let my creative freedom flow and not worry about the consumption of it or if it's gonna make money…all of those things have become increasingly important to me.

And I love walking around in my clothes and having someone say "Oh wow, that's such a cool dress!" And I can say "I made this!"

Is there anything upcoming we should be looking out for?

I used to write comics and took a break from all that, but I've gotten back into it again. So I plan to keep sharing my artwork and trying to introduce it through funny, little comics to my Instagram page.

Also this summer, I will be recording some audiobooks. The first one I ever recorded was for this book called Alice Isn't Dead, which is a podcast that got turned into a book that was a real big cult favorite and an amazing piece of work. And I'm going to be doing some more Young Adult audiobooks this spring which is really cool!

I love discovering new ways to garner new audiences. Obviously, it can come from television, but when people follow me because they like what I sew or they read something I wrote, that feels really special. I'm excited to keep getting myself out there!

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