Jennifer Riker of 'Black Lightning,' and 'House of Cards' Gives an illuminating interview with Brandon Schreur

Jennifer Riker

While Jennifer Riker has certainly had a busy past couple of years, she shows no signs of slowing down now.

The popular actress first made a name for herself by appearing in a number of hit TV shows like Law and Order, Castle and Monk.

She then began booking re-appearing roles on Mad Men and Nashville, while also appearing in episodes of The Purge, The Walking Dead and House of Cards.

In 2018, Riker scored the role of the villainous Dr. Helga Jace in the second season of CW's Black Lightning

With additional upcoming appearances in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase and 20th Century Fox’s action/comedy Stuber, Riker caught up with Brandon Schreur of Stars and Celebs to talk about what's going on in her career.

Read the full interview here.

Brandon Schreur: First off, I would love to hear about some of your experiences on Black Lightning — a show which is really incredible, and you are also incredible on. Can you tell me how you first became involved with the show?

Jennifer Riker: Thank you so much. I am in heaven. This is a dream (role) come true for me. I was asked to put myself on tape, which is how most auditions are done now. Gone are the days where actors are in the audition room with genuine human interaction anymore unless you are called back and are being seriously considered. 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 straight from the first tape.

BS: Did you know anything about the comics/character prior to your involvement?

JR: I did not, no. Ironically, Sci-fi isn’t a genre I’ve given much attention to before. 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 80’s. I am on a webpage with a huge fan base who are constantly uploading images and posts, so I am learning day by day about the comic universe.

BS: Taking on a role like this is obviously a pretty big deal, given that you get to play this extreme, intimidating kind of villain. How do you prepare for a role like that?

JR: I focus on the character’s main objective in life. For Dr. Jace, it is computational science; she is driven and knows she is the best at what she does in her field. She has the utmost confidence, and, in her mind, this gives her bragging rights. I focus on the character's given circumstances, main objectives and known truths in the storyline, and then align them with what’s as true for me in my own life. In that way, it is easy for me to empathize with her and understand her point of view.

BS: What is it like joining Black Lightning during season two of the production, given that season one was such a huge hit? Is the whole cast and crew pretty calm and welcoming, or is it super intense and hectic as everyone is trying to maintain the same level of quality?

JR: I am working with the kindest, classiest, most gracious industry pros. It is not lost on me what a privilege it is to be learning from and working alongside them. Each episode, each working day for that matter, is a master class. I have learned so much and am extremely grateful that they all welcomed me in to their family.

BS: Without spoiling anything, can fans of Dr. Jace expect more from her anytime in the future — whether that’s in a third season of Black Lightning or some other show?

JR: Oh yes! There are two more episodes she appears in before the end of season three and a beautiful cliffhanger for the fans.

Jennifer Riker
Photographer: Tom Fahey

BS: I’d love to hear about some of your experiences on other shows, too, given that you’ve been involved with so much. Can you tell me what it was like coming onto the production of House of Cards and The Purge?

JR: Appearing on House of Cards was a true bucket list for me. I am a major fan of many of the actors on that show and have followed their careers closely. I even chopped my hair off because of Claire Underwood. I was so drawn to that character (I tend to get cast very much in her spirit) that I decided to reinvent my brand and to my absolute delight I got many jobs as soon as that happened. I am glad I followed my instinct! The day I filmed on set was with two uber-talented actors on both screen and stage, Patricia Clarkson and Jane Atkinson. We learned that we three are alumnae of the Yale School of Drama. It was quite thrilling to be acting alongside these heavy hitters and we took a group photo that to this day remains one of the highlight photos of my work on set. I aim to learn something from every set I work on and every actor I play alongside. I can train all I want but nothing beats the on the job training.

BS: Some of your first involvement in television dates back to things like Law and Order, Monk, Castle, etc. How does doing something like that compare to your reoccurring role on Black Lightning?

JR: The beauty of appearing on several episodes of one show is the extent to which you can truly explore the characters psyche. Many times, as a guest on an episode, it is very much doing what is expected of your character and getting out of everyone’s way…not slowing any of the immediate cast down. When you are creating the character for the first time you are really collaborating with the directors and writers. The collaboration for me is the best part.

BS: You’re also slated to appear in a few upcoming projects — Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase and Stuber. What can fans expect from you out of those roles/what can you say that’ll start getting us excited about those films?

JR: In Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, which opens in March, I played a drunken motel clerk which allowed me to exercise my comic sensibilities. Being directed by a real actor’s director, Katt Shea, was a real treat as well as working with such a talented cast. I will also be appearing in Stuber opening sometime this year (though when I am not certain) and play a snobby art gallery patron. Both were a fun departure from roles I typically tend to book.

BS: Is there anything else you're working on in the future that you’re super excited to plug? Or anything else you’d like to add about some of your experiences in the industry in general?

JR: I am also on the Teaching Faculty at Florida State Universities College of Motion Picture where I teach an on-camera acting class to the BFA theatre students. I absolutely love what I do and find it an incredibly enriching experience.

BS: Where can people follow you on social media?

JR: Instagram: @officialjenniferriker

Facebook - actorriker

My website: www.jenniferriker.com

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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.