With Black Lightning in its third season, there are lots of surprises still on the way for the citizens of Freeland. The Beat was on hand for an exclusive set visit and fun chat with Jordan Calloway (Riverdale, Unfabulous) as he reveals more about his sadistic turn as Painkiller (the villain created by Tony Isabella with artist Eddy Newell), what it’s like to work with the incomparable Bill Duke aka Agent Odell (Exit Wounds, Payback, Miami Vice) and if Jennifer (China Anne McClain) can be the one to save him.
When asked about how it feels to play the bad guy, he said: “I miss playing the good guy. It is so hard playing the bad guy and having to beat everybody up. I mean being so strong, having some part of abs and then showing those abs off. Getting to put baby oil on said abs is so hard (laughs). Is this work? What a blessing it is. It’s a blast, I get to train with the Stunts team, and stunt coordinator Danny Le Boyer. Special shout out to my stunt double, Nikolas Pelekai. It’s a lot of fun playing the bad guy and the episode where I am fighting so many different guys during the ASA training scene, we had two hours to film that. We had to do 10 different martial arts and we knocked it out of the park. So, I am loving playing Painkiller, shout out to the baby oil and the CGI.”
In all seriousness, we all thought Khalil/Painkiller’s death was permanent, but he’s been resurrected and emerged into someone and something more ruthless than ever.
When asked about the impact of killing his mom had on Painkiller, the final death of Khalil and this new level of emotionless torment, Calloway said: “When I read the scene where I killed my mom, that was hard, and the first time I realized that was where we’re going this season with my character. Him killing her the nail in the coffin of Khalil for me, especially since he had no emotion about it. When I first read that, I immediately thought, how do I play this? Do I play the Denzel Washington one tear? We had a few takes where we played the scene in different ways, but then I talked with the team and we decided we needed to lean into Painkiller being Painkiller and that meant killing Khalil. So, a lot of the stuff that is imperative for Painkiller is making sure that whenever it comes to death or killing, there’s no emotion. The only emotion that you may see now when he does kill, is enjoyment.”
He continued: “There’s one scene where Painkiller is quoting Pol Pot. When you do your research on Pol Pot, he had to be a level of sadistic to find a level of enjoyment in what he did and to understand it. It’s also like Thanos, they have a cause for what they are doing, but they also enjoyed it, and that’s when fear comes in for other people. I didn’t want to play the character too far, but I needed to make sure to give it a flash of color.”
One of the most pivotal relationships on the show has been between Jennifer and Khalil. Now that Jennifer has mourned the death of Khalil and doesn’t know Painkiller is alive. Of Jennifer’s growth and their relationship, he said: “First, shout out to the team for episode 304 and how they’ve shown the evolution of Jennifer’s powers. They have tracked how she’s been dealing with her powers, and with the pain of not being able to fully express them. China did a great job in the episode because moments after she’s reached new heights and gone beyond the atmosphere into space, you see her joy, happiness and also a teary-eyed realization. These powers have been a pain, literally hurting her and now she’s found Agent Odell (Bill Duke), he’s someone who understands her and is helping her deal with this pain. We all know Agent Odell isn’t right but I have to give a huge shout out to the team because they are capturing her evolution so well.” On if she can bring Khalil back, he continued: “Jen could be the person to bring Painkiller back to a softer side, she could be enough to bring me back, but she would have to destroy that chip, but I feel like that trip is important and keeping me alive.”
This season has continued with the theme of tackling real-world issues, Calloway told us of his views of the political and real-world implications of the kids in cages on the show: “I’m glad that we’re doing this storyline on the show. I mean, that’s, that’s one of the things that the team has and is always striving for, taking social topics, those seen and unseen, and addressing them. I also love that we educate people as well, for example by character quoting Pol Pot, people can learn more about him and it just shows the brilliance of the writing team. This season, we’re taking the kids in cages, and giving it a different color with metahumans.”
When asked to dive further and what he hopes the audience takes away from the show, he continued: “We have Markovians versus ASA this season. The ASA seems like they are trying to do the right thing because the Markovians are terrible, but then we see Agent Odell manipulating Jennifer. Now she’s acting out of character by allowing this guy to manipulate her, and not speaking up for herself like she usually does. To me, this is showing viewers the importance of how kids need to be educated, and how they need to know what’s going on. On this show, we’re still continuing the conversation and entertaining, while also making them think about what they would do.
You know, good storytelling, as I was told back in college, really stemmed from philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. Their main objective at asking questions to the city-states was to cause a catharsis within the audience, meaning to in turn cause the audience to ask questions and seek or figure out solutions that would better help the city-states and themselves. So, in a sense, it’s a responsibility that we all have with what we’re doing with the show, and that’s cause a catharsis for the audience, but from a superhero aspect.”
With Crisis coming in just under a month, we await to see what the new Universe will look like. When asked if The Outsiders might come into play, he said: “When you say Outsiders, I am here for it. But I truly don’t know. I love Khalil/Painkiller and I could play this role for the rest of my life. If I end up killed off, it’s not my fault. I am here for the comics version of The Outsiders coming to life.”
While we have to wait to see what the future holds for Painkiller, for now, we know that he is still being used as a weapon by Agent Odell. When asked what it’s like working with one of the greats, Calloway told us:” I am in a masterclass every time I get to share a room with him. I am grateful he will share a little bit of a spotlight. He’s a class act. And Fun fact is he’s known, like my family, my dad and numerous other people that my dad has worked with because he’s a DP, He but he’s worked with him years and years ago and they would all play Bid Whist together.”
While Bill and Jordan have a friendly relationship offscreen, who knows what’s ahead for the two of them as the season unfolds. Will Painkiller ever get out from under Agent Odell’s control? Will he and Jennifer aka Lightning finally go toe-to-toe? You’ll just have to keep watching Black Lightning on Mondays, only on the CW to find out how Painkiller’s journey continues to unfold!