Jasika Nicole Discusses The Good Doctor, Being An Artist, Designing Her Own Fashion And Facing Racism

Jasika Nicole has made a career out of appearing on some of the most talked about dramatic series on television, such as Fringe, Scandal and The Good Doctor, but she’s much more than just an actress. She’s an artist as well, who also happens to design her own clothes. We had a chance to speak with Jasika about acting on stage, The Good Doctor, her artistic hobby and who she’d like to work with in the future.

You started out in theater before moving onto film and television, do you miss performing on stage? 
I miss performing onstage very much. The stage provides a much more collaborative environment than anything I have experienced in television or film. Film and television are focused on the congruity of many different departments that are essential to bringing the production to life and distributed to the masses. In this setting, the actors often become the people with the least amount of power. By the time an actor makes it to set, there have already been weeks, months, sometimes even years of technical planning and decision-making to prepare for the shoot. But stage is different. You don’t need lights or sound or cameras or production coordinators to perform a play. You literally only need one person with a story to tell. A play can happen on a stage, in a living room, on a street corner…the only thing you need is the actor. I miss that bare bones setting, that space where the stakes are so high because there is no ability to edit out a mistake or request another take. Every actor is important because they have the power to make or break the production at any given moment, and that’s a thrill that I haven’t been able to replicate very often in television and film. But of course, TV and film pays much better than stage work.

You’ve starred in some pretty big television shows. Is there are particular thing that draws you to your characters?
I have to be honest and tell you that I rarely have enough information to be drawn to a particular character when I audition for it- there often isn’t much nuance to a character who is coming on a show as a guest star or recurring. I don’t think this is how it works across the board, it’s just been my experience. When I started auditioning for the pilot of Fringe, they had NO idea who the character was, they only knew who they wanted her to be in relation to the other leads…she was used to highlight the emotions and experiences of the other people in the narrative. I think ultimately this was made apparent at the end of the series. After 5 seasons, Astrid was the only character who didn’t have a life outside of the lab, who never really had much of a personality other than being nurturing and providing occasional comic relief. So in my career, more than being drawn to a character, I’ve tried to turn her into someone who seems to have a rich interior life, even if it isn’t written into the show. That’s my job as an actor, to turn a character that may come across on the page as one dimensional into someone who feels vibrant, alive and believable to the audience.

What attracted you to playing Dr. Carly Lever in The Good Doctor? 
There wasn’t really much to be attracted to with this character in the beginning. I auditioned with one scene in which Carly had maybe 3 or 4 lines, and her character description was simply “cute, works in the pathology lab”. There wasn’t enough there to like nor dislike this character, but again, that’s how lots of recurring characters are introduced. The writers are not always sure how long a recurring character might stick around or how long she will be integral to the show, so even though they may have potentially big plans for the character in the future, it’s not a guarantee…they usually wait and see what the response to the character is like before they focus on giving her a larger presence and life. 

What has been the reaction from fans of the show to your character?
The audience wasn’t really introduced to the depths of Carly’s character until the end of season 2 when Carly and Shaun’s friendship began to blossom and he asked her out on a date. The audience initially seemed very excited to see Carly in a bigger capacity in the show, and they really liked her- but things took a turn once Shaun and Carly’s relationship became sexual. I think there is a strange sense of ownership that some audience members have over their favorite characters and at some point, no matter how beautifully and thoughtfully a character is written, it becomes impossible for them to envision that character having a happy romantic life. To them, no one will ever be good enough, and I unfortunately had to experience a lot of backlash from people who were uncomfortable with seeing Carly and Shaun together. It was also difficult for a lot of people to see an interracial relationship being portrayed on prime-time network television. When I explain this to people they always act shocked, and I’m not sure why; surely I can’t be the only person aware of the fact that racism is alive and well in our country and that nothing, not even the television industry, is immune to it.

Where do you see your character going for next season?
I was not invited back to season 4 as a series regular, so I am unsure of what role, if any, Carly will have in the future of this show. The writers dropped a lot of storyline threads in the third season that could extend Carly’s life beyond her relationship with Shaun, like the fact that she has a sister on the spectrum whom she is very close to, the fact that she is an accomplished black woman in STEM but still suffers from Imposter’s Syndrome, the fact that she has unexpected budding friendships with some of the other characters on the show (namely Morgan). I was certainly disappointed to learn that my future with the show was kind of up in the air, but the saving grace for me is that I am SO PROUD of the work I was able to do with Freddie and the rest of the cast, and I will carry that joy and satisfaction with me to whatever I work on next.

You’re a very creative person, from acting to being an artist, making crafts and designing clothing. Do you have a preference between them? 
My artwork and crafting are hobbies of mine that provide me limitless joy. I did some freelance commissioned illustration work earlier in my career when I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to follow (I moved to NYC to be either an actor or a fashion illustrator/designer/assistant), so in my first few years out of college I took whatever work I could get in either of these fields. Eventually I found I was much more successful as an actor so illustration was relegated to being a hobby instead of a career path, but in all honesty it never paid a ton of bills, it was just something I loved to do. And it’s still something I love to do. I think it’s incredibly important for adults to continue following their creative endeavors and discovering new facets of their artistic lives. For me, it’s a form of self-care. I don’t have to find a reason to be creative, the need to create is innate within me.

You make your own clothes, which obviously can be pretty handy. Do you ever bring that skill into your acting work?
I learned how to sew in college when I took a Costume Design class for my minor in studio art. I found the design part of the course to be pretty boring and not my thing, but I was very intrigued by the construction process, the art of using elements of architecture to clothe a three-dimensional form. As far as wearing my own makes for a production- the only time an actor really has the opportunity to do such a thing is if there is no wardrobe provided for a production, or if the budget is super small. I’ve worn my own wardrobe for short films, low-to-no budget indie films, and occasionally commercials will ask you to bring your own clothes in case the items they have for you don’t work for some reason, but so far I’ve never worn my own clothes for any production that was union.

Is there someone you’d like to work with in the future?
I think working with Hunter Schaeffer would be pretty rad…she is such a talented actor but also seems like a real down-to-earth, honest and opinionated woman who likes to laugh and have a good time. Which is how I want people to think of me!

Photographer: Jess Nurse

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