Jasika Nicole on being a queer woman of color in Hollywood


Out actress Jasika Nicole has played Junior FBI Agent Astrid Farnsworth on Fox’s sci-fi series Fringe and tonight’s Season 5 premiere will be its last. While Jasika finishes up filming the show in Vancouver (they’re working on episode seven as of this week), she’s looking forward to life after the show with her partner, as they relocate to Los Angeles and “turn a new leaf.” Jasika took some time to answer our questions via Skype this week.

Photos from Fox

AfterEllen.com: I feel like I have no idea what’s going to happen at the end of Fringe.

Jasika Nicole:
I do not know how everything’s going to end. I have my ideas but I’m not entirely sure but my biggest hope is that everybody’s going to be happy. For all the trauma that the Fringe team ends up dealing with at the beginning of this season, they deserve to have a happy ending to this show. It gets really crazy and really heartbreaking.

AE: There’s just so many ways it could go!

And the fact they even put us in the future, I don’t know exactly how many timelines this is now, but we’ve been in so many different places. We’ve been in the past, in the future, we’ve been in this timeline and been in this universe. It’s just really out of hand at this point. Even the cast was kind of like “What’s the point of speculating?” Who knows how they’re going to wrap this up? Who knows how they’re going to end this?

AE: Did you ever worry you would get a script and learn you were killed off?

I’ve been thinking that since Season 1 because you never know. Because I play a character that I would say is beloved by fans, which is wonderful, but is not super integral to the story of the show, it could happen at any time and I’ve heard horror stories from other actors of how they didn’t know they were getting killed off until they read the script. So that has stayed with me and the first season, I think it was episode four, there’s a scene with Walter stabs Astrid in the neck with a sedative because he doesn’t want her to know what’ s going on and I thought “Oh my god — this is it. It’s happening. This is where she dies.” OK, I made it four episodes and then I die, but that that’s OK. That’s four episodes than I’ve ever done on TV shows so this is totally cool. Totally psyching myself up! And then I ended up lasting five seasons, which is just incredible. And she’s actually, I would say, more necessary to the team in this season than she’s ever been in seasons before. So that’s really cool. You still don’t really learn anything about her background so much or her family. I think at this point it’s just kind of understood these people are her family and these people are the most important people in her life. How many times can you meet up with your friends for wine when people are dying on this continent and this alternate universe is being destroyed. You’ve gotta have your priorities.

AE: Will there be another Astrid-themed episode?

I think there’s too much wrapping up to to, honestly. I think if we would have continued for more than five seasons there would have been space to give Astrid a little bit more of a storyline but the “Making Angels” episode was awesome. I had been waiting for those two characters to meet ever since they had introduced the alternate universe. Because I thought “You can’t create an alternate universe with the same characters without them crossing paths. It has to happen.” And it happened with all the characters and I kept waiting and waiting and waiting and it finally came. And I thought it ended up being probably the most lovely meet of the doppelganger characters because everyone else had drama going on with them. The two Olivias were fighting for the same man. All this stuff! And the one with Astrid was just pure and sweet and really realistic too. They had a very similar kind of history in some ways, and in other ways not so. I thought it was really well written and I was really excited that I got to be in that.

AE: I read that you had some input on your Alternate Astrid character.

They don’t really talk to me that much about what’s going on with the show so I just kind of show up and I’m up for anything and any challenge they want to give me and it took them a while for them to actually give me a challenge, I would say. After like the first two seasons. So when the alternate universe was introduced and you saw Alternate Astrid for the first time in the script, it was written that she was autistic. It wasn’t specifically that. It said “Her chromosomal make up is different than the Astrid we know.” And I talked to Akiva, who was the writer of that episode and he said he used to work with autistic kids, I guess before he got into movies maybe and he really thought it would be cool if Alternate Astrid was autistic. They had no idea that my sister was autistic.

So it was this really bizarre kind of fateful thing that what they created was something I had a little bit of experience with, obviously as an outsider. Just having somebody close to me in my family who’s on spectrum. And they just wrote that and I kind of just ran with it. They were really not a lot of specifics about how they wanted to play her, they just always wrote her with a ton of really rapid-fire dialogue to deliver. All these other things I kind of adapted from what I knew about my sister. I didn’t copy them necessarily, but there are certain things that she would do that I would notice in other autistic people on spectrum, like not being very comfortable making eye contact. Stuff like that! So I just kind of took it and the first several episodes of Alternate Astrid, you don’t really see her much anyway. She’s only got a few lines. It’s just really subtle stuff so the fact that anybody knew she was autistic I took as a huge compliment. I’m like “She barely said anything! How did you know?” But there are other people who say “Oh my god, her mannerisms really remind me of my son who’s on spectrum” or something so. Not everybody got it, not everybody appreciated it but it was at least something different that I got to play and I got a chance to bring a little bit of awareness to a community of people that don’t always get represented in the media accurately.

AE: What’s next after Fringe? Are you reading any pilots?

I should be reading pilots, right? [Laughs] My partner and I have decided we’re going to move to Los Angeles instead of going back to New York, which is a huge deal because we met in New York and we both lived there for about seven years before we came to Vancouver and we always assumed we’d go back to the east coast because we love it there and it’s wonderful. But then Vancouver has sort of spoiled us with this West Coast living where you have a lot of space and, not that New York isn’t beautiful, but the West Coast is beautiful in a totally different way. So we’re setting down roots in Los Angeles, which is exciting, and then we’ll be done with the show in time for pilot season so I’m hoping that I’m not so overexposed that nobody wants to audition me for stuff but that I’m not so underexposed that nobody gives a crap who I am. I’m hoping I’ll be just very busy with pilot season and we’re house hunting so I imagine I’ll be spending a lot of time making curtains and wall covers and stuff like that!

AE: Do you want to do something completely different or along the same lines as Fringe?

I miss doing comedy so much. Before I got Fringe, all the things I ever auditioned for, all the things I ever got screen-tested for or pilots I actually got cast in and shot, they were always comedies. So when I got Fringe, I was kind of shocked. I was like “This is really crazy! This is like a bizarre drama show with all these really heartbreaking stories.” It’s really different than my background. My real background is musical theater, which is really different from that. So I’d be so happy to get more back into the sitcom world or comedy world.

Honestly I’m happy working so I can’t say I’d turn a lot of things down but I’d definitely like to focus on doing more comedic stuff. I just miss it so much and sitcoms are so amazing because it’s kind of the closest meshing of the theater world with the television world that I’ve ever experienced and I love that. You have to think on your feet and be really quick with stuff but you still have a rehearsal process too, which is very much out of line with Fringe. I mean we just show up and block it and we shoot it and then we’re onto the next thing. It’s such a jam-packed show that there’s barely time to get your bearings. Which is a different challenge and a great learning experience, but I would very much be interested in doing more comedic stuff. I think there’s always room for women of color in the comedy world. I think there could never be enough of them.

AE: What a great segue! How important is it to you to represent women of color or a queer woman when it comes to the parts you choose?

Before Fringe, I would always get sent in — this is what they do in the casting notices. They’ll say “Looking for a character that’s this age, any ethnicity.” Any ethnicity means not white. They don’t care what you look like, they just don’t want you to be white. It’s always the stuff I would audition for and get cast in. I love the idea of seeing a role that isn’t race specific at all. And being considered for it. I think that’s a really cool idea.

Unfortunately I think that Hollywood’s at rest position for female characters is white. So, you know, if there’s a female character, unless it says otherwise, it’s just assumed she’s going to be white. So you have to really kick ass in your audition or show them something they haven’t seen before so they’ll be interested in going in a different direction. And I think that is a misconception that to go in a different direction you have to rewrite your character. A black character, as Asian character, a whatever character, they can all have the same qualities. They might have different histories in the world, but it doesn’t have to change what the story is. Everybody’s still looking for love. Everybody’s still trying to find their way in the world. Those things are human qualities, not necessarily race-specific qualities. And they’re certainly not gender-specific qualities or sexuality quality either. It’s so hard for people in Hollywood to understand that. And I don’t think that he audience is necessarily dictating what we want to see, I think it’s the other way around. I think it’s the network executives that are assuming that they know what the world wants to see. But I feel like the United States of America, at least, is completely ready to have a queer woman as a lead role and not have the fact that she’s queer be a scary issue on the show. It can be tested obviously. Everybody is so afraid to write something like that and it’s like, how do you know how that’s going to be received if you don’t even get it out to the television world so audiences can respond to it? So it’s just a tricky place.

It’s funny, it’s so complicated because I’d love to play a queer woman on a television show but that’s only because I think we need to see more queer women on television, not because it’s the only thing I can play, certainly. Whenever there’s a space that’s lacking, I’d love to be able to slide in. That’s why with, like The Mindy Kaling Project. I was just Facebooking about it today. I can’t tell you — the first time I saw that pilot — I’m not into romantic comedies. That’s not really my go-to genre. When I saw that pilot, just seeing a woman with skin that looked like mine seem so unapologetic and very un-selfconciouss just made such a huge difference to me. It was unbelievable. It made me want to watch her show, even though I’m not into romantic comedies. There’s something about that that I can relate to. And then there are people who don’t have dark skin necessarily but do like romantic comedies and can relate to looking for love in the modern world or whatever. There’s just so much space for people to have recognition within characters of colors or characters that are queer or gender nonconforming and I feel like we don’t give audiences enough credit to be able to handle that kind of stuff.

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