Who Is Cress Williams From ‘Black Lightning’ and How Did He Get the Role?

Cress Williams is a talented actor, known for a variety of roles in movies and television. Most recently, he is known for portraying Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning in the CW’s superhero series. He also played Lavon Hayes on Hart of Dixie.

Yet who is this wonderful actor? What is his story? You’re about to find out.

Who is Cress Williams?

Cress Williams promoting Black Lightning at Comic Con
Cress Williams promoting Black Lightning at Comic Con | Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Cress Williams was born in Heidelberg, Germany on July 26, 1970. His parents are African-American, though not much is known about them. After he was born, his family moved to Chicago.

Williams grew up mostly in Orange County. He became interested in acting, according to the actor himself, because he grew up watching movies and television shows. After graduating high school, he decided to go to college and major in theater. He attended Fullerton College, a two-year college where he stayed for four years to really hone his craft.

How did he get his start acting?

After attending Fullerton College, Williams went to UCLA. He was in the middle of finishing up his time in college when he got a role on Beverly Hills, 90210. The actor recalls just how much he didn’t know at the time, given it was his first time on a TV set. He didn’t even know how he was going to eat, since he had no money then.

According to Williams, he asked the cook for something called the “background breakfast” and the cook then asked what he did there. He told him that he was an actor and then the cook said, “you can have whatever you want.” And the day only got better from there. Williams’ next roles include parts in Living Single, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, and Friday Night Lights.

What did Cress Williams learn from his roles up until ‘Black Lightning’?

Williams is known for many roles, from Grey’s Anatomy to Hart of Dixie, but one of his favorites was his role on Friday Night Lights. Not only did he love his character, he also liked how the actors were able to improvise and cut out lines. For Williams, “it was an actor’s dream because the goal was just to do the best you could to bring your character to life, bring the scenes to life.”

One particular scene he enjoyed was a scene he filmed with Kyle Chandler during season 5. In this scene, his character was telling Chandler’s character that he’s in charge. Chandler cut half of his lines, and Williams was inspired by his fellow actor’s lack of ego. He says that his colleague’s lack of ego “formed how [he acts] to this day, [and] how [he conducts himself] on Black Lightning.”

How did he get the role on ‘Black Lightning’?

Now that we’re on the topic of Black Lightning, how did Williams get the role? Besides his obvious talent, he told Den of Geek that he “just had to go and pursue [the producers], really…[especially as he is] a huge superhero fan.” He therefore jumped at the chance to play the main character in Black Lightning. Especially after reading the script, he just “went full bore after [the titular role].”

Sounds like he was determined and it paid off! Although he did have fears that “some big A-list actor” would come along and take the part, that didn’t happen. Luckily for Williams and his fans, his persistence worked out well for him.

And now he’s playing a superhero. It just goes to show, dreams can come true. And Cress Williams is definitely living his dream on Black Lightning.