Actor and creator Jasika Nicole chats intersectional identities, long term love and staying creative while staying home

BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE, IMAGES BY JESS NURSE

Some of us are multipotentialites, “someone with many interests and creative pursuits,” explains Emilie Wapnick, founder and creative director at Puttylike. “Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills.” That description sounds very much like Jasika Nicole. 

Though best known for her role as head of pathology Dr Carly Lever in ABC’s The Good Doctor – the third season of which has just shaken fans with an earth-quaking cliffhanger – fear not, “Carly does not die in the earthquake!” – the 39-year-old wasn’t all that drawn to the role initially. “Honestly. Carly started out as a recurring character in season one, so there wasn’t much to her,” Jasika explains. “I was excited that she was a woman of colour working in STEM, but other than that, I had little to go on. We – myself plus the writers, directors, and editors – discovered her together over the course of the show.”

For much of the recent series, Jasika’s Dr Carly has been involved in a love triangle with lead character and surgical resident Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) and Lea Dilallo, played by Paige Spara. Though it doesn’t seem there’s much chance of Dr Carly and Lea ditching Shaun for each other – “There’s way too much potential for drama there” – Jasika thinks it’d be “much more interesting” to see Dr Carly and her colleague Dr Morgan Reznick (Fiona Gubelmann) get it together. “They have one of the most interesting dynamics of the show. Carly seems to be occasionally offended by Morgan but also compelled to ask for her advice [and] opinion. I could see them forming a special kind of bond that neither one would have anticipated.” 

As it stands, a queer storyline in The Good Doctor is still very much at the fan fiction stage. Jasika, however, would love to play a queer character onscreen but says she’s never been sought out to play one. “It’s surprised me in a lot of ways because there just aren’t many actors around my age who have been publicly out and working in TV and film for decades so I naively thought that I would be at the top of people’s lists when looking for queer actors to join their casts. Over the years, I realised that the significant majority of those shows tend to be centred around white characters and that producers love hiring straight actors to play queer characters – more than they like hiring actual queer people.” 

Originally from Alabama, Jasika says that she “didn’t understand that the world could be kinder and more compassionate and less judgmental until I moved out of the south”. “To be clear, I always felt connected to my black community, but my relationship with white people in Birmingham – besides my mother – was rife, frustrating, and filled with micro-aggressions and blatant racism.” She says her sexuality seemed “much less of a burden” than being the child of an interracial couple. “What I came to understand as my queer identity was an invisible difference for me personally, but my skin was always setting me apart.” 

Jasika left Alabama for New York in her mid-20s, now residing in Los Angeles where she sees herself for the foreseeable future. “No city compares to NYC. It’s the place I thrive in, where I feel most connected to other people.” Even so, she describes it as, “a very difficult place” to live. “My quality of life in LA is so much better than when I lived in NYC and has allowed me to thrive in ways I never anticipated. I’ve always been very crafty and good with my hands. Having the space to explore all my interests has allowed me to connect more to myself.” The space to which Jasika refers? Well, that includes a garage for woodworking, a storage area for a pottery wheel, a basement for her sewing studio, a “huge dining table” to set up textile arts, a kitchen to cook and bake in, and a quiet office to sit down and write. Cough, multipotentialite, cough. 

It goes back to her childhood. Describing herself as a “latch-key kid”, growing up Jasika spent a lot of time in her own company. “My parents separated when I was very young. My mom worked all during the week and I only got to see my dad two weekends out of the month. I spent so much time occupying myself as a child. I fancied myself a commercial jingle-writer from a young age and spent hours composing songs on my electronic organ – we couldn’t afford a keyboard. I drew, wrote ‘books’, made poetry, taught cooking shows, and performed plays for my stuffed animals. I had no idea I was ultimately training myself to survive COVID-19!”

The key to her creativity? Giving something a try “without hesitation”. “I don’t have a lot of creative fear or anxiety because I’ve discovered so much in challenging myself and learning something new. I don’t feel like I have to be good or successful at something to enjoy it. I also have a lot of patience for myself, which makes putting myself out of my comfort zone a lot less stressful.” Another secret to Jasika’s fingers-in-all-the-pies creativity? Not to approach any new project with the idea that it’s going to be difficult. “Instead, I try to come from a place of wanting to enjoy the experience.” 

Aside from the tools of her many trades, Jasika shares her creative studio – sorry, home – with her wife Claire. “She’s more of a gamer and TV watcher than I am, but she’s always up for a change of pace.” When she’s not crafting the rest of us to shame, how are her and Claire coping with being together 24/7? “It’s a dream! I love having Claire around. She’s one of those few people I never get sick of. I think we have gotten pretty good at communicating what we need from each other, which helps. We check in on each other, eat lunch together, sometimes take the dog for a walk or work out together. We’ve been together 14 years this June so, we have a lot of experience sharing space comfortably together.”

The world feels very uncertain and scary right now, but this “actor, maker, introvert and queerdo”, as her Instagram profile states, is looking for the silver linings. “I hope that we all feel a sense of connection that will enable us to stand up and fight for [both] the communities we are not a part of in addition to the ones we are. Our fight for civil rights now feels bigger than the LGBTQIA+ community and more focused on the intersections of people who are of a lower socio-economic class… Blue collar workers, people experiencing homelessness and immune-compromised people. Many of us have been able to sail through life without giving much thought to these communities. I hope that coronavirus changes that for the better.”

The Good Doctor is currently streaming on NowTV. Follow Jasika Nicole on Instagram @JasikaIsTryCurious

This interview originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!

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