Jasika Nicole | FRINGE, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE

PrintE-mail Written by Nick Spacek

Jasika Nicole is best known for her role as Astrid Farnsworth on the dimension-crossing sci-fi program Fringe, as well as her voice work as former intern, now mayor, Dana Cardinal on the mysterious podcast Welcome to Night Vale. It was announced last month that Nicole would star in the first new podcast from Night Vale creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Entitled Alice Isn’t Dead, the new limited series débuts on March 8th. We were fortunate enough to speak with Ms. Nicole about her work... 

STARBURST: The performances of yours with which people are most familiar always manage to be far more layered than they first appear to be. We’re thinking of everything from Astrid on Fringe -- especially Alternate Astrid - as well as the evolution of Dana Cardinal on Welcome to Night Vale. Given that these changes can sometimes take years, what does it require to bring these changes to bear in a realistic way, especially given the rather fantastic situations? 

Jasika Nicole: I honestly don’t consider Astrid’s character on Fringe to have been very layered – one of my big issues with the show was that Astrid was very one-dimensional! She had all these great qualities - kindness, compassion, intelligence, and tenacity - but you never got to see any complicated sides of her. You never got to experience her character outside of the lab, or away from the Fringe team or understand her background or why she was the way she was. 

Alternate Astrid could have been the exception – she was written as an autistic character and had a really different experience and understanding of the world than ‘over here’ Astrid, but the most character development you saw from Alt Astrid happened in the span of one episode and then it was never seen again. So, I don’t consider either of those characters to have required much insight to portray on my part. 

Specifically, with ‘over here’ Astrid: after five seasons she was pretty much the same in the last episode as she was in the first, and there just wasn’t a lot of growth or opportunities to play challenging things with the character. Dana, on the other hand, certainly has experienced a lot of development from episode to episode which has been super fun to play, but for me, voice-over work doesn’t necessitate the same kind of preparation and effort that playing a character on film and TV does. You emote in a different way, you connect to your body in a different way, your face engages in different ways, and you use your breath differently - it’s kind of apples and oranges. I think my work in WTNV is easy compared to what the writers do on that show. 

How did you come to work with the Welcome to Night Vale folks? Was it related in some way to your work on Fringe? 

I was friends with Jeffrey Cranor for a few years before I joined WTNV. We were introduced by our mutual friend Kevin R Free and I had seen Jeffrey in several shows with the Neo-Futurists. 

Was it exciting to see what an evolution it’s been for Intern Dana to end up as mayor? Did you know this would happen? 

I didn’t know it was happening, and I felt very proud for her. 

Dana Cardinal’s appearances in the Night Vale universe these days seem to be a little more distant. Is the use of phone calls, etc. a way to compensate for you being so busy? 

The great thing about voice-over work for me is that it’s pretty easy to fit it into my schedule regardless of what other work things I have going on - I can set up my computer and microphone virtually anywhere that’s quiet to record. So, if Dana is ever absent from the storyline, it’s the choice of the writers. I think that their work is deliberate and thoughtful, and I appreciate how they don’t overwhelm the listener with supporting characters all the time. The world of Night Vale is distinguished by Cecil’s voice, and using the other character’s voices sparingly makes their appearances so much more unexpected and exciting. 

As a writer yourself, do you wish you had more time to create? It seems like it’s been a long spell since your last comic. 

I have plenty of time to write, but I only do it when I feel inclined and that inclination is sporadic at best. If the inspiration doesn’t hit me, I don’t force it. Being able to keep certain artistic endeavors as hobbies as opposed to trying to make money and expand my career from them is a privilege that I am very grateful for.

Given the way you create, however, is there a give and take - a particularly satisfying acting day counterbalancing not being able to DIY some new things, for instance? 

I bring either my knitting or a sketchbook with me whenever I work on set, so I always have something to keep my hands busy and feel productive. No full day on set feels satisfying if I don’t have a separate personal project to focus on. 

What seems most exciting about your upcoming work - both Alice Isn’t Dead and Suicide Kale - is that it presents you front and center as a gay woman of colour. Does being involved in the creative side of the process allow you more options to have a character that reflects you, personally? 

I have not been involved in the writing or conceptualising for Alice Isn’t Dead – Joseph approached me about the project months ago asking if I was interested, and I immediately said yes without knowing very much about it. It isn’t based on me personally or anything I have experienced. 

One of the many things that I love so much about Joseph and Jeffrey’s work is that they create a very nuanced and detailed framework for the stories that they tell while still allowing the listener to envision themselves and people they know within that world. And this is evidenced by all the fan artwork that WTNV has inspired – I have seen the character of Cecil portrayed as a monster, as a woman, as a man, as a child, and as a multitude of different races and creeds. Cecil is none of those things, and Cecil is all of those things, and I think that is why so many people are compelled to listen to this kind of work. 

I want the fact that I am a queer woman of colour who is voicing the main character in Alice Isn’t Dead to be acknowledged by the listeners because visibility is important and powerful, not just for the group being represented, but for the world at large. And then I hope that all the listeners, no matter their gender, non-gender, race, ability or sexuality, can find a part of themselves in the story, whether it’s a feeling or an idea or an actual character. This is the whole reason that we listen to stories - to find connection and understanding that reaches beyond our own insular experiences. 

Who else will be involved at the series’ inception, in terms of writing and acting, of whom we ought to be aware and take notice? 

Joseph is writing the episodes of Alice Isn’t Dead, Disparition is producing the show and creating all the music, and so far I am the only voice of the show. 

Tell us more about Suicide Kale. It looks like it could either be a comedy or a drama, but nevertheless intriguing.

Suicide Kale is a dark comedy that is almost entirely improvised. Brittani Nichols, a friend of mine who is a really talented writer and comedian, came up with the concept and then we met with a bunch of our other friends who have various jobs and talents on the production side of things. We sat in my living room one morning and brainstormed about how we could make a project together with a practically non-existent budget and in a short period of time. 

Three months later, we had a finished feature-length film, and we have been submitting to various festivals around the country. I have never felt so proud and excited about the work I have done - this was a truly incredible experience for me, and I hope it’s the first of many more projects like it.

Jasika Nicole stars in ALICE ISN’T DEAD, starting March 8th, and you can look for SUICIDE KALE at festivals in your neck of the woods. More information can be found at jasikanicole.com, or you can follow her on Twitter @jasikanicole.


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