The CW's Black Lightning is currently halfway through its final season and fans are sad to see the series go. However, the show could continue on with Painkiller, starring Jordan Calloway as Khalil Payne / Painkiller, should it be ordered to series.
Painkiller follows Khalil Payne through his new life in Akashic Valley as he grapples with his troubled past in Freeland and attempts to suppress his destructive alter ego. Despite searching for a new beginning, he and Painkiller are both thrust back into the action as he tries to right his wrongs and bring justice to where he once dished out punishment.
Shadow and Act spoke to Calloway ahead of Painkiller's backdoor pilot – which is set to air as the seventh episode of Black Lightning's fourth season – to talk about what it means to carry the torch for Black Lightning's legacy and how the spinoff will continue that work. According to him, the news of Black Lightning's fate came following The CW's announcement that a backdoor pilot was ordered for his character Painkiller.
"Obviously I was beyond thrilled," he said after hearing the news of getting his own series. "I love this character – I love playing both [sides] and going back and forth with them and looking like a crazy idiot on set, [laughs] but it's such a good time." Though Calloway is finally getting the opportunity to take his career to the next level, he describes the moment as "bittersweet" with Black Lightning putting the series to rest after four short years.
Prior to the show ending, he tells us that creator Salim Akil had pitched the spinoff to the studio for some time before finally getting the greenlight. For Calloway, he's appreciative of this God-given opportunity and believes it's a testament of his work preceding him. Now he looks forward to taking on a new project as a strong lead helming a highly-anticipated TV series.
"It's one of those things where you do realize the responsibility, and the responsibility goes a lot further than just people are putting money into this to fund this. It's a responsibility of that baton that's being handed to me from Black Lightning and it's continuing that legacy, especially for the culture," he says. "So for me, I [welcome] it with arms wide open. I love this industry and I grew up in the industry, so being on set is second nature to me and this is just another chapter to my life."
What's made Black Lightning such a lovable series over the years is its ability to depict what's happening in the world in real-time, and it's even managed to stay ahead of the curve in some cases. With this in mind, Calloway assures us that Painkiller will build upon that same foundation that Akil and executive producer Charles Holland created for its predecessor. "Any type of entertainment has to be applicable and real, that's part of the whole hero's journey," he tells us. "I believe that we'll still stay grounded and still tackle those issues that are at the forefront, even those that do get overlooked."
In addition to this, Painkiller will also maintain its tight-knit family base within the new cast, according to Calloway. Not only does he look forward to being a leader of the show itself, he's also excited to lead his team of castmates on their new TV journey. "This is what I love about being able to be the lead of the show. I honestly look at it as being a team captain, having played sports all my life," he says. "To me, it was about bringing them into the fold and into the family, as well as showing them and telling them, 'look at the legacy that we're picking up.'"
As far as new themes that will be tackled in the spinoff, Calloway shares with us that the main storyline throughout the series will explore how Painkiller deals with himself and his inner demons that still continue to haunt him. "When we last met Khalil he was dealing with the murder of his mother at his own hands, so now the story and the journey is Khalil dealing with himself," he says.
He adds, "We all have to deal with ourselves and come to grips with this – through our success, our failures, and the things we don't want [in life]. Some of the other themes we'll [also] apply universally and in different cultures are the different issues [surrounding] hate crimes and prejudice." Just as Black Lightning has been a pillar in the Black community, its spinoff will also mirror these themes to educate audiences outside of our community.
Calloway also delved into his character on the show and his experience with balancing two polarizing personalities on set that both capture Khalil's sincere outlook and Painkiller's gruesome attitude. "It's really fun being able to play two sides. Part of that has to do with the fact that neither one of them are completely right or wrong," he shares. "Both of them view each other as one in the same, and eventually in their journey they're going to have to realize that 'I do need you for certain things,' and it's okay to ask for help."
In terms of why a spinoff like this is needed, Calloway believes it does more than speak about his fictional character. To him, the series also calls attention to issues within the Black community that require more awareness like mental health. "I love [playing Painkiller] because it's challenging but also because [my character] continues to speak to me in just my daily life, my decisions, what I do, and wanting to be a man of integrity. It's one of those things that, especially as young Black men, I definitely want them to have this and see this [series]. Given all your faults it's [still] not done – you still have a whole lot of life to live."
As a kid who grew up loving action movies, Calloway sees this new opportunity as an extreme honor to live up to the track records of some of the biggest action stars of our time, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others. "Being able to live that sort of childhood dream for the kids and them being fans of Painkiller and Khalil, it's fun and exciting to be able to be that type of an example. And then having this be on DC [Comics], I get to work for the granddaddy of them all." The young actor is hopeful that his role in Painkiller is just the beginning of a long and rewarding career.
Painkiller’s backdoor pilot of Black Lightning’s premieres Monday, April 12th at 9 p.m. ET.