Prior to last summer, the rapper known as Krondon had one acting role to his credit — a 2011 episode of Harry’s Law. That makes Marvin Jones III‘s perfect fit as Black Lightning‘s Tobias Whale all the more impressive.
Over the course of the CW series’ first three episodes (airing Tuesdays at 9/8c), Tobias has emerged as a gang leader not to be trifled with, one to be unerringly obeyed. Otherwise, he’s lightning-quick with a harpoon gun and not afraid to get his hands dirty by simply choking you out.
TVLine invited Jones to talk about literally “suiting up” to land the supervillain role, drop clues about what Tobias and arch enemy Black Lightning (played by Cress Williams) have in common, and open up about how the distinct prejudice that albinos face played a role in Whale’s journey.
TVLINE | Tell me about the audition process for this show, how this role came to be yours.
I was working on an album with an artist by the name of Evidence from [the hip hop group] Dilated Peoples, who has been a great collaborator for years. People actually reached out to him, and to another friend of mine, and a friend of his… they were looking for me, and not necessarily to give me the part. When I received the script and read it and did some homework on Tobias Whale and his backstory, I immediately felt like, “OK, I really should play this guy.” This really spoke to me to my spirit, my look, everything.
The first audition, I felt, went great. I went in there prepared. By the grace of God I got a callback, and this time they wanted to see me in a suit. [Chuckles] So I put my best foot forward in that way and auditioned again, and I got another callback. Next thing you know, I’m auditioning in front of [showrunners] Mara and Salim Akil, which at that point was nerve-wracking! But at the same time it was affirming. A couple weeks later, I got the job — and my life flipped upside-down on that day.
TVLINE | We just got a small taste of Tobias’ dynamic with Lady Eve (played by Jill Scott). Explain to me the hierarchy there, the criminal org chart.
Tobias is an ex-politician and current underworld boss of the 100 gang. At one time, Tobias Whale in the community of Freeland was a political official, so he had a lot of power and ranking. But due to his corruption, it’s safe to say that something happened there. And what you see between him and Lady Eve is a divide. As you saw in Episode 3, he’s respectful but at the same time she doesn’t rub him the right way — and if you’ve taken anything from Tobias in the short time of the series, he doesn’t like being rubbed the wrong way. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Indeed. But I have to say that as pugnacious as Lala was, I was sad to see him get snuffed.
I know, I know….
TVLINE | What do you think the larger point of that death was?
If you watch [their exchanges] a few times with a deeper meaning, you’ll see something happening there with Tobias. Look at it with a deeper meaning, especially in [Episode] 2. There’s something happening with Tobias there. As for Lala, what we learned from his “untimely demise” is that we can’t be messy. We’re an organized crime ring, so we can’t do things that seem unorganized, impulsive or anxious. What you saw with Lala throughout 1 and 2 is that he was off the grid, he was super-impulsive, and he had this air of he was the boss and could make rash decisions without consulting the actual boss. And you know that doesn’t work.
TVLINE | Are we going to get into the nature of the death Tobias is convinced Black Lightning suffered years ago? Did he drop a piano on him, impale him on a steel pipe…?
You will get something, I think so. You gotta keep watching. But I’m just assuming with that, I dont know for certain. Just based off reading the comics, I think we would get some kind of backstory behind the Whale and Black Lightning.
TVLINE | Cress Williams told me that we’d come to see that these characters’ backstories are not so dissimilar.
I love him for that, because I agree totally. Now check this out: in the opening of Episode 1, there is something revealed that suggests these guys have more in common than they do differences — especially in the eyes of Freeland. That’s all I’m going to say. Now you’ve got to rewatch it. “Ohhh, that’s what he’s talking about!” Trust me.
TVLINE | Educate me about the prejudice that those with albinism face, and how that might inform Tobias’ own background and motivations.
Tobias grew up, and people with albinism most of the time grow up, in a community that doesn’t understand their particular uniqueness or difference. In a Tobias Whale situation, an African-American with albinism, he suffered ridicule and degradation from his own people based off of their ignorance. So when he rises to a place of prominence and power, you can only imagine he had some sort of chip on his shoulder. He had this need and want to show his superiority — physically, spiritually, intellectually, socially — and ultimately his own people’s inferiority. It’s kind of like, “You gave me ridicule for being different when I realized the thing that makes you guys so plain is that you’re all the same.” That’s what that whole Episode 2 tirade was about.
TVLINE | I read elsewhere that we actually got the “mild” version of that tirade.
Yeah, you did. [What aired] was very mild. That is all I want to say. [Laughs]
TVLINE | But even so, I remarked to [CW president] Mark Pedowitz that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on a broadcast-TV program.
And what did Mark say?
TVLINE | Well, he absolutely loves the show and is extremely proud of everything that all of you are doing over there. He then told me to keep an eye out for Episodes 3 and 4, namely your scenes with Jill Scott. He was effusive.
They’re so good, and I appreciate him doing that. I have such respect for him.
TVLINE | Before we go, one last tease about what to expect from Tobias?
I will say this, Matt — keep watching, because you’re going to delve into the layers of the Whale, man. You’re going to get into the layers of the great white whale, brother, and it goes deep, no pun intended. Deeper than Atlantis.