Javicia Leslie is quickly becoming a definitive face and voice of empowerment, both off and on the screen. She made history in 2020 as the first Black woman to be cast to play Batwoman in CW’s eponymous television series. Taking over for actress Ruby Rose, she’s stepping into the role of a newly created character, Ryan Wilder, who debuts in the Season 2 premiere this Friday.
Before “Batwoman,” Leslie lent her acting talents to significant television and film roles, including a recurring role on CBS’ God Friended Me series and a starring role in the 2019 film, Always a Bridesmaid. Off the screen, she is vocal on issues surrounding equity and justice and is quite the animal activist, foodie, and plant lover.
A rising star with a warm, girl-next-door charm, Leslie is very modest about her success. She views her career and accompanying milestones as part of her purpose, a journey that includes blazing trails and opening doors for other Black and Brown women alike.
Ahead of her Batwoman debut this week, Javicia took a few moments out to share some insights with MadameNoire about the road to superherodom and the importance of a Black woman in the Bat costume in this day and age.
Madame Noire: You were born in Germany, raised in Maryland, and currently live in Canada. How has that variety of cultures and environments influenced you today?
Javicia Leslie: I was a baby when I was in Germany. So I feel like coming up in a predominantly Black area, around very successful families, it just kind of shows you a different perspective. My environment of Black people has always been, we can be whatever it is we want to be. We had state senators, congressmen, and judges, and all types of officials; basketball players, football players, artists, musicians, all coming out of my city. It just showed me the sky is the limit and one thing that will not stop me is my skin. It feels good to know who I am. Coming from Maryland, Prince George County to be exact, taught me that, especially going to Prince University afterward. And I’m in Canada now for work. It’s new. I’ve never lived here before.
Congratulations on making history as the first Black (and bisexual) woman to play such an iconic role [of Batwoman]. What impact has that had for the Black and LGBTQ communities?
I think that it’s interesting because, for me, I’m booking a role and for everyone else, it’s representation. And for me, that’s very important. This has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what seeing my skin on TV means for other Black and Brown children. To see a Black woman play a character that is in such an epic franchise is important, and it’s representation. Again, it shows people they can be anything they want to be. I also just feel like, it always reminds me that I’m just the vessel being used, so I’m able to continue to go harder because I know that this is a part of my purpose, to be able to help other people. So if getting this role helps people see themselves and see a representation of themselves, and knowing they can be where I am and strive harder and go harder, that feeling…it’s an honor to be a part of that journey.
Considering current events, it’s very striking to see a Black woman don the Batwoman suit. How has playing a superhero on-screen affected you personally?
How I am outside of the screen is, to me, my advocacy. It’s to me, my protest. The things that I talk about, the things that I do, the stuff that I involve myself in. When I’m talking to people, even when I’m just talking to my friends or to my community, helping our people realize we don’t have to wait for other people to give us an opportunity, we can create our own opportunity. There are so many Black women out here creating opportunities for our people. You have your Ava DuVernays, your Mara Brock Akils who are out here creating projects. And then you have your civil activists like Stacey Abrams. You have our now VP. Because of what they’re doing on the outside, it’s allowing us to do so much more. The thing about creativity, the thing about television, everyone thinks that television depicts reality when it’s really the opposite: reality depicts what you see on TV. So, reality mirrors what they think is popular, and what they think is popular is what you see on TV. If we always see the same look on TV, blonde hair, blue eyes, that’s what the world thinks is wanted, what is needed and what should lead our world, lead our country. But when we start to diversify our television, our movies, our entertainment, our music, it then reminds people that there are other people out here, too. I think it’s all connected. So yeah, I do my job, and it airs, but it’s bigger than that. It’s before I put the suit on. It’s what I’m doing day to day.
You have quite a fulfilling life off-screen, too. You’re a foodie and fashionista who is also into muay-Thai. How do you like to spend your time when you’re not on-screen?
When I’m not filming, usually I’m drinking wine and watching a movie [laughs]. I have my dog, He’s with me all the time. When I lived in New York, he was there. When I moved to LA, he was there. And now I’m in Vancouver, he’s here. I’m huge into animals. I’m huge into animal activism. When it comes to food, I’m obsessed with food. I call myself a 90 percent vegan, meaning the other is when I know I need some protein; I’ll eat some fish here and there. But most of my diet is a vegan-based, gluten-free based diet. Because of that, I have fun creating recipes with my restrictions and limitations. When I was still in LA, I would grow and cook my own vegetables, so that was fun.
Outside of food, yeah, I love mixed martial arts. I do muay-Thai and just actual exercising. I’m writing a book, which is this adventure, coming-of-age book. I’ve gotten into drawing. I’m also a director. I’m making my directorial debut! It premieres on February 14. We’ll be streaming my short film called Black Excellence.
Directing sounds fun. What was that experience like and how have your previous roles in acting prepared you for the directing world?
I love to put together puzzles. That’s another pastime of mine. Directing is kind of like that. You’re really putting together a puzzle but it’s the picture that you created, right? You also have to include the writers, the DP, the actors. So as a director, you’re putting the picture together the best that you can and also bringing out the best performance in your actors. And it’s sooo fun, so fulfilling. It takes so much trust in each other, especially between the director and the actors. I’m so passionate about it. I really, really love doing it and look forward to doing more of it.
Faith plays a big role in your life. How has your relationship with God helped you to get where you are today?
I think God puts passions in our stories, and a lot of people write passions off as hobbies. They just do them when they have time and they work their 9 to 5. When they’re free, they do what it is they’re passionate about. And I don’t think it should be built like that. I think it should be the opposite. I think that the passions God gives us, He gives us for a reason because it helps us find our purpose. And I feel like if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose. It’s so imperative that we do because our purpose allows other people to follow their purpose. And that’s when it makes the world go ‘round.
I have a strong relationship with God and I’m very spiritual. And I think it’s really important to tap in. He gives us everything we need to succeed in this life if we’re focused and we’re tapped in.
You’ve been able to accomplish so much thus far. Is there anything that you’re looking forward to doing more of in 2021?
Yes. I have a company called Chandler Entertainment and a non-profit called The Chandler Foundation. I just want to be able to do some more with that. It’s kind of restricting because our last events were in-person events. So we were able to throw beautiful, fun events and then donate the proceeds to other organizations and schools. With everything going on, we didn’t do it that way last year so I want to find new ways this year to give back through my non-profit.
Other than that, I’m super interested in building my brand and figuring out how I want to introduce that in the world. There’s a lot going on but I have a great team to support me, so I’m just excited to start collaborating and getting some thangs done.