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Jasika Nicole on Breaking Barriers, Playing Roles That Matter

People

Through her newest role, actress Jasika Nicole is looking back to look forward.


“I play the coolest character ever,” says Nicole, who plays a woman named Georgia, who runs a boarding house (and stop on the Underground Railroad) in the show, Underground, which boasts an impressive viewership of 6 million each week. “She’s the head of a sewing circle that’s really a front for women to be politically active and to talk about how to abolish slavery,” says Nicole. “In that time you didn’t really see many black women who owned a house or had a business. It wasn’t a reality for people of color in that time, and I love that this dialogue is bringing the story into the picture.”

All pictures of Jasika Nicole by Robin Roemer

Nicole's character, who is the daughter of a slave and a slave owner, teaches other women how to use guns and fight for their freedom, and serves as a personal inspiration.

“I don’t see [the African American experience] in mainstream entertainment,” says Nicole. “I have a personal relationship to it; but there are so many different black experiences. We always get dumped into one experience. We are in a diaspora and I love that this show is bringing that to light.”

Nicole, who has a black dad and white mom, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where she said racial tensions were high. “It’s still so segregated and antiquated in a lot of the roles people have in that city. I left home to go to college in North Carolina, then in New York. Each time I returned, I felt more and more different. I felt I was having to squeeze myself into who I was there and I wasn't that person anymore.”

Nicole says she had an even more nuanced racial experience due to being biracial, and thus was treated differently from her black friends and family.

“As an adult processing my childhood, I realize I am still unpacking a lot of it,” says Nicole. “I was influenced largely by my environment which was almost all white, and anti-black. I understood that my light skin and the fact that I was biracial gave me the point of view that a lot of black girls my age didn’t have, in terms of how others treated us. People would tell me I was pretty, but it was because I have lighter skin. They weren’t saying that to my black cousin.”

“Racism is so insidious that even though my mother has black children she’s not free of its entanglements.”

Eventually Nicole would move to New York with the intention of performing in musical theater. From there she booked a few off-broadway plays, a show in Philadelphia, and eventually larger television roles like playing Agent Astrid Farnsworth on the Fox series Fringe.

Jasika Nicole courtesy of WGN America

“In television and film you can completely get edited out, so I’ve learned to accept that the work I do [in the moment] is my work. Whatever happens after that, who cares? It’s not mine after I film my scene.”

When discussing the entertainment industry as a whole, Nicole says she considers herself lucky to have the ability to star in films and shows that are meaningful.

“It is a real privilege to be able to pick and choose the roles that you get,” says Nicole. “Usually that [creative freedom] is limited to a select group of super famous females with a lot of money and most of whom are white. It’s been a really hard thing to navigate. These three markers are hard to fill: Doing projects so you can pay your bills, feeling creatively inspired, and feeling proud of the work you are doing. This is the first big project that hits all of them. I’d be lucky for another show like this.”

Nicole, who describes herself as "queer," says that being a role model for the LGBT community is something that she takes seriously, but it doesn’t come easily.

“I identify as a queer woman and it feels like a double whammy sometimes,” she says. “I don't think the writing in mainstream media reflects what my life is like. It doesn’t look the same, it doesn’t feel the same, in terms of race, culture, religious background and the stories they are telling. A lot of TV and film have introduced a bi or lesbian woman character only to kill them off. It happens so much.”

In terms of her own acceptance of her sexuality, Nicole says it took time to come to terms with it. “I wasn’t out because all I knew was that I needed to go on a date with a girl to see what it felt like. When I finally did, I heard birds singing. It finally made sense. I had always been ambivalent about romance and for the first time [I felt something]. I came out after my first date with a woman.” Although she didn’t end up with this woman, Nicole met her now wife, Claire, shortly thereafter. “At that point I didn’t have anything to lose by coming out,” says Nicole. “For me, because my relationship with Claire was so new, and I was just so proud of it that I couldn't imagine putting it back in the box. She was too good to keep a secret.”

It was around that time that Nicole began booking television roles, and began making a name for herself on the small screen. “I had no idea I was going to be in TV and film,” says Nicole. “I thought I was going to have a career in musical theater and no one cares who you’re sleeping with in musical theater.”

When asked what advice she has for actors in today’s complex world, Nicole says it’s all about staying true to values. “I would say that the thing that has kept me most level is to have a really strong idea about who I am outside this industry,” she says. “This industry wants to own you. You don’t have to play that game. Make sure you stay solid for who you are. Don’t make compromises for [on your beliefs]. This industry can be tricky. There are misogynists, racists, homophobes, and all these bad things but I’m still a part of it. It’s a fine balance.”

In her spare time, Nicole says you can find her sewing or knitting (she is wearing all clothing she made herself in the images in this story), and working on side projects like her indie flick – Suicide Kale – a dark comedy that tells the story of three women of color.

“My hope is that one day someone would look at me on screen and say ‘I look like her’ or ‘I’m queer like her,’” says Nicole, who is currently filming her second season of Underground. “That’s representation. That's what I didn't have when I was growing up. I didn’t have a mirror to see myself in the world. I'm hoping to do more good.”

Suicide Kale, which won the audience award at Outfest LA, can be viewed on Suidicekale.com and on ITunes. Underground can be viewed on WGN and on Hulu, and to follow Nicole, go to Jasikatrycurious.

The Quick 10

1. What app do you most use?

Instagram.

2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?

Drink a cup of hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.

3. Name a business mogul you admire.

Heather Lou of the indie sewing pattern company Closet Case. She isn't a "mogul" per se, but she is an entrepreneur with a successful small business who is changing the lives of people the world over in small, meaningful ways. I appreciate how her art and craftsmanship have manifested into something she can create for and share with people.

4. What product do you wish you had invented?

The electric car.

5. What is a food you never get sick of?

Peanut butter and I eat it almost every single day.

6. What is your life motto?

"Live a trycurious life."

7. Name your favorite work day snack.

If I'm in a healthy mood, chopped up jicama and green apples with chilli pepper, salt and lime juice sprinkled on top. If I'm being lazy, a bag of Doritos.

8. What's something that's always in your bag?

Bobby pins.

9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

Amsterdam.

10. Desert Island. Three things, go:

A knife, peanut butter, and a solar powered kindle loaded up with thousands of books.

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Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.