The popular podcast Alice Isn’t Dead is now in it’s final thrilling season. I sat down with out actress Jasika Nicole, who plays the series’ leading character, Keisha, a truck driver on a quest to find answers about her missing and presumed dead wife, Alice. With a book coming out and talk of a possible television adaptation, this final season is far from the end for Alice Isn’t Dead. Jasika shares her experience leading this wonderful story, and how it’s changed her as an actor.
Bella Books: There is a lot going on right now with Alice Isn’t Dead. How excited are you for this third season? Third and final season I should say…
Jasika Nicole: I’m happy about it… I mean, you know I would love to keep doing it forever and ever. I love that he decided to come up with pretty much a self contained story that had a start and and end, because I think there’s a lot of things that started so amazing and then they just kept it going forever and ever and they kind of drained out all the story out of it, so I love that there’s a specific start and a finish. I have no idea how it’s finishing at all (laughs), so part of me feels like I am, you know, a member of the audience a bit because I don’t know where it’s going or what’s gonna happen, and every episode that he [creator Joseph Fink] sends me to record is, you know, the first time that I know what’s happening with the story, the journey of the characters, so…
Bella Books: So you’re only getting one script at a time?
Jasika: Yeah, and I don’t get like an overview or an arch of each season, or each storyline, or anything like that, which is fine. Like I don’t care (laughs) because it doesn’t affect my performance at all, but it’s like every time I get a new script I tend to get it with a note, like with the last one, I think it was chapter 4 he wrote “this one is spooky”and I was like, ok, if you’re saying it’s spooky.
Bella Books: (laughs)
Jasika: I think all of them have a good element of intrigue and spookiness in that, yeah.
Bella Books: Oh, absolutely. Well, it certainly helps keep you on your toes and in the moment, right?
Jasika: Yeah, it totally does and I love that I get to play around with it, and he really trusts the actor, and their ability to perform in their own expertise. He doesn’t give a lot of direction unless it’s, like, if I mispronounce a word or something like that, and so it’s kind of it. At first, it was really bizarre you know, coming from a background in television and film, I’m used to somebody kind of micromanaging every movement and character decision basically, so this was a lot of freedom to have. It’s kind of strange but I honestly really liked it, and one of my favorite things is reading the script and seeing there’s another character in it because I try to differentiate the voices a little bit. I obviously don’t want to sound exactly like that character I’m reading since it’s an impersonation to her, it’s more like what they sound like to her when she had a conversation with them, or when she saw them, and I think that relationship is being filtered through her own experience of that person. That might not be what the actual person sounds like, but it’s what they sound like to her, and so it’s a really fun thing that I get to do. It’s like you’re going to be voicing a different guy on this one, and when I’m reading it’s like “gotta come up with something, okay.”
Bella Books: Also you recently did a live recording of Alice Isn’t Dead, or was it a special episode?
Jasika: It’s both, it is a special episode, kind of a stand-alone episode that you could listen to and still be able to follow the narrative if you haven’t ever heard Alice Isn’t Dead before, but they just released… I wanna say the week after, they released the recording of that.
We did that script for Seattle and then adapted it for Los Angeles, and it’s such a good episode. It’s one of those things that’s really special if you’re in the room, if you haven’t heard it. I’ll hold the spoilers, but it’s really special because she starts basically narrating what’s happening in real time with the audience there, which is really cool and eerie, and they’re playing this creepy background music, so it’s a really, really special performance that I got to do. I loved it.
Bella Books: I know from our previous conversation that recording is usually a very solitary and intimate experience for you. I remember you telling me that basically you kind of lock yourself up in a closet. (laughs)
Jasika: That’s exactly like it.
Bella Books: What’s it like doing it in front of an audience?
Jasika: It’s amazing, I love it so much. I miss being on stage. My background is in musical theater so I always imagined that I would be of course of doing musicals forever. Obviously there’s a very special relationship you get to have recording on stage with an audience, but this was so different from that, there’s no movement, there’s no choreography, so it’s just me with my microphone, and so I have to really trust my ability to capture an audience for like 45 minutes or an hour or something like that. It’s a really long time to be standing there and talking and not doing anything else, you know, with your body. Obviously you’re like doing gestures and stuff like that, but it’s just me and the audience and the music, and it’s so different from Welcome to Night Vale because that show has guests that come on, and this amazing narrator, and also the show deals with a lot of people that come in and out of a story, and Alice Isn’t Dead isn’t like that. It’s just me, or my voiceover and the audience, so I felt really nervous when we did the first performance of a live show which is actually just Disparition‘s music and me because… I don’t know, I guess I didn’t trust that I was gonna be interesting enough for an audience to really sit there for that long…
Bella Books: Oh, please…
Jasika: I’m serious! The thing is that I was kind of… selfish isn’t the right word. I was kind of thinking all the power is on that stage alone, when really it’s about the words and the story being told, and my goal is just being an instrument for that. And plus, you have the soundtrack, and everything all together is really great, and the audience is justs like right there with me. I mean, they’re in it. They gasp, they laugh. So I had to process that it is not, you know, just me. Again, voice acting is a solitary experience where I sit in the bottom of my closet for 45 minutes, but the live show is so much more than that, and obviously with the audience, they participate in it too, so it started being way more comfortable and less stressful than I initially thought it would be.
Bella Books: I’m sure like most people, I was pretty taken aback when we found out that indeed Alice wasn’t dead. How does this change the game for Keisha?
Jasika: That is a great question. At the risk of spoiling too much of the second season because obviously, you know, you get to hear Alice’s voice in the very last episode.
Bella Books: And you get to hear her do an entire minisode.
Jasika: Yeah, totally. So, I will say that in season 3, Alice is going to be a huge part of the story and what is happening, but it didn’t change the set up of the show, the format of the show. But now you’ve got two people that are sharing a story, and it’s really great because you get to hear one person describe what happened, and then you hear another person describe the same thing, and sometimes they’re right on the same page, and other times the two have totally different experiences. Obviously, they’re two very different people, but also because there’s been a bit of a betrayal in the relationship and so with that… everything isn’t happily ever after…
Bella Books: Like you do when your wife all of a sudden, is dead, or not dead…
Jasika: Exactly. There’s a bit of dissonance between the characters, and even in some aspects, I think the way that the story unfolds in the season which really, I think it’s brilliant, I think it’s so good.
And here’s a really funny thing: So we recorded up to chapter 4 in this final third season, and just the other day Joseph was like “well, chapter 5 is next, but I’ve already written chapter 10 so I’m sending that.” So we’re about to record the last one before we get to go back for the rest. I just love it, it’s just so bizarre, and fun! I love that in podcasting you have the freedom to do stuff like that.
Bella Books: Oh, I can’t wait. So, I know people say things like this, like “this is just a story about people who happen to be LGBT”, but it’s still kind of a big deal. And this show has a whole lot of queerness, not only are you an out queer woman, but your character is queer. It’s very refreshing to have such a queer-focused project like this! Was that always part of the plan or is that just kind of the way it happened?
Jasika: Interesting question. I think that it’s just how it happened. I had gone to do a live show of Night Vale that wasn’t in LA, but it was in the surrounding parts of LA, and this was several years ago. Joseph just came and said “hey, I really wanna write a show for you, and I have this idea, and it’s about a queer person, and that’s all I can really say about that now, but would you be into recording it?” And I was like, “ok, first of all, nobody’s ever written anything for me specifically to perform and that is s huge deal” So I think that because I was the person that he wanted to write it for, he based it loosely around me, but just around the fact that I’m a person of color, the fact that I’m a queer woman. He let me name her, this was, you know, the second season, and he said: “I wanna give her a name if there’s a name you’d absolutely love…” So I was a part of bringing her to life even more, and I wanted to choose an obviously black name. I wanted this to be very clear because I had seen in so many people doing fan art and portraying the narrator in lots of different images. I personally don’t have a problem with that at all, and it think it’s pretty normal to hear specifically voices and see yourself in them. That’s what we do. That’s why stories are so universal, because it allows people to see themselves in them, so I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with drawing the image that we see, but obviously I wanted it to be known that she is a person of color. That you could draw her any way you want to but, the actual story is that this is a person of color.
And so yeah, I think, the reason I find this so satisfying is that a lot of the relationships, narratives and stuff like that, you know obviously, for Night Vale a lot of the Americana touches and kind of identifying things the in story, a lot of the things she experiences on the road, and a lot of the stuff that happens between Alice and Keisha are based on the experience Joseph had with this girlfriend at one point, but wife now. I think it’s so true because it’s obviously important to see women in loving relationships in media, but when you get to the bare bones of it, love is a pretty universal theme, and there’s not a whole lot that doesn’t kind of cross boundaries. I think that so often what we see in the narratives in television and film, and in books for the most part, is that you don’t get to see white cis straight men making connections with people outside of their experience. Like they expect everybody to relate to them, and yet with many stories of other people they will automatically ignore or dismiss them because if they’re straight and white or whatever they’re not gonna see how that relates to them. They’re going to assume, well that’s a black thing, or that’s a queer thing, or that’s a woman thing. So I really like the idea of taking someone’s personal experience and showing how they it can expand across communities and identities because the ideas of love and loss, and being deceived, and having anxiety, that doesn’t know a color, it doesn’t know a body type, it doesn’t know a gender. It doesn’t know any of that. It’s pretty much prevalent in every community that I can think of, and so it’s something that’s always been really special for me. I felt a part of the story story, and I felt like I was part of his story, you know what I mean?
Bella Books: Yeah.
Jasika: Like it felt there’s a lot of hands in the pot mixing everything together and I just think that it worked out pretty well.
Bella Books: So there’s also been talk of a TV adaptation of the show. Have there been any updates on that?
Jasika: The guy who does Mr. Robot (Kyle Bradstreet) is the one who is going to be at the helm of the Alice Isn’t Dead TV show. It got optioned, I think i twas last year, which is very exciting. I would love nothing more than to be a part of this television adaptation, and there is the clause in the contract that… I forget the exact wording… But it has something to do with like good faith, like “we will cast the originator of this role in good faith.” I mean, I don’t know how much of this exists in Hollywood, so I just kind of take that at face value. I would really like to be part of the adaptation and I’m hoping that I would be, but it’s not… It’s certainly not confirmed or written in stone that I will be, and this also goes for the Welcome to Nigh Vale TV show, which actually got optioned several years ago and is also making the transition into a television show. So as with all the original cast they will hopefully be a part of the show, but maybe not. I don’t know. (laughs)
Bella Books: (laughs)
Jasika: I’m cautiously optimistic. I can’t tell you how many things I thought were guaranteed in my career that ended up falling through and not happening, so at this point, I’m just like, “well, I hope it happens.”
Bella Books: You take a kind of wait-and-see attitude about it?
Jasika: (laughing) Yes, that’s exactly right.
Bella Books: So, what has been for you as an actor, as a person, the biggest takeaway from Alice Isn’t Dead?
Jasika: Well, as an actor, I think I’ve learned in a lot of ways how to trust myself and my craft a little bit better. And obviously I’ve talked about the freedom that Joseph gives with recording by ourselves, but it’s also allowed me to experiment in ways that you’re just not able to do in other parts of this career. Again with most TV you just, you know, you can film 15 scenes and think they were all amazing and you’re so excited about it, but when the final cut airs or comes out you could be edited completely out of it, or you might be edited down to be like a peripheral character. There’s so much that you don’t have control of, but in podcasting it’s really just about you and your voice, and what you decide to do with your voice, and that’s pretty much the end game of it. There’s not much, not a lot of editing after that, except obviously like the music and that stuff. So it’s given me a lot more confidence in my instincts, I think, because again, when you’re in television and film, if you do end up being edited down, you never get to find out why. “Oh, the movie was running too long” or “your instincts were terrible and we had to get you off camera.” Like, you never get that, so you can go down a bit of a spiral. So it’s nice to be part of a project where whatever I do with that microphone, that’s what is going out into the world and people still like it. Obviously some people don’t, but that could be accepted, but for the most part people are really responsive to that, to me, and it just makes me feel a lot more comfortable with my abilities and my confidence. I feel empowered. I feel that I can sort of do this because, for somebody like me in the voiceover world, and I think we talked about this in our previous interview, it has been a rough road. I don’t get cast a lot because my voice doesn’t sound always the way that…
Bella Books: Oh, yeah we totally did talk about this the last time we talked.
Jasika: Yeah, so I feel like I’ve been able to have such an awesome experience within the voice over world just thanks to Jeffrey and Joseph, and it has got me more work. I’ve been able to do a lot more animated stuff that probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to me because I didn’t have a huge resume, or you know, a lot of voice over stuff on my resume, so that has made a really big difference for me, personally.
Bella Books: Ok, so one last question because I know you’re so super creative, and you have so many cool ideas. What are you working on now that you kind of wanna just buzz about?
Jasika: (laughs) Well, Let see, career-wise stuff? I’m doing a special short which is cool and I’m narrating the Alice Isn’t Dead audiobook that comes out in about October…
Bella Books: Oh, great! Yes, the book!
Jasika: I know, it’s really, really cool. I kind of assumed they would get somebody else for the audiobook (laugh) because… This is probably just me, but I thought they would be like “let’s just go another direction, let’s mix it up a bit!” Then I got to actually do it, I got the opportunity, and I’m most excited because you get to read it before everybody else, so that’s the coolest part.
The Alice Isn’t Dead novel is available for pre-order now. You can follow Jasika Nicole on Twitter and Instagram. The Alice Isn’t Dead podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts, including iTunes and Spotify.