Exclusive! Christina Jackson of Outsiders Talks Onscreen Romance and What to Expect for Season Two

Photo Credit: Melissa Hamburg
Photo Credit: Melissa Hamburg

Christina Jackson is an actress and a producer. Known for her three seasons as Maybelle White on Boardwalk Empire, as well as the television series River Ridge as well as the movie Harold (2008). Jackson is currently starring as Sally-Ann on WGN’s Outsiders, which premiered to record ratings for the network and has since been picked up for a second season. From executive producer Paul Giamatti, Outsiders tells the story of the Farrells , a clan of outsiders living off the grid and above the law on their mountainside homestead in Appalachia since before anyone can remember. They will protect their world and defend their way of life using any means necessary. Sally-Ann is a townsperson who begins a forbidden relationship with Hasil Farrell, which will turn into an unexpected tangle for the family. Sally Ann is one of the few African-American residents in the town of Blackberg. She is a cashier at the local store, where she meets Hasil (Kyle Gallner). She knows flirting with a Farrell is dangerous business but she can’t control her curiosity about him. Sally-Ann lives with her brother James, as their parents died when they were young. He would normally be distrustful of any man sniffing around his younger sister, but the fact that the fellow is white and a Farrell stirs a rage in him which ultimately pushes Sally-Ann away from him, putting her trust in Hasil and the unknown.

In addition to her acclaimed work on Boardwalk Empire, Christina had a recurring role on NBC’s Deception , as well as appearances on other notable shows such as Elementary, Blue Bloods, and Unforgettable.

Christina is a graduate of Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey (classmates included Michael B. Jordan). The school opened in 1931 as the first public high school in the United States specializing in the visual and performing arts.

Christina loves acting, especially television and theater. She is an avid reader and enjoys engaging others in social dialog. Talk Nerdy With Us was privileged to talk with Christina about Outsiders and beyond.

Were you excited about the finale of Outsiders?

Of course! Excited and a little heartbroken. It’s been quite a ride. That last episode. Now, we have to wait a couple of literal seasons before we come back. But I’m excited.

Congratulations on getting renewed for a 2nd season! It’s a great show.

Thank you! It is something that hasn’t been done before. Not in that way.

At the end of the season, we see Sally-Ann and Hasil at not quite the best place. Now that Sally-Ann has seen life on the mountain and it’s not quite the stars and cheese and moonlight the way Hasil romantically put it. Do you think she’s going to want to see Hasil again or nor not?

I think this is a case of where two people really love each other. I mean realistically, Hasil didn’t know a lot of the stuff that was happening on the mountain because he was in town with Sally Ann in the abandoned house. She can’t really blame him, she can’t blame him for being there to defend his family. But I don’t think that she doesn’t want to see Hasil again. I think they were literally pushed into something that neither had anything to do with and, yeah, it would be ridiculous for her to say she wouldn’t want to see him again.

That’s good. There are a whole lot of Sasil shippers who are going to be very happy.


The chemistry between you and Kyle Gallner is pretty amazing. The scene where they make love for the first time in the old house was absolutely beautiful.

(Laughs) Thank you!

Can you talk about working with Kyle and what kinds of things that you do that cement that chemistry on screen?

I have mentioned before that we didn’t have a chemistry test. So we didn’t get together until we met in Pittsburgh. And I think the first scene we shot was in episode 2 where they are walking together and then we went back to episode 1 where they meet for the first time. Kyle just added something to it; he embodies what Hasil would be; he’s really into being a character actor when it comes to Hasil and he does a really great job. And there’s a lot of pressure on this couple to not make it about race. And really find what it is that draws these two people together.

Kyle just made it really easy. It’s less of a stretch for me, character-wise because there are a lot of similarities between me and Sally-Ann. But for Hasil and Kyle, you don’t know what the similarities are in terms of that character, but he does a great job and so he made it really easy to bounce off of him and bounce ideas, and work together. Asking each other questions, what do you think about this and how about we do a take about this. Kyle is hilarious. There was lots of dancing, laughing and jokes happening. (Laughs). It made for a very comfortable situation. So when we got to episode 5 with the sex scene it was all right, let’s do this!

There was something very innocent about it.

Yes, there really was. I think there’s innocence to these two people that you don’t expect. You see Sally-Ann and she’s working two jobs and she has a very domineering brother. Hasil, he can be violent, but there’s a calmness about him a majority of the time. So when they get together they get to be these two very goofy, comfortable people.

It’s also tough for them because they fit in neither world.

At one point when they were hiding out, Hasil said, “I’m going to have to get a lot of people used to having you around.” I don’t think he thought he could just naively bring her up there and everything would be fine but the problem with the situation is that she has nowhere left to go. If they hadn’t have been found, who knows how long he could have hidden her on the mountain? It’s a big mountain! Hasil and Sally just want to be together, and a series of events pushed them into going up that mountain. You are rooting for them. You know that he can’t be in a town and you know that she can’t be on the mountain but you just want them to go and just be somewhere. Anywhere, as long as they are together.

When is filming for season two going to start? Do you have an idea?

Next month! I just got the script for episode 1 last night. I have not read it because I’m waiting to sit down and really decompress, but I’ve read the comments and people are saying, “I can’t wait for January for this show to come back. Do you think you can come back in September?” The show didn’t come out until January this year, guys, so you have to wait! (Laughs).

Do you think there are families like Hasil’s who live up in the mountains?

There are definitely families that live off the grid. I know here in New Jersey we had a family up in those mountains for quite a while, as close as a couple of counties over for me, there is a family who lives off of the grid.

Between now and the filming of the Outsiders, do you have any projects in the works?

No, I’m pretty exclusive to Outsiders right now. Not that I don’t want to be able to work on anything, but so far what’s come up has been in conflict with my shooting schedule. It’s a gift because I can really put my focus on season two. I do have an outline of what Sally-Ann’s story line is, so it’s going to be quite a lot. That’s it for me right now.

You were also in Boardwalk Empire for three seasons. How different was that to work on from Outsiders?

Boardwalk was a dream come true. It was one of those situations where it’s HBO, it’s a period piece which I love; it’s the 1920’s which is my favorite decade, I get to really recreate a time period. I play an African-American female in the 1920s who does not want to be a nurse or a teacher or a housewife. She wants to be her own woman, whether it’s a creative or wherever that path takes. It was refreshing. You have to step out of yourself. The 1920s is such a time away that you don’t talk the same or walk the same; you don’t hold your body the same. You have all of these layers of clothes on, the dialog is different. Everything was an experience. Being a part of that ensemble cast was amazing; there was so much talent. Boardwalk was one of those jobs that I will never get over the fact that I was able to have

The 1920s is such a time away that you don’t talk the same or walk the same; you don’t hold your body the same. You have all of these layers of clothes on, the dialog is different. Everything was an experience. Being a part of that ensemble cast was amazing; there was so much talent. Boardwalk was one of those jobs that I will never get over the fact that I was able to have.

All those costumes and the layers – did that become burdensome after a while or was it more, every day you get to go play dress up?

Definitely playing dress up but it did get burdensome sometimes, just because you have the petticoat on, then you have the wool skirt on, and then you have the camisole and the shirt so it became an issue sometimes. (Laughs). A lot of the clothes were from the 1920s so you had to be careful of rips and tears. It did get a little frustrating but some of my favorite days were the fitting days, where you go to the wardrobe zone and you try on clothes for the next episode. Just seeing all of the pictures on the wall for inspiration, seeing how they matched things up, everything about that was amazing to me.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? What kind of projects do you see yourself doing in the future?

I wanted comedy after I left Boardwalk; after three seasons of a very heavy period piece, maybe I should do something funny. I was kind of looking out for it, and then Outsiders fell into my path (Laughs), and Outsiders is just one of those pilots you don’t give up on. I was very intrigued, so I jumped on the Outsiders bandwagon. I hope to do comedy in the future, but for the most part, I’d love to write, maybe get a web series off the ground. It’s just a matter of finding the content. There’s just so much out there to tackle and talk about, so it’s a matter of finding what my voice is.

How about musical theater? Do you sing?

I can hold a note. However, I do not like to do musical theater. I did it in the past, when I was in school, but if I’m going to do theater, it’s either going to be a comedy or a drama. I would like to stay away from having to sing. (Laughs). 

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and one question we like to ask those we interview, is are you a nerd, or into anything nerdy?

I think the nerdiest thing I’m into is my boyfriend; he’s the nerd in the relationship. (Laughs). He’s such a nerd. I get excited about going to the bookstore, or going to see an indie film, or like open discussions. The Strand bookstore in New York has had a series of discussions in their rare book section, on how the internet impacts us or things like that. I love stuff like that so I’m not into video games or electronics but I like social nerdy stuff, and I like to talk about books .That’s the kind of stuff I’m into.

I love to hear things like that! I was a librarian for 25 years so books are quite dear to my heart.

The last book I bought was The Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I am still on the first five pages, but The Infinite Jest is going to be my project while filming the Outsiders. I am going to read that from cover to cover.

That’s a big book!

(Laughs) When I put it on the counter the guy said you’re going for it, and no lie he gave me like six bookmarks and he said you’re going to need all of them. And I was like thank you, thank you so much!

I’m going to bring a box of books with me to Pittsburgh. That’s how I’m going to keep myself occupied because I’m not going to get a television.

Have you rewatched Outsiders? Have you seen the series in its entirety?

Yes, I’ve seen every episode; I’ve live tweeted almost every episode this season. I’ve live tweeted ten or eleven; I missed two due to a prior engagement. But I have seen the entire season. Before the season aired, we got the first five episodes so from 6 to 13 I was seeing it for the first time along with the audience. So yes, I have seen all of it.

So you have an idea of the big picture of what’s going on outside of the Sally-Ann/Hasil storyline?

I do, but also for me, when it comes to the mountain stuff, I’m a viewer just like everyone else. I wasn’t privy to what was going on up there as far as visuals go. I get the scripts, but scripts change and things happen, so for me I was seeing that stuff for the first time with the audience.

Have you done any research into that mountain type of living? Have you read the Foxfire books?

I’m not sure but I think Kyle or someone in the cast has read them. I didn’t read any books, but I did read a couple of articles, I listened to a couple of YouTube videos, I listened to some oral history tapes. It wasn’t impeditive that I know about the mountain stuff, but just because it piqued my curiosity because this was the type of show I was going to be on, and I kind of wanted to have a feel for the mindset because when you have a group of people who have lived in the mountains for 200 years, living completely parallel to whatever is happening off that mountain. You wonder how these people never wanted to leave off that mountain and assimilate into the culture that we have. But when you look at the culture we do have, it’s not that great. You can live on a mountain rent free with no bills and no worries really; I’d take the mountain too. (Laughs).

The actual mountain set must be amazing.

I didn’t see the mountain set until we did our ETKs’ and we did the promo. So that was actually the first time I’d walked up and went from house to house seeing what they have used certain things for. It’s really a beautiful set. I’m interested to see how it held up though the winter. They did take precautions and put a few things up and preserved those properties. But I am anxious to see what it looks like after a winter.

We’ll be waiting! January can’t come soon enough!

We have to get down and start filming. But I’m pretty excited. I think we were able to see Season 1 and what worked and what could be worked on. So I think we’re going to come back with a much better idea of what the show is. And what we want to establish more of.

I wish you all of the best, and the series, all of the best. And I hope you get a 7 season run at least! There’s a lot of stories to tell and such a great cast. Big Foster was just so horrible!

David (Morse) is so great at being horrible. You are so intrigued that he’s so terrible. I think he wanted to be Brennan so bad, he just really thought it was going to come to him. He didn’t take into consideration what being Brennan really, really is. And when you add the outside conflict of the coal company it just it makes you look at him in a certain way.

And certainly the woman who heads the coal division is awful in what she pulls too.

Yes, Hayley Grimes. She’s good at being bad too.

You can see how the audience just got pulled into the story line. It was a very one of those shows that you are there with, you’re riveted to. Congratulations to the whole cast.

Thank you!!

Where do you see yourself going after the Outsiders?

I don’t know. I do love television. I love television because it gives you the opportunity to explore a character. From week to week, as opposed to a movie where you have like an hour and a half and it’s done. So I love television; I love to be able to work week to week to be able to have those conversations and push the boundaries of what people are used to and maybe even comfortable with. So I definitely hope more TV and theater was my first love; so I’d love to get back into theater. And if movies come, movies come. But TV and theater are on my radar.

Is there anything you’d like to share, that I haven’t covered with my questions?

On Outsiders, I would like to see Sally-Ann have more depth, whether it’s with Hasil or away from Hasil I feel like there’s a lot to see through this person’s eyes, in the town. She works in a store so she’s pretty much in contact with a lot of people in that town. In the first season you don’t see her talk to anyone but her brother and Hasil. I’d definitely like to see her have some more layers in Season 2.

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