While living in quarantine, actress Jasika Nicole (Fringe, The Good Doctor) is finding ways to be happy. “My family has remained healthy throughout this, which honestly is the most stressful to me because they all live in a different state,” she says. “Other than that, I’ve just had a lot of time to be with [my spouse] Claire, which I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been very thankful for that.”
Like many people, Nicole and her partner, Claire J. Savage, have had a lot of time to think about who they are when they don’t have to present in front of other people. And they’ve discovered new things, some big and some smaller. For Savage, that meant coming out as nonbinary.
For Nicole, it meant discovering a passion for pottery, a hobby she had tried but never fell in love with before this year. But her big news has been joining the cast of Peacock’s new Punky Brewster reboot as Lauren, the girlfriend of Cherie Johnson, Punky’s best friend from the original series, played once again by the actress of the same name. The audience meets Lauren about halfway through the season.
“The first time you meet her is at a club when they’re going out to see this band or something. But the very second time that you get to see her, it’s at Punky’s house with all of Punky’s kids and Punky’s ex-husband,” Nicole says. “That was one of my favorite things about the show: immersing this queer character into this other family dynamic and not having to have an explanation for it. There isn’t a special episode where they teach Punky’s kids what gay means or what queer means.”
As an ’80s baby, Nicole was a big fan of the original show about a girl being raised by a foster parent. “I loved Punky Brewster!” Nicole says. “I keep telling everybody ‘when I was a kid, I was a Cherie because I was such a rule follower, and I wanted to be a Punky because she was cool.’ She was dynamic, and she marched to the beat of her own drum.”
Nicole was drawn to the show largely because of its themes about chosen family. “It was about challenging the ideas of what a nuclear family is supposed to look like, and showing that you can find family anywhere,” she says. “Obviously, that is a really important tenet of the LGBTQIA community anyway.”
She also received the chosen family message from her own home. “My parents weren’t married, and they were separated since I was really little, and my dad was Black and my mom was white, so I always felt like I was, for so many reasons, I just felt like such an outsider,” she says. In Punky and Cherie, she saw other kids who were in families like hers.
Nicole loves being part of such an iconic show that’s helping to normalize nontraditional families and queer relationships for such a broad audience. Punky’s “family already knows that there are lots of different ways for people to love each other, and this is just one of them,” she says. Lauren is “Cherie’s girlfriend,” she says, “but is also a little bit of a surrogate auntie to the kids.”
It’s not just her character who was welcomed as a part of the family. Nicole says she was greeted on set by the cast the same way. Regarding working with Cherie Johnson, Nicole lights up. “I really racked my brain to think if I’ve ever met anybody like her before. She’s so nice, and not in a fake way,” she says. “She is just so warm, and it’s just very sincere.”
Most of all, she’s excited to get to play a queer character on a family-friendly and family-centric show. “Queerness is not just about adults and their sexuality,” she says. “Queerness exists in kids’ lives. Whether they identify as [queer] or not, there’s going to be queer adults around them.… It should be as normalized for people around the world as it is for me in my actual life.”