Wilder Yari commands the screen as Agent Jessica Tanner in the CW’s sci-fi drama series, “4400.”
The series is a reimagining of the 2004 USA Network series. The new version follows 4400 overlooked, undervalued or otherwise marginalized people who vanished without a trace over the last hundred years and are all returned in an instant, having not aged a day and with no memory of what happened to them. As the government races to analyze the potential threat and contain the story, the 4400 themselves must grapple with the fact that they’ve been returned with a few…upgrades, and the increasing likelihood that they were all brought back for a specific reason.
Jessica is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and working on the investigation into the 4400. She is dating Keisha (Ireon Roach), a parole officer who is also called in as part of the government response. Confident, good-hearted and a consummate professional at work, Jessica is glad to be working with Keisha and is baffled and uneasy about the sudden appearance of all these apparently “kidnapped” people.
Check out my Q&A with Wilder!
Were you familiar with the original ‘4400’ before you were cast as Agent Jessica Tanner?
Wilder: I wasn’t. When I got the audition, I actually thought it was for a new show.
How does this show compare to the original?
Wilder: Well, besides being amazingly gay and Black, this version of the 4400 spends more time dealing with every individual abductee’s story, and in doing so tells a bigger story about how America has come to this point over the last 100 years.
Are you a sci-fi fan?
Wilder: I wasn’t when I started the show. The fixation on accouterments in sci-fi kinda bores me — “this laser only does this under these conditions”, etc. But over the course of shooting I realized that sci-fi uses heightened and unusual stakes to tell us something about ourselves, the same way ancient myths did. And then it became accessible and interesting to me.
What drew you to this series?
Wilder: Getting to work for Ariana Jackson. Of course, now that I know her co-showrunner Sunil Nayar I love them both, but she was really the draw for me initially.
What can you tell me about your character, Jessica Tanner, and how she fits into the story?
Wilder: On a surface level, Jessica is a DHS agent in charge of handling government response to the 4400 situation. She’s the direct superior to people like Jharrel, her situationship Keisha, and Soraya, but is still taking orders from people higher up the government food chain.
On a deeper level, I think of her as being the representation of an unfeeling government, and the dangers of that. She’s able to justify inhumane treatment of one group because it supposedly keeps another group safe.
Are you anything like Jessica?
Wilder: We both can command a room, that’s for sure. And we both value discipline. But other than that, we’re worlds apart.
What do you find most exciting about playing Jessica?
Wilder: Tamping down all of her feelings. Jess is a control freak. You can see it in the way she presents herself: perfect hair, glamorous but subtle makeup, good posture. But she deals with huge emotions constantly that she has to mask in order to live her life.
What do you want fans to take away from Jessica when they see her throughout the series?
Wilder: I love this question. I hope fans take away that every one of us has personal responsibility to do something about the injustices we see. Jess lets her own fear get in the way of doing what deep down she knows is the right thing. She relies on a black and white version of the world because it makes her feel safe.
This show has a very diverse cast, what does it mean to you to be part of, not just a show, but a network show with such a wide range of people?
Wilder: It’s an incredible honor. I earned my place here, but I’m still geeked to be a part of something that means so much to so many people.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, what does it mean to you that shows are becoming more diverse?
Wilder: It’s a relief. But I don’t think real power will be shifted until queer and trans people of color see the same access behind the camera. A demand for queer and trans characters is really a demand for queer and trans writers. It’s something that I love about 4400, actually — we have a really diverse writer’s room, and almost all of our directors have been from populations historically excluded from the director’s chair.
There also seems to be a lot of parallels between the show and our real-life society, do you also see parallels?
Wilder: The show is definitely designed that way. But the message at the heart of it is to embrace your own potential. Things are not hopeless. You can change your world.
Are you able to drop any hints about what viewers can expect from the rest of the season?
Wilder: Things really kick into high gear. I’m so excited for everyone to see what happens. Jharrel’s brother Manny stays relevant, don’t forget about him. And the finale is bomb.
Is there anything you’re really excited for viewers to see?
Wilder: What happens with Jess and Soraya!
Thank you so much for chatting with me, is there anything else that you would like to say about ‘4400’?
Wilder: My pleasure. We come back January 17th! Keep those ratings high if you want a season two. We all really, really want to make one.