Tenika Davis, Jupiter’s Legacy Star, Takes a Holistic Approach to Fitness

Tenika Davis
Tenika Davis photographed by Christopher Shintani. Styled by Jennifer Austin. Hair by Randy Stodghill. Makeup by Robert Bryan.

In the forthcoming Netflix series Jupiter’s Legacy (based on a graphic novel series of the same name by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely), a younger generation of superheroes grapple with the notion that their legendary parents paved the way for a world that didn’t quite shape up to be what they thought it would be. Tenika Davis plays Petra Small, a superhero who is struggling to live up to the name of her father. “I’ve always been a little bit of an overachiever who wanted to please my parents as much as possible, so I was able to identify with that character and understand how she can be hard on herself when she doesn’t achieve the level of success she thought she would,” Davis told W over the phone, calling from her hometown of Toronto, where she also filmed episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy (which will be released May 7). “Her dad tries to help her through that, to realize that she is awesome.”

Everybody knows that training like a superhero is not easy—but the Jupiter’s Legacy star wants to cultivate the idea that the “whole spectrum of fitness,” including post-workout recovery, is one part of the wellness journey that cannot be ignored. The actress also revealed just how physically demanding the role ended up being, from training for hours a day, seven days a week, to exerting force she didn’t even know she had when trying to slip into a “super suit.” Here, Davis gives her best fitness and wellness tips she picked up on set, and beyond.

Was the sci-fi genre always on your radar, or did you recently get into it just for Jupiter’s Legacy?

I was that little kid in elementary school that was transforming and “had powers” and was running and saying “I do magic.” This is what I was trying to do at recess as a child. The sci-fi world is something I’ve always been obsessed with, so getting this show was a dream come true for me. Being an adult and putting on a super suit—and we actually have everything set up to be able to fly and shoot fireballs—is pretty amazing. That little girl inside of me is jumping for joy.

Jupiter’s Legacy follows children of superheroes, and how the rules of being a superhero change by the time that younger generation comes up. Could you relate to your character Petra Small and her dynamic with her superhero father?

Petra is in an interesting situation. In the comic books, all of the family relationships are dysfunctional and broken. Like any real-life family out there, there are always moments that break down the relations. What I think we’ll see in the relationship between me and my father in the show is their complicated beginning, but ending up mending their relationship. It’s an example of a relationship that is more healthy and restored. Although things are falling apart in the world, witnessing what’s going on with this family, I think our characters embody what it would be like to have a mended family relationship. There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s a very physically demanding part—how did you stay physically fit so that you could be healthy and pull off stunts?

They chose people based on who brought a certain energy to the role. On that first day we all got the call saying we were going to fitness and stunt training, I was with Leslie Bibb and Josh Duhamel. We sat down in our workout gear and were like, what the hell did we get into? Nobody asked whether you were physically fit when auditioning for the role, but we were committed to whatever they asked us to do. We all had that moment where we were like, whoa this is a lot. [Laughs.] I have to pay respect to the stunt team. They whipped us into shape. We had two months of actual training where we had about two hours of stunts, so we’d learn choreography for a fight scene with a supervillain. Some of the other characters were brought in for their stunts too, but we would have fitness for about an hour after that. So that was three hours of training, every single day—I did stunt training, my regular fitness training, ate, and slept. We were treated like athletes.

What did you do to recover?

I don’t think people tell you enough about the painful part of that training: lots of ice baths, lots of chiropractic treatment, lots of massages, lots of wondering, “Am I able to physically do that?” But part of the journey was that I pushed myself past limits I didn’t know I was physically able to. Kudos to the production for allowing us to train that way, with the wonderful personal trainer who kicked our butts into shape. It was tough, very challenging.

Did you have experience doing physically demanding work for films or shows before Jupiter’s Legacy?

I have a martial arts background—a black belt in Tae Kwon Do—so I understand what it is to put yourself through a consistent regime of training. I was kind of prepared, and I’m glad, because I would not have wanted to be a person who had never been to the gym and then gotten that type of role. People have to think realistically about the roles they get themselves involved in! It seems really cool to be an action hero, but part of that involves intense activity. If there’s anyone dreaming to get involved with this, please go to the gym in advance because you will save yourself so much pain. Literally. [Laughs.]

Have you kept any of it up now that production has ended?

I’ve been keeping up the routine of health and fitness post-shooting, so that I don’t have to go back to that first level of fitness and rebuild it up again. It’s constantly eating healthy, taking care of the body.

What would your ideal spa treatment look like?

I am big on saunas and water treatments. Normally, if I go to the gym, recovery time is in the steam room. I love lavender, eucalyptus, anything for opening you up. I breathe, relax, and sit by myself. I’m a very active person so sweating is something I really enjoy. After that, I love massage therapy and I’m big on hot and cold baths. I love the feeling of jumping into something ice cold and feeling pins and needles. I’ve jumped into rivers that have been frozen over before because I really enjoy that feeling—as long as I can get somewhere warm afterwards.

What’s a fitness tip that you picked up on set?

Having a diet that fuels you. My choices in food changed after Jupiters Legacy. I started doing research to find out how my metabolism works, how I can get my gains in muscle-wise, and what type of physical activity I should be doing after a workout. I’m making sure that I take care of myself consistently. Putting the super suit on, it’s like having a second skin. It feels like if you were an anaconda that ate another anaconda, it’s very tight. It felt like a resistant band all over the body, so even getting into it took muscles. At the end of the day, having had a bunch of physical movement while in a resistance band all day, getting enough sleep, and recovering was really important. When I was doing that training, eight hours of sleep was not enough for me, it was more like 10 to 12. I learned to respect the whole spectrum of fitness—it’s not just tearing your muscles apart, it’s about how you rebuild them.

What’s the best beauty or wellness advice you’ve ever received, and who was it from?

I don’t know if anyone gave me this advice. I’m a bookworm, so I always want to figure out how things work, and I read a lot of articles on how to take care of yourself and your skin. I’ve been known to do a bit of a detox diet every now and then, but I’ve educated myself a lot on that topic. Actually, a naturopath gave me the best advice. I had gone to one before, and I had eczema at the time. It was really bad and I was going through a stressful period in life where my childhood eczema decided to come back. It was on my face, and that was difficult because I was modeling a lot. Your face is everything when you’re a model! I had a big transition during that period. The first thing the naturopath asked me was, “What are your relationships like? What’s your job? How are you feeling?” and to me it was weird that she asked questions about my personal life because I wanted to talk about my skin. But I realized that beauty and wellness starts from within. The happier you’re feeling inside, the better and healthier your relationships are, the more you find ways to love yourself and take care of yourself. I saw that beauty wasn’t something I could fix with a cream.

Is there a beauty trend you regret participating in?

Yes! I’m a dark-skinned Black woman and there was a period of my life where I was self-conscious about my skin color. I felt weird about being dark. When I was younger, I thought if I had lighter skin that somehow I would be more accepted by society. I don’t know where that came from, but I tried using a bleaching cream. It was the biggest mistake of my life. It completely discolored my skin, giving me one color on my face and a different one on my neck. But it came from a place of hurt. That is one of those things that I look back on and I see who I was, I regret the place that I was in. Now I appreciate my dark skin, and everything about it I love, but back then I was struggling with my self-esteem. Finding love and appreciation for myself has been a journey, and now I am at a place where I appreciate all of that. Every single blemish is just a part of me.

What’s the biggest skincare rule you abide by now?

After going through something like that, my routine is very natural and simple. Less is more. I am meticulous about my skincare routine. It doesn’t matter if I’ve gone out and had a couple drinks, I am notorious for being diligent with my routine. I make sure my products don’t have too many chemicals or things I don’t recognize in them. If I can eat it, I usually feel good about putting it on my face, especially because I’ve had eczema and I am paranoid to go back to that place. Exercise also helps, making sure I have blood and oxygen circulating under my skin.

Who is your beauty icon?

I worked with Angela Bassett on a movie called Jumping the Broom in 2011, and to me, she is the guru when it comes to skincare. That year, she took me to the spa with her. I’ve always looked to her and thought she was absolutely gorgeous, and she was on my vision board before I started getting bigger roles. When we got facials together, I asked her every single question. I had no filter! I asked her to tell me everything.

And what did she say?

She said she had not gone a week without getting a facial since she was in her teens. She said she made sure she takes care of her skin consistently no matter what. I told her that her skin was fantastic and she said, don’t skip out on that stuff because you’ll see the benefits later on in life. If she looks how she does in her 60s, I’m going to do what she does!