New Faces: How Alisha Wainwright Went From Scientist to Sci-Fi Star

Meet Michael B. Jordan’s Raising Dion co-star.

Courtesy of Scott Witter

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Just ask Alisha Wainwright, star of Raising Dion, Netflix’s latest addition to the superhero canon.

One might assume from the title that Dion is the main character in this family drama, and he is, but his mother Nicole (played by Wainwright) is also front and center. Years after her husband (played by the show’s executive producer Michael B. Jordan) dies in a storm chasing accident, Nicole is struggling to make ends meet when she discovers that her son (played by Ja’Siah Young) has superpowers.

The plot is straight out of a classic childhood fantasy, but Wainwright’s own youthful dreams were more rooted in nature than in the supernatural . She studied botany at the University of Florida and, after graduation, moved to Panama to conduct field research in preparation for a PhD. “Science is one of the toughest industries because everyone is vying for the same pot of money to fund their research,” Wainwright told W over the phone. “I had a very weird anthropological-botanical focus, and I couldn’t find anyone to give me the money to study it. I had to shift my focus to something a little broader, and I wasn’t as interested in it.” Uninspired by her work, she eventually found herself drawn to a very different passion: acting.

Wainwright relocated to the Bay Area and started to pick up small roles. After moving to Los Angeles, she eventually secured a spot as a series regular on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, a supernatural drama. She also got her hands on the script for Raising Dion, which is based on a series of comic books by Dennis Liu, and was taken with Nicole’s journey.

What’s unique about Raising Dion is that the narrative is told from the point of view of the superhero’s mother. “She’s scared for him because he’s having to not only be out there in the world as a young boy, but he also has these crazy superpowers so he could be a danger to himself and possibly others,” Wainwright said.

Nicole is grieving her husband, trying to keep up with Dion’s godfather, Pat (played by Jason Ritter), and also on the hunt for a new job. On top of that, she’s got a young kid who doesn’t fully know how to control his telekinesis. “I feel like there aren’t a lot of great positive shows that put a young mother at the forefront and still make her fun and complex,” Wainwright said. “I was raised by a single mother so I know that there’s a lot of drama in that life, and there is a lot to pull from.”

Alisha Wainwright photographed by Scott Witter.

Scott Witter

According to Wainwright, the fact that Raising Dion and Shadowhunters are both sci-fi series is pure coincidence. In fact, when she got the part for Raising Dion, Wainwright said she had been interested in exploring a more “grounded” project. “Shadowhunters is so fanciful and lives in a very different world, so I was really looking forward to Raising Dion being more real world, even though technically it is still genre,” she said. “Someone the other day asked me, how does it feel being a genre actress? I was like, wait what? I didn’t know I was being labeled as that.”

When she saw the way Jordan worked as a producer on Raising Dion, Wainwright mulled over some ideas for a television show she wants to create. She recently put together her first pilot pitch, and could easily see herself “moving towards producing, and bringing creative minds together to make something.”

“I am so impressed with Michael B. Jordan’s career because he was able to use his platform to produce projects that help so many different communities, racially and ethnically,” the actress said. “I want to emulate that by creating projects that are broad based, that can be diverse and create opportunities for voices that we’re not used to hearing on a regular basis.”

As for whether or not she plans to return to the sciences one day, Wainwright admitted that she has “an inquisitive mind so I never want to rule it out.”

Related: Michael B. Jordan Will Make You a Drink at His Rum Bar If You’re Lucky