National Treasure was always about the puzzle, above all things. And in Disney+’s National Treasure: Edge of History series, which just premiered with two episodes, there’s a new puzzle to be solved, and a new person doing the solving. Lisette Olivera plays Jess Valenzuela, and Remezcla had a chance to talk to her about taking inspiration from the past while crafting a show that stands on its own two legs.
It’s impossible to talk about National Treasure as a franchise without mentioning Nicolas Cage’s Benjamin Franklin Gates, something Olivera acknowledged – while pointing out these are different characters, with different dynamics. “I think for Ben and Jess, they’re similar in the sense that, yes, they can solve puzzles really well. They have this ingenious brain that functions differently than the rest of the human race. But I think for her, her true superpower is the ability to balance her brain and her heart.”
And though there’s a mystery to be solved, for Jess, in the end, everything comes down to wanting to know “who she is,” which is what ultimately makes her decide this is a puzzle she can solve. After all, this mystery starts with a clue to a centuries-old treasure that is connected to Jess’s long-dead father – but in the process, can Jess find history’s greatest lost treasure as well as the truth about her family’s past?
That’s a question for the show to answer, but like in the movie, Jess isn’t alone in the journey. She’s got her best friend Tasha, played by Zuri Reed. For Olivera, one of her favorite compliments is people assuming she and Reed have been friends forever – because that means they’re doing their job right. “Both characters are so strong and intelligent, brilliant, bright, and have a lot of grace to them. And I think the world needs to see that. Little girls need to see that. And I’m really proud of what we did,” Olivera shared, speaking to the power of having two WOC headlining a show like this one.
Jess, in particular, is a DREAMer, but as the show makes clear, that’s not all she is. “The world wants to put us in these boxes, and I think what’s special about Jess is that she surprises everybody every single time. And I think she kind of enjoys getting to prove herself right and other people who have doubted her wrong.”
And though Olivera confessed, she, like us, would have probably remained stuck in that escape room from the beginning of the first episode for a lot longer than Jess was. “If it was Lisette, then we would have been inmates, because I would not have been able to escape at all.” The thing about Jess that stands out isn’t just that she takes control, or that she is, without a doubt, the smartest person in that room, or basically any room, but that she “tends not to wait on anyone, but she also doesn’t forget about anybody.”
That’s what drew Olivera, and us, to the character. “She has a brilliant heart, and she’s always thinking about her community. She’s also thinking about how she’s she could help further everybody in the process.”
This means that when she finally solves the puzzle – and we have every confidence that she will – that won’t be the end of her story. It will only be the beginning.
The first two episodes of National Treasure: Edge of History are now available to stream on Disney+, with new episodes released weekly.