Amanda McArthur of Sweety High writes…
Actress Javicia Leslie is preparing to break a lot of ground as the new title character in The CW’s Batwoman, and we’ve been counting down the minutes to the premiere on Jan. 17.
She’ll make her debut in an episode titled “Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?” In addition to hopefully giving us some answers, the episode will also introduce Javicia’s new character Ryan Wilder, who’ll be next to take on the mantle of Batwoman. Not only will Javicia be the first Black woman to become Batwoman, but Ryan’s going to be unlike any other Batwoman to come before her in a number of critical ways. We got the chance to ask Javicia all about it in a recent interview.
Sweety High: Have you always been a fan of DC and Batman?
Javicia Leslie: I’m a huge, huge, huge Batman fan. I grew up watching Batman. I’m like every other kid. When it comes to superheroes, the Batman franchise is at the very top. I come from watching every single Batman there was, from the first to the last, and being really into the villains. I actually think the villains are the best part of the Batman franchise. They’re always so epic and colorful. To be able to be a part of this is just a blessing. I’m so excited.
SH: Can you tell us anything about how Ryan Wilder will be different from Kate Kane?
JL: Ryan, for one, is a different human being altogether. She’s her own person. Batwoman and Batman normally come from very prestigious families with money, but Ryan comes from not having any of that. She grows up in the foster care system. She’s poor and doesn’t have anything or anyone. Her mom died in childbirth. She’s just moving from foster home to foster home, and when she’s in her early teens, she finally meets someone who adopts her who she calls her mother. She starts to live a beautiful happy life, but then her mother is abruptly killed in front of her.
That changes her entire life. She ends up hanging out in the wrong crowd, and going to jail, doing 18 months for a crime she didn’t commit. But no one cares. No one cares that she says she didn’t do it, that the drugs weren’t hers. So when she comes out of jail, she then has to figure out a way to get on her feet, but no one wants to hire someone who’s done time. Ryan’s version of Batwoman has a completely different history from anyone else who’s worn the suit.
SH: That character really has a lot of history to deal with. How do you get into the mindset of that kind of character?
JL: You really just work on the world. You take time. And I had about two months to just sit in the world of the history of Ryan and build her life. I found all the blanks and used all the ingredients from the script and the story. Whenever I had any questions I could call [showrunner] Caroline Dries and fill in those blanks. Other than that, I would put myself in that life and just sit for hours and hours imagining every single circumstance, every single time I had to be moved from a different foster home, every time I felt alone. I had to sit in the world of watching my mom die in front of me. Doing that prepared me and really supported me when playing the role of Ryan.
SH: What are the biggest similarities and differences between you and Ryan?
JL: Like me, I think that trying to all of a sudden be smooth about things is difficult for her. I’m sometimes a bull in a china shop, and so is Ryan. I can completely relate to being able to get her bearings at the beginning of this whole journey. When I first put the suit on, I didn’t even know where to put my hands. How does a superhero stand? How does a superhero walk? How does a superhero act? Really, I’m learning to be a superhero while Ryan is, and I think that’s a huge part of our journey together.
SH: What aspects of who you are do you think would make you a good Batwoman in real life?
JL: Just the fact that I’m a normal person who’s been put into the suit. Now, I represent being a hero, and it’s really the same thing that Ryan is going through. She was just this normal person who stumbled across the suit, and now she has to make sure that she represents the hero that the city needs.
It’s the same for me. When the cameras stop rolling, and I walk down the street, I’m still Batwoman to people, so I have to constantly make sure I represent what a hero means to me. It’s more than just acting. It’s making sure I stand up for what’s right, and that I stand up and fight for people who don’t have voices. I stay pretty silent so that when I do talk it’s about the things I care about, and it’s about issues that I really fight for. It’s important to make sure you use your voice for those who don’t have voices. It’s a tricky world we’re living in right now, and all we can do is really lean on integrity—and we’re really lacking that right now.
SH: What’s been the most exciting thing about taking on this new role? What’s the most challenging thing?
JL: The most exciting thing is that I’m a superhero! Come on, now. That’s the most exciting thing—that I am Batwoman. What could be more exciting than that? As far as challenges, I feel like making sure I leave anything on the table and that I have no regrets. If I do that, I’ll feel fulfilled no matter what. If I walk away knowing that every single day, when we call cut and wrap for the night, that I have exhausted every possibility, I am very much satisfied. I wouldn’t call that a challenge, but I feel that is my personal challenge every day.
SH: What does it mean to you to be the first Black Batwoman, and what mark do you hope to leave on the franchise?
JL: I really just want to continue to show that anybody can be a hero, that there’s no color to heroism. I hope that kids can have someone on screen that looks like them. I think that’s important. Batwoman was already breaking down boundaries by having her be a queer woman. I love and admire that they already broke down that boundary, and now that they have a Batwoman who’s queer and a woman of color, it’s the definition of representation in an underrepresented industry.
SH: Is there anything you always wish someone would ask you?
JL: I’m super excited for the premiere on Jan. 17, and I also have my directorial debut coming out Feb. 14. It will be streaming, and the trailer will be appearing on all of my socials shortly. It’s a short film called Black Excellence, which I am directing and I’m very excited about it, as well as the second half of this season we’ll be shooting!