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SYFY WIRE Stargirl

Why Stargirl's Neil Jackson, aka Icicle, prefers playing the villain

By Bryan Cairns
Neil Jackson aka Icicle in Stargirl

The CW and DC Universe's Stargirl finally has its villain.

Based on the comic book by writer Geoff Johns and illustrator Lee Moder, Stargirl follows Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), a high school sophomore who discovers the Cosmic Staff, an object of immense power. With that discovery comes more to contend with than just the town's mean girl click: She also learns that her stepfather, Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson), was a superhero sidekick, and that his Justice Society of America pals — along with her father, Starman (Joel McHale) — were killed by the properly named Injustice Society.

The worst of the bunch? Neil Jackson's Icicle, whose "ends justify the means" mentality soon places Courtney — who stands for everything that is good and righteous in her fictional world — in his crossfire.

Ahead of the series' third episode, SYFY WIRE spoke with Jackson about his initial concerns with the show's tone, the character's new design, and why villains are the most interesting characters.

Your resume is a who's who of bad guys, including baddies from Blade: The Series, Quantum of Solace, Push, and Sleepy Hollow. What speaks to you about these types of roles?

I just think they are [the] most interesting. The most boring character on the planet for me is Superman. He's such a goodie-goodie boy scout, and that's not who human beings are. We are all a little layered. We all have flashes of anger and menace. We live within this broad tapestry of emotions and feelings.

By and large, the heroes tend to not have the broader range of things. It's one of the things that I have always loved about the job that I get to do, is looking to try to understand and empathize with a character who maybe on the page doesn't seem like they are relatable. When Geoff called me and said he had this role he wanted me to do — because Geoff and I go back 15 years to Blade: The Series in Vancouver — he told me, "There's this role. It's in Stargirl." And I had never read any Stargirl. I knew Stargirl was his thing. I just always thought it went younger than my taste. He said, "There's this character named Jordan Mahkent. But he's also this amazing villain called Icicle." I said, "God. That sounds like a My Little Pony character."

We kept talking about Thanos from the Marvel Universe, this idea that somebody from the onset is evil, but when you understand their motives, you are like, "I can't fault what they are trying to do, but the way they are doing it might not be the way I'd approach it." That was an easy in for me with Icicle.

Neil Jackson in Stargirl

Early on, you had reservations about the show's tone …

In the beginning, me and Geoff talked about his touchstone for the tone, which was Back to the Future. He wanted to create this very family-friendly, four-quadrant wonderful adventure. That's exciting and I loved that. But you have this really fun high school adventure with Courtney and all of her friends. That's fun and kitsch and silly, in all the right ways. Then you have the side of it, which is the Jordan Mahkent side of it, where he is dealing with the death of his wife to cancer and he's murdering people. It was really dark on the page.

I kept saying, "I don't know how you are going to blend it." "Trust me, we've got it worked out. The tone is being worked out in the edit." Then he brought me in one day and he was like, "I don't have Episode 1 with me, but do you want to watch Episode 2?" I watched Episode 2, and five minutes in I was grinning ear to ear. I was like, "I get it now. I can see the way you married these two tones." They've done it so well.

Where does Icicle fit into the Injustice Society?

In this iteration of that, he is the leader of the Injustice Society. For this series, the Injustice Society has been formed solely to create, develop, and enact this plan that he has. And that plan is to make sure what happened to his wife never happens to anyone again.

So, essentially, anyone else in the Injustice Society is a cog within the wheel of the machinery of this plan that Jordan has cooked up. Everyone has a vital role to play within that, but they will have a unified goal that gets revealed later in the series.

What's the computer animation process when Icicle fully ices up?

I had never played a fully CG character before. When we were talking about it initially, I was really interested because we were discussing whether we do prosthetics. Do we do makeup? They said, "No, it needs to be something visually stunning."

Of course, this guy can turn his entire body to ice and then freeze everything around him. It could easily veer into kitsch and a bit silly. We initially talked about costume designs for him, that they pulled from the comics, where he has this Jack Frost image. He's almost like this fun, impish character. That, to me, didn't seem threatening. So, very early on, the idea of him being dressed in white or silver seemed kitsch. I wanted to get away from that and think about "If this guy is a businessman by day and has a lot of money, when he is suiting up for his Icicle/Injustice Society stuff, he's going to war in his mind."

I bounced back and forth with Geoff [on] him being in fatigues or some sort of military garb, that it's not him putting on this silver tracksuit and leaning into the character. He's leaning into his motivations, which is: He's a soldier enacting his plan.

They came up with a wonderful design. Then they showed me some pre-viz of how they wanted Icicle to look. The pre-viz images of how Icicle was looking, the initial concept drawings were gorgeous and made me realize I don't really have to do much.

It's one of the gifts of this role in terms of when he becomes Icicle. The practicality of it is when he turns into Icicle, I get dots on my face and a very unattractive, tight skullcap with dots on. The artists can then track my movements and put the computer-generated Icicle image on my face.

Seeing this guy made completely out of ice, slightly transparent, it meant he was incredibly threatening. We just said, "Well, why don't we make him still? He's one of the more powerful ones of the Injustice Society, so why don't we make him still and lean into the fact that he is cold. His movements are slow. He's very calculating."