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Batwoman Javicia Leslie discusses the fine line of vengeance in the season premiere
In the second season premiere of Batwoman, “What Happened to Kate Kane?,” after months of behind-the-scenes drama regarding actress Ruby Rose stepping away from the role and series, audiences finally find out how the series is addressing the transfer of the cowl from Kane to actress Javicia Leslie’s character, Ryan Wilder.
**SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers for the Season 2 premiere of Batwoman below!**
As we see in the premiere, that transference is certainly not a formal process, with the dramatic event of Kane’s plane crash making the suit available to Ryan when she just happens to be in the area of the wreckage. Taking the suit, the episode reveals not only Ryan’s prowess while wearing it, but it also offers a different heroine in juxtaposition to Kane. Yes, they both are out women, but that’s where the similarities end.
Wilder lives in her van and is trying to get on her feet after being arrested and put on parole, while also mourning the murder of her mother. Her acquisition of the suit represents the start of a journey of self-discovery and worthiness that is altogether new to the series and its representation of Gotham’s streets.
SYFY WIRE recently got on the phone with Leslie to discuss the revelations that come out about Ryan Wilder in the season premiere, and how the actress is feeling about taking on the iconic role (which is all the more iconic since its the only LGBTQ lead on any broadcast series right now).
When the opportunity to audition for Batwoman came up, was it the kind of role you were interested in pursuing?
I had at the time, just finished God Friended Me. And honestly, I had been really praying for an opportunity to do something that was a lead role. Every single morning, I woke up and I said my affirmations about being the number one on a show. And then when this came around, and I auditioned and I got it, I kind of knew what the responsibility was going to be.
Is there much of Javicia woven into Ryan’s character?
[Executive producer] Caroline (Dries) is somewhat of an investigator. She pays really close attention to every little thing. I think she's placing these beautiful little nuggets of my life in this character to give her another layer to play with. Like I'm obsessed with plants and that's a huge part of Ryan's story. She has this plant that her ex-girlfriend gave to her that she's kept the last five years. She's protected this plant, and the plant becomes a part of her and her story.
And then, I don't eat meat and dairy. I'm a vegan and we are playing Ryan as a vegan. And that also just helps me in a series when I have to eat. But those are two little things that I think that she may have placed into the story because of me. I'm not sure actually and I never asked, but they weren't in the story in the beginning and then after she got to know me a bit, they were in the stories. But then also, the character description kind of was already me. I'm slightly goofy. I really want to do well and fight for what's right. Meaning, I struggle with the idea of fighting for what's right, when the people that are in charge are wrong. And that's the same with Ryan.
How does Ryan being the lead character open up Gotham to new stories?
Anytime a new character in Gotham City is introduced, we start to pull back layers, and you start to learn more about Gotham City itself. Maybe you start to learn about their people and the kids that are in the system, in foster care. Or maybe you learn about people that can't keep jobs so they have to go through their parole officer.
Ryan’s sexual orientation is very subtly introduced in the premiere, and it’s a far cry from how Kate’s story was presented. Talk about how you and Caroline want to tackle that aspect of your character.
When Caroline and I talked, she was telling me how she wanted to play Ryan. She said to me that the first season of Batwoman really was her story. About what it meant to come out and repair everything like that. She said that was a very personal situation, but it's already been done and I don't need to do that again. And so, Ryan is kinda like me, Javicia. I didn't have to have a coming out. With some people's lives, they have to because of their family and who they surround themselves with that may not be as supportive. Luckily, I didn't have that. And I think that Ryan plays more like how I play, which is when you pay attention, there are things you may notice, but there's nothing that I feel needs to be constantly announced. And so I think that that's the difference between Ryan, and Sophie (Meagan Tandy) and Kate, which were our other lesbians on the show. Their life made them have to announce it and Ryan has always been very accepted by her mom, by everyone around her, so that's never something she had to defend.
What was the first scene you shot in the premiere?
My first scene was by myself. There weren't any co-stars, so it took a lot of imagination. It might have been the van scene. And then from there, the wreckage, so a lot of what I'm playing on, we hadn't even shot yet. There's a scene where in the wreckage it keeps going back from me saving [the homeless man] to trying to save my mom. But we hadn't shot that yet, so it had to be imagination. And that was cool. I had done the work before we started, so we were able to just go into that.
What was your first scene with the existing cast and how did it go?
When I finally got to work with people, my first actors were Camrus [Johnson] and Nicole [Kang]. It's a scene in the tunnels. I watched it. I think it plays really well because our energy is very different. We haven't melted together yet. That's what ends up happening when you're with a cast for a while, you start bouncing off each other. Energy starts to meld together and the flow starts to become very seamless. But when you're bringing on a new character, you want there to be friction. And I do feel that friction when I watch that firsthand.
We find out that Ryan holds the blame for her mom’s murder, which is why she doesn’t feel worthy to wear the suit. How does that define how she sees herself and how she’ll use the suit?
I think Ryan has gotten to a point where she likes herself, but in the beginning, she's still punishing herself. For a person that's trained in as much martial arts as she's trained in, for a person that has been through what she's been through, she should have been able to defend her mother. And to be there and watch her mother die in front of her, I think that she truly takes it very hard and very personal. And so with that, it's really her being very angry with herself and not feeling worthy. But every single time she saves someone, it's like a pump of adrenaline. It's like a dopamine shock. And it shows her like, "Okay, wait. Mom, I didn't help you. But I might be able to help other people." Now saving other people is a way of saving her mom all these different times.
For a while, she feels like she's making up for her mistake. But there's a battle because Alice [Rachel Skarsten] killed her mom. There's always a struggle of whether or not I really want to be a superhero. Or rather, do I really want to seek revenge for my mother's death? And I think when you're watching someone become something, it becomes a very personal story for yourself. You attach yourself to that journey.
Does she have to prove anything to the Bat Team and Gotham?
I don't think her story is to try to prove to the world anything. I think she's very confident in her ability...maybe a little overly confident in her abilities. And so her real journey is trying to find that balance.
Now months into shooting, how is the role feeling on your shoulders?
I'm doing everything that I've always dreamed of being able to do. I'm telling an amazing story. We get to go places emotionally, whether it be really fun conversations that will make you laugh, or heartbreaking scenes that will make you cry. I get to do my own stunts. And this is just so cool, and so much fun.
As the number one [on the call sheet], it's a lot of work. It's a lot of showing up. But I do really feel like this was my story. This is where I'm supposed to be. And this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm very excited to be a part of it. I'm very excited to play it. And I love that there's such an amazing crew and cast to really support this story.
New episodes of Batwoman are available for free streaming on the The CW app and CWtv.com.