Over the course of five-and-a-half seasons, The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow has found more than a few weird ways to save the world — but the latest is a true mic-drop. Literally.
This Sunday’s new episode, “The Ex-Factor,” finds Zari Tarazi (played by Tala Ashe) returning to her old life in the 2040s to jump into a hit singing competition to take on a world-conquering alien. The winner of the competition? They get to rule the planet Earth.
Yeah, no pressure.
But, it wasn’t the world-saving stakes that got to Ashe, she tells SYFY WIRE in an exclusive interview. It was more the pressure of actually having to channel her inner pop-star on stage, complete with dance moves, back-up dancers, effects and a couple of should-be hit singles.
“It was a challenge, but ultimately I had a lot of fun, and a lot of support especially from the choreographer who is amazing," Ashe says. "My ceiling was not super-duper high [laughs], but I felt I did the best I could.
The episode also found Zari returning to the old life she left behind in the future, with her business empire, superficial friends and celebrity image unattended while she’s been ripping around the time stream saving the world with the Legends these past few months.
“She knows how to play that game really, really well," Ashe says. "To get what she needs by playing that role. It’s what she needs in order to solve the mission and deal with the people [she] needs to deal with, who all know her to be the person they knew her to be. I think there’s really a push, pull in terms of who she’s evolving to be, and who she was.”
Zari’s burgeoning relationship with Constantine (Matt Ryan) also gets the spotlight this week, as he takes on an undercover rocker persona with Zari as part of her quest to claim Da Throne. The audience loves a good romance, right? But the pressure of putting their relationship in the spotlight also burns a bit, and Ashe says there will be plenty of drama to come as the duo finally makes their fling official.
“I don’t think actually even Matt and I fully understand why Zari and John like each other, but there is an attraction there, and a lot of contentiousness that they both like,” she explains. “Once they make it official they really struggle with being in a relationship because of who they both are, and yet they really care about each other. As the season goes on, and the stakes become higher and the circumstances — trying to be as vague as I can, here [Laughs.] — circumstances of the season sort of happen to them, it really challenges them and pushes them to a really vulnerable, new space.”
"IT'S A CRAZY ONE"
Looking ahead to the rest of Season 6, Ashe says the sci-fi aspect of having the team face off with aliens this year really served as a fresh jumping-off point for some new types of stories they haven’t been able to tell before. Of course, this is still Legends of Tomorrow, so there will be plenty of weirdness, movie homages, crossovers (including Arrow’s David Ramsey, who will be playing a mystery character) to come.
“In spite of all the COVID challenges we had this year, I think our writers did a really great job of stepping into this B-movie, alien genre to see how that works. It’s still very Legends, but it’s stepping into a different vein of Legends,” she says. “There are some really fun riffs on films you’ve seen before, and characters you’ve seen before. We have quite a few really talented and fun guest stars — at least one of whom will be very familiar to people in the Arrowverse — it’s going to be a fun season. It’s a crazy one.”
Ashe was a bit skeptical of the throwback effects — “a lot of our aliens were men in rubber suits,” she admits — but by the end of it they were able to create some wild visuals and tap into some practical techniques unlike anything that has ever really been on TV lately.
“As often happens, our creators and writers and [showrunner] Phil [Klemmer] had a vision I couldn’t quite see,” she says. “I think what’s really cool is they lean into the B-movie alien thing, and kind of hit a really fun genre that I haven’t seen on TV yet. So I’m excited for people to see that, and hopefully kind of let that wash over them. It really ends up working and I was pleasantly surprised seeing the finished product.”
We’ll also get to see more of Zari’s relationship with her brother Behrad (Shayan Sobhian) evolve this season, further exploring a sibling dynamic we’ve never really gotten to see play out on the Waverider.
“You know there’s always the kind of sibling bickering that goes on between them, but I think both kind of challenge each other in an interesting way,” Ashe says. “What we’re going to see this season is both of them are going to kind of meddle in each other’s lives in ways that are not at first welcome. So there’s some interesting stuff that comes out of that.”
Shooting wrapped on Season 6 just this past Saturday. Ashe says she aims to enjoy the next month or so off, before production on Season 7 kicks off in July.
REPRESENTATION AND ZARI'S EVOLUTION
When Ashe joined the cast of Legends of Tomorrow back in 2017, it marked the first time a Muslim-American superhero had ever shown up in a live-action show or movie. Things have changed a bit since then, with Marvel Studios lining up a Ms. Marvel series on Disney+ to bring its own Muslim-American hero, Kamala Khan, to the small screen. Though Ashe is happy Legends was able to get there first, she’s ecstatic to have more representation on the way.
“It means everything. If you don’t see it, you can’t be it. But there’s so much further to go. I welcome as much representation, obviously for Muslim Americans, but also Middle Eastern Americans,” she says. “That also kind of lessens the weight on everyone’s shoulders in a way. In the sense a white actor isn’t feeling the weight of all white people on their shoulders. The experience of being a more marginalized character, being in the minority, you often do feel that kind of weight. I very much do welcome more and more stories.”
As fans are well aware, the character of Zari went through a major transformation two seasons ago, when the “original” version of the character was erased from the timeline and replaced with a new version — nicknamed Zari 2.0 — who had lived a radically different life in a different future (not to mention a future where her brother Behrad is still alive and had joined the Legends).
Ashe says it’s been a unique challenge to play two different versions of the same character, though the deeper she digs into them, she’s finding they have more in common than she expected.
“I loved Zari 1.0 so much. It was so strange to go to this different version of her that felt very different, even for me as Tala,” she explains. “That’s kind of been my journey this season. I always said they have the same soul, the same heart. This year I got to experience that. It feels closer to Zari 1.0, even though I’m playing Zari 2.0.”
New episodes of Legends of Tomorrow air on Sundays on The CW. The episode “The Ex-Factor” airs this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern.