Nicole Maines forever changed the television landscape when she introduced the first transgender superhero, Nia Nal, aka Dreamer, in the fourth season of Supergirl. An actress and activist, who also happens to be transgender, Maines sued her school district after being refused access to the girl’s bathroom at her school. That strong sense of right and wrong continues to shine brightly in Nia.
In the episode "Fallout," Nia bravely stood up to bigots harassing Brainy. She then encouraged James to pen a piece on the rising anti-alien sentiments in the city. And, in this Sunday's episode, "Bunker Hill," Nia discovers what it means to be the ancestor of The Legion of Superheroes’ Dream Girl, when she experiences a prophetic dream involving Agent Liberty.
On Supergirl’s bar set in Vancouver, Maines spoke to the press about the responsibility of being the first transgender hero on television, Nia’s backstory, suiting up in costume and her own personal connection to Nia’s journey.
In the recent episode, Call to Action, Nia talked about her narcolepsy and lied to everyone around her. Can you talk a little bit about what we'll see down the line, her struggles with sleeping at work and what that means?
After that episode, you see her get caught up in her lie and really have to explain what's going on. Her powers and her narcolepsy is another thing that Kara is really a mentor for her for. And, so, she helps her through that and helps her try to come to terms in a way with her powers. And then in future episodes, I know they just announced the casting of Nia's family and so we're going to see more of Nia's origin story — where her powers come from, the lineage behind that.
How amazing is it to spend most of your scenes just taking a nap on your desk?
It's pretty great. It's pretty fantastic. They always ask second team if they want to come in, and I'm like “I'm great where I am. I'll just take a nap. You let me know when the cameras are set up and where you want me to go. I'll just be here napping.” It's pretty great.
How's the relationship evolved between Nia and Brainy?
I'm really liking it too. They're so fun and they're both so kind of oblivious to each other. One more so than the other. So that relationship is really going to evolve alongside Nia's backstory. Brainy is with Kara and Nia, trying to shape Nia's coming to terms with her powers. He really helps Kara and really helps Nia with that dynamic. And as those powers are kind of surfacing and as they're explained, Brainy is a big part of that. And, so, the journey to Nia becoming Dreamer is one with Kara and Brainy.
And what's it like flirting with someone who gives you nothing back?
Impossible! Every day we do one of those scenes, I'm going home feeling like I did absolutely terrible. Because it's like, I feel like talking to a wall was easier than trying to flirt with Brainy. Because it feels like Brainy's fighting back. Brainy is like pushing back — pushing against you — and you're like, “I have exactly nothing to work with.”
Are you excited for one day getting to put on your super-suit?
I'm so excited. I'm trying to conduct myself on set in a professional manner. And kind of be like “Pfft, I'm not completely obsessed with the super-suit.” But it's all I think about. Every morning I wake up and think, 'I get a super-suit.” So, I'm really really excited. It's going to be gorgeous! I have the best super-suit. I do.
So, they've already let you know what it looks like?
Yeah. It's insane.
Does this mean you've actually tried it on?
What was it like putting it on for the first time?
Constricting. Tight. For the first time, it was for a fitting. And, so, you know they have the model and they have your sizes, but when you first put it on in person, they kind of realize, “OK, this needs to go up, this needs to be hemmed.” Or, “Well, you can't get your arm through this.” So constricting…
At what point did they tell you that your character was going to turn out to be Dreamer?
From the jump. I knew from the jump in the audition. They had me do a kind of Dreamer superhero scene, because conducting yourself as a superhero is very different from conducting yourself as a narcoleptic office worker. So, shoulders back rather than hunched over.
How do her powers actually manifest?
For Nia, it starts out with just dreaming and falling asleep at work. But as they kind of develop, we start to see more quick manifestations and more instantaneous stuff. And they go into that further in the next few episodes. But, as I said, Brainy and Kara really help her learn more about her powers. Then, with her family, you really really see where the powers come from, how the powers work, how you can interpret them and how they have really shaped her family's dynamic.
In terms of Nia's relationship with her family, are they supportive or not?
It's a really supportive one. I don't want to say too much because the whole thing will be explored and you'll really get your fingers into her backstory in this episode that we're filming now. She comes from a place and it's not just her family, the place where she grew up is very, very supportive and open-minded. And, so, when you do see it, it really makes sense. I can see kind of, “This is where Nia's whole thing, this is where her whole life comes from.” And her relationship with her family is, like you said, very supportive. But it's interesting to see how the powers play into that.
How does the mentorship relationship with Kara change when it's Supergirl instead of Kara and she's mentoring Dreamer?
I think it becomes much less of Kara Season 1/Cat Grant and it becomes a lot more friends and sisterly energy. I saw someone said Alex has two Karas to look after and I think that is absolutely correct.
Nia identifies with the Children of Liberty’s persecution of aliens. Will we see her continue to champion that cause and identity with that struggle?
Absolutely. I think Nia has a really unique take on this issue of looking through this Children of Liberty, hateful rhetoric epidemic through a trans-specific lens. I think it's really valuable to be using her experience as a member of a marginalized community to help lift up and support another marginalized community. And I think the same goes for Kara and Brainy as aliens, and then James Olsen as a black man in a position of power. Or Lena in a position of power as a woman. So, I think all of us have a unique lens to kind of bring to it and I really hope that we continue to come together.
In what ways will Nia's relationship with James change now that he's going down that Children of Liberty path?
We'll have to wait and find out. I think there will be a shift, especially when Nia becomes Dreamer. Because, of course, she didn't want James to go out as Guardian again, just as a thing for his own safety, because she didn't want something bad to happen to him. You did see it when he got tied up with the Children of Liberty and she handed him the article. It was less about, “James why didn't you listen to me?” It was more, “God, I hate it when I'm right.” And, so, I think it's more going to be, “How can I prevent this? How can I stop bad things happening to people that I care about?” She was less mad at him, and more mad at herself, I think.
With your background in activism, what has it been like this season with how relevant the show is?
I feel really at home. I feel at home doing it because with my activism, I've been really fortunate to continue... My acting and activism go hand-in-hand and they really support one another. And, so, to be able to bring attention to the current political climate and current issues facing immigration or trans folks, I fell really really lucky to be able to bring my experience with activism into my acting. Like I said, I don't have a ton of experience acting, so it's good to have something I am familiar with to kind of work with.
How surprised were you to see how much the show shone a spotlight on Nia coming out to James? And will we see more of that?
Absolutely. Nia's transness is a big part of her identity. I think for all trans people, it's not our only defining feature, but it is a defining feature. So, it is a big part of...I know who I am and who is Nia is and so it would be inappropriate to completely ignore that. But like I said, it's not the only part of her identity. So not every episode or every Nia storyline is focusing on her transness, which I like. But we do have episodes coming up where her transness plays a big part. And her transness plays a really big part in her powers and how her powers kind of manifest and her relationship with her family. I'm really excited for folks to get to see that. Because now we have kind of her superheroism directly tie into her transness. So I think that will be cool. A cool little thing.
What’s been the reaction to your character on social media?
That's been crazy. Growing up, I was from kind of nowhere, Maine. And, so, now having thousands of people reaching out to me via social media and thousands of people paying attention to what I say, that's really weird. That's a weird thing to get used to. But it's been so amazing seeing the outpouring of love and support, not only for me, but for Nia as well. Just the way that people have been so quick to embrace her and me as a part of the Supergirl family, and as a part of the cast, has been really assuring for me. It's hard being the new kid at school. So, it's been really comforting to see how ready people were for Nia. And how happy people were to see her storyline unfold.
As for the response from young folks, and especially young trans folks who are seeing themselves as superheroes for the first time, that has been so heartwarming. It makes me really happy to see that and to be able to go on social media and see how people are so validated and relieved and excited to have a superhero like them. Just this morning, I saw a trans man's tweet about his kids and how excited his kids were to have a trans superhero, someone who looks like their dad. It's really good, it makes me really happy. I have a hard time finding the words for it because it's just good.
This role will be a big part of the rest of your life. Did you think about that when you took this on?
Absolutely and I'm kind of really excited for it, because I feel like for everybody, whether or not you're an actor, I feel like everybody's kind like “If I can be a superhero, I can kind of be everything.” Everybody loves superheroes, and so to be associated with a superhero forever is just kind of like, that's where the goalposts are. That's kind of, “Bam, you're immortalized!'” It's still very weird and I'm still really getting used to the “I'm a superhero thing,” but it's been really great so far.