After Ruby Rose leaves “Batwoman”, Javicia Leslie dresses up

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Javicia Leslie is a plant person.
It’s just one of the things she has in common with Ryan Wilder, the new main character she plays in The CW’s “Batwoman”, who takes over as Gotham’s capped vigilante in the second. The show’s season, which premieres Jan. 17.

And because she’s a plant person, she had an important question about Ryan’s backstory when she took on the role of “Batwoman”: Who looked after Ryan’s factory while she was gone?

“Ryan got her factory when she was technically an older teenager, a young adult,” Leslie said on a video call in late December. “But then I go to jail for 18 months. Where was my plant? It mattered to me.

Although it’s never touched on in the series, “it’s important because a plant is so important to me,” she says, “obviously whoever I had to take is an important person for me. me.

That’s a detail that even showrunner Caroline Dries had overlooked – but Leslie, 33, explains that as an actor, “you want to know why you do what you do. You don’t just want to do it.

These are the types of details that Leslie focuses on when she does the job of inhabiting her character’s world. It is only in the moments when she walks away that she remembers the historical nature of her new role.

Javicia Leslie comme Ryan Wilder / Batwoman.
(The CW)

Leslie was announced as the new “Batwoman” in July after the show’s original star Ruby Rose left the show after one season. The series had already debuted as the first superhero series with a lesbian lead character when it premiered in 2019. Leslie’s casting makes her the first black actress to portray Batwoman in a live-action production.

“I constantly remember what this means to so many people and how it really has nothing to do with me and everything to do with what it means to put on this costume,” Leslie says. “The first time I put on the costume, I immediately felt a huge responsibility to save the world. Me, Javicia. Not even me as Ryan.

And she understands that by putting on the costume, “someone will be touched and someone will feel represented and someone will feel more powerful. ”

Like Kate Kane, the show’s original Batwoman, Leslie’s character is a lesbian, but that’s where most of their similarities end. When Ryan is introduced, she lives in her van with her factory. She has a criminal record, which means that job prospects are slim. In many ways, Ryan is the opposite of Kate.

For Dries, who had to create a story arc that wouldn’t alienate fans for the show’s second season, Leslie’s casting “looked like kismet.”

“Javicia has entered [to her audition] … And she just hit every note like I had it in my head, ”Dries says. “She hit the rhythms of comedy, she hit the emotional scenes, she had swagger, she had vulnerability, she had fun. I wanted to inject a lot of fun into this character, because I wanted to create someone who was a little more ambitious.

It’s easy to see how Leslie captured the attention of Dries and casting director David Rapaport – even on a video call, she’s engaging, thoughtful, and funny.

Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter of Berlanti Productions, executive producers of “Batwoman”, already knew Leslie from her work on their CBS show “God Friended Me”. Leslie’s has also played roles in “MacGyver” and “The Family Business” and in the 2019 romantic comedy “Always a Bridesmaid”.

Javicia Leslie is delighted to put herself in the shoes of superheroes for the “Batwoman” of the CW.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Although she had always been interested in theater and the arts, these interests were seen as a hobby and not a viable career. For her mother, who Leslie describes as very supportive and her real-life hero, it was important that her daughter pursued something that could pay the bills more reliably. So after graduating from Hampton University, Leslie found a job for the government in Washington, DC.

“All the time,” Leslie said, “all I could think of was, ‘It’s not me.’ … This is not what I wanted to do. I’m not the 9 to 5 type. I feel suffocated. I feel small.

So after her two-year contract at her job, she packed her bags and left DC in January 2012. A few months later, she was in Los Angeles.

Leslie cites the black characters in the Saturday morning cartoons as some of the first she could relate to on television. She also mentions Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in the 1960s “Batman” series and Halle Berry as Storm in the “X-Men” film series as inspiration.

“That’s when I knew we could be in this world and be beautiful and powerful and impactful,” Leslie says, “and also become the icon of this character.”

As she grew up watching Michael Keaton’s “Batman” movies, Leslie says Christian Bale’s portrayal of the character was more influential for her. She credits Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” as one of the reasons.

“With Christian Bale, I was older, so I was able to understand theater and what it meant to become these characters,” she says.

Leslie was drawn to Ryan from “Batwoman”, a character created for the show, because of her flaws, which made her “very human.”

“I think there’s almost this idea that superheroes are meant to be perfect,” Leslie says. “They all have something in their past that they struggle with, but you see them as those shining lights. Ryan, she’s been more touched by the things that have happened in her life, so she carries that weight, and I think that’s something that I connected with her.

Dries says she considered options like redesigning Kate Kane or finding an existing DC character who could transition into the role of Batwoman before choosing to move forward with an original character.

“I think some TV shows can get away with it [recasting], but for us it was a bit wonky, ”says Dries. “So I decided, let’s continue with the storyline, but let’s introduce this new character who takes on the role of Batwoman, and keep Kate Kane’s legacy on the show and create a mystery around where she’s been and look into the challenge.

Javicia Leslie as Ryan holding a diary

Ryan’s factory is important to her.
(The CW)

It was after Leslie was cast that some elements of the character’s backstory were changed. For example, early descriptions of the character mentioned Ryan’s past as a drug dealer.

“Once we picked Javicia, I wanted to restructure some things from her past to make sure we were telling a really authentic and positive story,” Dries says. “Putting something good in there that doesn’t look trope-y or like something we’ve seen before. ”

Plus, launching a new Batwoman meant opportunities to pursue storylines that didn’t work on a show about Kate Kane, like a critical look at the Crows, the private security firm run by Kate’s father in order to protect Gotham at their own. way.

“The Crows are basically this growing fascist organization that has no responsibility in the city,” Dries says. “They were built for the rich and don’t care about the poor. While we know some of the Ravens who are good people, the institution as a whole is flawed. And I struggled to get Kate to have a strong take on it because it wasn’t really her drama.

Ryan, on the other hand, has a history with the Crows, so she can take a critical stance. Dries even describes the Crows as one of Ryan’s enemies this season.

Leslie enjoys the way the show takes nuance in real-life issues while still being a fun superhero show.

“I love the way our show deals with what’s going on in society,” Leslie says. “You don’t have to feel like it’s pushing your throat, but you know it’s the reality we live in.”

According to Dries, Ryan’s journey this season will be to discover that she’s not just a lost girl in the system.

“Ryan Wilder, the person, the civilian, she’s actually the hero,” Dries says. “She doesn’t have to wear a costume to be special.”

But the symbolic power of the costume is still important, and Leslie recognizes it as the key to opening more doors for representation in the future.

“Now that Ryan is becoming Batwoman, I feel like it opens up the possibility of what it really means to be Batwoman and that it doesn’t matter who is in the costume,” Leslie says. “Anyone can don this costume and become a hero.

“I just know this is just the start,” she continues. “I can only imagine where the entertainment will go when it comes to making sure the superheroes represent everyone. I just can’t wait to see what other types of superheroes we’re going to get from the start of this show and other shows like this.



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