For EW's first-ever Heroes Issue, stars open up about their own personal heroes
With Comic-Con going virtual this year, EW is giving (cos)play to our favorite pop culture superheroes and the people who inspire them in real life.
AIDAN GALLAGHER (The Umbrella Academy)
"Greta Thunberg is a hero of mine for what she represents. A lot of people my age feel quite powerless in their ability to change the world. Greta symbolizes the power that my generation holds in being able to get the world’s attention, shape public opinion, and inspire each other to take action.”
ALEX WINTER (Bill & Ted Face the Music)
“I love characters through history that have really tried to meet challenges of life and maintain their humanity and their compassion. One of my heroes is Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. He survived a concentration camp and maintained this incredible non-guilt-throwing attitude even through that experience. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.”
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH (The Courier)
“New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern [who has garnered acclaim for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic]. She would never characterize herself as a hero, but she’s led with clarity and strength, and great humanity and humor. A lot of male leaders could take a leaf from her book.”
CHARLIZE THERON (The Old Guard)
“Someone who’s been so inspirational and influential in my life is [Universal Pictures chairman] Donna Langley. She was the first exec that believed in me and brought me on to big movies. There was never a question about whether I was going to get paid less, and if that came up, she handled all of that. She, as a woman, wanted to support other women out there, so she created spaces for me to come and play with the big boys.”
DOMINIQUE FISHBACK (Project Power)
"Meryl Streep. I use her as a guiding light. In school, when all of my friends were trying to get agents, I laid back. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to perfect my craft, because when I get in a room, I want to always be able to deliver.’ Like with Meryl Streep, even if somebody’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t like that choice of movie,’ nobody can say, ‘She can’t act.’ I wanted that to be the truth for me. She transforms in everything she does.”
ELLEN PAGE (The Umbrella Academy)
“My hero is Louise Delisle from Shelburne, Nova Scotia. As a generations-long member of the Black Nova Scotian community, Louise has fought tirelessly to bring clean drinking water to the Black community in the south end of Shelburne. She has met resistance from local government as well as her community, but has managed to persevere. Louise is brilliant, selfless, brave, giant-hearted, fiercely devoted to her community and causes that extend way beyond her own immediate needs. I am endlessly inspired by her.”
EMMY RAVER-LAMPMAN (The Umbrella Academy)
"Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama. And my parents."
EVAN RACHEL WOOD (Kajillionaire)
“[The Vagina Monologues playwright] Eve Ensler and [my Westworld costar] Thandie Newton. They’re both beautiful people who have managed to have such strength and grace while crusading for women’s rights. They work tirelessly and are still able to open their arms and hearts to anyone who needs them.”
ILDY MODROVICH (Lucifer co-showrunner)
“RuPaul, because Ru stands for self-expression, authenticity, and inclusion but also never forgets to find the joy and the funny in the world.”
JACK QUAID (The Boys)
“My hero is Simon Pegg. Been a big, big fan of his for years, but I never thought I would even meet him, let alone actually be able to work with him. He’s just so talented and incredible to watch on set. Plus, he’s just the nicest possible human being. The world could use more Simon Peggs. A lot more. You know what? Flood the world with Peggs! Peggs all around!”
JAMIE FOXX (Project Power)
“My grandmother and my grandfather. My grandmother would make sure I had every opportunity to cultivate the talents that I had. She would allow me to play the piano. My grandfather would take me to piano lessons every weekend, which — 28 miles to Dallas, Texas, from Terrell — was a lot of money when we were on food stamps. Those are my heroes. Without them, this never would have been possible. Estelle and Mark Talley. No capes necessary.”
JAMIE LEE CURTIS (Halloween Kills)
“I believe in everyday heroes. They’re nurses and they’re doctors. And, we’re learning, they’re grocery-store delivery people. That’s who have always, honestly, been my heroes — people who just show up for their jobs and do it.”
JANE FONDA (Author, What Can I Do? My Path From Climate Change to Action)
“My heroes are my women friends. They’re all braver and smarter and more strategic than me. I look up to them and learn from them.”
JANELLE MONÁE (Antebellum)
“Prince has been my hero. He's been someone who has been a friend and a mentor and someone's career that I've been immensely inspired by. It was the purple print that he created that inspired Wondaland Arts Society, my arts collective. And the fact that he never allowed his mystery to get in the way of his time, his mentorship to new and upcoming artists like myself. My hero would have to be my grandmother, Bessie Hawthorne, who had 12 children. She was a sharecropper in Aberdeen, Miss. She was forced by her father to have a couple of children so that he could get land from a man in Mississippi. Through all of that, she persevered and relocated to Kansas City, Kan., and ended up owning four homes, working as a food server in the county jail for 25 years. She was such a phenomenal grandmother. She and I would watch The Twilight Zone together. She is the reason that I always try and pay homage and uplift marginalized folks' voices whenever I can.”
JOE HENDERSON (Lucifer co-showrunner)
“Elizabeth Warren. Her passion is surpassed only by her incredible intelligence. She’s a joyful warrior who shows you can be a good person and a good politician. I hope my daughter gets to pinky swear with her one day.”
JONATHAN MAJORS (Lovecraft Country)
“First and foremost, I would say my mother. My mother is one of my biggest heroes because what I've seen her do to raise me and my siblings, it was a lot of sacrifice. And she kind of put that in me, the ability to sacrifice something that you love. And she continues to do heroic acts every day. You know, every day. So, I mean, I got to start with that.
And then I would say Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass is a bad motherf---er, man. He escaped from slavery at 20 and then began to really take care of the world he was in. He taught himself to read; and not only could the man read, he could write. He was an orator, he could speak to the moment, in the time. And that right now hits so hard for me, because that's the actor's job... And him being one of my heroes, I want to do that. I've escaped from my way of living, project country kid. I've escaped from that. I did learn to read, I did learn a skill that I'm very fortunate to exercise on the regular. And then it's f---ing Comic-Con, you know what I'm saying? And so now I've got a place to talk about it, and express those stories, and incite change, and induce catharsis through the material. You know, that's the man. He had a bad throat, too. He was killer.
I think artistically, my heroes would be... if I had to go with one, I'd have to say Denzel Washington. Especially now as I watch what he's doing. He's a mega movie star, but he's always kept his integrity. And he got his training as an actor, and that's directly applicable to what it is I'm doing. [And] you can't say D without Spike Lee, Spike who has really become a mentor and a friend to me. And I watch what he does, I watch the work he creates, and it's untouched. He's a true auteur, and he has so much integrity with his work, what he's trying to say. And though we're all from different generations, I watch that and I pay attention to that and I learn from that. And you know, the only person I know as a man is Spike, on that list there. He's been a hero to me. Not really a hero, more of a role model. You know, how to get it done.”
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Project Power)
“Mister Rogers. I’m a dad now and I’ve been watching the old show. The just pure kindness and thoughtfulness emanating from Mister Rogers, it moves me. I sit and watch that show with my two little boys and I find it really inspiring. Watch him go and testify before Congress, in support of government funding for public television, and so gently but firmly making his point. Trying to change the world for the better, for the kids. I think Mister Rogers is a great hero.”
JURNEE SMOLLETT (Lovecraft Country)
"I've been incredibly fortunate to have a village of people who have really reared me. Obviously, my mother has had the biggest impact on my life and is a real-life superhero, superheroine. But yes, people like Angela Davis. Marian Wright Edelman — who I've been so blessed to be mentored by [while] serving on the board of her organization, the Children's Defense Fund — Alfre Woodard. LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and Samuel L Jackson, Denzel and Pauletta Washington, the legendary Cicely Tyson. These are people who have had direct impact. Their handprints are all over me, and when I go out into the world, there's a part of their spirit, their essence, that walks with me. These are people who have navigated such isolating spaces, and have done it with such dignity and ferocity. I just feel incredibly humbled to have them in my life to call upon. Or the heroes of the past — Lorraine Hansberry, the writings of James Baldwin, the voices of Gwendolyn Brooks.
I look to a lot to authors and writers, thinkers, for inspiration when building characters, but also in trying to figure out how to navigate the world. Audre Lorde. Ava DuVernay. Ava is always so incredible to so many in this industry, and she's that person you can just pick up the phone and call and seek advice. When I was building the character of Black Canary [in Birds of Prey], I called Ava, Will Smith, and Lupita Nyong'o, because these were all people who had navigated these spaces.”
LUCY LIU (Stage Mother)
“Aimee Stephens [the late transgender woman whose lawsuit led to this summer’s landmark Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ workers]. This recent Supreme Court ruling was really significant, and it’s just too sad that she wasn’t here to see that through.”
MARCUS J. MOORE (Author, The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America)
“My hero is a person with whom I’ve been connected my entire life: my mother, Delores. Though it took a village to raise me, she’s my unquestioned rock and emotional center. She epitomizes nobility: When my grandmother fell sick, my mother paused her own life for four years to be a full-time caretaker. All that, and she still found time to raise a precocious teen who only wanted to write, play pick-up basketball, and listen to strange music. For that, I honor my mother, an incredibly strong Black woman who deserves the world.”
MATT BOMER (The Boys in the Band)
“Sadly, [mine] left us this year: Mart Crowley and Terrence McNally and Larry Kramer, playwrights whose works made members of our community feel seen and understood. I owe the fact that I could believe I could be an actor, and could believe I had a place in storytelling, to them.”
MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS (Lovecraft Country)
“I would look to someone, my brother, my big brother, Wendell Pierce. Wendell Pierce sat me down very early on in The Wire and he told me, ‘You know, Michael, this business is about the work you do, the people you meet, and the relationships you build. You want to be a star? First step: Carry your own f---ing bags.’ And I've been doing that ever since. I look up to him not only because he's an amazing actor, but for what he does in the community. He walks gently, but he carries a big stick and he's where he needs to be, he does the right thing, and he says the right thing for the right reasons. For that, Wendell Pierce is definitely a mentor, someone I look up to.”
NATALIE PORTMAN (Author, Natalie Portman's Fables)
“Jane Goodall is a big one. I [admire] what she’s done for the environment, and [for] chimpanzees in particular. And her life story is so remarkable. She wasn’t a trained scientist. She trusted herself to know that she was able to do, basically, what a zoology Ph.D. would do. I [think] most people would doubt their own ability, and she knew her heart and her brain.
Someone in my own city who is remarkable is [A New Way Of Life founder] Dr. Susan Burton, who is a woman in L.A. who is formerly incarcerated — very much in the tradition of what is finally getting a lot of attention, this kind of over-policing of people of color in the country and the criminalization of addiction and poverty — and after a cycle of that, she created a network for women coming out of incarceration and into freedom. She’s kind of like a modern-day Harriet Tubman, and she's fighting for women across the country to get out and reunite with their families and regain their rights [after] incarceration. It’s really remarkable how she’s able to bring light and joy and wholeness back to many of these women who have been forcibly separated from their children and have really been traumatized through the system. She’s a real kind of angel walking among us.”
PEDRO PASCAL (Wonder Woman 1984)
“I had an African-American drama school teacher in Orange County, Calif. Her name was Stevie Meredith, and she was generous and courageous enough to have difficult conversations with a predominately white classroom about race — something that the majority right now perceivably is finally willing to recognize and talk about, in some cases for the first time, which is insane to me. This was like 1990, with a bunch of white students, and it was my very, very early introduction to an understanding of racial injustice and its insidious as well as obvious and overpowering destructiveness to culture and to the country.
She did a monologue from [Ntozake Shange's iconic 1976 choreopoem] For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf, which is something I ended up going and buying when I was 15 years old. And made my mother read! It was just [a way of] gradually building awareness and ultimately a kind of grief in your heart that is part of being alive, if you’re willing to have your eyes open just a little bit. And she got a s---load of pushback, I remember perfectly. It’s something that I wasn’t totally able to understand as a teen, but I credit her.”
ROBERT SHEEHAN (The Umbrella Academy)
“Eckhart Tolle — I enjoy him. He puts things about consciousness in ways I can understand.”
STEVE BLACKMAN (Showrunner, The Umbrella Academy)
“My son Max, who has autism. Despite not being able to speak, he finds something to smile and laugh about every day — and continually reaches out to the world to be heard in other creative and wonderful ways.”
TRUNG LE NGUYEN (Author, The Magic Fish)
“Tomie dePaola. His books, like Strega Nona, made an incredible impact on me [when I was younger]. He openly talked about being gay only last year, and he died this year. He’d been such a presence in my life, and I never fully appreciated the breadth of that influence and the personal ways his work spoke to me. There’s a new dimension to it now that [I’m] an adult.”
For more from our Heroes Issue, order the August edition of Entertainment Weekly now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.