Batwoman boss teases Javicia Leslie's powerful season 2 debut: 'I got chills'
Light up the Bat-signal because it's almost time to meet Batwoman's new hero.
Premiering Sunday, the CW superhero drama's second season begins with the introduction of Ryan Wilder, the new Batwoman played by God Friended Me's Javicia Leslie, who picks up the mantle following Ruby Rose's shocking exit. When we meet Leslie's gutsy and passionate martial arts expert, she's living out of a van after serving time for a crime she didn't commit, the latest indignity she's suffered in Gotham City's broken system because she's not privileged like original Batwoman Kate Kane (Rose) or her cousin Bruce Wayne. However, she finds the Batsuit after Kate's mysterious disappearance.
After a few hiccups, Ryan decides to join Luke (Camrus Johnson) and Mary (Nicole Kang) on the Bat-team because the city's needs a hero. More importantly, though, becoming Batwoman is a means of empowering herself and helping those less fortunate like her.
"I was interested in [exploring], who has personal hands on, boots on the ground, point of view experience of the people she's trying to save and find justice for?" Batwoman showrunner Caroline Dries tells EW about creating Ryan. "She's not interested in [stopping] white collar criminals, thought if she needs to, she will. What I love about Ryan is that these people that she needs to represent and save are her people, and to me we didn't have that with Kate. We don't have that with Bruce."
As Ryan learns what it means to be a hero, we'll see her confront a whole host of threats, from Safiyah (Shivaani Ghai), the ominous figure who ordered a hit on Batwoman last season, to hitman Victor Zsasz (Alex Morf), and Black Mask and the False Face Society. Meanwhile, Kate's friends and family will grapple with her absence and try to find a way forward. But note, Kate Kane definitely isn't dead, and what happened to her is one of the season's mysteries.
"Keeping this mystery of Kate alive, the reason I think the audience might hopefully invest in this idea is that the fans' reaction to finding out that we weren't doing an actor swap for Kate was overwhelming to me," says Dries. "It was shocking to me that so many people were willing to just say, 'It's fine. Just put another actress in there. We'll forget it. We'll move on.' So that made me realize that Ruby may be gone from the show, but there is a whole world of possibilities with what we can do with this character."
Below, EW chats with Dries about the season ahead, including why she didn't recast Kate, developing Ryan with Leslie, and what's ahead for the evil Alice (Rachel Skarsten).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I'll admit I was surprised when you announced you were creating an entirely new character instead of recasting. Why did you rule out simply recasting Kate Kane?
It didn't feel like the right move for me because honestly, it just felt weird and awkward, and unearned. I'm not opposed to recasting the character of Kate Kane at all. But doing a swap out without any story motivation behind it felt really weird to me. To me, it was asking too much of the audience.
And in a way — I don't know if the audience would agree with this — it was almost negating season 1 and saying, 'Okay, you just need to start watching season 2 to really get the show because…' But not even that. If we were to have all seasons of the series, it would almost feel like season 1 was the anomaly, which I don't want it to feel like. I want it to feel all like one piece of a continuing story. So again, I'm not opposed to the idea of a new actress playing Kate Kane, but in the heat of the moment, just to do a swap and act like nothing happened within our story is a lot for me to digest as the creative lead of the show.
What made Javicia right for the role?
When I watched Javicia's [audition], I noticed she had an innate connection to the words…Then when I met her and we were talking about the character, the similarities just in terms of Ryan's interests and passion, things that matter to her, so lined up with Javicia. It just felt like this was the character in a lot of ways. It was sort of a no-brainer that she would be able to not just embrace who I was creating, but take her and make her her own. And play her with confidence.
After casting her, what ideas did she bring to Ryan that helped you figure it out in those early days?
Once we cast a Black Batwoman, it was important for me to bend away from negative TV tropes, [which] is what we call them in the writer's room, just bad representation of a Black woman on TV. So obviously, I can lean on my writing staff to help me with that, but really whose approval I need is Javicia's because she's embodying this character. As I was crafting the backstory — which is kind of complicated [because] all of these superheroes have this complicated backstory where there are various points of impact to their life [that] change them and help them earn their superhero capacity — I wanted to make sure that Javicia was all in on the backstory. Also, we were bringing in a love interest, as we'll see early on in the season, and I wanted to make sure she was vibing with that idea.
She just brings in little things. You'll see in the premiere that she has this plant, that's her best friend and the person she talks to and represents her mom. And she said, "Where was my plant while I was in prison?" And I'm like, "Oh, actually I don't know." So she'll think of a whole story of who was taking care of it and why and how she knows this person and their dynamic. So like any good actor, she fills in the gaps of her past, and it just makes her have a strong foundation where the character's coming from.
When Batwoman premiered last year, it was lauded for being the first show headline by an out superhero. Now, this season you have the first Black woman to play Batwoman. What are the pressures that come up with introducing a groundbreaking character like Ryan?
It's funny, we just keep adding adjectives to how people describe Batwoman [Laughs]. The responsibilities are huge. I didn't create Ryan Wilder to be a Black character. I just created her to be somebody who had a troubled past and was exposed to being a cog in the system. In the season, we're talking about what [it's] like when you feel you're being suffocated by this huge machine that nobody seems to be able to fix.
For me, when we cast Javicia, it was like, "Okay, now I really need to get this right." Because when I was writing Kate, to be honest, a privileged White girl who's gay, I'm like, "I'm writing [that] in my sleep." Somebody like Ryan, that's not my perspective, so obviously it requires a lot of conversations, a lot of communicating, a lot of input from my staff and obviously from Javicia. And it requires, I have to say, a lot of listening. I'm always going for the big story move, the big surprise. Sometimes, you have to sit back, listen, and say, "Okay, is that helping the world right now? Is that move maybe a trope? Are we writing bad TV right now or bad representation?" Sometimes I'll feel my defenses coming up and I have to tell myself, "Relax. Hear this out. We'll find a creative solution where we're not making the wrong move here."
How does having a character like Ryan change the types of stories we'll get on a week-to-week basis, and even the types of villains she's going up against?
For me, there's this very fine line between wanting to stay true to the comic book spectacle and what is expected when you are watching a show about Gotham City that's based on a comic book, and what we can bring that's fresh and do differently. [Those stories] sometimes deal with social justice or how Ryan's life is different than Kate's life, and the struggles that she endures or, that her friends endured growing up. It's exploring this other part of society that Kate didn't have to go through.
For example, Ryan has a parole officer, who we meet in episode 1. There's this one other person breathing down her neck, whereas Kate had all the freedoms in the world, and nobody's questioning any move she makes. So to me, what's important as the creative here is making sure that those stories feel fresh and they don't hit you over the head like, "This is an educational episode." It's still all rooted in the spectacle of a Gotham City TV show.
We know Victor Zsasz will be featured, and he falls on the comic book spectacle side. Can you tease what kinds of villains we can expect on the social justice angle?
We have this gang fall the False Face Society that we lightly introduce in episode 1. And they peddle this drug called Snakebite, which is a fictional drug, the DC canon drug.
At this point in production, is there a specific scene that stands out to you when you think of Javicia's performance?
I got chills for the first time watching the streaming feed in the first episode. So I gave her a couple of monologues in the first episode and I was like, "Let's just see how she does with these." And there's this monologue at the end of Act 3 that to me was the character. It just embodies her passion and her conviction and her determination. She delivered this monologue to Mary and Luke and then zipped out of there on the grappling hook. I had chills watching it, because she just nailed it because she so believed it and so understood it.
From talking to Javicia, I know she's doing most of her own stunts. What does that add to the show?
It adds to the realism of the show. I always tell [former Arrow showrunners] Marc Guggenheim and Beth Schwartz the reason I loved Arrow so much from the pilot [was] seeing Stephen Amell doing the salmon ladder. I was just like, "I'm all in." It really made it feel visceral, and you connect. So being able to see Javicia doing all this cool stuff is really fun.
Batwoman was entirely built around Kate Kane — like she's the one who ties almost everyone together. How did you go about incorporating Ryan into this web of characters?
Yeah, that is the biggest challenge. We always consider Batwoman a family drama, and we lost a core family member. We had two things happening: one is our ancillary characters were starting to develop their own lives outside of Kate, which was helpful to us. But also we didn't want to lose Kate from the show. So while the person of Kate who's walking around and existing as a 3D human being on the show doesn't exist when we start the season, her essence exists very much on the show. I would still consider her very much a character on the show. So we continue to build around that, big time.
The other thing is yeah, it was really hard to figure out how Ryan fits into this world, but we found a way to integrate her to have a POV on the Crows, and for the Crows to have a POV on her, specifically Sophie [Meagan Tandy]. She has, we'll see, a personal connection to Alice, and that's something that plays out in a big way in season 2. Then obviously, the Bat-Team has their own dynamic and the big conflict in the beginning of the season is, "How much are we willing to open our hearts to this new character? Does opening our hearts to her mean we're okay with saying good-bye to Kate?" We decided to make that one of the central core conflicts among the Bat-Team. But I think Ryan very naturally fit into the Bat-Team, so that dynamic slowly builds over the season into this family dynamic that makes Ryan feel like she's always belonged.
With Mouse dead and Kate missing, Alice has now lost two of the most important people in her life. How is she handling things at the beginning of the season, especially given Safiyah's impending arrival?
Alice has a really huge part in season 2. Season 1, obviously, she was our big bad. And what made her extra interesting was that she was our hero's twin sister. But towards the end of season 1, Alice felt incredibly betrayed by Kate, who tricked her and locked her in Arkham. So the last few episodes, a chunk of episodes in season 1 was Alice secretly planning Kate's demise. In season 2, that opportunity is ripped from her. And now the question is, how will Alice deal with not having this core drive driving her? What is Alice like when she's untethered to an idea? And you don't want to let somebody like that have idle hands, more or less. So Alice's story this season is intimately connected to Safiyah who, we'll find out, she has a past with. And a lot of it centers around Kate and Alice's feelings towards Kate. This is an example of where I'm saying Kate has not, in any way except physically, left the show from Alice's point of view.
When we spoke last season, you were planning on throwing Luke and Mary — who many fans ship — into a love triangle. Is that still in the cards for season 2?
I can't really tease anything about it yet, because it's still in the ether. But I'm not sure how much of it will get to play out. It's one of those things we don't want to mess up. So if it unfolds naturally, great. But if we don't have time for it, we're not going to cram it in.
Outside of the new Batwoman, what are you most excited for fans to see?
Alice's storyline this season. It's really [part] of the mythos spine of the season, and it's got intrigue, love, betrayal, jealousy, murder, all of the big ticket items that you look for on a drama. Of course, Rachel is so fantastic. She's just killing it, so I'm just really excited about that storyline.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Batwoman premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on The CW.
Batwoman (TV series)