From Marvel to DC: S.H.I.E.L.D. alum Elizabeth Henstridge on directing Superman & Lois
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For Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alum Elizabeth Henstridge, who directs the latest episode of Superman & Lois, making the leap from Marvel to DC Comics didn't require superpowers.
"There's a lot of similarities between Marvel and DC, so I felt pretty well-equipped to come into this world," Henstridge, who played Agent Jemma Simmons on the ABC-Marvel drama, tells EW. "I'm just a massive fan of Superman & Lois. I really pushed hard to get an episode, did a lot of homework that involved watching every episode a million times. Everybody around this project is just so passionate and knowledgeable and kind of a geek about it like me, that I felt very at home."
Titled "Anti-Hero," the CW super-family drama's latest installment finds the Man of Steel (Tyler Hoechlin) sharing a cell with his villainous brother Tal-Rho (Adam Rayner) after being arrested for treason in last week's episode. Meanwhile, Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch), who is reeling from Clark's arrest, must put out several fires on the home front and keep the family together.
"What I wanted was to really feel the human elements in it, to feel Jonathan's [Jordan Elsass] struggle of not feeling special, and how Lois balances being a mother in that situation with Clark not there and that worry," says Henstridge. "Then the brotherly relationship between Superman and Tal-Rho. There are so many familial bonds that are kind of strained and under pressure. I really wanted those parts of it to sing whilst also delivering [the] cool whole act that's a massive fight scene."
She adds: "Having Bizarro [Hoechlin] in there and kind of paying homage to that character, and it being such a really cool space in the DC Universe, I definitely wanted to nail that and have the correct symbolism, and really pay attention to the comic version of him and how his story goes."
The actress made her directorial debut in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season, helming an intricately plotted time loop episode that was mostly confined to one set. Boasting multiple locations and a big action sequence, her Superman & Lois installment was the opposite of that, and offered her a new and educating challenge.
"They shoot in a very different way [than S.H.I.E.L.D.] and, honestly, from any show that I've ever been on or any set I've ever been on," she says, referencing the show's use of anamorphic lenses, which give it a cinematic look. "That was really exciting because it's just different and beautiful, and they shoot like you're shooting a movie. It was like nothing else I've ever experienced in terms of the setups and the lighting."
Like S.H.I.E.L.D., the Superman & Lois set was a safe space for geeking out, which is exactly what Henstridge did when she saw Hoechlin in the Superman suit for the first time. "I'm not being funny, I about lost it. I was basically on my knees. Ian [Samoil], my AD who was also wonderful, I joked, 'What would you do if I got my autograph book out right now?' He's like, 'Please, please, don't,'" she recalls with a laugh. "It was such a moment of going, 'Wow, I have made it. We are here.' It still brings tears to my eyes to think about it because I love this genre. He's something I can tell my parents [about] and they'll actually know who it is!"
Hoechlin and Rayner's scenes in the red sunlight prison cell were some of her most memorable days on set. "There were a lot of elements [in play], but they were some of my favorite scenes because they're trapped and they have to talk," says Henstridge. "It was an out of body experience on those days on set. What was brilliant is that everybody was on the same page about what we wanted those scenes to be and really bringing out that brotherly bond and complicated relationship, and how do we start in a place where there's tension between them. They really go on a huge journey as brothers during this episode. I don't want to spoil too much, but there's a massive turn of events that happens that is going change their relationship moving forward forever."
She continues: "We didn't have that [prison] set for very long. There was a mountain of work to do. I really wanted to do those scenes justice, so we just went at 1,000 miles per hour to get everything done. I've been in those sets as an actor. There's no windows, no knowledge of what time it is, we were under the red light; it's enough to drive you mad as an actor. So the endurance of all those actors is incredible."
With a laugh, the Suspicion actress jokingly admits she may have gotten a little too excited while Hoechlin and Rayner were shooting a fight sequence in the cell. "Thank god there are no lines in that thing, because all you hear on the sound track is just me screaming in the background."
Superman & Lois airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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