Luke Wilson talks DC's Stargirl: 'I'm getting to do something I've never done before'
Whether you know Luke Wilson from the Legally Blonde franchise, his roles in Wes Anderson films such as The Royal Tenenbaums, comedies like Old School and Idiocracy, or even his TV stint as Kelso's older brother on That '70s Show, the actor has racked up quite an impressive list of credits over the course of a career that spans two-and-a-half decades. And he's thrilled to add his latest role, playing a live-action version of comic book character Pat Dugan on DC's Stargirl, to his resume.
"To think that I've got 25 years of acting and I'm getting to do something I've never done before — a superhero project," he tells EW with a laugh. "My brother Owen's two sons who are about 5 and 8, and my brother Andrew's daughter is 10. I showed them a few of these scenes, and it was just so funny to see them get quiet and really concentrate and then start asking me questions like, 'So you operate the robot?!' They very rarely show interest in anything that I'm up to! It was funny to see them get immediately hooked in by the show."
Wilson stars as Pat, former sidekick to Justice Society of America superhero Starman (Joel McHale), who has given up his crime-fighting days following the deaths of all the JSA heroes. He's started a new family and moved them all to Blue Valley, Neb., including his stepdaughter, high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), who's less than enthused about relocating from Los Angeles to Blue Valley. But what she doesn't know is that Pat's former life as a sidekick is about to kickstart her own journey to becoming a hero as she takes up the mantle of Stargirl.
"Not being that familiar with the comic book world, I just know there's so many shows and movies out there, but I don't have a good sense of how this fits into it all," Wilson admits. "I just know Geoff Johns, the creator of it, said he really wanted something that made people feel good, that had really good action and stuff, but also that a whole family could watch. Hopefully, during these rough times for the country it’ll be nice for people that are out there working and people that are also quarantined to be able to sit back and watch something totally different."
While Wilson may not know much about the comic book world, he was made for this role. Or rather, the role was made for him. Because Johns literally created the character in the comic books and based it on Wilson after seeing him in a movie back in the '90s. "We talked about that a lot," Wilson says. "Geoff had said he saw the first movie me, my brothers, and Wes Anderson made, Bottle Rocket, and how much he liked that, so I think he was just familiar with the different projects that I'd done." In a wonderfully full-circle moment, Wilson is now playing the character in the live-action adaptation of the comic book source material that was partly inspired by him. That's why Johns left a lot up to Wilson when it came time to film scenes, but Wilson says he loved going up to Johns with questions about the character and the larger DC Universe.
"I’ve played a lawyer, I’ve played police officers, professional tennis players, I've been in Westerns, played all different kinds of people, but had never done any superhero project before," Wilson says. "And there’s this fun shift where I’m the parental role for [Courtney], but then I become her sidekick and that is so funny. Brec is great at playing that, like, 'Just do what I tell you.' It's such an odd thing for a kid to be telling a grown man!"
Wilson breaks off with a laugh, then continues, "He definitely doesn’t want to be her sidekick, but he doesn’t want her to be in danger. It gets out of his hands. But Pat has wanted to be in on the action since he was the valet/sidekick for the Justice Society 20 years ago. That’s why he builds the giant robot S.T.R.I.P.E. — he’s quietly been preparing for this. But he had no intention of involving his stepdaughter. You’ve got these seemingly far-fetched ideas like flying robots and people who can melt other people’s minds, but then you have parents and their children. This show does such a great job of going back and forth between those two worlds of fantasy and reality."
Produced by Greg Berlanti and executive-produced by showrunner Johns (who created the original character in the comics in honor of his late sister, who was killed in a plane accident), Stargirl centers on Courtney as she discovers Pat's history and inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to stop the villains of the past. The live-action drama is based on the 1999 Stargirl comics and reimagines the very first superhero team, the Justice Society of America. Throughout filming the first season, Wilson found himself getting a crash course not only on this comic book and its characters but also on the comic book world in general.
"It was just one of those things where I was told that there was this project Stargirl and it was created by Geoff Johns — and at the time, I didn't even know about Geoff's stature in the world of comic books and that he'd run DC and he wrote both Wonder Woman and Aquaman and produced Shazam! and really was right in the middle of this comic book universe," Wilson explains. "I wasn't familiar with him, but was told that he was the creator and he wrote this character for me and then he and I met and instantly, I just liked him as a person. We really did laugh a lot and became good friends right from the get-go."
Wilson now considers Johns to be one of his best friends, which is rare for him. "I'm one of those people where I've got my brothers and these friends I grew up with, so it was different to become friends with someone new like Geoff," he shares. "When he and I met, I just liked him so much I thought: I'd do anything with this guy."
And when Wilson learned about the tragic true story behind why Johns created these characters, the project took on new meaning for him. "He had a sister who passed away and he wrote it with her character and spirit in mind and I thought that was really nice," he says. "He was so close with his sister and the idea that he would take something so heartbreaking and turn it into something so exciting, that's a great thing. You can see how someone could easily just go dark and never talk about it, or quietly grieve for years, and he channeled it into something really creative. The first time I watched the pilot episode you see her name come up at the end saying that it's dedicated to her and that moved me."
DC's Stargirl streams new episodes on Mondays on DC Universe and airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
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