‘Batwoman’: New to the Role, Javicia Leslie Is the Only Queer Hero of Color on TV

"We're all willing to take this chance for this needed movement in our industry," she said.
Batwoman -- “What Happened to Kate Kane?” -- Image Number: BWN201fg_0021r -- Pictured: Javicia Leslie as Batwoman -- Photo: The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

As the trailer for the new CW series says: “New look, new Batwoman.” When actor Ruby Rose left the series at the conclusion of Season 1, many wondered how the show would handle the departure. During a virtual press event put on by The CW on Friday, new Batwoman Javicia Leslie and showrunner and executive producer Caroline Dries opened up about the new season, pandemic auditions, and the goal of representing everyone.

This season, Dries wanted to use the show to touch on the issues of the pandemic, especially with regards to homelessness in Los Angeles. The goal was not to recreate Rose’s character Kate Kane, who was privileged, but instead pivot to Leslie’s Ryan Wilder as a resident of the local homeless population. “It gives you a first-hand story,” Leslie said. Leslie remembered seeing panhandlers on the sides of the freeway as a child, and “I always wondered what was their story?” she said. This season shows Ryan’s tale in a way that highlights being lost in the system and not having support.

As shown in the trailer, one overarching story point will be the city grieving Kate Kane’s death by an unknown assailant; all the characters are linked in their different reactions to Kate’s death. From there, the show placed Ryan in the center of the core story for all those characters. “I wanted a girl that nobody was connected to, [who] doesn’t have the family bonds,” Dries said. She said that this way, it was easier to integrate Leslie into the “Bat-world.”

To ease the transition between Kate Kane and Ryan, the Batsuit also will take centerstage. “The suit has always represented a legacy,” Leslie said. This season will emphasize that the suit has the power, but whoever inhabits it must also be able to live up to it — and thereby making Ryan’s arc about the journey of owning her power.

Leslie had dabbled with comic books, being brought into the world through her brothers, but she connected more so with the Batman adaptations. “I’m a huge fan,” she said. When she first put the suit on it felt “surreal. Your childhood dreams come true….you realize this is your reality.” Leslie explains she always wanted to be Xena. “My whole world, when I was a child, was about living in my imagination. I’ve always imagined that the roles that I would play would come from the imaginary world,” she said.

In response to recent reports looking at the state of queer representation in television, Leslie said it’s frustrating that her performance will be the first queer leading of color, but it’s an honor. “We’re all willing to take this chance…for this needed movement in our industry,” she said. She never saw versions of herself onscreen, especially in the superhero world, citing Halle Berry as the only example she knew. “We deserve to have representation,” she said.

Batwoman -- “What Happened to Kate Kane?” -- Image Number: BWN201fg_0001r -- Pictured: Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder -- Photo: The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Javicia LeslieTHE CW

Aiding in that representation, Dries said the writers’ room added two new writers. “It’s an incredibly diverse group of men and women,” Dries said. “I’m really proud of that, and feel like we have a diverse group of voices who can generate really, really profound conversations.” On top of that the show tried have 60 percent of the director be women. “These voices are just adding to the tapestry of our show,” Dries said.

The pandemic took centerstage in more ways than plotlines. Leslie was in the middle of quarantine when she was asked to audition. She didn’t try to do too much research and instead chose to focus on the character of Ryan specifically. After booking the role she went back to explore Gotham and the Batwoman world, to be “reminded of the essence, of the energy,” she said.

Leslie didn’t feel pressure going into the role because it wasn’t recasting the same character. “It doesn’t feel like I’m trying to live up to someone’s reputation,” she said. Leslie doesn’t read the episodes immediately so she can give each episode room to breathe and certainly feels represented in all facets. “When I read it, all of our voices are  so unique and different. It’s a great representation of our communities and each of us, as actors, come from,” she said.

For those wondering about Kate’s death, Dries said it will be resolved at some point — especially because the audience knows Ruby Rose left — though there’s no word on if it will happen this season. “There will be a lot of twists and turns,” she said. “It will be a huge rollercoaster for all our characters.”

“Batwoman” Season 2 debuts on the CW January 17.

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