Playing barista-turned-winged crusader Kendra Saunders, the current reincarnation of ancient Egyptian priestess Chay-Ara, the actress stands at the center of The CW‘s new DC Comics-inspired series: The primary villain of the time-travel adventure is the immortal Vandal Savage, who centuries ago murdered Chay-Ara and her lover Prince Khufu, which makes the stakes personal for Hawkgirl and her will-they-again/won’t-they partner Hawkman.
With Kendra’s introduction in the first season of “The Flash” already feeling like a lifetime ago, Renee is ready to explore Hawkgirl in all her varied incarnations, as she reveals in a conversation with CBR News.
CBR News: What’s been the intriguing challenge for you in “Legends of Tomorrow,” as opposed to what you started with for Kendra on “The Flash” and “Arrow”? How has it broken open for you?
Ciara Renee: Well, on “Legends,” I mean, I feel like everything — it is kind of her storyline, so there’s a lot of weight put on her and a lot of pressure, I think. And now she has a lot more knowledge than she started off with. She’s gone through more traumatic experiences moving forward. There’s a little more gravity now and importance to what she’s doing.
That’s also juxtaposed against the warm, nurturing, protective part of her that wants to see the good, wants to be hopeful that changing her destiny is a possibility and protecting people is a possibility. Yeah, that’s been kind of the dichotomy of who she is now: who she used to be in all these other lives, and what she has to do is a little cray!
You have that opportunity to have her grow as a character, but then you also as an actor get the opportunity to play her in different eras and different versions of her at any given time. Has that been kind of a treat for you, to keep rethinking her in different contexts?
Yeah, especially in the flashbacks and stuff like that. Completely different versions of who she was. In Egypt, she was this high priestess, very powerful and grounded. Kendra is just kind of, like I said, a nurturer. She’s kind of all over the place. She’s young, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, she’s scared. Yeah, it’s been really interesting and a cool actor challenge to rethink these new versions of yourself.
Central to your storyline is the relationship with Falk Hentschel’s character, Hawkman. Tell me about finding the chemistry you needed to have, both in the scenes when you’re passionate lovers, and in the more contemporary stuff where you’re at odds and bickering and figuring each other out.
The thing is, it’s exactly the same! It’s the exact same emotion. It’s just different words and different scenarios. Actually, we were just talking: When we first had a conversation with each other via text, it was a long conversation. We delved right into politics and feminism and this and that and all sorts of other things.
Right from the beginning we really respected each other, but also we were butting heads just right from the beginning. So as humans, we really love and respect each other, but we just already were bickering. So it’s kind of perfect.
You got to spend some time with some other characters on some other shows. I have to ask, is poor Cisco [from “The Flash”] off the table for her?
[Laughs] Nothing’s ever really off the table in the show. I think that was a good starting point for her. He really helped her a lot where she was and feeling like she had a place to be grounded. She was kind of just floating, didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life or where she needed to be. Yeah, he was really helpful in that time, but I think she’s gone through so much and changed so much and is probably going to continue to change in a way that maybe they don’t sync up quite like they used to.
The show’s going to mix and match the characters in smaller combinations and you’re going to be put up against different members of the cast. So far, where have you seen real sparks flying with your interactions?
I think she’s been surprised a lot, because being a bit of an outlier in this group with a slightly different background and story than everyone else who’s accepted in who they are, I think she’s been wary and a little bit like, “I don’t know where I’m going to fit.” I think she’s been surprised a lot that she does get along with certain people that she gets along with.
I think for the most part, it’s congenial — until it gets to like our villains, our resident villains. We’re supposed to also be heroes. I think she’s super-wary of them and has a hard time finding the good there.
What’s your sense of where she fits in the group dynamic? Do you have a notion?
I think she’s still figuring it out. I think we’re all constantly figuring out what the dynamic is and it shifts constantly who’s in charge. Who has the skill set for this or that or the other thing. So yeah, it’s an ever-shifting group. It never really just sets where Rip [Hunter] is always at the top and everyone else is. … It’s not really like that. It’s an amoeba. It’s moving around.
Is she at this point already very far removed from the barista that we met in Central City?
Yeah, I think so. I think, yeah. We get a couple episodes in and enough stuff happens and you’re like, “OK, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t know that it ever really did. It was kind of just a placeholder.” I think she always knew that there was something else. She just had no idea what it was. Now that she does know, all that other stuff where she was just kind of keeping time, that doesn’t really matter to her.
What did it mean for you to go through the experience being part of the show and having instant fans before they saw a second of you on the screen? You probably had another couple hundred Twitter followers and people just paying attention to you as soon as you got the job. That’s an unusual thing, I would imagine.
Yeah, it’s something you have to navigate every day. There were instant fans, but there were also instant haters. So it’s a double-edged sword. You get kind of both things. So yeah, I think it’s fun to interact with the fans. It’s fun to hear their ideas about what’s going to happen or what they hope would happen. It’s like a wealth of other information and knowledge about comic books.
They’re always sharing things with me. Someone sent me a bunch of screenshots of some original Hawkman/Hawkgirl stuff, which is cool; they’re very supportive. The ones that aren’t are also helpful in a way, too. Like when people at the very beginning said, “Oh, well, she’s brown. She can’t play Shayera.” That doesn’t make any sense. It helped me to feel more rooted in what I was doing because, actually, here are the reasons why it could be this or why it should be this, and why not? So yeah, I think it’s been great.
Have the haters come around – and told you so on social media?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.
What was the fun for you of delving into the character as she existed in the comic books and looking at things and saying, “I’m going to pick up this a little bit,” or “I liked this image and I hope I get to do that”?
Yeah, the thing that’s interesting is that the writers have been pretty clear about wanting to pick and choose what they want from the storylines. Who knows if she’ll be an alien at some point? So far, we just see the Egyptian reincarnation storyline. We get to pick which characters we show, if we show a Wild West version. Reading, you get to see all these snippets of these different versions — even we’re kind of taking from the New 52 version of her.
I don’t know if we’re ever going to get into the idea that she tried to kill herself. Who knows? There’s all sorts of different things we can choose from. So as much as I try to bone up and read as much as I can, I can’t really pin down any specific things. I can throw out and say, “What do you think about this?” But I mean, ultimately, they have a plan, some kind of plan, to pick and choose what they want in me.
The costume looks very dynamic on the comic book page, but I can’t imagine it’s the easiest thing to pull of in real life. Tell me about, that love/hate relationship with making that costume work.
I mean, it’s been a process. I’ve talked to Grant [Gustin] and I’ve talked to Stephen [Amell] and everyone else who has had a supersuit and has one. You start one way and you kind of, “Oh, well, I can’t kick as high as I need to in this, so maybe we need to fix that thing or put more Spandex here.” So it’s constantly growing and moving and changing. But I always just say, “I’d rather wear no clothes.” So wearing a lot of clothes is never really comfortable for me.
So far, she’s Hawkgirl. Do you want to see her become Hawkwoman, or are you happy with her as Hawkgirl for the foreseeable future?
I’m not mad about her being Hawkgirl, but either way, I think just the fact that she’s female is very powerful. I don’t think she has to be “-lady” or “-woman” or “-girl” specifically in any way. She just has to be and it’s already so empowering and wonderful that she’s a female superhero.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” premieres 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21 on The CW.