Meet the new faces of some very old friends and foes.
The new “Supergirl” TV series arriving on CBS this October simultaneously incorporates some of the most enduring elements of DC Comics’ extended Superman mythos and reinvents them with a contemporary spin. Among the show’s most notable updates include two key members of the Maid of Might’s supporting cast rethought and reinvented in new and surprising incarnations.
First, there’s James — don’t call him Jimmy — Olsen, in the form of actor and former model Mehcad Brooks (“Necessary Roughness,” “About Last Night”) — no longer just “Superman’s Pal,” the young cub reporter with a penchant for getting in trouble, he’s a confident, mature and decidedly handsome operative sent to help Kal-El’s cousin Kara (Melissa Benoist) find her way as a hero.
And then there’s Winn Schott, as played by Broadway star Jeremy Jordan (“Smash”), Kara’s trusted confidante and tech support who’s nursing more than a little crush on her — and whose name suggests he’s a younger, better-looking incarnation of the plaything-obsessed troublemaker also known as the Toyman.
Though both characters seem poised to vie for Supergirl’s attention and her affections, Brooks and Jordan were game for a team-up, sitting down with CBR News to preview their fresh takes on the old favorites.
CBR News: Jeremy, you don’t look quite like the Winslow Schott we know from the comic books.
Jeremy Jordan: [Laughs] No? Well, it’s more inspired. And I think pretty soon in the series you’ll understand why. Can’t really say anything to that.
Is there a reason you have that particular name?
Jordan: Exactly. But yeah, no, it’s not like he’s the red-headed, jolly, weird-clothing-wearing Toyman. Certainly, that’s not how we meet him. And he certainly has a different backstory. But it’s equally as exciting. As we’re sort of getting into a few episodes, it’s becoming more and more clear. It’s one of those things like, “Oh, I see: My character shares the name of this thing… Oh, I wonder what that means?” But there’s literally no indication of it, so I’m learning along with the audience.
Who is Winn when we actually meet him.
Jordan: Well, he’s a lot smarter than I think he gives himself credit for. He’s kind of a tech genius, but he’s just working as an IT guy at this big media company, which is a good job. But I think he’s got some untapped potential that I don’t think he’s really allowed himself to tap into for whatever reason. He’s definitely had the largest crush on Kara — probably since as soon as he met her; long before he knew she was Supergirl — and sort of is totally cool with remaining in the friend zone for now because, at this point, she reveals her true identity to him, and he really starts to help her find who she is as a superhero. And that’s sort of enough for him, for now.
Mehcad, you get to reinvent a genuine comic book icon. What’s fun about figuring out how you want to be true to the spirit of Jimmy Olsen, and how you want to make him your own?
Brooks: I mean, it’s a fine line of walking between your own artistic take on it and also respecting 75 years of fandom. So at first, especially during the pilot, there was a lot of pressure and it was difficult for me, and I was sort of putting it on myself, actually, being a comic book fan/nerd myself, if I might say so. But with Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Sarah Schechter and Andrew Kreisberg’s sort of stamp in saying “The decisions you’re making are right,” it was that support that really helped me.
So I think that a lot of people have opinions about characters that they’ve grown to love over the years, and they have the right to have these opinions. But it doesn’t mean that the inception of the character came along in a time when society was being fair to everybody. So just us embarking on the correction of some social and racial inequities in the past, I think, is a strong statement for our society.
And we saw a little potential love interest on his part. Are we going to play that out for a while?
Brooks: A love rhombus.
Jordan: There’s definitely some love going toward Kara on both sides. Now, what we see in the pilot is, she’s definitely a little more into James, for sure.
Brooks: How dare she?
Jordan: But, you know, I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. Let’s say that.
Brooks: I don’t think it’s going to be easy for anybody in the fact that, one, we’re all millennials, sort of trying to live our lives. We’re all focused on career.
Jordan: Kara’s trying to save the world.
Brooks: Yeah, Kara’s focused on who she really is, and I think that’s the struggle that all of us can sort of understand.
Jordan: At the same time, she’s a young woman who I don’t think has ever allowed herself to get involved in a real sort of relationship with anybody. So I think we’ll see. Maybe it will be one of us. Maybe none. Maybe somebody else. But I think definitely, there will be a romantic element to the show. It’s a major driving force in people’s lives, so yeah, it’s definitely going to be a part of the show.
So far, what have you loved about doing the show, as far as the superhero aspect? What’s been fresh and unique that you weren’t expecting?
Brooks: What’s fresh and unique about the show that I wasn’t expecting is the fact that it feels like any other show, in a way that it’s about everyday people living in extraordinary circumstances. So there’s workplace stuff. There’s relationship stuff. There’s extensive backstory. And I think a lot of times, superhero shows or movies are missing that. We always know the hero’s backstory, but other than that, we’re not really delving into the lives of the other characters. And I was really surprised at how intricate we were being with this character, my character.
Jordan: What’s great is we only have six core cast members. And so we have the luxury of getting a bit more focus put on it than if you had like a ten-character show. So that is nice. I think what’s also kind of refreshing about the show is the fact it’s family friendly. And I think it’s a show that everybody can watch. And it’s something that sends a really positive message.
And I think a lot of these comic book superhero shows, as amazing as many of them are, they can either tend to skew a little bit darker or a little bit more adult-oriented or deal a lot more with the heavier issues. And we don’t shy away from issues, and we don’t shy away from action and adventure, suspense and danger and all that stuff. But at the same time, it’s something that everybody can watch. There’s a lightness to it, and there’s a relatability to it that I think is sort of universal.
Have you each gotten a little action, even though you’re technically civilian?
Brooks: We’re kind of being brought to that world slowly but surely. I’d say slowly, but it starts happening Episode Three.
Jordan: For you, more so. Me, not so much yet. I’m a little bit more behind the table at the get-go. But I’m sure there will be a point where I’m the damsel in distress.
Brooks: The “Dude in Distress,” as we call it.
Tell me about playing scenes opposite Melissa in the Supergirl costume. She wears it so well, even though it might seem a little bit weird at first, she makes it seem really natural. Did you fall right into it?
Jordan: Yeah, what was kind of fun was the first time I saw it was the first time the audience saw it which was in that scene where we finally reveal it. So we did all those scenes in a row where I kind of make her costume, and she kind of walks out. And when we were doing rehearsal, she had a robe on, and then we were finally shooting it, the robe came off. And she walked out with the thing, and I was like, “Well, there you go. No acting needed. Done.” It’s kind of cool.
Brooks: There was a scene I had recently where she and I are having a moment at her place, and she’s on the couch and I’m sitting across from her, and she’s wearing the suit and I’m sort of confronting her. We’re having a conversation and I’m actually, honestly, I’m nervous because she looks huge. She looks jacked in the suit. And I’m like, “She could kill me. Like, this woman could destroy me right now.”
Jordan: She could hug you a little too hard.
Brooks: Yeah, she could hug me a little too hard, make my head pop off. And there’s something interesting in that, the way she brings vulnerability to the character, while still wearing this heroic muscle suit.
Jordan: So it’s really interesting to think of a character who’s stronger than anything else on Earth but is sort of betrays herself with a weakness that’s put upon her by the world. And how she can overcome that through the help of all her friends.
Mehcad, you mentioned you’re conversant in the geek world. Give me your credentials. How serious are you?
Brooks: Well, I grew up with Superman comics, Batman comics, Archie comics, mostly DC [Comics]. We won’t talk about the other ones! They’re not paying me. [Laughs] So mainly Superman, Batman and Archie. But also, Justice League, Green Lantern, I was a huge fan of those. So I know my stuff. Martian Manhunter. I mean, I’m pretty well-versed.
Jeremy, how about you?
Jordan: Yeah, man, I definitely read some comics growing up. I was big into like the superhero TV shows and superhero movies. It’s kind of where I got most of my sort of knowledge from. Batman was my go-to. I feel like I know most about Batman than anything else, so there’s that. I was a little into some other stuff that we won’t discuss. But I think I got most of it from movies and television.
What’s been the fun discovery doing the show?
Jordan: The cast.
Brooks: Well, honestly, two things: The cast, like, we’ve very quickly become like this small family, and we all get along really well which is fantastic and necessary. But also, the size and the scope of the show — like, we have the most incredible crew, the most incredible post production, our producers are incredible, the writers–
Jordan: We took up four stages at Warner Bros.
Jordan: Where’s the fifth one? Apparently, we take up five stages at the Warner Bros. lot. I mean, it’s nuts.
Brooks: And we have these camera angles where there’s a matted out black horse that has this Russian arm or something, and it has a camera that hangs on a weight pulley system that goes 360.
Jordan: You’d think that we were shooting a movie every week.
Brooks: A huge movie. And the show looks like that: it has this grand scope, so I don’t think that people are going to be disappointed. And it’s not just talking heads. It looks and feels like a film which we love.
Jordan: CBS is putting a lot of stock in us, and a lot of faith in our show. And I think they really trusted what we’re putting out, and it’s showing with sort of what they’re giving us to produce our show, which is really exciting.
Brooks: Yeah, as an actor on television, you want that, because all of a sudden you feel comfortable and secure in your job. And it helps us to perform in a way that you feel secure.
Jordan: Yeah, you don’t feel like you’re acting for your life. You don’t feel like every scene is like, “I’d better get this perfect or I’m out of a job.” You really can sort of focus on–
Brooks: The scope of the character.
Jordan: –the big picture, which is kind of nice.
Who was gone back and seen the original “Supergirl” movie?
Brooks: I actually saw it like a year and a half ago, just randomly. And I kind of forgot how much I liked it.
Jordan: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen the “Supergirl” movie.
Brooks: It’s actually really sexy, Oh my God. For the ’80s, it was.
Jordan: We’ll have the original Supergirl [Helen Slater] on our show. She’s coming back. She’s a mom!
“Supergirl” arrives on CBS on October 26 at 8:30 p.m. EST.
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