After a season of Ruby Rose suiting up as the titular superhero on the CW’s “Batwoman,” Javicia Leslie has taken over the role. But rather than being a recast Kate Kane, Leslie’s heroine is a former foster kid named Ryan Wilder who has a personal mission for justice but stumbles into saving people on a larger scale. The role allows Leslie to show off her real-life martial arts training while also expanding her resume from supporting roles on “God Friended Me” and “The Family Business” to leading a small-screen set.
How did you want to differentiate this Batwoman from Ruby Rose’s take on the hero?
The writers and the showrunner already did a great job at that, so I didn’t have to intentionally try to be different. The writing allowed this character to stand out on its own and, of course, we’re two different individuals so my natural energy coming into it is already going to be different. I think my only job is to show up and have fun, and play in the storyline that’s already been created.
How much of that energy is based on her backstory before she dons the suit?
I think a lot of it is. [She’s] not used to things being given to [her, she’s] used to having to fight for things, to figure things out for her own. And with that street-savviness comes a little bit of street-smart-assness. That’s something I can consider Ryan has in her. She’s also not a person that’s easily convinced; she’s not a person that’s easily fooled. She has her guards up when she first starts out meeting everyone and trying to figure out who’s who and who’s really on her side, and even through that all, she feels like she’s in this herself. And that weighs heavily on her energy and why she is the way she is.
Ryan doesn’t come from the privileged background that Kate Kane did; what does that mean for the character and the stories the show is telling in Season 2?
[It’s] pulling back the layers of Ryan, and it starts with the fact that she’s a foster kid. And if you know anything about the foster system, and I do because my aunt had foster children, it’s very easy for kids to get lost in that system and not have anyone to fight for them. And so she represents that. She finds someone that wants to adopt her, but she still had a childhood with different foster homes and what that comes with — the abuse, the neglect, the feeling that someone was supposed to be there to protect you and they’re not. She became other people’s protectors because of that. So, when she puts on the suit, it does go naturally with who she is as a person.
Ryan’s the type of person who has this standard of what’s right and what’s wrong and she lives by that, and there’s not a lot of budge room in that. When we think about what’s going on in society right now, in real life, and if you look at police, they’re all supposed to represent what’s right and what’s good no matter what, but nowadays we’re finding that’s not always the case. That is an issue for Ryan. That should be the standard; you should be able to look at who’s policing our community and saying, “If no one else is right, at least they’re right.” When I look at Ryan, that’s what she battles. There is no gray area for her.
Is that similar to your own mindset?
I don’t really separate myself from it so when I’m reading the script, I already know how I’m going to feel about it because right is right and wrong is wrong.
How does her approach to heroism shake up the team dynamic?
There’s going to be the struggle of the team needing to convince her that they’re trustworthy and her being able to convince the team that she’s trustworthy. At the end of the day, the team’s main goal is finding Kate, while her main goal is saving people that need to be saved. And so, there’s that disconnect throughout at least the first-half of the season.
Similar to how the characters have to feel each other out on-screen to find their working dynamic with Ryan in the bat suit, what did you have to do to find the bond and trust with your new co-stars off-screen?
We work so much that it innately started to happen. And not only do we work so much but we’re with each other in Vancouver in our own little bubble and all we have is each other, so there were no outside distractions when we were getting to know each other. We’re on set every single day for 12-plus hours, so after awhile we just started to form those bonds, and I really enjoy all of the cast; we have a good time.
What did it take to get used to the stunt work?
I already practice Muay Thai and bo staff, things like that, so when I got hired, it was more so about learning how to do that stuff for camera. That has been a lot of fun — to learn how to pull my punches so they don’t actually hit someone. We have stunt rehearsals as often as we can to choreograph our fights so everyone is protected and safe. It really goes along the line of my career in general as an action actress.
Last year when Ruby said she was leaving the show, she did cite how challenging the work was physically and emotionally. Did you talk to her before stepping on set to get a sense of how to prepare?
No, I didn’t talk with her.
Then in stepping in without a hand-off from the former leading lady, what elements did you find the most challenging or surprising from the jump?
I was coming from doing two television series at the same time, “God Friended Me” and “The Family Business,” and not only was I doing them at the same time, but they were on different coasts, so I came from already busting my ass and really working hard. So really, this is all of that but without having to do all the flying! It was really just about getting the flow. It’s not difficult in a way where it’s hard, it’s just making sure that I maintain my energy, maintain my health, and our production does a really great job checking in to see how the schedule is treating [me]. I think the only difference is, in the other two shows I wasn’t necessarily a lead, but with how often I was working, it’s still very similar. Maybe if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic my answers would be different because I’d have to fly around to do press and there’d be so much going on in life, but because the world is pretty much at a standstill, all of my energy that I’d normally have to direct in other directions is being directed into the show. It gives me an outlet when it feels like the world is on fire.
Things you didn’t know about Javicia Leslie:
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Mood music: “If it’s a stunt scene and Nicole [Kang] is with me we’ll play Megan Thee Stallion.”
Favorite part about shooting in Vancouver: “It has these parks that are like you’re walking through forests and your dog can be off-leash. It’s like you’re having an adventure.”
Most used app on her phone: Instagram
Historical figure she’d like to meet: Eartha Kitt