Javicia Leslie on her journey to become worthy to wear the Batsuit in The CW’s Batwoman

Javicia Leslie Pic credit: Nino Muñoz/The CW

Season one of Batwoman ended with the mysterious disappearance of Kate Kane, and it is something that all the different characters will have to face. For Sophie (Meagan Tandy), it is an unrequited love that never got fulfilled; for Mary (Nicole Kang), she and Kate were finally bonding and now she’s gone; for Luke (Camrus Johnson), Kate was his partner and his hero, and he is reluctant to say goodbye.

Of course, that story was set into motion by the departure of Ruby Rose, who played Batwoman in season 1, but her exit opened the door to the introduction of a new Batwoman, someone who doesn’t have ties to the family.

Enter Javicia Leslie in the role of Ryan Wilder, a woman who puts on the Batsuit when she discovers it in the plane that crashed that was allegedly carrying Kate. Ryan steals the suit and dons it because she wants to use its powers to track down the people who killed her mother and get justice.

“As a fan of Batman, the suit has always represented a legacy,” Leslie told reporters at a junket for The CW series. “If you really follow the story of Batman, it passed on when he was missing, so [the power] is the suit, but the person also has to be worthy to carry that legacy. And that’s the journey that Ryan goes on.”

So, while Mary and Luke wait for a miracle to happen and Kate to return, Ryan is tasked with keeping the suit warm in her absence, and also for providing Gotham with hope in the continued presence of Batwoman.

“As she goes on her journey, we’ll find out whether or not she becomes worthy, but it’s really the journey of owning her Batwoman-ness,” Leslie continued.  

Since the new Batwoman isn’t a family member, as previously mentioned, she needed her own backstory. And it couldn’t be more different than that of Kate. Rather than coming from money, Ryan is homeless when we meet her after serving time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. She needs a job to make sure her parole isn’t revoked, and finally gets Mary to hire her at The Hold Up.

“When I was growing up and we’d get off the freeway, there would be panhandlers on the side that my mom and I would see all the time and we’d always give them money,” Leslie said. “I always wondered what was their story. And what’s really dope about what we’re doing this season is you get to see Ryan’s story and how she ends up where she is. A lot of it is just being lost in the system and not having support.”

For Leslie, who grew up watching movies based off of comic books, it was a no brainer to say yes to the role of Batwoman, because Batman and Storm were her two favorite superheroes growing up. Storm, of course, because she was the only Black female superhero that Leslie saw on TV for a very long time, but Batman, as well, because he didn’t have any magic powers.

“For a long time in my life, I liked Sabrina the Teenage Witch, where I thought when I turned 13 or 16, all of a sudden my powers would come to me, and they never did,” Leslie said. “So, I started to move into liking superheroes that didn’t have any powers.”

Needless to say, as a result, when she first put on the suit with the bat across her chest, it felt “surreal, but then it’s also this moment of like your childhood dreams come true, so it doesn’t feel real. It almost feels like make-believe until you actually start playing, and then you realize this will be your reality for a while.”

In her conversation, Leslie also shared what it’s like to wear the suit, drive the Batmobile, and take on the villains in the fight scenes.

Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder Pic credit: The CW

Monsters & Critics: Is the suit hard to move in, is it restrictive?

Javicia Leslie: There’s technically two suits. There’s one that I wear when I’m doing regular things — and I don’t know if Batwoman has ever really done regular things. But then there’s my stunt suit, and that’s probably my favorite, and I always try to wear it, regardless. I always try to sneak and ask wardrobe, “Is there any way you can put my stunt suit in there, even if I’m not doing a stunt, because it gives me a little bit more space, not only to be flexible, but to snack.”

M&C: Batwoman is the only television show right not just with a queer lead, but a queer lead of color. How does it feel stepping into the kind of responsibility and impact it’s going to have?

Javicia Leslie: It’s an honor. It’s frustrating that this is the first. It really shows we have so much work to do, because in 2021, this should not be a first. But I’m really happy that our show creators, our producers, DC, The CW, Greg Berlanti, we’re all willing to take this chance and take this jump for a very much needed movement in our industry. I think that representation is so important. When I was growing up, I didn’t see versions of myself on the screen, especially in superhero movies and television shows. I remember when I was growing up, I saw two Black female superheroes, and technically Catwoman’s not really a superhero. So, I saw one, and Halle Berry played both.

So, to be able to be like be a vessel in this industry that allows other people that either look like me or walk the same path that the three of us women walk, I think it’s important. I think that we deserve to have representation. And so, it’s an honor. I’m really blessed to be a part in the beginning of this journey for us.

M&C: How did you develop your martial arts skills?

Javicia Leslie: I started practicing Muay Thai, that’s like my main martial arts that I’ve learned, two years ago because I come from a physical background. I ran track all my life and then moving to L.A., I just got into working out, but I needed to be able to create some type of contact so that I could release. So, that was like my way of doing it. It really had nothing to do with, with acting.

And, as far as the show goes, it’s not even like I’m the best martial artist there is, because I’m clearly not, but it does allow me to understand the language that our stunt coordinators speak when we’re trying to choreograph the fights. And it helps that I do know my way around what they’re asking me to do. Then we just work on the moves, and me not hitting anyone for real.

What really started me in martial arts is my brother. He was a semi-pro MMA fighter. And when he retired from that, he ended up buying his own gym and teaching Muay Thai through his gym. So, I’ve always had a love for it just because I used to watch my brother do it, and I just thought it was so cool.

M&C: Did you feel any pressure going into the show in the second season?

Javicia Leslie: I think I would have felt differently maybe if it was a recast, because then I’d have to meet the energy and everything of the previous actress. But I came in as a completely new character, so for me, it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to live up to someone else’s reputation because no one else has played Ryan. We’re creating Ryan as we go.

What toys did you get to play with and did you get to drive the Batmobile?

Javicia Leslie:  We have my gauntlets and they have different buttons that do different things, including shooting things, and I have my grapple gun and the batarang, so I get to play with all these different cool gadgets. And yeah, we do have the Batmobile for this season, so that would, hopefully, be Ryan’s mode of transportation throughout the season. We’ll see. I don’t know, but I’m definitely not doing the stunt scenes with the vehicle. The most I’ll do is if they need me to pull into the scene, I’ll pull into the scene. I’m terrified. That’s a very expensive car and I don’t have the money if something happened!

Batwoman airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on The CW.

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