Batwoman is currently the juiciest lesbian soap opera slash action adventure on TV, and we here at AfterEllen cannot get enough. How did Batwoman come to life? How did this dream of a lesbian heroine who kicks ass drop into our laps? We talked to showrunner and out lesbian Caroline Dries, alongside Ruby Rose’s costar, Meagan Tandy, who plays Sophie.
If you’ve been following the show, you know that the last episode before the two-week Thanksgiving break was some of the gayest television in history. You can read our episode recap here. It was also a good example of all of the elements that make this a genre-defying comic adaptation, balancing drama, vulnerability and ass-kicking.
Showrunner Caroline Dries
AfterEllen: This show really stands apart from other superhero or comic book adaptations. How are you putting a fresh spin on the genre?
Caroline Dries: When I first pitched this show, The president of Warner Brothers said ‘the reason I love this show so much is it’s so personal, so emotional, so grounded in family dynamics.’
You know, I’m looking at arrow and how good the action sequences are and I’m like there’s no topping that, there’s no surprising audiences when we have things like Avengers in theaters. At the end of the day, the drama has to be what you’re thinking about. So we find very specific moments in the action — we wanted Kate to shoot a Crow’s truck after a motorcycle chase — what I loved about that wasn’t the motorcycle chase or the awesome crash, even though both were really cool, what I loved was that it was a moment when Kate, who was a sharpshooter champion in her school, which we had just learned in the story, has to shoot a tire out from 200 yards away. So what is the emotional component of this action sequence? It’s Kate focusing on what made her special five years ago.
AE: Talk to me about the action scenes. What is it like to work with Ruby Rose in these fight scenes?
CD: I was a fan of Arrow and one of the things I love about that show is how impressive the stunt sequences are. When we did the episode introducing Batwoman, I was relieved James Bamford was directing it because he’s a former stunt coordinator so that is his wheelhouse. We didn’t do a lot of stunts on my last show, Vampire Diaries.
I’ve been conscientious about what looks cool and what looks like a ballet, a little too safe for me. We hire an amazing stunt coordinator Marshall Virtue. In the first conversation we agreed we want this to be visceral, really hand-to-hand, get the camera tight on the action and do less floating around in wide shots that make the action feel choreographed. Get in the nitty gritty of the fight where you feel the visceral violence of it. For somebody like Ruby who is a natural badass, it felt organic. Part of the original conceit is that she’s not a beautiful martial artist, you know she’s scrappy and smart. She finds a weapon, she uses it, like the frying pan. The character herself is a smaller woman, so the reality of that is that we had to make her really smart and agile — you know she went up against the Executioner in the last episode and she got her ass whooped. I wanted to play into the realism of it.
AE: Sophie had been the first one to know Kate’s secret. In the seventh episode, Kate fooled her by putting in a stand-in Batwoman, so Sophie relents on demanding that Kate tell the truth. Is Kate really going to keep this wall up with Sophie? Is Sophie really going to let this go?
CD: First of all, were you surprised by how Kate fooled Sophie?
AE: Completely! I was like, wait, wtf just happened?!
CD: I knew I wanted to do that since the beginning of the season, get Sophie off Kate’s path. But it’s become less about Sophie wanting to know who’s behind the mask and starting to realize she has more in common with Batwoman than she ever realized. She’s starting to be drawn to her.
AE: Yeah and the fact that Sophie suspected Kate so early was definitely very unique among shows like these. Viewers are used to long and drawn out reveals.
CD: I think about Smallville and Lana didn’t know Clark’s secret until midway through season five and I’m like how did you do that for so long?
Beyond getting this amazing opportunity to do this show, I also had this challenge of how to do something new in the face of all these other Arrowverse shows that fans have already seen and digested, and so they already have a formula in their minds of how these things go. I didn’t want to be another formulaic superhero show just putting a template over the series and saying here’s what happens when. But the challenge is everything’s been done before. So the trick for us is to be hard on ourselves in the writers’ room to say ‘is this as fresh as we can make it? Would this be a surprise for the audience? Does this have a payoff?
AE: Do you think the standpoint of having so many bi and lesbian women working on this show is giving it a unique gaze making it feel like home for lesbian and bi viewers?
CD: 100% for sure. it makes all the difference having a lesbian at the helm. our producing director Is also a lesbian. a couple of our writers are gay, our support staff is gay…when you’re the person creating the stories you have a well of experience and knowledge to pull from.
Actress Meagan Tandy
AfterEllen: What aspects of the inner conflict of the character were you eager to show?
Meagan Tandy: I think with Sophie, even though she’s a very strong and regimented person, she’s also extremely vulnerable and she has this conflict within herself. So having to portray this character who’s not comfortable in her own skin is a challenge because I want to find both beats — they’re so real, you know? The contradiction within herself is that she’s not in her own truth yet.
AE: Watching her — she’s so powerful, and she embodies courage in what she does, so it’s ironic that she doesn’t have that same courage to own her life.
MT: There must have been something going on in her past and her upbringing. We touch on this, but Jacob Kane asks Sophie if her mom is coming, and she is not coming, she doesn’t even know about it, so I think the reason she’s not able to have that courage. It has something to do with her upbringing and her family.
AE: That also bring to mind the scene where she says to Kate, “we don’t all have the luxury to be out.”
MT: She says ‘I don’t have the luxury of being offended by that.’
AE: Oh right! That really touches on the marginalization of her based on her sexuality and her race.
MT: One of the things one thing I’m personally very excited about with the series is — yes, Sophie is part of the LGBT community, but she’s also a black woman. That comes with its own complications and frustrations. That is a very large factor in why she chose to lie to the Academy.
AE: That conversation between the two of them foreshadows the potential for ongoing conflict around — I wonder if you see Sophie stepping into her power more, but also a fear of rejection around that. It seems hard for her to be vulnerable.
MT: Watching it it broke my heart because this is her moment, she’s trying to come out of her shell and there’s that bit of rejection. For Sophie, she was very in love with Kate and probably very much still is. When Kate says ‘we should keep our distance,’ that in itself could keep her from coming out. She couldn’t come out in the past, in the present she’s asking Kate, ‘do you accept me?’, and Kate is basically saying ‘Well that’s not good enough.’ That’s going to keep Sophie in her shell.
AE: Do you think Sophie believes Kate when she says she’s not Batwoman?
MT: She was definitely not believing it for several episodes, but now that they’ve done the whole switcheroo, she no longer thinks Kate is Batwoman.
AE: Just one more question, the one that’s on the minds of every lesbian in America, what’s it like playing opposite Ruby Rose?
MT: It’s been really awesome! We’ve talked about how great our chemistry is. You know with acting, you never know, you book jobs and hope you’ll have a wonderful dynamic with the others on the show. But here we just have a genuine dynamic and it’s very fun. It’s not difficult at all to put these things up with her.
Batwoman airs on Sunday on the CW and is available for streaming on Monday nights. It returns from winter break on January 19th.