The CW’s Batwoman has, from the beginning, been a show about doing things a new way — innovating the superhero’s journey of self-discovery and breaking down barriers in terms of representation and power dynamics.
As portrayed by Ruby Rose on Batwoman Season 1, Kate Kane was a hero with no superpowers who became Gotham’s defender by borrowing her cousin Bruce’s toys and learning on the job.
With Ruby Rose’s exit from the show after the first season and, consequently, Kate’s character going missing, Batwoman is the first Arrow-verse show to face recasting its titular role.
Into this ground-breaking situation, enter Javicia Leslie, taking on the role of the new and non-canon Ryan Wilder, the mantle of Batwoman, and, if that isn’t enough, representing for — not only LGBTQ+ — but also BIPOC people.
Leslie, dressed fittingly in a beautiful red suit, reflecting her role as the Crimson Caped Crusader, spoke eloquently from Vancouver, BC, Canada, to members of the digital press over Zoom about playing the newest version of this DC superhero.
Her take on Ryan Wilder takes in the bigger picture of the Gotham we’ve seen historically.
“She was very opposite of Gotham to me. I felt like if I were living in Gotham, and we were past the glitz and glam of what we see a lot of the time when we are introduced into Gotham in movies and TV shows, we’d find her there.
“She’s not the person that we see highlighted in a lot of these films and television shows, and so it’s like we’re finally seeing a different perspective of Gotham.”
Where others might be intimidated by the idea of stepping into a starring role on an established show, Leslie feels the chance to create and introduce Ryan as a wholly new character actually relieves the pressure, as opposed to trying to become Kate Kane.
“I felt like I could come in there without the pressure. I didn’t have to try to fill the shoes of my predecessor. It wasn’t like it was a character being recast.
“It was a completely new and original character, so my only job was to really create the world of Ryan to make sure that that was authentic and grounded and, with that, I felt confident in going into the season, knowing that we were coming from something that was very authentic and very original.”
In all the press announcements about Season 2, Ryan Wilder’s character description highlights her identity as an out lesbian, which Leslie regards as a necessary descriptor in a world where LGBTQ+ individuals have and continue to be underrepresented.
“I’m not a fan of titles, but I understand that we live in a world [where] titles exist. It really does show the underrepresentation that we have in the entertainment community. We wouldn’t have to say what people are if they were fully represented the way they should be.”
While much of Kate’s story in Season 1 was rooted in her past relationship with Sophie and the consequences of her coming out (contrasted with Sophie, who didn’t), Ryan’s sexuality isn’t a focus when the character is introduced.
As Leslie explains it, Ryan’s sexuality was accepted by herself and the people that mattered to her a long time ago.
“With Ryan, we’re kind of past [her coming out story]. We meet her when she’s twenty-five. She’s lived a life in foster care, so there’s no one she had to come out to because, in her mind, there was no one that really loved her.
“So you don’t really go through that journey with her. You just kind of watch her exist.”
The connection between Kate and Ryan is most tangibly represented by the Batwoman suit that Ryan finds and appropriates.
Where Kate recognized the symbolism of donning the Caped Crusader’s iconic cowl but had a sort of entitlement to the hero persona because she’d trained for years to join her father’s Crows, Ryan doesn’t truly connect to the idea of being a hero until she’s wearing that suit.
And even with the suit, there’s a period of adjustment — as there was in Kate’s early days before the wig’s addition — that Leslie describes as Ryan wearing the “Kate Kane suit.”
As the trailers have shown, Ryan eventually gets her own suit, and TV Fanatic asked Leslie if that shifted Ryan’s feeling of ownership of the Batwoman identity.
“I felt a shift in myself and my ownership of the character of Ryan’s Batwoman. I agree; for the first two and a half episodes, you feel like you’re walking in someone else’s shoes.
“Red hair and a red wig. That doesn’t even look good on me with my complexion, so you definitely feel like it’s not you; you’re not comfortable. This isn’t it.
“Before we actually started shooting, Caroline [Dries] had already told me that we were going to design a different suit for Ryan but that it would have to develop naturally. So I’d started to be fitted for my new suit while filming in the previous suit.
“So, it was weird because I was playing in one suit, knowing that this other suit was getting made. But once that suit was made, I remember the first time I put it on in the fitting.
“It just felt like, ‘This is it. This is our Batwoman. This is our new Batwoman. This is the transition in the journey. It’s scary, but it’s super exciting.
“At the end of the day, the suit represents a legacy. It’s not that only one person can wear the suit. If you look back, in old Batman comics and adaptations, that suit was passed on as well when Bruce Wayne went missing. So, there’s nothing to say it cannot leave the Wayne family.
“I think that, at the end of the day, it’s not about the last name; it’s about the character of the person. It’s about the morality of the person, and Ryan has that. She may not come from wealth or prestige, but she’s a person that knows what’s right and what’s wrong and will always fight for what’s right.
It’s not only the suit that imbues the role with a sense of power. While Kate rode a motorcycle and chose the Batcycle for her Batwoman, Wilder gets to hop into the infamous Batmobile driver’s seat.
“It’s super dope. Y’know, those cars are super powerful, just in essence. Before you even drive, you feel the energy of it. And the way that our team has designed it, every part of it feels epic.”
Leslie loves that the audience will get to see how Ryan develops from a survivor into a superhero.
“You watch her go through the journey of needing the suit. Because she felt so powerless, I think that is so current with everything that we have going on in society right now. Feeling powerless. All of us are trying to find our superhero suits to figure out how to make a difference.
“Ryan really does go on that journey of ‘I’m tired of this. I’m tired of feeling like we don’t have anyone to protect us, and then the people that are supposed to protect us are the ones that are treating us the worst. Right? Sounds very familiar?
“To be able to play in that world, not only in my real life but also on-screen, I think that that’s super powerful, super important. A lot of times, we realize that these characters aren’t for everybody, but they’re going to be for someone, and that’s what’s really important.
“Instead of us always trying to please the masses — what really is the masses? — what I love so much about this show [is that] it’s really specific.
“I think that that’s something that it should be commended for — for being very specific and for being brave enough to be very specific.”
As a fan of superhero movies from childhood, Leslie is excited to portray a character that everyone can relate to.
“What I love about Ryan is she’s like us. So now, there’s a stake in it for you; there’s something that you can invest in because you understand that you relate to it, you connect to it. She’s not some rich, wealthy socialite. She is literally like all of us, and she’s now entering this world of fantasy.”
Leslie tracks her desire to be a force for positive change in the world back to her school days, learning about black actors and artists like Eartha Kitt and Nina Simone, who used their fame for activism.
“I said to myself, ‘I want what I do in my life to make such an impact that twenty, forty, sixty years later, there’s a kid reading about what I was able to do for our world, for our people,’ and I wanted to do it through my art, through my passion.”
“I pray that my legacy in this world, my legacy even just through Batwoman, is that it inspires someone that feels like they’re voiceless, powerless, underrepresented, whatever it may be, to feel powerful enough, to feel represented enough, to now use their work, their art, to make a difference.”
While Leslie is careful about spoilers, when TV Fanatic asked about Ryan’s effect on other characters in terms of serving as a role model, like how Kate became one for Parker Torres in Season 1, she reveals some general details about someone who may grow into a similar relationship.
“I don’t know the capacity of what this character is going to be to Ryan, but I can definitely see this character being impacted by who Ryan is in Gotham, by who Batwoman is in Gotham, especially when we’re living in a world where our political police are not being held accountable their actions and Ryan definitely is on the side of — if she were real, she would say, ‘Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor’ type of side.
“That’s the perspective that she comes from. And so, there is a character that gets introduced that I am assuming may be impacted by Ryan, by Batwoman.”
But even early on in the season, the effects of Wilder as a hero are subtly felt.
“There is a young girl that Ryan has an interaction with. This is when she’s still wearing her Kate Kane suit, and so, that suit automatically, in Gotham, represents a superhero.
“Ryan quickly gets this girl out of the way of danger, and the little girl looks up to her and says, ‘Thanks, Batwoman.’ And Ryan looks down to the girl, and she’s like, ‘Oh, no, I’m not Batwoman.’
“And she looks at her, and she says, ‘To me, you are.’ And so, I do believe that there are going to be characters throughout this season that will definitely be influenced and impacted by Ryan and her Batwoman.”
Batwoman Season 2 premieres on Sunday, January 17th at 8/7c on The CW.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.