There’s a common adage in the acting profession that one should never think of a villainous character as a villain. Nobody in real life believes they’re the bad guy, so why should the fictional world be any different?
Surely, however, there have to be some exceptions to that rule. Like, what if a character is the spitting metaphorical image of American fascism – draped in a red, white, and blue flag, shooting lasers out of his eyes, and refusing to lift a super-powered finger to save a crashing airplane? What about then? Well, according to The Boys showrunner Eric Kripke, series star Antony Starr has no problem finding the humanity within the sociopathic Homelander.
In speaking with Deadline about The Boys season 3, Kripke relays how Starr bristles at the compliment from fans that he plays a great villain.
“He’ll say what a good actor should say, which is like, ‘I’m not the villain. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m misunderstood,’ Kripke says.
“At first I thought it was shtick. And then I realized he really believes that. And that’s what makes a great actor great, that it doesn’t even occur to him that they’re the bad guy, because they’re so deep inside, making that character human.”
Certainly a lot of work must go into making Homelander a.k.a. John a recognizable human being…and that’s because he’s barely a human being. One of the most powerful superheroes in the world, Homelander is a global celebrity to the point of deification. There aren’t many individuals on the planet, if any, who can keep him in check so he behaves accordingly.
Finding the actor who could strike the right balance between outwardly wholesome while maintaining a turbulent inner world of sociopathy and selfishness was crucial to making the world of The Boys work. Kripke acknowledges as much in the interview and says they knew they found the right actor when the New Zealand-born Starr submitted an audition tape.
“He had this take on the character from the jump, that was the American hero whose mask is cracking and revealing the sociopathy underneath. Just from the jump he had that charming American smile, that almost game show smile down pat, but you could see it in the corners of his eyes that he was very, very dangerous and psychotic. He was a slam dunk. He was definitely the only actor we put forward for that role.”
In many ways, the success of The Boys and its world flows out from Starr’s lead in nailing down such a crucial role. Now the show is Amazon Prime Video’s biggest hit, with a third season in production and a spinoff on the way. The Boys season 3 is set to delve further into the superheroic legacy of Vought International and will introduce the first superhero, Soldier Boy (played by Jensen Ackles).
It will be interesting to see how Soldier Boy set the precedent for superheroes and paved the way for the Homelanders of the world. Perhaps after season 3, fans will view Homelander as misunderstood as Starr does.