When Javicia Leslie arrived in Los Angeles to pursue her acting career some years ago, she would drive on Sunset Blvd and look at billboards for inspiration.
“I would park my car underneath one and study for my auditions while looking at what I wanted for my future,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is manifestation of hard work, one does not exist without the other.”
Leslie’s journey goes, graduating from Hampton University, working a government job in her native DMV-area, and realizing that she wanted to realize her dreams of becoming an actress. So, she packed up her things, moved to LA, and fearlessly tackled Tinseltown.
Leslie landed roles in the digital webseries Chef Julian, Netflix series Always a Bridesmaid and God Friended Me, and now, The CW’s Batwoman. The casting call was nondescript. According to Leslie, they were looking more for people with similar characteristics as the character than an actual archetype. You know, bold, fearless, on a mission. Leslie embarked on what she describes as one of the most nerve-wracking auditions she had ever experienced. She went through several rounds of testing before it finally became official.
“I was at home in the middle of praying when I got the call, because they were stressing me out. I knew I was one of the very few choices that they had narrowed it down to, but the closer it gets, the more stressful it gets, and I was just really happy to be chosen,” Leslie tells Complex via phone.
In Batwoman, Leslie plays Ryan Wilder, a troubled woman who starts off on a quest for vengeance against those who killed her adoptive mother but ends up becoming a superhero after realizing it’s what the world needed.
Ryan Wilder is live-action TV’s first Black Batwoman, and it's also groundbreaking that the character and actress are queer. There was a Black Batwoman in the DC Universe before, however: Wilder is predated by Kathy Duquesne in the animated series, Batman: The Mystery of Batwoman. There has also been a ton of fan art portraying a variety of Batwomen, some of which inspired some of Wilder’s looks, particularly her much buzzed-about Afro.
“When we were first coming to the table, we looked at a lot of fan art and our show creator, Caroline Dries, sent me this fan art and she's like, ‘What do you think of this?’ And there was a Black Batwoman with this big beautiful Afro and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I would love this,'” Leslie remembers. “It was important for us to represent being a Black woman as a Batwoman, and so the first wig was that straight red wig, which was beautiful because it represents Kate Kane’s Batwoman, but I think in my version of Batwoman, the big beautiful curly wig, is such a representation of a powerful Black woman. It reminds me of, back in the day, when Foxy Brown had her big Afro.”
Leslie has joined the ranks of a unique order of actors who play DC Universe superheroes on The CW, which includes Candice Patton (Iris West on The Flash), Jordan Calloway (Painkiller on Black Lightning), Nafessa Williams (Thunder on Black Lightning), and more. They were already friends prior to Leslie’s induction, so she’s looking forward to potential crossover events in the future, and then there’s the fandom, which can be intense. The Iris West Defense Squad is one example of how hard they go, and Leslie is already getting a taste of that type of enthusiasm.
“They go hard and I love them. They say, ‘That’s our Batwoman!’ They’re very protective of their Batwoman,” says Leslie. “I think I’ve been very transparent throughout the entire process of what’s going on and making sure they’re a part of this journey with me because they are, and because of that, people feel very much included in this journey and they’re rooting for representation.”
Batwoman returns to The CW for Season 2 on Sunday, Jan.17, 2021.