Javicia Leslie on Becoming the First Black Batwoman & Filming in Vancouver

The actress tells us what taking on the lead role in The CW's Batwoman means for her and others.

Meet Javicia Leslie, your brand new Batwoman. This Sunday, the L.A.-based actress will take the mantle as Gotham's caped crusader on the second season of The CW series Batwoman, replacing the show's original star, Ruby Rose (a.k.a Kate Kane). She'll play a new character assuming the cowl, Ryan Wilder. Leslie is the first Black woman to play the iconic role of Batwoman in the DC franchise and is using the opportunity to inspire and empower others. Her character will also represent the LGBTQ community as Wilder navigates her sexual orientation throughout the series. 

This week, Leslie told us what playing the role of Batwoman in the hit series meant for her and for others. Complex Canada’s Alex Narvaez caught up with the actress to talk about cultural representation as a Black female superhero, diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry, and what it was like shooting the show in VanCity.

I know you spend a lot of time in Vancouver. You’ve been shooting the show there. Are you in Vancouver right now?
Yeah, I am. I just got here about a week ago, so I’m in my 14-day quarantine that we have to go through when we come into the country. This way, you know, my energy can still look very professional but yeah, I’m actually in my apartment and I don’t have shoes on.

How has Vancouver been? I mean, with quarantining. How has your experience in Canada been?
Well, this is actually my second time because, you know, we went through the first half of the season and then we just went home for two weeks for our break, which was so needed. Coming up here for five months and not being able to see any family, it can get difficult after a while, but we have such a great support system here with our crew and our cast. I do feel like I have a family here. When I was here the first time around and I wasn’t in quarantine, I was able to get out and I got to go on hikes. I have a pit bull, he’s pretty big, so to be able to take him on hikes, off-leash, and get to see him run around like a maniac, we don’t have that in L.A. We have hikes, but a lot of them are off-leash trails, so to be able to see him in this rainforest atmosphere and experience all of that... I’m from the East Coast, so I’m used to more of that type of feel, but he had never been in any of that, so that was cool. 

The dope part of Vancouver is like, there’s this mix. You can go somewhere and be in the forest and then you can literally go five minutes and be at the beach. I’ve done the beach, I did the water paddling, like in the water that’s near Downtown Vancouver, and so that was super cool. There’s just so much to do, there’s literally so much to do. The other day Camrus and I went up to, um, this snow mountain. I forgot what it’s called. But like, I never ever wanted to be in the snow. Who wants to be in the snow? I had the most fun ever!

"I go to sleep Black and I wake up Black, so there’s nothing different for me, as far as being who I am. But there is this strength that you have, or that you gain, when you can look on the screen and see someone that looks like you in a role like this."

Talk to me about this role. I’ve been checking you out on Instagram and I see you’ve been posting a lot of your training and all this fun stuff you’ve been doing.
You know, it’s so much fun. Action is something that I truly enjoy. I was already trained in martial arts before I got the role, so to be able to do something in alignment with my passions, it’s super epic and it’s super dope and it’s honestly an honour. It feels like every time I go to set, I feel like a kid again. There was one time where—I get shot up in the air a lot—but there was a time where I’m up in the air and it’s at nighttime. We film a lot outside and I’m in the air, I’m looking over all of Vancouver and I was just like, “God, thank you.” Like, come on! This is what I do for a living; like, I get paid to feel like a human rollercoaster. It’s so much fun. 

Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder in 'Batwoman'

I wanted to talk to you about representation. This is a big moment for superhero stories and for anybody who is an actor looking at you, an actress looking at you. You’re the first Black woman to play Batwoman. How does that feel? And what do you hope that generations looking at you take away from that?
It’s an honour, honestly. I always say this: I go to sleep Black and I wake up Black, so there’s nothing different for me, as far as being who I am. But there is this strength that you have, or that you gain, when you can look on the screen and see someone that looks like you in a role like this. I remember being a little girl and not being able to see a lot of this—not just seeing a lot of Black people, not being able to see a lot of Black women, play roles like this. To be a female superhero, in general, is already the most epic thing ever and it’s so powerful and so empowering. But to be a Black female superhero is so representative and it’s just... it’s exciting. It makes sense because women are superheroes naturally, you know? I think that right now, to constantly show the little babies that they are represented in all these different ways is so important. And I think that this is the journey that our entertainment community really needs to go in. It’s just about inclusion in every different way. 

I’ve heard you say that this is a good start. What else do you think needs to happen?
I want it all. I want you to be able to see a superhero that looks like you, that looks like me. I want a superhero from our trans community. I want us to be able to see a real, representative plethora of superheroes where every little kid can feel like they’re identified through this superhero. And I think that it’s important. I think it’s possible. I think as long as we continue to diversify our writers and our creators, we’re able to then diversify the content that shows up on the screen. Hiring creators like Caroline Dries, who is a part of our LGBT community, is what allows the door to be open for me to walk through. So, I think it’s just important that it doesn’t just start with hiring diverse actors, it starts with hiring a diverse creative team. And I think that that’s the energy and the direction that we really need to go into.

I’ve heard you speak on Batwoman being interesting too. Even in the comics, her character's gay. Can you talk to me more about what they’re doing that’s forward thinking, this show?
I think that finally someone realized if you see it, you can believe it. I mean if you see it, you can be it. And to really believe it, you have to see it, you know? And I’m not even just referring to our show, there are a couple of DC shows that are truly diverse and representative of what our world really looks like. And so, I’m happy that I get to be a part of this journey of bravery. Because that’s what it is. Not only is it brave amongst the show creator, it’s brave amongst the franchise because the Batwoman/Batman franchise, for me, is like, the definition of a superhero. When I grew up, I watched Batman and that was my version of a superhero. I always chose Batman because he didn’t have some like, magic power. He was a human being that chose to do what’s right. At the end of the day, everything that he did was through his own capability and so that was always the superhero that I chose. To use Batwoman, coming from such an epic franchise, as the vessel to change, as a vessel to representation, and for me to be a part of that, it’s honestly an honour and it’s really exciting to stand up for people that don’t feel represented. It’s scary at times because you’re going to go against the grain and you’re going to get a kickback, but so what? I have an army of people that I’m representing and that are behind us and that are supporting us and we’re going to go as hard as they allow us to go. 

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