What gets to a narcissistic superhero more than an amped-up villain? How about a female superhero with an attitude?
That’s the situation Homelander faces in the second season of “The Boys,” the irreverent look at those cape-wearing crime fighters and the men and women who want to expose them.
“There’s that old-fashioned attitude of not wanting to be told what to do by a woman,” says Antony Starr, who plays the all-American Homelander.
The female who threatens him is Stormfront, played by Aya Cash. She doesn’t play the “God, family and country" card. She jabs Homelander repeatedly and “presents him with a whole new set of challenges that he doesn’t really know how to cope with,” Starr says.
In the graphic novel that inspired “The Boys,” Stormfront was male.
Executive Producer Eric Kripke says the switch was made to underscore Homelander’s weakness: insecurity. “Stormfront has certain hateful ideologies,” he says. “The truth is, there’s a lot of hate and negative thought these days if you look online. (It is) packaged in really slick social media-attractive ways.”
Cash, fresh off “You’re the Worst,” says it helped to be a newcomer. “Getting to come in with Stormfront’s confidence helped me feel like I could enter the show as an actor, too.” The hardest part? The character’s physicality.
“They put me in training for two months before I started,” Cash says. “I’d never done anything like that before and I’m no spring chicken.”
Meanwhile, Starr had to stay the course as Homelander, the leader of The Seven and “a narcissistic psychopath.”
“The choices he makes are generally about himself and motivated for selfish reasons,” Starr says. “Those that are in and around (him) might see that as terrifying but Eric and I had a lot a discussions about not making Homelander too mustache twirly and arch and giving him some layers that we might not have seen before.”
At the end of the first season, “The Boys” revealed Vought International had been using a substance called “Compound-V” to create the superheroes. The universal support they were used to getting was starting to crumble.
Even worse? The Seven were down a few superheroes. The Deep, a crime fighter who’s able to communicate with aquatic life, has been drummed out of the elite squad for committing sexual assault.
Eager to get back in, he listens to his corporate handlers and agrees to activity that will return him to the fans’ good graces. Played by Chace Crawford, the often-dim superhero frequently surprises.
“I saw it as a game changer for me, personally,” Crawford says. “It’s an opportunity to do something a little bit grittier. On a streaming service like Amazon, there’s a little bit more room to do what you want. Kripke was great in letting us really own the characters. It was a very collaborative experience.”
To separate the two worlds – the superheroes and “The Boys” trying to bring them down – Kripke used different filming techniques.
The Boys, he says, are shot with handheld cameras to suggest a kind of “punk rock, grittier feel.” “When we’re with the superheroes, we tend to be a little more classic Hollywood on dollies. We have a smoother camera to try to sell that they’re kind of living in this ivory tower above the streets; The Boys live in the street.”
Those outliers, hoping to expose The Seven and the powers behind them, sacrifice plenty. Friends are killed, homes are destroyed.
Hughie, played by Jack Quaid, has a personal relationship with Starlight, one of The Seven. She helps him connect the dots and figure out how they can expose the tactics Vought executives have employed.
“Hughie’s the one person trying to finish this thing,” Quaid says.
His mentor, Butcher (played by Karl Urban), is afraid the battle could hurt innocents in their lives.
“Going into Season 2, Eric got the gang together and said, ‘Listen, for Season 2 we don’t necessarily want to go bigger and have more special effects and bigger action sequences,’” Urban says. “What we really want to do is dive deeper into the characters, their journeys, and test all the characters. All the characters have something that’s very important to them ripped away. We get to see how they all individually deal with it.
“It was just a continual process of upping the stakes, sort of leading toward the crescendo. Season 2 is like Season 1, except with a massive hit of Compound V.”
Case in point: There’s a whale that appears early on and serves as a hideout for The Boys.
When the actors found themselves spending long hours inside the carcass, “it’s 90 degrees outside and 120 degrees inside the whale,” Laz Alonso says. “I just asked, ‘Where’s the A/C? When are you guys going to turn on the A/C?'”
“Only on this show would you something as bananas as that,” Urban says. “Never in my career (have I heard), ‘Could we get some A/C in the whale?’”
"The Boys" returns Sept. 4 to Amazon Prime.
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