Playing Martian Manhunter has been great for Supergirl star David Harewood, who has said time and again what an honor it is, and how much he enjoys playing the role of a superhero who is also a person of color.
But something that Harewood spends a lot of time thinking about is the responsibility that comes with the role -- from small to large, Martian Manhunter is a character who is deeply ethical and whose motives and actions shape much of the world around him -- starting with Kara and Alex Danvers.
“I have been trying to protect them since they were kids, and that’s never going to stop,” Harewood said. “Once you love somebody you always want to protect them. What I think is lovely is that now that they are grown, there are elements of the season where they are elder daughters giving me advice. I think that J’Onn appreciates that; it’s nice that J’onn doesn’t always have to carry the load.”
Besides Kara and Alex, J'Onn has somewhat appointed himself as the guy to take Earth's alien-immigrant population under his wing. Remember, after all, that having taken on the identity of The DEO's Hank Henshaw, J'Onn specifically stepped into a role where he had government-sanctioned authority. This means that he is changing the system from within -- something he was doing even during the years when his "Martian Manhunter" persona was mostly dormant.
“He chooses a very different tact to the real Hank Henshaw, who was much more militaristic and had darker motives,” Harewood said. “He was, I would guess, much more interested in experimentation and incarceration whereas J’Onn is much more interested in protection. He wants to protect the world against its adversaries but he is very happy that there are aliens around on the planet; he doesn’t necessarily want to go out and capture them and experiment with them. I think J’Onn’s whole ethos joining the DEO was the change that ethos, it wasn’t necessarily to be nefarious, it was more to use it as a protective agency. That’s how I have tried to buy into that. I have tried to channel the DEO more into a healthy fighting unit as opposed to a unit which is primarily about extermination and incarcerations.”
That could be, in part, becuase J'Onn knows what comes of that sort of philosophy. The discrimination against, and extermination of, the Green Martians continues to haunt him all this time later, and the imagery used -- which invoked the Holocaust -- reminded Harewood that there was something very serious that the show was trying to say, even if it was buried inside of green skin and tights.
“When we did the reveal story in season one, the whole talk of putting people in ovens — that happened in the latter half of the 20th Century,” Harewood told ComicBook.com. “So to speak for those people an to speak against injustice is important to me, but to try and represent it truthfully, that’s what an actor loves. When I shot the scene where he talks to Alex about what happened to his family, it’s really emotional, and I wasn’t the only person on set crying. It’s not too far of a leap to think about what happened to Jews in the second World War. It’s hugely important to speak against that and I’m glad I got that opportunity.”
Supergirl airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.