During the Supergirl press junket at Comic-Con International: San Diego this summer, ComicBook.com joined a number of reporters in an interview with Mehcad Brooks, the True Blood and Glory Road actor set to play former Daily Planet photojournalist James Olsen, who has migrated to Supergirl's new hometown to work for Cat Grant, the publisher who also (unbeknownst to Cat) employs Superman's cousin.
As with many of the interviews Brooks has conducted since taking the job, it centered around the decision not only to take the longtime Superman supporting character and upgrade him to handsome leading man, but the decision also to make the traditionally red-haired and freckle-faced Olsen into a person of color.
Brooks shared some insight -- and a lot of jokes.
I think what reporter at this table wants to know is: What are Jimmy's ethics that he had Clark pose for that picture?
[Laughs] I've never gotten that; that's a good question.
Jimmy's an opportunist, obviously...!
No, I think he did what any one of you guys would do as a responsible journalist; he set the story up. My mom's a journalist so it's like, yeah. I feel good about that.
How early in the process did you realize that this James Olsen was going to be not only different from the one most fans would recognize, but kind of a key figure in the series?
Those are two separate answers for me. I'll answer the second one first and circle back.
A key element in the pilot? They told me. They were like, "Okay, he's not really in the pilot a lot but when it gets to the series, this is who he is, so on and so forth. Stuff I can't tell you guys right now. But it was exciting to know that I was going out for something that was so integral to it.
As far as changing the iconography, that it might be different? I realized that when they called me back: "Oh, y'all are...oh, for real? I just thought that was affirmative action, but y'all were paying attention when I talked? Cool cool cool."
Are there particular comics that you've read for research?
They gave me a couple to read. I read them, but it doesn't really apply to the James Olsen that we're going to create. We're definitely going to give it its respect, but we're transitioning him into the 21st Century.
Our great-grandfathers really had a monochromatic existence, no matter who they were, and they wrote what they knew. And I think we're writing something that is now, so we have a very cool new playground to play with and a canvas to paint, and I hope the fans who were loyal to Jimmy Olsen for the last 75 years can stick with us and enjoy what they see.
What do you think of making him such a different character now? He's much more confident and completely different.
This is what happens when somebody goes to Superman Confidence Boot Camp. You hang around with Superman long enough, it's going to rub off on you. You're going to gain some confidence, lift some weights, dress a little bit different, take the bowtie off, maybe? You go to the bar, girls are going to be like, "Hey, what do you do?" "I hang out with Superman."
That works, by the way. [Laughs]
I'm excited, man. I know it's going to be different, it might be hard for some people to swallow, but just...get your gag reflex ready, I don't know. Just swallow it. It's going to be good. It's going to be really cool.
Are you excited for the second half of the season, when every third question isn't "Why does Jimmy have to be a person of color?"
I haven't gotten that question that often. I mean, he doesn't have to be; he never has been. This is the first time we're doing it.
To me, that just means that in this country that we're headed in the right direction. It sounds corny, but I'm a corny guy: it does go to show you, if you're a naysayer and you don't think things are changing, all you have to do is look around and we're becoming more accepting of people, whoever they are. It doesn't matter what they look like. It's like "judging people by the content of their character," right? The content of the scene. And I'm just really happy and proud of Warner Bros., of DC Comics, of CBS, to have done this and to be part of a progressive change.
Me, growing up as a kid, I didn't have anybody to look to. One time I dressed up as Superman and one of my friends' parents told me, "You can't be Superman; you're black." Ten years old, nine years old, and I'm like, "Well, he's from Krypton, so he's probably not white either, right? He's an alien." That was my thought process: he's not from Earth, and so it just goes to show, that mentality I think is leaving us and I'm really happy to be part of the fact that there's going to be little kids that look like me, who can now look at somebody and be like, "I can be like that." So I'm not sick of that question, actually. I'd like to answer it more."