Today marks the premiere of Freedom Fighters: The Ray, the latest DC Comics animated series to premiere on CW Seed. But for Arrowverse fans, it will be just another chapter in the already-loved story of Ray Terrill/The Ray (Russell Tovey).
Tovey made his debut in The CW's recent "Crisis on Earth-X" crossover, which saw The Ray teaming up with the Arrowverse's heroes to defeat an array of evil Nazi doppelgangers. In the process, plenty of fans fell in love with The Ray's storyline, from his unique set of powers to his openly gay relationship with Leonard "Leo" Snart/Citizen Cold (Wentworth Miller).
Now, Freedom Fighters will give fans a chance to see Tovey bring Ray's origin story to life. Audiences will see Ray's journey of getting his powers and joining in the fight against Earth-X's villains, as well as how he came out as gay to his parents.
Russell Tovey joined ComicBook.com to chat about crafting his portrayal of The Ray, the experience of creating both Freedom Fighters and "Crisis on Earth-X", and the impact of bringing an openly gay superhero into the mainstream.
ComicBook.com: How did it feel having your introduction into the Arrowverse be this gigantic, four show crossover?
Russell Tovey: It was magical. To carry that responsibility on my shoulders was an honor. And I was fearful and nervous, definitely. And I did feel the pressure, and I wanted to make sure that he was right. I wanted to be respectful to that, and I'm really thrilled and relieved and over the moon that people have really responded so well to him.
You know, he's sneakily, cheekily walked into this world. And he has come away from that huge four-episode crossover, and being able to have had made that impact is wonderful. I don't know how many times I've been tagged in a photo of me and Wentworth Miller kissing as Citizen Cold and The Ray. To have that image bombarded at me has made me very happy! I don't think my boyfriend would appreciate it, that a picture of me kissing another guy would ever make me so "Woo!" and feel very happy over and over again. But it really does. Every single time it's like, "Wow, that's really made a difference, that's really been something that so many people have found very suddenly important, and special."
What sort of comic research did you do in order to play Ray? I know there's 25 years of source material just about this iteration of the character.
Well, what's wonderful is when I started talking to Marc Guggenheim about it, and Greg Berlanti's studios, they sent me a care package. Which basically was like, 15 reference points for The Ray, all the comics that have been printed, all the literature on him. So I was able to really delve in and discover who this guy is prior to flying out for costume fittings, prior to styling the animation, prior to doing the live actions. I had an opportunity to really delve into this guy and, you know, I wanted to get it right. I wanted to get him right, and I wanted to not let people down, and I wanted to give something for people who didn't know the Ray, to give them someone that they would really wanna spend time with, and project onto, and hang out with.
Is there any sort of outside inspiration or influence that you brought into your portrayal?
I'm sure, I don't know what they were apart from Houdini's. I wanted to enter the world in the same tone. I'm a big fan of The Flash, the show. Grant Gustin is just the nicest guy; he was the first guy to come up to me and welcome me onto the set. He's so much fun and lovely, and I'm such a fan of his as an actor, and I love The Flash, so tonally I knew where I wanted to pitch my performance. And I wanted to, you know, the scripts are so good, the writing's so good, and they know their world so well. And I wanted to honor that. And I wanted to just to make sure that he fit in straight away. So my outside influence would probably be all the other actors in the Arrowverse.
What was it like going back and forth from playing Ray in an animated space, to playing him in live action on "Crisis on Earth-X"?
Well, I was filming [live action] during the week, then I was recording the animation at the weekends. And they fed into each other, because the animation is basically my story over all these episodes. And there was so much intonation that I was able to get from the animation scripts, which gave me my backstory, gave me my internal research for when I walked onto the live action.
So I knew, as an actor, they always say, "What is your motive, where've you come from, where are you going, what is your history?" So whenever you play a character, as I do anyway, I always mentally in my head place him somewhere in the world. Place his family, what his house looks like, what his relationship with his parents are like, has he got any brothers and sisters, has he ever owned a pet, what's his favorite color? All stuff like that that just goes on as part of my research, and I sort of just do it mentally now. But I, for The Ray, because the animation was there -- and it's incredible, and there's a lot there -- I had all that given to me. So that was a gift as well. So I could just walk onto set and I sort of felt like I knew who this guy was to a certain extent.
And then I had big chats with Wentworth Miller, and we really went over how important this was, and when we knew that the kiss was coming up, and what we wanted to do about that. We wanted to run the lines, we wanted to make sure that we served that moment well. Because he felt how enormous that was, probably more than me; I mean I've not been in these shows for that long, and [he's known] what that means and known the fan base. So to be sharing that moment with him, and he's such a fan favorite; it's so special.
What did it mean to you to be able to portray this gay superhero, and to have Freedom Fighters kind of be built around this coming out story?
It means everything. It's an important story, but it's being told in such a casual way, I guess. It's getting out there in the world, it's not being thrown out there, it's not political, it's not this huge ranting message, it's just this guy. And just by being who they are, and by being strong and proud and confident in who you truly are, and just putting that out there will make such a huge difference.
And kids watching the show, gay kids, people struggling, adults, whatever, can watch this. And now they have a superhero that is happily gay and proud, and out, that they can project onto. That they can have on a key chain and be like, "Well that's my guy." You know what I mean? If I wasn't The Ray, I would be just over the moon that there was now a gay superhero in the world that's just there, flying around, getting the message out there.
Is there a character from DC Comics that you would like to see Ray interact with in Freedom Fighters?
Oh, that's a good question! Oh! I mean, I like Aquaman, but I don't know if The Ray can swim that well. Can't we have a Marvel crossover at some point? I know I'm probably not allowed to say that, but can't all the heroes get together? Who else? Superman, that'd be pretty cool. I mean, he flies, The Ray flies, maybe they could fly somewhere together.
What kind of story would you like to be able to tell in a second season of Freedom Fighters?
I just hope that people really connect with this guy, and project onto him and want him around. So he can go anywhere and be able to tell more stories. How many Earths are there? 50-something different Earths. So on another Earth, there's gonna be stuff going down that The Ray can help with, and the Freedom Fighters.
And you're gonna see through [Freedom Fighters' first season] how Ray Terrill, how his acceptance of himself and who he truly is nourishes, enriches, and makes him a better person. And how, going forward, that develops into happiness and relationships and in his real world. I'd like to just explore that, you know?
If people like the character, then they're willing to see him go anywhere. And I hope that people are really gonna love this guy and just want him to show them what he's up to.
The first six episodes of Freedom Fighters: The Ray are now available on CW Seed.