Katy O'Brian Talks Her Black Lightning Character, Transitioning from Real Fighting to Stage Fighting, and LGBTQ Representation at DC and Marvel

So far, her role on Black Lightning has been pretty limited, but if you pay close attention to some of the scenes featuring ASA soldiers, fans of Z Nation probably recognized Major Sara Grey as actress and martial artist Katy M. O'Brian, who appeared as George on the fan-favorite zombie series. She's down in Atlanta with Black Lightning for the time being, helping to keep the ASA's grip on Freeland as tight as it can be. And given her handful of interactions with Henderson -- they haven't gone well -- it seems entirely likely she is going to be a bigger antagonist for him as the "resistance" continues to unfold.

O'Brian joined ComicBook.com to discuss her role on the series and her career as a lesbian, female action star. And we started with the obvious question: how hard is it to throw a "stunt" punch when you've trained for years in actual martial arts?

"It's more challenging than you'd think," O'Brian told ComicBook.com. "I've gotten to work with the stunt guys a couple of times now. They just started showing me how they do the stunt version of fighting versus the actual martial arts that I train in....Something I tried to train myself out of is being too tight because I can be a kind of a tense person. So I'm trying to train myself out of being too tight. Then I go to this a training session and he's like, 'Okay. Well, you got to ball your fist up and, now we're going to rock back and really kind of make it look much more tense and tight.' I'm like, ugh. I'm trying to get rid of doing this. Now, I have to recondition myself to do that. Then the other thing too is you have to show your face to the camera. So instead of covering yourself, now, it's having to pull my back out, pull my arms out, so you can see my face. If you did that, anyone could actually punch you."

Her character on Black Lightning is mostly about looking tough and barking orders so far, so she acknowledges that while she thinks Black Lightning is a great show, hers is not an especially complex character at face value.

"All in all, it's pretty obvious on the page what my character's purpose is," O'Brian explained. "It's just, what is my purpose in this scene? What is my purpose to help the lead get to X, Y, Z or whatever character I'm faced with? I'm more of a tool for them to get what they need. So that's what I'm looking at. How am I driving this scene? How am I going to help whoever I'm around get to where they need to go? It's less of me having to take the time to really get into the emotions of the character, because that, I pretty much know. I have a mission and I need to accomplish it."

Badass characters like this, and the actors who play them, are a lot more into comics and geek stuff than you might think, according to O'Brian.

"It's so funny because you do think that," O'Brian said. "Then you walk in and you meet a lot of fans that are bodybuilders at the gym. What spawned that interest in bodybuilding was that they were big comic book fans or something like that. Same with police officers and everything. They might've wanted to emulate a hero, to the best of their abilities. So they joined the police department. A lot of martial artists that I know, a lot of officers that I know, they all are really into comic book fandoms. Because I was very unfamiliar with a lot of fans speak and stuff. My brother and I grew up with, it started with Greek mythology, obsessed mythology. Then we moved into Saturday morning cartoons, which were Spider-Man, mostly Marvel stuff. Got onto the Justice League game, all of that. So my familiarity is definitely superficial compared to a lot of people who live and breathe every new issue of every comic book that comes out. But I have always had a huge interest in the general world of comic books."

And on that note, O'Brian admits she would love to take a swing at a bigger role in superhero media at some point. But she knows it's an uphill battle to be an LGBTQ+ performer looking to get into a really mainstream role.

"Growing up, I never really felt like I fit in with any of the heroes that I knew of at least. I think like the closest that I found that who was someone who looked like me was an obscure character in the Marvel Universe, M, who was Generation X and all that. Yeah. It's always been a weird thing for me because I'd love to play someone, but then you've got the, 'Oh, she doesn't look enough like X, Y, Z.' I've always had a fascination with Catwoman. I think Catwoman is so much fun. I've been obsessed with Xena since I was a little kid. That would be like the dream role of roles, and then a Desire from Sandman I think, is one of those characters that I'm like, 'Oh that's someone wI kind of look like.' Those are characters that would be really fun. In terms of getting to use my martial arts abilities or anything like that as well, Catwoman, you get to put a really interesting spin on your fighting style. Because she has a whole move like a cat, really agile, really cool, animalistic way to go about it. You've got a character maybe like Xena who's just all heart. Just power, and she gets the job done, that kind of fighting. It's really cool to see a woman who doesn't have technical superpowers be able to go out and do that. Because that's the one message that I really like about those comics or those characters: I don't have to have superhuman strength or superhuman whatever. I'm a woman and I can still do these things because I worked hard, and I learned how to do it."

She did note that superhero universes seem to be doing better than a lot of other mass entertainment in making those strides, pointing to Dreamer on Supergirl as an example.

0comments

"My fiance has been known to write quite a bit about butch representation where a lot of times when you a lesbian on TV, she's always going to be represented -- if she's a lead -- as very feminine, very, very feminine," O'Brian said. "She'll be wearing makeup, long hair usually something like that because there's still a lot of hesitation to cast someone who's a little bit more butch or maybe androgynous. There's still a ways to go. Always will be, I'm sure. But especially the DC and Marvel Universes seems to have been really making an effort to resolve that or remedy it."

Black Lightning's midseason finale airs next week on The CW. The series will return in January to finish its third season, and by then, Jefferson's world will have been rocked by the realization that there's a multiverse, and he has a role to play in it. Look for that beginning on December 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT in "Crisis on Infinite Earths."