At this year’s Dragon Con, I got to interview Ciara Renée, who plays Kendra Sanders/Hawkgirl on The CW’s “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” where she talks about being the first live action Hawkgirl and the big change coming from Broadway to TV.
Hi Ciara, welcome to Dragon Con
Ciara Renée: Hi, thanks, it’s great to be here.
Tells us your favorite Broadway memory.
Ciara: It’s probably the first time I walked on the stage of the Neil Simon theatre for “Big Fish.” I don’t think I had ever been backstage. I walked on and looked out from the stage and immediately sent out a tweet “I standing on my stage!” and then I just started crying. It was my first Broadway role and I was actually going to appear in a role, and it was awesome!
You mentioned on your panel yesterday that your Hawkgirl in this series is a departure from the comic books because of who they cast. With the recent conversations in Hollywood about cast diversity, how important is it for you to see little girls like you see your character on the screen?
Ciara: It is the most important thing, and that was probably the biggest thing that I stressed about the most, to represent a woman of color in a positive light. I am always having that conversation with the writers, that this is the best thing for little girls who looks like me be seeing this character up on the screen. Obviously, media only can do so much, your parents and the people you grow up with are the most important influences on young girls, but with superheroes especially, because they are things that young people look up to, there needs to be an element of realism. Our world is so diverse and that we don’t see that kind of diversity reflected in our shows. We are starting to see it, but those are the baby steps, and we can go so much further with it. I think, especially for little girls, that they see that they can be powerful, in control, strong, vulnerable and still be a superhero. That is my number one concern with everything that I do now, making sure it’s something that I want little girls to see. I remember growing up watching Power Rangers. There was an Asian girl and a white girl, but there wasn’t’ a girl for me. Every time that we played, there was a white girl in my neighborhood, and she always got to play the Pink Ranger. I always wanted to play the Pink Ranger, but everyone insisted that she had to be played by a white girl. That was the mentality back then. If we can allow for an opportunity for more women that look like me, those little girls watching will go “fine; then I get to play Hawkgirl!” Screw the Pink Ranger!”
How does it feel to be with people like Caity Lotz, Katie Cassidy, and Willa Holland, where you are part of a group of women who are playing superheroes and fighting right alongside the men?
Ciara: I think it’s great. When the writers ask me “what type of characters would you like to bring to the show?” I answer “A girl; I don’t care which one, just another girl!” It’s also fascinating that on Twitter, people are trying to pit the women against each other, like who is the prettiest or who can beat who and I always ask “Do you say this same stuff about the guys?” So I think we need to change the thinking a bit. Why can’t it be where the women are just as powerful as the men and can take on the guys in battle?
Did you get your coffee that you are drinking from “Jitters?”
Ciara: Ha ha. It’s funny; I don’t drink coffee, just tea. So when I had to do the audition, I didn’t know who the character was, but I obviously knew she was a barista. I had this whole monologue of ten coffees that I had to rattle off, and it was the one thing that I kept struggling on, mostly because I didn’t know what most of them were. Didn’t know what a mocha latte or a espresso macchiato was, so I kind of made that part of Kendra’s thing too. I don’t know how much you get to see of that when I appeared on “The Flash” but I would hesitate when making the order because she just didn’t know what everything was.
How much of your personality is in your portrays of Hawkgirl?
Ciara: You know I think as an actor you are always trying to find things in yourself that the character can relate to, which was a little hard to do with Kendra. It’s great, but it makes it quite a challenge to pull off. The feeling of not knowing any idea of what you want to do with your life that Kendra has is not something that I have every experienced. I might not know my next step or how to get there but not the idea that I don’t know who I am. I had my awkward moments when I was young that I didn’t know who I am, but I always knew what I wanted to do. That’s was one of the hardest things in relating to my character. As far as my personality, we are very different human beings. We defiantly were more similar in personality by episode thirteen. We would have these conversations on set all the time, asking what I would do if I was in the situation of the character. Like in the episode where we question where to kill the young kid to save the rest of the world, I think I personally would do it. I would want to save the world. Kendra and I are a bit different, but I try and put a little bit of my personality in her to make her seem a bit more realistic.
There are differences between being in a play where you are portraying the part the same way day in day out, versus being on episodic television, which your part is constantly changing. How does that change your process?
Ciara: It was quite a whirlwind being thrown into a series, having never done one before. When you do theater, you have a beginning, a medium and an end, which makes it easy to understand where your character is going. It’s easier to fill in the blanks of your character because there are set guidelines. When you do TV everything changes, depending on what people like and what we need with the character and the group dynamic, it’s constantly evolving. I found it quite difficult at first because I am used to thinking of a beginning and an end and here is where my character is going. On TV it’s a free for all. It’s a big change, and you just have to get comfy with your character. You have to learn to improv and be on your toes all the time.
Did you feel any pressure being the first live action hawk girl or did you feel comfortable going into the part?
Ciara: The pressure of that this was the first time and that it was such an iconic character didn’t bother me. It is a departure from a lot of the comics. It’s a very different story line. Her character is very different from the comics because she is so young, so naive and then she becomes Hawkgirl that we are used to. Yeah, I felt this would be my own thing, and as a theater actor, I always want to be the one who originates something. I had done an original part on “Big Fish” but it wasn’t the lead, and I had taken over for someone else’s on “Pippin,” so it was exciting to take on a role at the start. I did a lot of research on the character, but I also was determined to make it my own thing.
In your research, what did you decide not to adopt for your character?
Ciara: Well, like in the “New 52” version, I feel like she was hiding a lot. I think that was something that I kept, that she would hide stuff. She was also very vulnerable. The way we did Kendra was she was also very vulnerable but not the way she was in the comics. The writers were going for something with a character that we can delve into the emotional aspects of what is going on. Obviously, with 4,000 lines and seven lovers, there were a lot of emotions going on. I tried to take a lot of the hardness of the comic character out, make her sweeter and more vulnerable, at least at the start.
Of the seven lovers, who did you have to most on-screen chemistry with?
Ciara: Caity! Ha ha. I had so much fun with Caity, especially the western episode. It felt great to be paired with her and riding horses and stuff. I don’t know. I had fun with everybody, and everyone had different working styles. I was always great to be challenged. Falk (Hawkman) was always very giving and always up for anything, which was fun. Brandon (The Atom) always had his own process and was very open but also very emotional, which was fun to play with that type of charge. Carlos (Cisco on The Flash) is always one of my favorite actors to work with because he is always so funny and so good at improv. Half the time the script was even close to what we practiced, he just does whatever he wants. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they are all so different.
Thank you so much for talking with us! Enjoy Dragon Con
Ciara: Thank you, I will!
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” premieres Thursday, Oct 13th at 8:00 pm on Atlanta’s CW
For more of Mike’s interviews and reviews click here
For more information about the annual Dragon Con, go to www.dragoncon.org