Warning: Spoilers for “The Boys” ahead.
Antony Starr knew he was in for a deranged ride the minute he agreed to play Homelander, the controversial Captain America-like leader of superhero team The Seven on Amazon’s “The Boys.” Instead of saving the world, this caped crusader is set to destroy it, asserting his power and movie star looks to manipulate the public and take control of mega-corporation Vought International.
“I always knew right off the bat he was the strongest, physically, but the weakest character in the show,” Starr told HuffPost in an interview this week. “It’s a perfect cocktail ― a guy who has the physical ability to do whatever he wants and the internal damage to make him want to do the diabolical, bizarre, strange stuff.”
Based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic of the same name, the series follows a group of rebels led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), who aim to expose the corrupt and evil intentions of celebrated “supes” like Homelander. Season 1 ends with Homelander on a high after he murders his boss and lover ― Vought’s senior vice president of hero management, Madelyn Stillwell (Elisabeth Shue) ― and takes an interest in his superpowered son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti), whom he shares with Butcher’s presumed dead wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanten).
Season 2, however, details his demise from adored public defender to monstrous megalomaniac as he grapples with his decisions. Homelander, reeling from the death of Stillwell, falls for the new Seven supe Stormfront (Aya Cash), who ropes him into her wicked ways and uses the Vought platform to push sadistic ideals and a racist agenda.
In the Season 2 finale, Homelander loses his girlfriend, his son and the rest of his humanity all at once.
Starr hopped on the phone from his quarantined film set in Bulgaria to break down the wrath of Homelander and the madness to come.
“The Boys” was in the top 10 for streaming, according to Nielsen data, which is so exciting. You defeated Netflix!
It’s incredible. I mean, Netflix is a behemoth. It’s The Beast. There’s nothing quite like it in terms of scale, and so to be seriously competing with that is
phenomenal. I think everyone is pretty blown away and very appreciative to our extremely enthusiastic and passionate fans. There wouldn’t be a show without them. Everyone is really very grateful for all the fans that have given us, already, so much support.
Season 1 was so stellar, and it surprised a lot of people. So how was it to come back for a second season and try to re-create that feeling? Was it nerve-wracking to live up to what you guys accomplished the first go-around?
It’s funny, I’m really conscious of that because, unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence ― that difficult second-album syndrome. I know that shows may have a decent first season and then try and go bigger instead of going deeper. And that’s the key, is rather than trying to make the world bigger and more expansive and more fancy and all that, you really have to go deeper with the characters and really lock into what it is people respond to, which is character-driven story.
“The Boys” is really self-assured and has a real self-confidence about it that you want out of a show ― it grows and develops and really plays with identity. So my hat goes off to Eric [Kripke]. He’s the God of the show and he was very conscious of Season 2 coming out and being good, and he fulfilled that wish. We all have a debt of gratitude to him.
Like you mentioned, the show does go bigger ― it’s ultra satirical, still violent, still grotesque ― but fans get to go deeper with these characters.
The only lie Eric’s ever told me is, “We’re going to go deeper, we’re not going to get bigger.” But if there’s a 50-foot prosthetic whale on a beach in Toronto, you definitely haven’t gotten smaller. Somehow, he pulled it off. Kudos to him.
I think that’s why fans respond to the show is that shock value ― the giant whale, the exploding heads, the blood, all that milk.
Yeah, I think you’re right. But with, you know, French film, which has borderline real sex and full-frontal nudity, there’s a shock value in certain things that does seem like shock for the sake of shock. If you actually look at the shocking moments in “The Boys,” and as far as I’m concerned this is why they work, they all come from character-driven story. Like The Deep [Chace Crawford] riding the whale and then the speedboat slamming into the whale, The Deep turns up on the back of a whale really desperately trying to get back into The Seven. So while I do think there are shocking things in there, they’re motivated and protected by character and story.
I totally get that. Like an obsession with milk, which is of course is a big part of Homelander’s troubled inner psyche.
Exactly. This is the weakest character on the show ― he’s the strongest man and the weakest emotionally. That milk is just a reflection of the really lonely, sad, little boy that is in there somewhere; a little man desperately trying to hold on to the memory of something and someone that he didn’t realize he needed. He acted impetuously and got rid of [Madelyn Stillwell]. So, it’s funny watching a grown man drink breast milk, but it’s also comedy and tragedy, right? It’s such a desperate, needy, weak, tragic act. And it just happens to be insanely weird. [Laughs]
What was your personal take on Homelander’s journey this season, from his mommy issues to his fatherhood journey and his relationship with Stormfront. There was a lot to dig into.
It was much more challenging than I realized it was going to be when we set out, which is great because it means that we’re evolving the character in the right way. A lot of episodic TV can just be you build a character and then you put the character in a different situation every week and they solve the crime or whatever, but we kept digging into the character and putting him into new situations where he was forced to grow or adapt or change. From a personal point of view, I was really thrilled that we got to do that. Then from the character’s perspective, Season 1 was, in a way, Homelander’s emancipation, if you like. Eric uses the metaphor of, “He wants to become a producer on the show.” Homelander wanted more. He wanted to do more and he believed he had more to offer. When Stillwell was holding him back and manipulating him, he finally got fed up. He really, in a way, broke the shackles emotionally for himself and then killed her and released himself.
Season 2 was very much dealing with the consequences of those actions, both externally and internally. He is extremely needy, emotionally like a child. He desperately craves connection and hates himself for it because that’s such a human need. His kryptonite, for lack of a better word, would be his own humanity and that weakness in himself. So Season 2 is all about him exploring that need and trying to come to terms with it and actually open up. I mean, he got a girlfriend!
And he has a son.
There’s a scene in Episode 8 that’s very hopeful. He’s trying to help his son, who gets freaked out by the crowd in the restaurant, and he shows genuine affection for this kid. It’s an intense personal journey for him this season, and it was really satisfying to play.
Stormfront comes in and replaces Stillwell in terms of giving Homelander that female connection and someone to follow. What layer did their relationship add to his character, and how was it working with Aya Cash this season?
Let me start with that because I can’t say enough about how great Aya is. One, she’s Jewish coming in to play a Nazi, which I thought Homelander was pretty bad in Season 1 and then Stormfront showed up and it was like, “Wow.” The character’s ideology, her philosophy, is just appalling. And little ol’ Aya Cash is probably one of the nicest humans that I’ve met, and it really tore her up having to say some of the things that the character believes. She was visibly upset. But she really went there and went for it, and people are loving to hate her.
It’s really that character who helped the show tackle that idea of systemic racism and other social issues that are very relevant in our world right now.
All of that stuff was written well in advance of 2020, you know? So we had no idea that it was going to dovetail quite so flushly. It really struck a chord. To even have a character like that on any show at any time is pretty bold and could go either way. People can receive it in a positive or very negative way. But to have it happen in 2020 with the race issues going on in America ― well, they’ve always been going on, but they’re seemingly, and hopefully positively, coming to a head ― it’s really been quite incredible to see the fan response. People, by and large, want that conversation not to be shut away and pushed back under the rug. The timing is just surreal, but I think they appreciate that there’s a show that’s actually putting it out there. A show that’s not pulling any punches when it comes to that stuff; that’s actually putting a foot forward and, unapologetically, making a statement about it.
Similarly, the show spoke to the Me Too movement last season with everything that went on with Starlight [Erin Moriarty] and The Deep.
Absolutely. And I do think that because of the fiscal and economic imperatives of television, there’s a lot of bean-counters who get very trepidatious before these shows come out when they take on this material. And I would credit Amazon for having the balls to actually back a show that is unapologetically making statements about issues that are relevant, current and, sadly, timeless ― and badly need to be exposed. These conversations need to be had. We get a fun show that actually has some purpose, which is about all you can ask for.
The Season 2 finale was heartbreaking. Homelander’s son Ryan escapes his grasp and then tragically kills his mother and Billy Butcher’s wife, Becca, while trying to take out Stormfront. Man, what a scene.
Ay ay ay. It’s funny because usually in scenes you’re so focused on what you’re doing and your take and trying to orchestrate it all, but I have to say
Karl Urban [Billy Butcher], my fellow Kiwi, made me cry. I really got caught up in his performance. I thought that he was absolutely phenomenal.
Like Homelander, Butcher shows so many signs of making a turn for the better, and then chooses the wrong path. Becca’s death will surely make him vulnerable.
Yeah, there’s a tragedy in that. One good thing, going back to the social commentary and how we sort of navigate that, is there is no moral ambiguity on the show. If you’re a bad person, bad shit’s going to happen to you and there is a real sense of balance and justice. That’s why Stormfront meeting her demise was inevitable.
Men in power often abuse their power and, expectedly, Homelander chooses power over family in the end.
I mean, he emotionally buckled and his ego is titanic. I don’t know if there is ever going to be redemption for that guy. We’ll see.
Season 3 is greenlit, but I’m sure production is a tricky thing right now. Do you have an idea of what’s to come?
It is a very tricky time. I know that some time next year we will go back. I don’t know specifics about when. As far as storyline, I have no idea. That’s all kept very close to the writers’ chests, but I did ask Eric at the end of Season 2 because I was like, “Fuck. Where do we go with this character from here?” And he’s like, “I don’t want to give anything away, but the two words that will resonate for Homelander in Season 3 will be ‘homicidal maniac.’” I kind of thought we had done that, but if that’s to come, God help us.
The last we see of Homelander he’s masturbating above the city, shouting, “I can do whatever the fuck I want.” It was truly something.
Yeah ... that is definitely one of the stranger days I’ve had at work. It was definitely a very strange way to finish the season. Again, it’s a bizarre, shocking, wild-factor moment, but it’s actually incredibly sad. He’s so needy and so desperate.
It sounds like Homelander definitely challenges you and pushes your limits as an actor.
We got lucky with the creative team on a great collaboration right off the bat. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m not backwards about coming forward with ideas. I love getting really stuck into the character and trying to take as much ownership of it as I can. Thankfully, Eric is absolutely onboard with that and encouraging. He’s just such a great collaborator and, pretty much, if you talk to anyone else in the cast they would agree. It really instills a sense of confidence in the creative team to take risks and not be afraid to fail. It’s one of the assets of the show.