Antony Starr On Why It’s So Good To Be A Bad Guy On ‘The Boys,’ And Being Recognized On Airplanes

Amazon Prime’s super-cynical take on superhero culture, The Boys, is back with a deeper (and still graphic) second season. Showunner Eric Kripke maintains the same momentum as his first stab at adapting Garth Ennis’ comic book series, and fortunately, Antony Starr’s Homelander remains the most irrepressible part of the show, even with fierce competition from Aya Cash’s Stormfront. Starr’s magnetism in his role cannot be denied, even if it’s slightly guilt-inducing to watch him botch a transatlantic plane rescue before casually dooming all passengers to death to save his own reputation, moments after dazzling them with a smile. More than any other Supe, he’s actually an outstanding supervillain, and the show’s fans love to hate the guy in the best way.

Starr was cool enough to hop on the phone with us to discuss his anti-Captain America-Superman hybrid, whose escapades grow (as difficult as it might seem to believe) even more f*cked up this season. Homelander fully immerses himself into the depths of his depravity, with Starr driving those acts home. The New Zealand actor told us how he gets into this guy’s super-sick head and why it’s so refreshing to make sure Homelander is a straight-up bad guy. We also discussed a Homelander scene that didn’t make the Amazon cut last year, but there’s hope for the future on that note. And we discussed the sitcom that Starr would enjoy lasering the hell out of, given the opportunity.

It’s gotta be bizarre to promote Season 2 through computer screens and phones after last year’s events and junkets before launch.

Yeah, oh god, where do I start with that? First of all, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. Obviously, COVID is a curse completely, but doing press in the middle of a pandemic? On the one hand, you get to stroll into your living room, and you don’t have to travel anywhere, but the bummer is that you don’t get to travel anywhere and see any fans, like at Comic-Con, for example. With Season 1, we went to San Diego, so after all that hard work, you get to celebrate the release. So there’s nothing like that now, other than a drive-in screening, but that’s about it. So, it’s a bummer not to have that interaction, out there in the world and to feel it in a slightly more tangible way. The response across the board from the fans and 95% of critics has been very positive, and I’m always tentative about these things, but we feel really good about the season. So it seems like it’s on the right track to keep building a good base and keep the fans that we have happy.

Well, when you do travel, and when you step onto an airplane… are people afraid? Even though you don’t really have blonde hair, people must recognize you.

That’s hilarious, yeah! Actually, that hasn’t happened on a plane, but when we were shooting Season 2 up in Toronto, there was a lot of it then because I had the blonde hair, and unless I wear a hat and glasses, there’s no real way to hide it. In the middle of summer, I tend not to, so it’s funny because there were a lot more odd glances at the potential psychopath in their midst. At the end of the season, the only way to fix the damaged hair is to shave my head. As soon as that happens, the world backs off. The place that it comes up the most on social media is with people taking photos on planes, like, “Oh my god, Antony Starr just got on the plane!” It does make me chuckle, but it’s great. I love to see the fan responses to things because that’s why we do all this. No show is made for anything other an audience.

This season’s certainly more graphic, but it’s also emotionally deeper for the characters. Obviously, Homelander is going through a lot.

That’s what the intention always was for Season 2. Not only to go bigger but deeper, so it would be at least as fulfilling storylines because of that. And I think we pulled it off, and it actually got bigger as well, which is no mean feat. But Eric Kripke was always very conscious of making this a step up or at least as good as Season 1, and I think the very rightful way was to do that to go deeper with characters. Like you say, Homelander is facing a lot of challenges, and that’s one of the things that we really tried to do in Season 2. To take this usually in-control character and really destabilize him. At the start of the season, he feels pretty good about where he’s at and what he’s done in Season 1, and then very swiftly, he has all of that terra firma removed and is basically struggling to find solid ground and reassert himself… which was a lot of fun to fiddle with and discover.

How do you get into the mindset of playing such a reprehensible sadist? I mean, you seem like a pretty nice person.

Ahhhhhhh, but you haven’t met me! See, we’re only talking on the phone! But honestly, it’s just one of those things where everyone’s got a dark side, and we live in a world of duality, and everything contains its opposite, so I think you have to be in touch [with it] if you’re in a creative workplace, the darker parts of yourself as well as the lighter parts because otherwise, it’s gonna be a little saccharine and not honest and probably a bit one-dimensional, so I think there’s that. And then maybe the shorter answer would be that you just really have to have a warped mind in some way, and just let it rip on camera and be able to turn it off.

There is a character who goes through redemption this season. It is not Homelander, but do you think he’s capable of any form of redemption?

I don’t think, oh geez, no, I really don’t think so!

[Laughs] Yeah, he is simply screwed.

I think the damage is done! I wanna say yes, but two things: (1) I think it’s impossible because this guy is so deeply screwed-up from what’s happened to him and the environment he was raised in and going from that to basically becoming a corporate product. I think he’s so messed up that there’s only glimpses and maybe a little bit of hope here and there that’s never gonna be realized; and (2) I don’t think you ever wanna see him redeemed. At least I don’t. I like the idea of the bad guy just being the bad guy. That doesn’t mean that we don’t wanna understand what makes the guy tick, and every now and then, have conflicted feelings about him, but with redemption as a broader sort of ideal, I don’t wanna see Homelander turn into some good guy.

It is refreshing to not see some sort of anti-hero thing going on because that’s flooding movies these days. And then you’ve got Homelander. He really hits you with what he is, and audiences can appreciate that right now.

Yeah, I think so! The way that you described the character is the micro-version of the macro of the show. A lot of what people have appreciated about the show thus far is that we’re not pulling any punches. It is in your face. We’re not trying to be, well, the show has no moral ambiguity. Bad things are bad, and good things are good. it’s very clear, but those things are kinda turned on their head when it comes to character, and I think we pretty saturated with comic-book adaptations and graphic-novel adaptations, and 95% of them are pretty morally upright. Our heroes are pretty morally bankrupt, so I think people like that. There’s still a very clear sense of right and wrong, it’s just being messed with. I think people are ready for a fresh take on the whole genre.

If you could ever plop Homelander into another TV show or movie and have him just destroy everything, what would it be?

Ohhhhhh, you’re basically saying, which show don’t I like?

You could read it like that, yes. Or even something that you do like and want to really see him be a part of.

I think it’d be really interesting to see Homelander. I’ll answer both questions. First of all, I wouldn’t mind seeing Homelander laser all the characters on Full House, the original one. And then in terms of a battle, I would like to see him go into some kind of cartoon world and battle like The Incredibles.

I’m here for that. Sorry, Uncle Jesse! You lost to The Incredibles.

A cartoon version of Homelander! Something to behold, I think.

Now when The Boys arrived, people were feeling some superhero burnout, and this show still hit the spot. Now, however, fans are starved for superhero movies, so do you think the reaction will be different now?

Well, I think that burnout is exactly what [I was talking about above] for Season 1, but for Season 2, you’re right. It’s definitely slim pickings out there. No movies are being released. Bizarrely, a few of us jokingly referred to this show as “a virus we were unleashing on the world,” and of course, the world has unleashed its own virus on us, and that’s kinda created a captive audience to a large extent. It’s a horrible way to have people find the show, but perhaps people are a little more excited about it because there has been such a reduction in the content that’s out there. We’ll see, it’s all speculation right now, but I’m in favor of the timing of it coming out because I think people need relief. It’s a pretty grim time for a lot of people out there, and if we can offer some entertainment and distraction, that can only be a good thing.

Amazon Prime’s ‘The Boys’ premieres Season 2 with three episodes on September 4, with episodes to follow every Friday.