Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureSeptember 6, 2020

New Zealand’s Antony Starr on playing an all-American monster in The Boys

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

In season two of The Boys, Antony Starr’s Homelander gets even more twisted. He spoke to The Spinoff about the gratuitous violence and nationalism that runs through the show.

Antony Starr is calling from LA, where he’s riding out Covid-19. He’d love to come home to New Zealand one day, but now’s not the time.

The pandemic and work is keeping him there, but the political landscape in the US is, to understate it, not the most receptive to immigration. In season two of The Boys, a show about the corporate corruption of superpowers, this nationalistic zeitgeist is made overtly clear.

Starr’s character, Homelander, has a role to play in all this as the leader of superhero team The Seven. He’s dedicated to taking down the super-powered terrorists/freedom fighters he insists on calling “supervillains”. Homelander is an all-American, laser-visioned patriot, and it’s ironic that he’s played by a foreigner.

“It’s funny, because Karl Urban is a Kiwi as well,” he says. Urban plays Billy Butcher in the series, a gruff Cockney with no powers or fucks to give, and Homelander’s biggest enemy. “We’ve got an American show with a Kiwi playing an all-American hero psychopath and another Kiwi playing an Englishman. It’s a pretty bizarre mix-up.”

Starr, who first came to prominence on New Zealand screens playing twins Jethro and Van West on Outrageous Fortune, is grateful to have Urban around. “He comes to my house to watch the All Blacks play, and I can hear someone with a normal accent. It’s great.”

In this scene, Homelander is painted as a Confederate symbol (Image: Amazon Prime)

American actors Jack Quaid and Erin Moriarty play the softer-hearted, world-saving types of heroes as everyman, unpowered vigilante Hughie Campbell and the super-powered lapsed Christian hero Starlight. While their hands get much dirtier in season two, they’re still desperate to minimise death and suffering, and to be kind where they can. Despite this, they’re not the hearts of the show; Homelander and Billy Butcher are.

Urban and Starr have an incredible, seething chemistry that drives season two and brings us to its blood-pounding finale. Homelander, an abject megalomaniac, wants to raise his son in his image. Billy Butcher wants his wife – the mother of Homelander’s son – back, and he’ll kill every member of The Seven to get to her. Starr’s lips curl in a wobbling sneer and Urban’s eyes water with pure rage every time their characters interact.

The violence they manifest around them is exceptional. Billy Butcher drives through a whale and crawls out of its guts like a diabolical Jonah, and Homelander deafens a blind man just to prove a point to a publicist. Some might call it gratuitous, but showrunner Eric Kripke has turned it into an art.

“I’ve been in a violent series before, and in the same way it has a little bit of humour with the gore and the violence,” says Starr. Before The Boys, he starred in HBO’s Banshee, where he got beaten up regularly. “It’s a little bit pulpy. I’m not afraid of the violent stuff, I think it is what it is. I’m trying to avoid saying I think it’s funny, but I do think sometimes it’s really funny.”

If you can handle some blood and guts, it really can be funny. Like Starship Troopers, The Boys makes violence the subject of satire. Starr remembers filming the plane crash scene in season one: Homelander and fellow superhero Queen Maeve realise they can’t stop a plane from crashing. Homelander realises if they can’t save them all, they can’t save any of them; no witnesses allowed. He lasers out the control panel of the plane and leaves everyone on it to die.

“I was wandering around laughing,” he says. “I had a great time. Homelander doesn’t connect with anything going on in a deep way. He’s very pragmatic.”

Starr as a blood-splattered Homelander (Image: Amazon Prime)

Is there something that draws him to roles like this? “Maybe there is a level of complexity that comes along with the bad guys,” he said. “It can give you a bit more range and a bit more scope.”

Homelander has him showing some of the most intense emotional range on television. The tagline for the series is “heroes aren’t born, they’re made,” and Starr thinks that’s as true for his character’s personality as it is his powers.

The tagline is a reference to the “compound V” introduced in the first series, which is run through babies’ bloodstreams until they develop superpowers. Homelander is the most extreme version of a manufactured superhero; his entire life has been a product of the conglomerate company Vought. 

Starr plays him as overemotional but intensely controlled. Every tic of his face packed with revulsion or pride or delight, but at the same time he’s void of any normal human empathy. “I don’t think he was born that evil,” said Starr. “He’s a lab-created product that Vought is responsible for.”

“He basically just got fed all this garbage about what a superhero he was.” Season two will explore Homelander’s background in more detail, and give us a clue as to what he was like as a child. “I definitely think he’s a corporate creation,” says Starr.

Is there anything good in Homelander? Is he destined for a life of wrongdoing? “Every time I think I’ve got something, like, ‘oh, he’s loyal,’, I realise he’s only loyal to people if they’re doing something for him. There’s no honour in that,” he said.

“I don’t know that he has any redeemable qualities.”

Both seasons of The Boys are available to watch on Amazon Prime Video now.

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