From the moment Mehcad Brooks was cast in the role of James Olsen on Supergirl, it was clear that this wasn’t your father’s Jimmy Olsen. (In fact, you’d better not call him “Jimmy” at all, if you’re not Superman.) Suave, sexy and confident, Brooks and his take on the role are a far cry from the red-hair-and-bow-tie Olsen of old. Serving both as a friend, mentor and object of affection to Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl, Olsen’s emerged from the Man of Steel’s considerable shadow and come into his own since moving from Metropolis to National City—a journey that has been complicated by his obvious feelings towards Kara.
But don’t worry, comic fans. There’s far, far more to this Olsen than love triangles and charming smiles as we learned when we spoke with Brooks at a recent press event. Here’s what he had to say about Supergirl and his cool and camera-ready character.
In this episode, we get to see James be the hero instead of Kara because she’s without her powers. What was that like?
Mehcad: She’s still the hero. I think the cool thing about the episode is that you realize you don’t need powers to be a hero. She relies on something else that I think even Superman couldn’t do, which is a certain sensitivity and something Kara has that he doesn’t have. As far as James stepping into a heroic position, it’s a lot of work. It was cool. It was a lot of fun.
The harness, I won’t mince words, is probably easier for a woman. Yeah, use your imagination. But it was great. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it’s really kind of nice to be able to use a different muscle than just the acting muscle—to get to be athletic. I love action. I grew up watching action, so it was a lot of fun for me. I felt at home.
Any good love story needs to have a nice little love triangle.
I would love to hear, from your perspective, where James is with all of that. He seems conflicted in every episode that we have seen.
Right. Conflicted. That’s a good word. You obviously watch the show, and keep up with the show. Can I ask you a question?
Does James come off as conflicted… or does he just come off as kind of ?
Honestly, I would tell you.
Because I was worried about that myself. I was like, “You know I’m calling the other girl on Thanksgiving, right?” They were like, “Yeah… Action!”
I just don’t know how I can do this and not look like a total D-bag. It’s normally the kind of situation where families break up, you know? It’s not a good thing if papa’s calling not-mama on Thanksgiving.
So, we have this “It’s Complicated” button on Facebook, right? I think the reason that we have that is because we have a very complex issue in our society today. Like, for instance, in my parents’ generation, right or wrong—I think it’s wrong—women weren’t as concerned with their careers as they are today. They weren’t allowed to be. So, I think women have more options now. They have money, they’re traveling, they’re doing things that they weren’t doing 35, 40 years ago. That means that men have to step up their game, a little bit. It’s like, now you have social media and airplanes, so you gotta compete, brah.
I think in the world we live in today, complex relationships can be complex, right? I think that James is going through some heartache when we first meet him. Lucy is a powerful woman. She has more degrees than him. She doesn’t need him, in the conventional sense, and he has really stepped outside of that and made Superman his life, and made saving the world his life, so I can understand why there’s this disconnection between the two of them.
Now, when it comes to Kara… Raise your hand if you have not been heartbroken. We all know what that’s like and sometimes when you meet somebody there’s a lingering ex. Or there’s the possibility of maybe getting back together with somebody. Or there’s the person you met two weeks before this person. Whatever the case is, it is complex in this world because we have so many options. It’s game theory. I think that James is dealing with that. He meets this wonderful woman that he’s supposed to look after, who kind of doesn’t need him either.
I think his issue is that, he has two incredible options right in front of him, but one is kind of forbidden and the other has broken his heart. So, that is confusing. That is sort of like a grey area.
Going back to the “Shady James” you were talking about a minute ago, do you have an arc coming up where you become more of a bad boy?
Where I’m more shady?
Where you’re actually shady, because I think we agree you weren’t that shady in the phone call.
No. Like I said, James is caught in a predicament where he’s heartbroken. We’ve all been. And he’s afraid to go back to his ex, but also intrigued by this new lady, but she’s off limits. So, I think there’s just more, “Am I making a mistake going back here? Am I making a mistake not pursing the new thing?”
There are so many questions I think we would all have in that position. You know, me personally, I’d pick the alien because I think it would just be a lot more fun. You fly places. No passport.
Do you want your character to go to a darker place? Not in relationships, but you’re really like a boy scout on the show. You’re a great guy all the time. As an actor, as an actor do you want to try doing different things with the character?
Yeah, of course. You definitely want variation. I think, in the next episode, you see part of James past. You see he’s got some issues with his father, and it’s not so much of a dark place as it is a sad place. I’m not so sure this is the show for the dark place though, you know? That’s Gotham. We’re the Richard Donner version. We’re the light, happy-go-lucky version. There’s darkness, I think. I just think I’m happy to play someone that kids can watch. I haven’t done a lot of that. It’s kind of cool. I’ve always been, like, naked, cursing at people and having blood in my mouth.
But does he realize that Kara’s into him, or is he just trying to not think that way?
Well, here’s the thing: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. If Superman is your best friend, you can’t go cross-country just to start hitting on his cousin. Because he will whoop that ass.
There are plenty of reasons why that wouldn’t happen, like even in the conventional sense, but also, James really respects and wants to keep it professional. If he can be her liaison into the superhero world he’s seen before, then he wants to do that. Is there a mutual attraction? Of course. Does James recognize that? Of course. He’s not blind, but should he go there? That’s the scariest question known to any dude that’s maybe thinking of dating a friend. But, once again, if the friend could also heat vision you, and blow arctic wind on you and destroy you at any given moment, you don’t want to piss her off either.
In last week’s episode, you have this moment where Kara says that as a woman, she can’t get angry at work, and you say, “Well, as a black man, I really can’t get angry in public.” Is that something we’re going to see more of?
A black man getting angry in public?
I hope not. Unless it’s Obama.
I meant more tackling those kind of issues. Would you want to?
That’s a testament to Andrew Kresiberg, Ali Adler, Sarah Schechter and Greg Berlanti. They come from a generation that understands where we are today in our society. So, I think that they have taken an incredible opportunity to talk about sexism, and an incredible opportunity to talk about human inequity, whether that’s race or gender. Knowing them, I think we’ll probably get into sexual preference. But it’s just been a really incredible opportunity to be able to be subversive in a good way.
We were at the table read and I read that line and I went…
I was really impressed by the fact that we brought that up, and I’d like to see more of that. It doesn’t need to be a show where we’re teaching lessons about our social constructs in our society, but I think if we can put that that line somewhere, or if we can put that scene somewhere, it can make a kid who looks like me understand that he’s understood. Or a young lady can feel like she’s understood, right? That’s a cool thing. I didn’t have that growing up. I’m happy to be a part of that. So yes, I hope so.
In the comics, Jimmy uses a lot of gadgets, and we’ve seen James with the watch. Are we going to get to see him get into more spy/espionage kind of stuff?
There’s more gadgets. I’m a tech guy myself, but some of this stuff is, like, covert operation, government stuff. There are different things that come from the DEO, or Kryptonian technology that James gets his hands on. It’s kind of interesting. It’s kind of fun. There is some espionage stuff. There stuff coming up, not in this next episode but the one after, so yeah, I get to be like Vin Diesel and James Bond. It’s kind of cool, actually. Kind of fun. Lot of fun, actually. Not even kind of. Lot of fun.
James has taken Kara under his wing as she figures out how to be Supergirl. He’s almost the conduit. Will he continue to guide her that way, or are they going to get pulled further apart as Kara gets further into the DEO?
Yes and no, because James can certainly help her with certain things, and there are certain things that he can’t help her with. There are certain things everybody has to learn on their own. There are quite a few things I can help her with, and there are quite a few things she doesn’t need help with. I think the further she gets into the DEO, the less she’ll need James’ expertise in that realm. But that’s when I think the relationship can shift. It’s interesting how we’ve sort of blended the worlds and the DEO becomes a little more apparent to James, and James becomes a little more apparent to them, and things start to blend.
It is possible that we’ll ever see the dorky, bow-tie wearing Jimmy? Like maybe in a flashback?
I love bow-ties, and I’ve asked wardrobe about it. I think I just have too long of a torso. I would look really weird in a bowtie.
Supergirl’s newest episode, “Human for a Day,” airs tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on CBS. This is the first in a series of Supergirl interviews that we’ll be running this week. Be sure to visit DCComics.com tomorrow for another talk with a member of the cast!