One of the best things about superheroes is that they’re inclusive. Literally anyone can be one, whether you’re a grieving billionaire, a scientist caught in the wrong place at the right time, a test pilot who knows no fear or an alien fleeing the destruction of your home world. You don’t need to pass a test. You don’t even need superpowers. All you need is the will to see justice done in our world and the courage to stand against corruption and evil.
Yet, until recently, superheroes still all tended to all look a certain way. That’s been changing lately, and The CW’s Supergirl has really led the way on the small screen, with one of the most diverse casts of any superhero show, and storylines reflective of the social issues of today. This season, it takes yet another step forward as Nicole Maines joins the cast as Nia Nal, or Dreamer, an ancestor of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Nura Nal. However, what sets it all apart is that Maines and Nal are both trans, making Nal the first trans superhero on TV, and Maines the first trans performer to play a live action superhero.
However, if Maines is feeling any pressure, you wouldn’t know it. A lifelong superhero fan, Maines seemed almost as thrilled about seeing one of the Batmobiles (which she easily identified as the one from Batman Returns) as she is about blazing new ground as a trans hero. However, as we learned when we sat down with her, underneath that enthusiasm is someone who clearly understands what her role could mean to the trans community, and who is more than willing to stand up for those in it.
In short…a hero.
Let’s start with the obvious, how does it feel to be playing TV’s very first transgender superhero?
It feels incredible. It feels unreal. Surreal. Insane. I mean, aside from being the first trans superhero, just being a superhero is so crazy. Getting to bring trans activism and awareness into such a mainstream channel like superheroes, which have always been at the core of our society’s culture…that’s nuts, man. That’s nuts!
As a series, Supergirl has been a real leader when it comes to inclusivity, and I know you’ve been a successful trans activist throughout your life. Did the show seem like a good fit for who you are and what’s important to you as an actor?
It feels so right. Just a female driven superhero show itself is so groundbreaking. So, it feels like it is the right environment to have diversity meet superheroics.
Tell us about Nia Nal. While she has a connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Dream Girl, this is actually a new character, isn’t it?
Nia Nal is a new reporter at CatCo Worldwide Media. She is taken under Kara’s wing, and she has that same optimism and that wide-eyed-ingenue feel that Kara had in season one, but she also has this inert drive to help people, to see justice done, to right wrongs and to help the little guy. She’s so likeable and funny. She’s adorable.
So, she’s a reporter. What can you reveal about how she eventually becomes a superhero. Does she have superpowers?
Yes, she does. Just like Dream Girl, she’s precog, so she dreams the future. I don’t know, but I would say that might come in very handy for this season especially. In this season, the main antagonist is not really someone with an agenda that goes away when they’re locked up. This season we’re up against the Agent of Liberty, who is charismatic and likeable. He represents fear and ignorance in the face of aliens in National City. So, how do you combat fear and ignorance? It’s harder than you think because it’s a very primal emotion and force that everybody has in them. Nia’s ability to see the future—a less combat-oriented superpower—I think might come in handy when it comes to fighting a broader force.
That’s such a great question to tackle right now: how do you combat fear?
Yeah, that’s what this season is all about. It’s a look into what we are facing in our country right now, which is fear and ignorance personified in people with power—people who are charismatic and who know how to sweet-talk people into fearing.
Were you familiar with the DC Universe before getting the role? How much of a superhero fan are you?
I am a big, BIG superhero fan. I’m completely nerding out right now being here surrounded by all of this memorabilia. Just growing up a kid in America, superheroes are part of the culture. So, it’s hard for anybody not to be overwhelmed surrounded by all this and participating in something like Supergirl. But for me to have stepped into this universe that I adore…it’s wild, man!
How is Nia’s relationship with Kara at first? Are they friendly?
From the jump, they’re very friendly with each other. Their relationship is very reminiscent of Kara’s and Cat Grant’s during season one—that sort of mentor/mentee relationships.
Yeah, but Cat was sort of a brutal mentor a lot of times.
Yeah! Kara’s got a little bit of a gentler touch to her. But it evolves into a deeper friendship that is just so beautiful to be a part of, and I think it’s going to be great to watch.
On the subject of relationships, what’s it like joining a show that’s been running for several seasons?
It was a little daunting at first because I was having flashbacks to being the new kid in middle school, but the Supergirl cast is so special in that they are friendly, warm and welcoming. From the minute I was there, they embraced me. At Comic-Con, they included me and made sure that I wasn’t feeling left behind. Chyler pulled me aside and let me know how much she supported me. When I first moved to Vancouver, Katie took me out to lunch just to make sure that I had a friend. They’re so wonderful.
What does the character of Supergirl mean to you personally?
Supergirl has now transformed in the way that Harley Quinn has—they’re no longer defined by the men around them. Supergirl originally was kind of just a girl version of Superman. Now, she’s her own force to be reckoned with. She’s representative of the superheroism within all women. I think she represents a kind of hope that is very much needed today. She’s cool. She’s just cool.
Now, let’s take that notion one final step further. What does it mean to you that a trans superhero will now be fighting alongside her?
Oh gosh… Having a trans superhero in mainstream media, first of all, is revolutionary. Having a trans superhero in a DC show is revolutionary. Having a trans superhero with someone as recognizable and iconic as Supergirl is just…I mean, how far we have come. Even ten years ago, think about how few trans people were known publicly, and now we have a trans superhero working with Supergirl. We have come so far, and it is so reassuring to see that we have a place at a table with such American icons, especially at times like these. It’s very, very validating.
Supergirl returns tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.