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November 05, 2019

Bright New Star in the Pantheon

The new girl in The Boys club can hold her own

Melissa Byers
  • Jack Quaid as Hughie and Erin Moriarty as Annie/Starlight in Amazon's The boys

    Amazon
  • Amazon
  • Amazon
  • Amazon

It's hard to be the new kid. It's even harder when you're the new girl in a club of superheroes who aren't always so super.

In Amazon's hit series The Boys, Erin Moriarty finds herself facing not only the pitfalls of being a newly-named superhero, Starlight, she also has to face the darker side of the all-too-human top dogs of the superhero community.

From the first script of the first season (season 2 is currently being filmed), Moriarty was hooked. She says, "When I auditioned for it I only had access to the first episode. What was so attractive to me about the project is that everything in the world of The Boys is not what it seems to be. So I think it defies what your visceral perception and reaction is to most people and scenarios and plot lines.

"You think it's going to be one superhero show and then ends up totally turning the genre on its head."

The show is based on a series of comic books by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The Boys of the title are a group of vigilantes trying to rid the world of corrupt superheroes, especially since those superheroes are sponsored and controlled by a huge conglomerate, Vaught Industries.

The Boys' latest recruit, Hughie, played by Jack Quaid, befriends Moriarty's Starlight, putting a crimp in his pursuit of "The Seven," the elite group to which Starlight has just been named. Hughie has a hatred for the superhumans after one of them inadvertently kills Hughie's girlfriend and doesn't even acknowledge his mistake.

Starlight, or Annie, in her human life, and her mother have worked hard to hone Annie's skills so that she can rise to be a part of the group. When she makes it, she is faced with living up to her mother's, the public's, and her own expectations while running the gauntlet of entering an established group with its own hierarchy.

Moriarty explains, "And then as far as Starlight goes, I think we see her as this young, naïve, ingenue character from the Midwest and perhaps we project a certain stereotype onto her and then by the end of the pilot you realize that she totally defies what we expect of her. And so for me that was just super refreshing because it allowed me to explore a character that felt little bit unprecedented in terms of the world of superheroes.

"Things always feel black and white, in terms of defining characters as the bad guys and good guys. And she is unambiguously a good character but within the first episode she is put into a situation that's morally ambiguous and she doesn't necessarily respond the 'right way.'

"But it's more a matter of her response to the situation that lights the fire behind her ass and catalyzes this trajectory that you don't expect of her.

"So it's just cool to be surprised, honestly because these days, especially in superhero shows and movies, the characters and plot lines tend to get slightly formulaic, and she's the opposite of that.

"So I think just within the material itself it was quite surreal to book a role like this that allowed me to play with so many nuances and create a character that's almost like a paradox, because she's so nuanced and strong, and is earnest at the same time, and innocent but still kick ass, and it was fun. It was really fun."

One of Starlight's first hurdles is being coerced into a sexual act by one of her fellow superheroes. The plot line resonates in the era of #MeToo, a fact not lost on Moriarty.

"I think the #MeToo movement also highlighted that there's a large spectrum when it comes to manipulation and abuse. It's not just the clear cut scenario that maybe a lot of us had thought it was. And so then we can look back in retrospect and realize, oh, no, this was...

"There were moments where I was extremely manipulated or I was abused and it didn't fit exactly my perception of abuse but that's because it was such a taboo subject that we just weren't willing for a long time to peel behind the top layer and just get to [the subject]. I just think that in a way Hollywood was built on it.

"It took so long to just address these taboo subjects. So I am glad to highlight another scenario that is not so straightforward. She does something that a lot of people would say, okay, if I were in her scenario I would have done differently. But we can never really anticipate what we're going to do until we're in the moment.

"So I think it's a really good opportunity to introduce the character who we all know is a good person, but she makes the wrong decision. And it's not about her visceral response in the moment, it's about how she responds to the situation in retrospect and how she handles it, and how it changes her for the better. And that good people can do not so good things when they're really manipulated.

"It's just so many things lie in the gray area. And I think that idea makes us uncomfortable. I think we prefer to categorize things. . And that's why I like the idea of being introduced to a character that we all meet and we just are rooting for and we can say unambiguously is a good person and then she does the wrong thing. And it makes you question your judgment when it comes to these things, which I like.

"And I think that there are so many young women who can relate to that. Having not made the right decision in the moment but God, I mean you just can't anticipate how you're going to act until you're there. And you just never know. It's so easy to say, I would have done better... I would have made the better choice. It's so easy.

"Often you get called into these scenarios where your morals are in question and you behave the wrong way and then you doubt yourself as person instead of just looking at it as a very human moment that we're all not immune to."

The pull between independence and family and societal expectation is also a large part of Moriarty's character, a dichotomy she relishes playing.

"I think it's one of reasons why I feel like even though the role is she's a superhero so there are a lot of aspects to her that cater to this specific fantasy genre, I think that's why ultimately her character is so relatable because she's reaching a point in her life, it feels like a pseudo coming of age story almost that I think everyone does, which is where you leave your home bubble for the first time in your life and you're exposed to the outside world.

"And you realize that perhaps up until now your identity has been defined by your parents, their opinions and their expectations of you. And then she leaves that and finally becomes independent and she realizes that her identity has been so shaped by her mother. And I think this is an extreme example that exists a lot, to be honest with people who are just really extreme stage mothers or [superhero mothers].

"From a very young age they point their kid in a very specific direction without the kid having control. And so I think that a lot of people also around her age range can relate to that. And she just suffers this identity crisis as a result and is just trying to figure out who the hell she is now that she's departed her home.

"But now that she's departed her home, she's not in college like other kids, she doesn't really have the freedom to explore herself. She's in a situation where she's now being controlled by an even larger, more manipulative entity, which is Vought.

"So within all of that it's just a perfect storm to lose herself and I think the entire season is her grappling and struggling to just maintain and form her identity without the manipulation of others."

The one character not trying to manipulate Starlight seems to be Hughie, the new recruit to The Boys. The relationship between these characters who might otherwise be adversaries offers a respite for them both.

Moriarty, discussing the importance of the relationship, says, "I think that's why her storyline with Hughie is so important because he ends up being such a refuge for her in a way to escape the world of Vought and be a human being and be herself. I think that that gives her something to be anchored by.

"So when that gets uprooted as well, her whole word falls apart. But I think despite her world falling apart by the end of season one, I think people will be pleased with the way she handles all of it.

"They're both in very different situations that are actually very similar at the same time. And they become each other's anchors. Naturally given the circumstances so many complications arise and it becomes toxic even though they're two very good people. But at the same time they both provide, I think, an indispensable safe place for each other in season one."

Moriarty also enjoys working with Quaid, and they have a complementary way of working. She says, "It was lovely because when you get cast in something you just don't know. You hope that the chemistry works but you just don't know. And so he and I, like Hughie and Annie specifically need to have a chemistry that is so strong that despite the major complications of their world, they still can't help but hold onto each other.

"We have similar ways of working and we just got along super well and it ended up working. I think it comes down to we just always have so much fun with each other and have just always been supportive and open with each other and it's worked out really well.

"And it's been one of my favorite parts of working on the show. One of my absolute favorites is just the scenes we do together because they're also kind of simple compared to everything else. They don't involve blasting superpowers, it's really like our scenes are usually the character driven ones. So they're my favorite."

That's not to say that she doesn't enjoy the action sequences. She says, "I like the fighting scenes, they're really fun and it feels like a childhood dream being actualized. But first and foremost being an actor the scenes that are on the more character driven side that more simplified are like I said definitely my favorite. Definitely my favorite. And those tend to be with Hughie."

When it comes to the action sequences, though, Moriarty also enjoyed that part of the process.

She says, "We have a really wonderful stunt coordinator who really wanted us to be able to embody the physicality of superheroes. So leading up to it knowing that I would have a couple of scenes that involved learning fight choreography.

"I trained with our stunt coordinator and learned. He figured out what of all of the types of fighting, like boxing or martial arts what came most natural to me and it turned out to be a combination. I guess more in the world of boxing.

"And then we just trained and practiced so that by the time I learned the fight choreography it just looked a little bit better. And I ended up loving it much more than I expected because it's not something I had ever done, any type of fighting like that.

"But yeah, I loved it. It was very cathartic. I'm going to be honest, in season one there's this scene where those dudes are trying to rape the young woman and it was so cathartic to beat [them up]. That was one of my favorite nights of filming to just beat them up in that situation. I loved it. It was fun.

"I mean we all want to do that but we never could unless we're fricking superheroes so it was very cool."

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