SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – JULY 19: Antony Starr attends 2019 Comic-Con International – Red Carpet For “The Boys” on July 19, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
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Antony Starr: ‘I don’t think Homelander should be redeemed’

On the screen he’s blonde with piercing blue eyes, always dressed in his immaculate superhero suit in the colors of the American flag, defiant and arrogant behind the camera and smiling and charming in front of it. He’s the perfect Homelander in The Boys and certainly one of the many reasons the show, created by Eric Kripke, has become a hit on Amazon. But in real life, Antony Starr, the New Zealander actor who plays Homelander on screen, is exactly the opposite. In a hotel room in Bulgaria, where he is filming Cobweb with Lizzy Caplan, the former star of Banshee is as humble as he can be. A cap is hiding his hair and a big pair of glasses erase all resemblance to the most hated villain in today’s television. With a long career in the small screen that includes American Gothic, Rush, and the show that made him a name in his country, Outrageous Fortune, Starr (which by the way, is his real surname) may be on the path of something even bigger. But for now, he’s happy where he is, and enjoys this time while he’s still not being recognized without the cape.

Even if Homelander is the villain of the story, there’s some humanity behind him.  How do you handle the challenge of stirring up all the hatred from the audience on the one hand, but on the other getting them to sympathize with you as well?

I don’t think it’s that complicated. Nobody walks around the world actively doing what they believe is the wrong thing to do, everyone is doing what they believe is the right thing according to their life experience, and Homelander is no different. We are lucky enough that we have got such a great writing team, led by Eric Kripke, and he’s just not interested in having one-dimensional characters. It would be very easy to become a bit of a mustache-twirling archvillain, but that’s also very limited, you can’t really do anything with it.  So it’s always figuring out what made him the way he is, what he wants to do and why he wants to do it, and then how he’s going to do it, how he’s going to achieve his goals.  And I think just creating a full world and a full experience and backstory for the character really allows all that stuff to come out. 

How do you connect personally with him?

I got told not to judge your character, but it’s quite difficult sometimes not to pass judgment when he is allowing a plane full of people to plummet out of the sky into the ocean – I think that’s very clearly an egregious act. But as for how he relates to me, I don’t know. Maybe … well, I think for one thing, I definitely put on as much of a front, in that I definitely put out the idea that everything is going better with me than it often is – I try not to bog other people down with my problems.  So maybe there is that duality that he and I share. Homelander is really putting on a huge front – I don’t think it’s as extreme, but I think maybe that’s something that Homelander shares with everyone, actually, because everyone’s got a public and private space to some extent.

One of the things that audiences enjoy of the show is its irreverence – there is no limit to it.

Yeah, we’re not bound to the same limitations that normal superhero movies and shows are, because their moral north is very true, they are very morally upright.  There is no moral ambiguity in the show: good people are good and bad people are bad, and bad things happen to bad people and there is definitely a sense of mortality. It is a show for adults: we are not playing to a young audience, so we can really get away with a lot more, which makes for a bit of a playground for the writers. I think they fully exploit that. And we do a lot of ad libbing. One of the best lines in the show was ad libbed by Jack Quaid. It’s very, very rude, but it’s just an example of the playful atmosphere on the set and the creativity involved across the board.  There’s no ego on the set. And that breeds a real confidence in taking risks and not being afraid to fail. I think that’s a great position to be in to embark on any creative endeavor.

I can’t imagine what Homelander went through when he was growing up in a lab, surrounded by scientists checking him all the time. Do you have to go to that place when playing the character, or not?

I was raised in a good family, so of course it’s really nice just doing homework and piecing it all together with as much detail as you can in terms of backstory and then researching different psychological conditions that could come out of that and trying to service them. But there’s also a fine line between servicing the backstory and overplaying it. I don’t think Homelander is a character that should be redeemed. I think he’s pretty despicable. So while I want people to understand the character and why he is the way he is, I don’t want them to feel sorry for him. But I really gravitate towards shows and films that don’t tell the audience how to feel: they present a question and let the audience do the work, and if they feel something, they feel it, and if they don’t, they don’t.


As an actor, would you like to experience the stardom that Homelander has, or are you fine as you are?

I am a very private person, so not having my personal life under a microscope really works for me. But we all have our ambitions, and I guess the irony for me is that in order for me to get what I want to get workwise, and to get what I want to get out of my career, inevitably I am going to have to give up some of that privacy. I would love to somehow navigate that whereby I would get to work on the jobs that I want to work on without being under the microscope – but I don’t know how I would be able to do that. So we will see. At the moment everything is very mellow, I think. To be honest, it’s pretty great at the moment with Homelander, because I wear glasses, so nobody can tell it’s me.  (laughs)

I wouldn’t recognize you at the store.

Yeah, exactly. And my hair, it’s cut strangely for this film I am doing. Also, I have brown hair, and I think people really identify Homelander as that dude, that guy with the blonde hair. I’m really very dissimilar to that in real life. To be honest, I know the rest of the cast are getting a lot more recognition, because they are a lot more visible than I am. So it’s fine for me at the moment.

I was watching a clip from your episode in Xena when you were playing David, and I wondered, what were the dreams of that 21-year-old?

I look back, and I was just a baby then and really didn’t know anything.  I mean, I barely know what I’m doing now, and I knew even less then.  So I really didn’t know what I was doing on that set – I was lost, and you can see it in the performance, it’s pretty dreadful. I never grew up wanting to be an actor: I just sort of fell into this, and all of a sudden I found myself on this film set, on Xena, and was sort of running around playing David in a David and Goliath story. I didn’t really understand what I was doing, I didn’t really have any ambition in terms of acting, it was just something that came along, so yeah, it was definitely like a little taste of what was to come.  Afterwards, I went around the world for a couple of years, and after a couple of years of traveling, I decided I had a shot at acting, because I really quite enjoyed it, and then it just progressed from there.  But it was really that I fluked my way into that first job and I think probably the producers and the director were wondering what they’d got once I turned up on set. (laughs)

But how did you end up doing it?  Why did you start in this business?

Actually, someone asked me in a supermarket if I wanted to do commercial work, and gave me a card. I started doing TV commercials when I was 18 or 19. Then I started doing a part time acting class, just to get better commercials, and I found I was quite interested in that, it was quite fun, I enjoyed it. And then I started going for readings, like for one line in a TV show or a film here and there, and I started getting that, and then getting an episode guest role and I just progressed up the ladder from there. I didn’t specifically want to be in the film industry, but I definitely wanted to do something creative. I don’t want to coin a cliché, but someone did once say something to me – and it can apply to anything, but they were talking about acting – and they said, “People don’t find acting, acting finds people.” Maybe I am a little bit of proof of that. But I am happy to be where I am now, it’s great.

What do you think it says about the New Zealand acting industry that in The Boys both you and Karl Urban are from there?

I think it says Kiwis are awesome. (laughs) I’ve known Karl for years, actually, and I’ve always wanted to work with him. He’s a great actor, and we kind of came up together around the same people. It’s fantastic just having someone.  So, I thoroughly enjoy having him there.  And look, New Zealand has a fantastic film industry, because the industry is small and it’s pretty fragile, but we have got some incredibly creative talent down there and creatives, that’s why so many international films go shoot down there.  And I think Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings kind of put us on the map, that was about 1998, 1999 wasn’t it?  So it’s really just grown from there.  And now we’ve got James Cameron doing Avatar down there, the Hobbit movies were down there, there’s a lot of films that go down there.  And for good reason – we’ve got fantastic talent and the crews are second to none down there.  It’s a great place for overseas productions to come and get their film made by extremely talented professionals. Let’s face it, I am a proud Kiwi – it’s one of the best countries in the world. It really is a really unique special place.

How strange was it to film the last scene of the season and was that the most outrageous scene of the show that you have done?

(Laughs) I will start with that, yes, that was the most outrageous, that might be the most outrageous scene I have done in any show, actually. I mean, I have done some pretty weird things on this show – the scene where I was wearing lingerie and hitting on myself in Episode Four was pretty strange as well. That last scene of the season, it’s shocking for sure, obviously it’s wacky and it’s out there, and as soon as I read it, I just thought it was a heartbreaking scene. To me, it’s very sad because this guy is just so tortured internally, and so lost and so emasculated and weak and alone. And he’s desperately trying to revisit a thought and an idea and a point in his life where he was in Season One, where he felt emancipated, where he started realizing, “I can do whatever I want” – there was actually that line, “I can do whatever the fuck I want.” Which was his self-realization in a lot of ways.  And this is him trying to revisit that. So I think a lot of people are going to look at it and think it’s funny and wacky and it’s weird, but hopefully they also see that underneath he’s a very weak, sad, lonely man, desperately trying to build himself back up, to inflate himself.  Like I said, people will feel how they feel about things, but definitely I would say it was a strange day on set.  (Laughs)