Fans of Batwoman are in for several surprises during Wednesday’s episode, “Broken Toys.” Ryan, aka Batwoman (Javicia Leslie) will have an important showdown with businesswoman (and her birth mother) Jada Jet (Robin Givens). Also, Camrus Johnson, who plays Ryan’s tech whiz and fellow superhero Batwing, will direct this episode too.
Johnson spoke to Shadow and Act ahead of Wednesday’s episode about how it was to sit in the director’s chair. He also revealed more about his poignant animated short film, She Dreams at Sunrise.
Shadow and Act: How was it directing this episode?
Camrus Johnson: It was a fun, collaborative experience. Yeah. You know, we have such a good time together. I mean, me and the cast are such good friends.
There was never really a worry that we weren’t going to have a good time and that we weren’t going to work so well together. But dang, we had so much more fun than I expected. And the actors are just so good at what they do. They will come up, they do a take, and I knew what they were going to do because I’ve seen them act for so long, so I would just walk up to them and give them something completely different, just a completely different idea of what it could be. So some things started one way and then ended up in this more nuanced, beautiful thing because they actors kept giving me so many different takes.
We had such a good time and I love our crew. I mean, my crew showed up in every single way. They saved my butt a couple of times, and it was my crew’s idea to direct an episode in the first place. They’ve been pushing me to ever since they saw my short film. So everyone really gave not just a hundred percent but it was my crew’s idea to direct an episode in the first place they’ve been pushing me ever since they saw the short films. So everyone really gave me not just a hundred percent, but a billion percent. I think that’s the reason the episode came out so strong.
How was it directing and acting at the same time?
It’s harder than I thought, because I directed and starred in a short film, but I also wrote and produced and I thought it was that wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, but that was partially because I co-directed it and it was a three-day shoot. This was different because we only have so much time to do so many scenes at once. And I didn’t really have time to run and replay a scene and watch it back. So I’ll get the trust of my DP, my AD and my cast and crew that certain scenes were good. I didn’t really watch a lot of my work. I didn’t have time, so I would really run in the scene and sometimes I was like, ‘Oh crap, I’m in the scene’ [laughs]. And I’d go in and I would yell out, ‘Hey, was it okay?’ And I’d here my DP say, “Yeah, we liked it.” That just shows how talented my crew is because I trusted them because I knew that if it wasn’t wrong, it was they going to let me know.
And also shout out to my incredible stunt double Jesse Miller. He learned every single one of my lines for this episode. And there were oftentimes where you’re looking over my shoulder or you’re looking at the back of my head or seeing me in the batsuit with the helmet down, that is actually my stunt double staying the lines for me.
That way, I was able to watch as much as I could. But yeah it was actually a fun challenge running in front of the camera and then running back because it just kept me on my toes all day–as if I didn’t have a million to already know, I had to keep remembering my lines also. But it was really fun. It was a really incredible challenge and I had a good time doing it.
Batwoman is making history by having a Black woman in the bat suit.
What is it like to be on a show like this and to don your own bat suit as well?
One of the most beautiful things about this show, if not the most beautiful thing, is how much we’ve been able to push and elevate the voices of the often voiceless. We have two Black superheroes in 2 batsuits at the same time, fighting side by side, an Asian Poison Ivy, and just a fantastic amount of queer love depicted in ways that show that the writers care. The fact that little kids of diverse backgrounds can watch this show and see how powerful they are for the first time because they see someone that looks like them [and] sounds like them? Incredible. And to have my own batsuit is just so many of my dreams as a young nerd but also as an adult artist wrapped up into one. I haven’t truly gotten over how cool it is to have a glowing blue batwing symbol on my chest.
The show gives a lot of sides to Blackness with both heroes and villains showcasing that we certainly are not a monolith. How do you feel seeing Blackness represented in a comic book property in this way?
I feel like we are slowing but surely expressing to more and more of the world that we’re just people like everybody else. Doesn’t matter what skin color or tone you are. That Black people have just as many sides, goals, dreams and ambitions as the person next to us. That we make as many mistakes yet inspire the same amount of change as anyone standing across from us. We have many facets and we are not just one thing or one idea. And the more Blackness I see in the comicbook world, the more I feel Black superheroes rising to the top in the real world. Sometimes you have to see what you are to know who you’ll be.
What else can fans expect later this season?
Expect [Jada’s son and current Gotham villain] Marquis [Nick Creegan] to just get more and more unhinged, for Alice [Rachel Skarsten] and Ryan to have to make some hard decisions, and for the rest of our bat team to try their best not to let Gotham City completely fall apart.
You mentioned your short film, She Dreams at Sunrise. What was it like creating that film and the fact that you were inspired by your aunt?
I was my great aunt’s caretaker for a few years back in the day. And I wanted to tell some version of this story for the longest time. So there is a movie that we’ll be making about it, but it’s hard. It’s hard telling that story because you’re telling the story about a traumatic really hard time [Johnson’s great-aunt suffered from meningitis in the brain]. So when an opportunity with Tribeca came up and they asked to make an animated short with me, I wasn’t sure what new story I had to tell them. And this idea came up of this sort of what if a magical realism version of what happened and me taking care of her.
So this story is about an older woman who is stuck in this mundane reality, and she escapes her life through her dreams, and her great-nephew being me has helped connect you to what she’s really missing. She had meningitis and sort of hallucinated a lot…she was constantly in living in between two different worlds.
So I thought, what would that look like in an animated space and how can I tell this story in a way where it’s not long but it still pulled that those heartstrings. It meant so much that I got to make this and on such a large scale with Procter and Gamble [for its “8:46” short film series honoring George Floyd] and Saturday Morning and the fact that it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, it’s just like, I don’t know. It just means so much to me because that time of my life is the reason I am, who I am and where I am today. And I owe everything to my great aunt. It means the world that I got to make this story and get it out there and the fact that I’ll be able to expand on it really soon.
What do you hope people take away from your short film?
I hope after watching She Dreams at Sunrise that people choose to forgive more. We often hold a lot of grudges, in many instances for good reason, but sometimes what we hold onto weighs us down in their own ways over time. I also hope it inspires more patience, because you never know what someone’s really going through. There was no way for people to know that when I was 18, I was a caretaker at home, and I’ve met so many over the year that have gone something similar. So hopefully, this film connects with people in a way that makes them check in more and spread that extra bit of love just in case.
Batwoman airs Wednesday night on The CW at 9/8c.