Since she was a young girl in Texas, Brec Bassinger always wanted to be a superhero. But she knew the chances of playing one, let alone leading her own TV show, were slim to none until she landed the titular role on DC’s Stargirl in the summer of 2018.
“I’m very much an optimist, but I’m also a realist,” Bassinger says in a recent interview with Observer. “I don’t think I ever specifically allowed myself to think I could play a superhero, but I’ll gladly describe it as a happy accident.”
Created by Geoff Johns, the hit superhero series follows high-school sophomore Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl (Brec Bassinger) and her stepfather Pat Dugan/S.T.R.I.P.E. (Luke Wilson) as she leads an unlikely group of young heroes — Yolanda Montez/Wildcat (Yvette Monreal), Beth Chapel/Dr. Mid-Nite (Anjelika Washington) and Rick Tyler/Hourman (Cameron Gellman) — to assume the mantle of the Justice Society of America, DC’s very first superhero team.
After defeating the Injustice Society of America in last year’s death-defying season finale, Courtney and her group of friends are confronted with one of the most frightening supervillains in the DC universe: a dark entity known as Eclipso (Nick Tarabay).
In a phone and email conversation with Observer, Bassinger opens up about her working relationships with Johns and Wilson, the evolution of her incarnation of Stargirl, the challenges of working with the iconic cosmic staff, and the challenges that lie ahead for the new JSA in Season 2.
Observer: What do you think differentiates Stargirl and this show in general from past DC shows, including the other ones that are airing right now on The CW?
Brec Bassinger: Well, the whole format of the show is a bit different. It’s a lot more like Superman & Lois. We don’t necessarily have a villain in each episode. It’s kind of like a villain [per] season storyline, so even that’s a lot different than a lot of superhero shows on the air right now. But also, I feel like the ensemble is what makes our show so special. You have the family unit ensemble, which is a blended family that has a lot of relatability but love and humor. And then you have these kids going through high school — one of the most awkward times — and they’re still having to go through that together. I think all of these unique and relatable dynamics along with adding superhero [elements] on top of that creates a really unique and special show.
People always ask me about the first time I put the costume on, and my answer is so anticlimactic. By the time I had gotten through 17 fittings, I couldn’t even pinpoint the first time I put on the fully finished costume.
What were the superheroes that really resonated with you growing up?
Well, more recently, I remember watching the Tom Holland Spider-Man movie, because when that movie came out, I was just graduating high school. And it was very relatable for me to see this guy, once again, struggling through high school but then also balancing being a superhero. So I guess I wanted to bring that to Courtney because I know, watching that, I really related to it.
But then also Wonder Woman — she’s one of the most iconic superheroes but also one of the most powerful icons for women. I remember growing up and specifically going to Six Flags — because there’s a Six Flags near where I grew up in Texas — and just being in love with Wonder Woman, thinking she was so hot and sexy and cool and strong, and I got to bring that to Stargirl as well.
Geoff Johns has sung your praises in numerous interviews, saying that you “came in and delivered the emotion, the warmth, the drama, the comedy and the strength that Stargirl and Courtney needed.” How did you work with him to understand the backstory that he had created for your character?
Well, from the very beginning, talking to Geoff, he’s one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met. He always put a focus on Courtney’s heart and how, even though she has flaws and she makes mistakes and she’s impulsive, her intentions are always from the heart, and they’re always with a positive eye, so Geoff was very vocal about that. Obviously, this character specifically means a lot to him, and [I was] just constantly being reminded of that.
As for the blended family atmosphere, I definitely really wanted to focus on the relationship between her and Pat, because it was a struggle for both of them. But just making sure that throughout the first season, there was a build [of] learning to mutually respect each other and finding those balances between her being a sassy teenager but also being a respectful new daughter.
Courtney has so many important people in her life, but her relationship with Pat is a cornerstone of the show, and you and Luke have portrayed that dynamic beautifully. What has it been like to work with such a seasoned veteran as your unofficial onscreen dad? What have you learned from him?
Well, first, just the way that he walks on the set. I mean this in the best way, but you will never know that he’s had the career that he’s had because he’s just the most humble, relatable human being. From just an actor’s standpoint, it’s been so great for me to see that, to see that it’s possible to be extremely successful and still stay humble and kind, and [he] is truly an inspiration to me.
But also just from the Courtney-Pat perspective and what he would bring to set, he is freaking hilarious. He always keeps me on my toes; I never know when he’s going to throw in some improv. But it’s moments like that that I feel like Courtney and Pat’s relationship is so genuine because a lot of it is the genuine reactions of: “What’s Luke gonna say? I don’t know, but I’m going to have to react to it.” (Laughs.)
When we meet Courtney in the pilot, she is not too enthused to discover that she has to uproot her life to live with a new family that she didn’t necessarily want. But over the course of the first season, she begins to open up and gets really close with her chosen family, who truly have her back through thick and thin. How would you say those relationships have evolved as you enter this sophomore season?
I’ll specifically talk about the JSA. In the beginning of Season 1, they are rookies in every way, shape and form. Their first fight that they really go into is against Sportsmaster and Tigress [in episode 6], and they get their butts kicked — Pat told them that they were gonna get their butts kicked because they weren’t ready. But through that fighting that they do in the rest of the season, they really had to grow as a group together. It’s fun because starting in Season 2, they’re still overall new superheroes, but they’re not complete rookies. So they have a little bit more confidence when it comes to the superhero job, and now it’s their personal life and trying to balance that [with] the superhero world. That’s where a lot of the conflict comes in. And like they say, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and great responsibility is very hard to deal with.
You have a background in gymnastics, but how much time did you have to prepare for the physical stunts on this show?
It’s so funny because in the first couple of episodes, I had more time working on the choreography. I had just gotten off of a two-week training boot camp with our stunt coordinator. But as the season unfolds, we kind of got caught up with the episodes and caught up with the choreography, so I’m walking onto the set and I’m having to learn the fight scene that we’re doing that day.
And while I had experience with gymnastics, I had absolutely zero [prior] experience with a staff, and that was definitely something that I had to overcome throughout the first season — just being comfortable holding this six-foot pole with me as an extra limb, basically. But it was so fun getting to come back for Season 2 because I was so much more confident with this staff that I feel like I got to put more power and creativity in my fight scenes and more of Courtney, because I was less focused on which direction the staff was supposed to go and more focused on what the intentions of the fight were.
Well, the cosmic staff is a character in its own right. Are you given a real staff that lights up, or are you given a regular staff that is enhanced with special effects?
Yeah, it was definitely a learning process in the first season, trying to figure out what worked, because they originally thought I was going to use a real staff and they were going to put light beams in it. There has to be real light because we can’t put in visual effects for light. But that did not work because the staff is very top heavy — because of the point of the staff — and it was very, very big. It was over 6 feet, and I’m only 5’2”, so it was completely unrealistic. So, then, they came up with the idea of just using a light beam and [adding] visual effects for the staff over the light beam afterwards, and that’s what we ended up going with.
And as for the personality of the staff, there were so many conversations about it because we did want it to feel almost like a character. So for the first season, there were a lot of constant reminders of being like: “Guys, remember, when you’re saying things, the staff is reacting and saying things too.” So it was almost like a puppet and I was constantly having to move and react to it, and it wasn’t doing anything! But once again, coming into Season 2, we kind of figured out how to play with it more, and it almost became like second nature.
The special effects in this show are absolutely outstanding, but I know that you usually have no idea how a scene will turn out in the final cut. Is it at all challenging to act with a tennis ball and a green screen and to shoot those action sequences in such a sporadic way?
Oh, it’s so fun because not only are we shooting it so out of order, but I’m also only in half of it because my stunt double is doing the other half. So when I see the final fight scene, I’ll be like, “What in the world?! How did this become this? Because I do not remember filming this!” But also, talking to a 10-foot pole for S.T.R.I.P.E., that was something I had to get used to.
I remember, specifically, in the beginning of episode 13, S.T.R.I.P.E. is there, and I’m trying to plead with this huge robot: “It’s me! Your daughter!” But on the day, it was really just a 10-foot metal pole with a tennis ball on top, and I’m like, “Please! I’m your daughter!” I was like, “This is not how I pictured acting, but this is fun.”
We can’t talk about Stargirl without mentioning her costume. What was it like to put on that costume for the first time? And how does that influence the contrasting ways that you play Courtney compared to Stargirl?
It’s so funny because people always ask me about the first time I put the costume on, and my answer is so anticlimactic. By the time I had gotten through 17 fittings, I couldn’t even pinpoint the first time I put on the fully finished costume. (Laughs.)
Out of nowhere, the guy looks up and tells me to take off my mask. I was so confused and was just like, “Uh, why?” And he goes, “You know why… STARGIRL!”
I remember the first time I walked on set wearing the costume, and everyone was oohing and aahing. The first time I walked onto set wearing the costume was actually in episode 2 during the Brainwave fight, and the whole experience has been so surreal to me. But finally, when that happened, it became like real life. I was on set wearing my superhero costumes surrounded by lights, cameras and amazing actors, and it was a really emotional experience for me.
And as for when I put on the suit now, it changes my walk. It changes my posture partially because of how high it is and how it makes me feel. But it’s so funny coming back for Season 2, I had so many people tell me, “Oh, you’re really walking more like a superhero this season.” And I was like, “Oh, thank you, I appreciate that.”
You’ve been attached to this show for almost three years now, and I’m sure it must have been a relief to debut this project during a time when people just needed something uplifting to watch. What kind of reception have you gotten from fans on social media? Have you had any memorable fan encounters?
From the very beginning, our showrunner, Geoff Johns, wanted to create a show that brought people together, and I have had so many people reach out saying it did just that. I know, for me personally, television has been such an escape for me during the pandemic, and the idea that Stargirl might have provided that same relief to people makes me feel even more fortunate that I am a part of it.
With the pandemic, I have had very few fan encounters. There was one encounter late last year where I was going into an event with my friend as her plus-one. The security guard was looking for her name, and it wasn’t on the list. I began making small talk as they were looking, and out of nowhere, the guy looks up and tells me to take off my mask. I was so confused and was just like, “Uh, why?” And he goes, “You know why… STARGIRL!” Turns out he was a huge comic book fan and fan of the show. There had been a mess-up, and my friend’s name wasn’t on the list but they let us in because [he said], “This is Stargirl! She is welcomed anywhere I am.” It made me laugh.
Looking ahead, the first season ended on a relatively positive note, but there were a few cliffhangers that will be teased out as the new season progresses. What can you preview about Courtney’s arc this season? How are her relationships with her chosen family tested as they are faced with a new set of foes?
The end of Season 1 definitely leaves some questions in the air. Coming into Season 2, Courtney is 100% sure of her role as Stargirl, but isn’t so sure about the role the JSA now plays in Blue Valley. Where are the bad guys needing to be stopped? Where is Cindy Burman? Do the ISA’s kids know about the JSA? Will they want revenge? What does Cameron know? So much is unknown to Court and her team. Plus, her fellow JSA members are all going through their own mental battles that puts a strain on the team and their relationships. Courtney has to figure out how to balance being a superhero, a team leader, a friend, a sister, and a daughter…
Courtney will also make her official debut as part of the ever-expanding Arrowverse this season, and it has already been confirmed that she will come face-to-face with an older version of The Flash. What can you tease about the crossovers this season?
Ever since being cast as Stargirl, I constantly get asked about the Arrowverse and potential crossovers. We were established on Earth 9 on Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I didn’t know what that meant for the future of Stargirl crossovers. So when I found out about John Wesley Shipp coming to our show, I was pumped! We were finally connected. I personally feel like one crossover is the beginning of multiple [crossovers]…
What would be a dream crossover for you?
Supergirl. I personally feel like Stargirl and Supergirl would be friends… as well as bad-to-the-bone partners in crime. Well, stopping crime.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. The entire first season can also be streamed at CWTV.com or on the CW app.