Karl Urban and Ant Starr take on the seedy world of superheroes in the new Amazon series The Boys. Dominic Corry sat down to talk to the Kiwi stars in New York.
Superheroes, never more prominent in our culture, get a right kick up the backside in the irreverent new drama series The Boys, an incredibly well-timed counterpoint to the rise of superhero idolatry, and celebrity worship in general.
It's also notable as the first American series to feature Kiwi actors in the two main roles – Karl Urban and Antony Starr lead the show as the main goodie and the main baddie, respectively.
The world of The Boys is just like our own, except superheroes exist, and they're hugely popular celebrities with sponsorship deals and movie careers. They're also mostly terrible people who get away with all manner of criminal activities thanks to their exalted status. And their superpowers.
Urban plays Billy Butcher, the leader of the titular vigilante group, comprised of regular humans whose mission it is to hold the "supes" accountable.
Starr plays Homelander, this world's version of Superman. Adorned in a cape made up of stars and stripes, he's the leader of The Seven, a corporate-sponsored team of America's top superheroes. Homelander may appear to be a virtuous hero, but he's actually a sociopathic egotist responsible for innumerable deaths.
Although it's based on the 2006-2012 comic book by Garth Ennis (Preacher) and Darick Robertson, the show couldn't be more timely.
"In retrospect, you look at the comic and go 'Wow, that was actually thematically quite ahead of its time,'" Urban tells TimeOut in New York. "It looked at the culture of celebrity and supposed if celebrities had actual power. Ironically, fast forward however many years and we have a reality TV star sitting in the White House. It's kind of frightening."
So don't expect any speeches about great responsibility coming with great power.
"The cool thing about this show is it offers an alternate narrative to one that we are feasting on currently with the Marvel and DC movies," says Urban, who played a supporting role in the 2017 Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok. "This takes a moment to think: if superheroes really did exist, well they would be imbued with the same faults and flaws and dangerous elements of human personality that we are."
In The Boys, nobody hates superheroes more than Billy Butcher, a gruff, sweary Englishman with a personal vendetta against Homelander.
"He's a Machiavellian, duplicitous scoundrel, who is completely mad and hell-bent on exacting his revenge upon Homelander," says Urban. "He is a fun character, but he's also an incredibly dangerous character. I've particularly enjoyed playing the scenes where I get to lie, cheat and steal and convince people to do what I want them to do."
Urban first found out about The Boys when he read about Starr's casting.
"I was back home in New Zealand reading the newspaper and seeing that Tony had been cast in this, I was like 'Oooh what's that project?' They cast all of the superheroes first because they had to build these super suits for them. We've known each other for years and so the opportunity to work together was pretty cool."
Being two Kiwis, Urban says that he and Starr naturally ribbed each other on set.
"Some of the cast and the crew were somewhat shocked by how Antony I would interact with each other," recalls Urban. "Everyone is so self-aware and politically correct on film sets, especially in this day and age, and you've got these two guys that are just ripping into each other, it was hilarious."
In a separate interview, Starr tells TimeOut he relished playing the bad guy.
"Well I don't know what it says about me but I far prefer playing characters that are darker, and that have got a little bit more spice," says Starr. "The good guy always has to be the moral compass of the show and do the right thing, but this guy..."
Its darkly comedic tone allows it some leeway, but The Boys gets pretty extreme at times – one incident sees a superhero going full Harvey Weinstein.
"Every episode, there was always one scene or sequence that took our breath away," says Starr. "It was like 'Oh my god, are we seriously gonna do that?' And that kind of excited me. I think that if we can deliver something to an audience they haven't seen before, then we're on the right track."
Starr says he was excited to get to work with Urban.
"I was pretty happy about it because I've known Karl for years, we trained together. I've always wanted to work with him. Finally, our worlds have collided in a big way on the show. It's good butting heads against a fellow Antipodean. He's got a good hard head to knock on."
He was also pretty stoked to have a fellow Kiwi on the show's Toronto set.
"I went over to his house to watch the All Blacks play a couple of times," says Starr. "It's nice having someone that gets where you're from. Just having a buddy, someone to hang out with that speaks normally. Finally, I can understand one person on set."
Who: Ant Starr and Karl Urban
What: The Boys
Where: Amazon Prime Video
When: Streaming from tomorrow