This is a really special interview as we’ve been looking forward to speaking with Supergirl‘s transcendent Dreamer, Nicole Maines, since she came to Toronto for the Inside Out Film Festival with the movie Bit. In fact, we told this is Maines, who spoke to us on the phone from her parents’ home in Texas (after leaving the Vancouver set of the series Supergirl).
We began our phone interview by discussing her recent featured episode ‘Reality Bytes’, in which Dreamer confronts transphobia (and her darker side) head on, in the form of a showdown in which she seems ready to overpower and perhaps even murder the character of Angus / Gregory Bauer, in an act of revenge, until Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) steps in to stop her. But then we went on to discuss more with Maines and we were impressed by how much she wanted to share about her Supergirl journey, how we can be LGBTQ allies instead of critics, and above all, we laughed a fair bit as well.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our chat with Nia Nal / Dreamer herself, Nicole Maines of Supergirl.
*This interview was originally published on March 29, 2020*
BT: Do you think that Dreamer would have done it had Supergirl not stepped in?
NM: Yeah, I think that if Supergirl had not shown up when she did, I think Dreamer would have killed him. Which is not a good look for [chuckles] television’s first trans superhero. But I think realistically with where she is and what she was going through and what she’d done, I think Dreamer would have it and that she would have regretted it. Because she was right, she doesn’t want to be a killer, that’s not who she is, she doesn’t want to let him turn her into that. But…it’s that age old superhero question of do you take one to save the many?
BT: A very relevant question right now.
NM: Right, and I think that Dreamer would have done it, I think that she would have torn herself up over it, I don’t think that she would be herself again, I think that it would have destroyed her, but thank God that Supergirl showed up when she did. It gave Dreamer the chance to put this guy behind bars and she was able to have that conversation with Kara afterwards and finally let out all of the stuff that she’s been bottling up and taking with her. But it was really fun to explore that dark edge to Dreamer, because we get to see Dreamer as kind of this upbeat superhero who is always making puns and it was really cool to see that: “Oh! Dreamer can be scary”. It’s all pun and games [chuckles] until…she had a little bit of Batman in her.
BT: You’re a big fan of the musical Wicked as you sing it with Melissa Benoist. In the vein of that musical and Supergirl, what do you think is going too far in the line between good and evil?
NM: Yeah, well, I mean it’s that whole song, No Good Deed goes unpunished, everyone…most people, I would say, believe that what they are doing is right. Most people believe that they are the heroes of their own story and they they are the good guys and they are fighting against the bad guys. No one thinks that they’re the bad guys. The subjectivity of being evil is so interesting to me. And I think that you really have to ask yourself: “Who are you hurting? Through your action, who is being affected? Why are they being affected? How?” I don’t know, I think killing him would have been made Dreamer a bad person but it would have made her a killer all the same. And does that difference matter? Does it matter why you killed this guy? She did, and that’s not who she is, she’s a protector, she is a guardian, she is a beacon of light and hope. To throw that darkness into the mix, she would never be the same. Thank God that Supergirl showed up when she did.
BT: The character of Angus / Gregory Bauer is the worst type of troll and I am sure that you’ve developed a resistance to troll mentality already and you wouldn’t go that far yourself, of course.
NM: Mmm-hmm. No, no, I think calling this guy a troll is dangerous. Because when I think of trolls, I think of, especially Internet trolls, I think they’re just fucking with people. I don’t know if they really believe what they are saying or if they want to piss people off. I think that their motive is to ruffle feathers. That’s why I feel like letting trolls go off, that’s no big deal, because you don’t have to take a troll seriously, they’re not going to do anything, they’re going to post mean things online, they have no power. Gregory Bauer did have power and that especially was so terrifying about him, was that his sentiment was real. His motivation exists. He was an amalgamation of a voice in the comment section, absolutely, but his motivation was the idea of gay panic. When you’re into a trans woman, you find out she’s a trans woman and then you feel that you have something to prove of your masculinity. And for him, that was…his ego was so shattered that he felt that he had to take down a superhero to prove something. And there are people like that who exist – the gay panic argument is admissible in court, in too many states. I mean it usually gets thrown out afterward because it’s stupid, but the fact that you can submit that is a problem, the fact that there are people who say: “Oh no, it was her fault that I murdered her because she’s trans”. That’s who he is, that’s who Gregory Bauer was. He exists and that’s why he’s so scary. He’s not an alien, he’s not a Meta, he’s just some guy with a knife and a fucked up reason and he was able to cause that much damage, that’s what was so terrifying about him. That and also the fact that Pierson Fodé was so terrifying [chuckling] as this character, he did a phenomenal job. I remember watching and being like: “My God…I’m a little bit scared of you right now”.
BT: How do you turn that off afterward and power down a little bit?
NM: Yeah, well after Pierrson and I did that last scene, we went and got cheeseburgers [giggles] and kind of mellowed down a little bit, because that is a lot. It’s…it’s a lot. But I think that we all understood how important it was that we tell that story. While it was this really dark place for Supergirl to go and we don’t get that dark that often, I think that it was very necessary and very relevant and we were all very proud to be doing it.
BT: How much have you enjoyed doing this role, to doing Bit and to what is to come from here?
NM: Absolutely, yeah, I have so much. I mean that’s kind of the scary part about my career and about my acting, which is that you feel that the world is watching me learn. Because I feel like I came on Supergirl and I’m like: “I have no idea what I’m doing!”. Because I don’t have formal training, I never went to Julliard, I’m not a trained actor at all, I just like playing dress up. And it’s been nerve-racking, it’s been the most stressful thing that I’ve ever had to do and I’ve had so much fun doing it. And I love telling stories. And so getting to do this has been so rewarding and I hope that I get to do this forever because I’m having a blast. This is what I love and I’m really thankful that other people are willing to stick around and watch me fumble around and [chuckles] watch me pretend to shoot blasts out of my hand.
BT: Why do you think that you were perfect to play this role?
NM: I don’t know! I try not to think about that, that’s a terrifying thought. [laughs] Because it’s terrifying for any actor, because you’re like: “Why am I right for anything?” Because if there’s not something that makes you right for something, then why doesn’t the role go to someone else? I think for me it was my ability to deliver or I hope that it was my ability to deliver a hopeful speech to inspire, to bring that kind of activism into it, while also having the potential for comedy. It was the ability to make Dreamer inspiring while also delivering puns at the same time. I think that is [chuckles] a niche ability.
BT: How was the 100th episode celebration in Vancouver and what was that like?
NM: Oh my God, that was so much fun. I had my brother come visit me in Vancouver, he stayed with me and he came to set and he met everybody, it was so great. That was such a fun evening and that was such a milestone for the show, and I mean, for me it was like, they were celebrating their 100th and I was like: “Oh my God, this is like my thirtieth episode! Whoa!!!”. But it was so spectacular because we have such an amazing crew and we have such an amazing cast and we have become a kind of family, and getting to cross that checkpoint with everybody was really…I think that it meant a lot to everyone. It was great to celebrate that with them and all of us dress up and have a fun evening was a great time.
BT: Do you think of Nia Nal and Dreamer as separate or perhaps different sides of the same person?
NM: Yeah, they’re more different sides. I think that when Nia’s Dreamer she’s got a lot more swagger to her. She’s more badass. I mean Nia herself is badass and we see a little bit of Dreamer in Nia. I mean we saw it last season when she saved Brainiac from those anti-alien folks in the pizza joint. That was Dreamer, more than anything. It’s in there with Nia but there’s something about when she puts on the suit, when she puts on the mask, she’s got this…I don’t have have any other word for it beside ‘swagger’.
BT: Who is someone in the industry that you’d love to work with?
NM: Oh man! One of my all-time favourite people is Laverne Cox, I love her. I’ve met her a couple of times but we’ve never gotten a chance to work together, so I feel like that would be a lot of fun because I adore her. I feel like that would be so much fun to do together. And I mean, fingers crossed to some day be a guest judge on Drag Race. I would love to do that. That would be fun.
BT: Who is someone you’ve worked with before with whom you would like to work again?
NM: I do not have enough scenes with Katie on the show, Katie McGrath. Her and I, we are so close offscreen, but our stories [chuckles] are so complete polar opposites. We exist in completely separate areas of the show so Lena and Nia have never really had a reason to get together or really interact like that before, so I feel like moving forward I hope that’s something that we get to do a little bit more because whenever we do work together, I love it.
BT: What has your character’s journey since the debut in the series meant for you?
NM: It’s been spectacular. I mean, of course, getting to be a trans superhero is so important and so groundbreaking and inspiring to so many. But I think that what’s been so amazing about Nia and about Dreamer is that her transness is not at the forefront of her story. I think that getting to explore character development outside of her transness, I mean she was introduced as trans, but when she was introduced, she was past the point in her life in which her being trans was her biggest hang-up. She has put that to bed, she is confident in who she is, her problem was: “Hey, I can’t get any fucking sleep because I’m seeing the future in my dreams and I don’t know what to do about that, man!” In Season 4, that’s kind of where she came in, that’s what I love. But at the same time, her transness, although it’s not the biggest part of her, it’s still there and it still exists and it is a part of her story, and I loved that she inherited the powers on the matrilineal line and that this was addressed, I think it was a beautiful way to affirm Nia’s identity as a woman. I think that it’s been spectacular seeing Dreamer using all the different parts of herself, the fact that she is half-Naltorian, that she is a trans woman, using all of her facets to show people being different is acceptable and alright, I thought that was phenomenal. Having her transness not be a hinderance to her has I think been really, really powerful.
BT: Have you had a particularly memorable fan encounter?
NM: I’ve had a few. Some of the ones that stick with me the most are when I’ve gone to conventions or when I go to…not even just fans, but press rooms and stuff. I’ll be talking to another trans person and just…there’s nothing to say, but you just have to hug it out and cry. Because it’s like [sighs] this is not something that we’d ever have, I mean, we have a trans superhero on television. That’s major and it’s in having those moments in which you tear up with someone and you’re like: “We’re here, talking about this, doing this“. It means as much to me as it does to them, so those are probably the ones that I remember the most that stick with me.
BT: Do you like when people respond to you and your performances?
NM: I love hearing what people think of the episode. I love hearing people’s thoughts. The majority of the time, it is great. There is absolutely a way to share your opinions of a show that are not constructive and not helpful and are just mean. But I think that when people are being constructive and are being kind, I love getting to hear what people think and I love getting to see the response, especially to this past Reality Bytes, I love getting to see the response people have to that and getting to see that everyone else was as happy to the episode as I was meant a lot.
BT: What is the best way to be an activist and the best way to be an LGBTQ ally?
NM: The most powerful things that we have as people are our stories and our voices. So, talking to each other, sharing our stories and our experiences- speaking from the heart, speaking from experience. I think that a lot of the time people talk about what they do, not understand, or what they have not lived, they regurgitate things that they have been told. But I want to know: “Okay, well what have you experienced? What are you going through? What is your story?” You can be crying until the cows come home about how this is wrong and this is right, and you shouldn’t be doing that, but you don’t know what someone else has gone through, you don’t know my experience as a trans person, so I think that it’s really easy for people to say: “Oh, you’re a…sex pervert”, and I’m like: “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything what this is about”, so sharing our stories, being visible, showing ourselves in a time that we have an administration that wants to erase us. The queer people were taken off of the 2020 Census. They are taking active steps to make us invisible, so we have to push back against that with visibility, we have to be seen and we have to be heard.
And as far as being an ally goes, that’s sharing these stories, using your own privilege to lift people up, to hand the mic to someone that might not otherwise have an opportunity to do so, just making sure that people are talking. And having those tough conversations, making your aunt uncomfortable at Thanksgiving and talking about why it’s important that people are accepted and that people are able to love and exist freely. It’s using your voice, it’s talking, it’s sharing stories.
Supergirl returns tomorrow night at 9pm ET on The CW and Showcase