A Star of “The Boys” on Sending Up the Superhero Genre (2024)

Erin MoriartyIllustration by João Fazenda

Last year, at Comic-Con, the director Eric Kripke explained the premise of “The Boys,” his Amazon Prime series, now in its second season: “It started with just wanting to take the piss out of the superhero genre a little bit.” The show follows a group called the Seven, whose members, in between battles with superpowered terrorists, appear on morning talk shows, headline Christian-rock festivals, and casually commit war crimes. The Seven is a parody of the Justice League: A-Train is like the Flash, except he’s a drug addict and unwittingly murders civilians by plowing through them, and the Seven’s leader, Homelander, is a sociopath, much like his DC equivalent, Superman. So far, the show has avoided the wrath of comic-book superfans.

“Surprisingly, no one has been offended,” Erin Moriarty, the twenty-six-year-old actress who plays Starlight—the only sane member of the Seven—said the other day, on a Zoom call from Los Angeles. “What we’re mainly satirizing is the Zeitgeist.” She went on, “If this were real life, do you really think that superheroes would be good?” If you look at statistics, she pointed out, “men in power abuse their power.”

Moriarty’s character bears the brunt of such abuse. She begins as Annie January, a girl next door from Des Moines who happens to have the ability to suck up electricity and blast people with light. She moves to New York to join the Seven, and is promptly sexually assaulted by the group’s Aquaman knockoff, the Deep (real name: Kevin). While crying in the ladies’ room afterward, she discovers Translucent, the invisible member of the Seven, lurking. Moriarty said that, when she got the script, she thought it was standard superhero pabulum. But, when she got to the scene in which the Deep pressures Starlight into performing a sexual act (“Just roll with the punches for, like, three minutes, maybe, it’s not a big deal,” the Deep tells her. “And then you know what happens? All your dreams come true”), a bell rang. After that, she said, “I was all in.”

At the age of eleven, while growing up in New York City, Moriarty starred in a community-theatre production of “Annie.” Later, she played a lot of movie stars’ daughters—Mel Gibson’s, in “Blood Father”; Vince Vaughn’s, in “The Watch”; and Woody Harrelson’s, in “True Detective.” Starlight is her breakout role. A few episodes after being assaulted by the Deep, she mocks him as “the fish guy” and threatens to burn his eyes out if he touches her again. In another, she uses her electric powers to save a woman who is being attacked by two men.

Normal life can be a comedown—especially during quarantine. “I’m not one of those people who have been able to take advantage of this time and be hypercreative,” Moriarty said. “I haven’t written a script. I haven’t learned a language. I haven’t been in a mental position to absorb something like that.” She was dressed in white, sitting in a white-walled apartment hung with minimalist art. She rattled off some recent activities: “Lots of hiking with my dog, lots of therapy sessions, lots of cooking, anything meditative.”

She has also been watching the new season of “The Boys,” which finished filming in November. (Amazon began releasing episodes last month; the finale will drop on Friday.) The season features a redemption arc for the Deep, whose gills, it seems, have afflicted him with crushing body dysmorphia. (The gills speak, and are voiced by Patton Oswalt: “You can’t accept your own body, so you violate theirs.”) He marries a Vassar anthropology professor as part of his rebrand. “So often, this toxic-masculinity thing comes from an internal deep well of insecurity,” Moriarty said.

The Seven also has a new recruit, played by Aya Cash. Her name is Stormfront. (Yes, like the neo-Nazi site.) In one scene, she explains to Homelander, “You can’t win the whole country anymore, so stop trying. You don’t need fifty million people to love you. You need five million people f*cking pissed. Anger sells. You have fans. I have soldiers.”

It’s hard to believe that this was filmed almost a year ago. “We wanted to tackle systemic racism and other issues in society that we don’t talk about enough,” Moriarty said. “The show would have been topical no matter what. But we didn’t know that this would be, you know, sort of the theme of 2020.”♦

A Star of “The Boys” on Sending Up the Superhero Genre (2024)
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