Kara Danvers isn’t the only survivor on CBS’ Supergirl. She lost her family and people when she left Krypton, and Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) can relate. J’onn J’onzz, a.k.a. Martian Manhunter, went through a similar tragedy when White Martians killed his family and race. J’onn still carries sadness from the traumatic event with him, and all his painful memories will be brought to the surface when a White Martian drops into National City in the next episode, “Strange Visitor from Another Planet.”
Hank is forced to face his past while protecting Senator Miranda Crane at her anti-alien rally. Oh, irony. David Harewood said Hank was taken aback by seeing the White Martian. “He has to confront this thing that’s propelled him back to his past. It’s a big shock. I don’t think he ever expected to see them again.” I talked with him about the shock, what we’ll learn about J’onn’s past, and the joy of wearing the Martian Manhunter costume.
Nerdist: What will we learn about J’onn’s family in the upcoming episode?
David Harewood: People will learn he was a man who did have a family, did have a people, and was thought of highly in his community. And all that is gone from him. In a sense, he is as alone as Kara. He has this amazing deep story; there are levels to him which we haven’t had access to. I hope what people will take from next week’s episode is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
I’m really proud of it as an hour of television and because it does honor J’onn’s story. One of the things that really hit me when I came across his character was just the amount of melancholy and isolation that I felt from him. You do get the sense he’s very much alone and that loneliness is a real part of him, and I just hope when people watch it they will get a sense of that.
N: Since he’ll have so many feelings to wrestle with because of the arrival of the White Martian, how will Kara and Alex help him?
DH: What they do over the course of the next three or four episodes–we see them becoming, really, the family that he lost. He really begins to bond with these two girls. He’s always protected Alex, and he’s kind of been protecting Kara with tough love for years, but I think now that they know his true identity there’s more of a family, fatherly relationship that’s started to develop. Kara, particularly, begins to help him understand what it is like to be an alien and to be amongst people. Unlike Kara, who looks humanoid, he’s a six-foot green alien and he knows people will be scared of him. He’s aware people won’t particularly take to him kindly. I think they both allow him to get the idea people do love him and think highly of him. That’s something he’s not been at all used to in his life.
N: I know Kara is helping him, but does the fact that she can be public with her abilities make it harder for Hank?
DH: Without a doubt. She looks like a pretty blonde cheerleader, which allows her to fit so seamlessly amongst the humans–same for Superman. But J’onn doesn’t. He knows he stands out. He knows he causes panic. He knows he causes hysteria if he’s to be himself. I think that’s going to be a challenge for J’onn down the line. Is he always going to have to hide who he truly is? I think he wrestles with that daily.
N: He also struggles with his powers. He obviously has many gifts, but we saw in the last episode that he was reluctant to use them–and for good reason as it turned out. What’s that conflict like for him?
DH: It’s been so long since he’s used most of his powers. He’s spent most of his time as Hank Henshaw and has probably not been comfortable using his alien powers. He’s afraid of them and he knows that if he uses them willy nilly all the time it will get to a point where he can no longer transmute back into Hank. He doesn’t quite fully understand his powers, and he’s just a bit aware he can cause people pain, damage, confusion. It’s not just having super strength and x-ray vision, he can read people’s minds. Is it fair that he can read people’s minds, is it right that he should read people’s minds? I’m sure he’s still pushing the boundaries as far as what is acceptable.
N: In the comics, one weakness of the Martians is fire. They’re afraid of it. I don’t know that we’ve seen Hank have to act directly against fire, but is it something you consider?
DH: It is a consideration. It’s something I have thought about it. We don’t always want to stick to any rigid rules, but that’s part of his weakness and we do mention it coming further down the line. We’ve never actually seen Hank standing in front of fire, but I know whenever it’s close or if it’s on the set, I will be aware of it whether or not the camera can pick it up. There are several times in Monday’s episode when I’m on the floor or I’m in a state of shock and I knew to my right there was a fire effect going off, so I have that in mind although that’s not what the shot was about. Those are things I will take on personally, and sometimes the director will say, “I’m not really going to see it, you’re going to be in the back of the shot,”‘ but I will still act as as though it is affecting me.
N: Though Hank has let his true Martian Manhunter colors fly a few times in the series, I believe this episode marked the first time you actually got wear the costume, right?
DH: Oh my god, yeah. I’m so excited! I was totally geeking out. I walked into my trailer, and there it was, this Martian Manhunter suit. It’s just awesome. I get changed and sit in it before lunch. I just want to be in it. You get members of the crew who have read the comics, and they come up to me and go, “You look f**king great, man.” They’re just really excited to see the costume. It’s a very cool character, a very cool gig, and I love putting it on and it’s a fight to get it off me.
“Strange Visitor from Another Planet” airs Monday, January 25, at 8p.m. ET/PT on CBS.