‘Marvel’s Runaways’ Stars Virginia Gardner & Lyrica Okano on Breaking Superhero Stereotypes

     November 20, 2017

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From showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, Marvel’s Runaways, available to stream on Hulu on November 21st , tells the story of six teenagers – Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz), Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin), Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner), Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano), Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) – who realize that their parents have been lying to them all their lives and that they’re really evil. As a result, this group of estranged friends, who also have secrets of their own, must band together to stop their parents before it’s too late.

On September 26th, Collider (along with a few other outlets) was invited over to the L.A. set of the series to chat with the cast and executive producers and learn about all things Runaways. During a small roundtable interview, co-stars Virginia Gardner and Lyrica Okano talked about their reaction to signing on for a Marvel TV series, what they were most interested about with these characters, breaking stereotypes, developing the parent vs. child dynamics, romantic relationships, acting like you have superpowers, and the pressure to live up to fan expectations. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.

Question: What were you reactions when you found out that you were going to be a part of this Marvel world?

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Image via Hulu

LYRICA OKANO: I blacked out. I don’t remember.

VIRGINIA GARDNER: I was freaking out ‘cause I got a call from Jeph Loeb, who’s one of the lead people at Marvel TV, and Josh Schwartz. Jeph goes, “I have three words that are about to change your life – welcome to Marvel.” And I was almost crying. You can’t do that to people! And then, Josh Schwartz goes, “It’s a lot better than ‘Welcome to the DMV.’” And I was like, “Yeah, definitely!”

OKANO: I’m pretty sure I cursed, out loud, in Jeph Loeb’s ear, when I heard that. I was like, “I’m so sorry!” It was pretty crazy! 

These characters are really complex, which had to be fun for you to dig into. What got you interested in playing them?

GARDNER: What struck me, off the bat, just reading the comics is that all of these characters can, at first glance, look like the stereotypical blonde church girl or goth. And then, the more you read or the more you watch, you see that the characters are so not what they seem to be, at first glance. It’s just fun playing a character that people expect to be a certain way, and then taking it another direction and really surprising people.

OKANO: We’ve all built this facade, so not everything you see is what you get. That’s really fun to play.

Do you feel like you’re breaking stereotypes with your characters?

OKANO: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, for sure! It’s not everyday that you see a Japanese American character who’s a witch, that’s a goth girl that doesn’t give a fuck and doesn’t listen to her parents. I think it’s really cool.

GARDNER: Yeah, for my character, too. To see this little perfect-looking church girl take her life in such a different direction, and to figure out that that’s not actually who she is, that’s who her parents wanted her to be, is a really cool character to play. Especially for our age group, there’s not a lot of TV shows that give teenagers the kind of writing that our showrunners give us. That’s a lot of fun.

How has it been to develop that parent vs. child dynamic that’s going to fuel the whole show?

GARDNER: It’s really fun, but it’s a little bit tough because I love the people that play my parents. I think we all feel really connected to the people that play our parents. It’s fun. We tease each other and play around with it. It’s a fun dynamic.

OKANO: It is! I love the people that play my parents – Brittany Ishibashi and James Yaegashi. It’s such a dream cast. When Brittany plays Tina, there’s no mercy. It’s really scary and it makes me wanna cry. But then, as soon as they yell, “Cut!,” she’s like, “Want a cookie?!” She’s the sweetest person, ever.

This cast is very diverse and this show is filled with very strong female characters. Is there a sense of responsibility to not only show that women can be strong, but also vulnerable?

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Image via Hulu

GARDNER: I think it’s a really cool responsibility that we’ve been given. In 2017, it’s such an important time to have this responsibility. What are show does really well is that it has a diverse cast, it has women that are really strong, and it has teenagers that are questioning authority, questioning their parents, making decisions for themselves, finding their own ways to find evil, and standing up for what they believe in. Hopefully, we’re really gonna inspire a generation of teenagers and young women.

OKANO: Speak up, no matter what background you come from. Your story is important. Everyone’s story is beautiful. When we get together, we can build something beautiful, head towards a common goal and achieve it.

These characters also have interesting and complicated romantic arcs. What do you enjoy about that?

GARDNER: As soon as I read the comic books, I was really excited about Karolina and Nico’s relationship. I think it’s something that we haven’t seen in the Marvel universe before, so to be able to play that is really exciting. We get along so well and we had really good chemistry, right off the bat. We’ve been really excited about the romantic interest here, for a long time.

OKANO: I’ve read the comic books and I follow some fan pages, and I totally ‘ship Karolina and Nico together. And Alex. Alex is great, too.

Did you guys have a chemistry read, to test that?

OKANO: That’s the interesting part, we didn’t get a chemistry read. But the first day we met up, for the rehearsal of the pilot, we were like, “This makes so much sense!” It’s crazy, how we managed to do that.   

How did you wrap your head around acting like you have superpowers?

GARDNER: It’s tricky! It’s cool and challenging that you have a comic book to base your character off of. It’s not like you’re creating this from thin air. You can go back to the book and see how she did it in the book. At first, you feel really stupid doing it. You’re holding your hands in a certain way and you hope that it looks good, the way you’re doing it. It’s hit and miss, and you just have to trust your co-workers and the directors to not let you look dumb while you’re doing this imaginary power.

OKANO: Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you have to take it from the beginning. For me, I was a witch for every Halloween, since I can remember. My mom made it that way, and then I continued on with that. Also, I’ve watched a lot of [Hayao] Miyazaki films, and I’ve always wanted to have powers and be a witch. When I was holding the Staff of One, for the first time, and having to do an action scene with it, I almost cried. I was like, “I’ve seen this in my dreams! I’ve done this as a kid!” It wasn’t too hard.

What do you think the feedback will be like, with all of the fans of the comic books?

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Image via Hulu

OKANO: I don’t know! Whatever happens, happens.

GARDNER: I definitely think there’s pressure, obviously, to live up to what fans are expecting, and we want to do our best in that, but like with anything, some people are gonna love it and some people are gonna hate it. Here, we’re just trying to do the best that we can and do our characters justice, in the way that we know how, and hope that it lands with people.

OKANO: I totally trust in what the writers have done with our dynamic. I think it’s gonna read well, and I think people are gonna react to it pretty well.

How hard has it been not to talk to other people about this show?

OKANO: We’re technically not allowed to take pictures, but we have some saved [on our phones]. They’re just there, getting ready. It’s been really hard.

GARDNER: It’s been challenging. The only people that know what’s going on are my parents. November 21st cannot come soon enough because we just want to finally be able to talk about what we’ve been doing for the last few months.

OKANO: I moved from New York to L.A. for this and people were like, “What happened?!” And I was like, “I just decided to move because I like the sun!”

Marvel’s Runaways is available to stream at Hulu on November 21st.

Television