Titans’ Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) is one emotionally and psychologically damaged bird. When his parents perished in a tragic circus accident, the 12-year-old was adopted by billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne (Iain Glen). Bruce eventually let his warn in on his big secret: He’s the Dark Knight, Batman. He also offered to train Dick to be his sidekick, Robin.
However, as Dick noted, Bruce weaponized his childhood by turning him into another means to punish the guilty. In order to distance himself from Bruce, the hero game, and get a handle on his violent tendencies, Dick left Gotham for Chicago. It was there that he encountered Rachel/Raven (Teagan Croft), Koriand’r/Starfire (Anna Diop) Gar/Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) and formed the next generation of Titans.
So far, Titans Season 2 has delved into the team’s past sins. Haunted by their teammate Garth’s (Drew Van Acker) assassination at the hands of the mercenary Deathstroke (Esai Morales), it’s been speculated that Dick and the original Titans – Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), Dawn (Minka Kelly) and Hank (Alan Ritchson)– took extreme and personal measures to exact revenge. Recently Deathstroke resurfaced and is hellbent on making all the Titans suffer… especially the former Boy Wonder.
During this 1:1 phone conversation with Collider, actor Brenton Thwaites spoke about Titans’ incarnation of Dick Grayson, suiting up as Robin, fight combat, Deathstroke’s vendetta with Titans and Dick’s evolution into Nightwing.
Comic book properties continually flood the television and movie landscapes. What initially grabbed you about this iteration of Robin/Dick Grayson and the Titans Universe?
BRENTON THWAITES: I was initially grabbed by the fact that it seemed like Dick Grayson was in a gray space. He had just left Batman. He was working for the Detroit Police Department. He’s fighting crime at night. It seemed to me he was dealing with an inner complex of, “Who am I? What have I become? Am I Robin? Am I a cop? Do I continue this legacy of fighting crime that Bruce Wayne has given me, or do I change into something else?” I like that inner tension. I was just attracted to a lost character. Season 1 was very different in the sense that the whole season was about that, about finding yourself and finding family and reconnecting with friends. Robin/Dick Grayson doesn’t really know who he is.
Robin’s costume received a modern makeover. How did it evolve from the first fitting and what was your impression of it?
THWAITES: The first fitting, I remember thinking, “Geez, this is going to be rough.” The first fitting was a bunch of foam stuck to my body. The different incarnations that happen is a shocking change from the first version to the final version. I remember thinking and wondering if I was going to be able to actually fight anyone in this suit. “People are going to beat the shit out of me.” But it was made with flexible material and the costume designer, Laura Jean Shannon, did as much as she could to help us [the cast] out, so we could do a lot of our own stunts.
But, it’s one of those things that as an actor, you kind of feel silly in the suit. You do feel like, “This is silly. I’m the only guy walking up to a Halloween party and no one else is dressed in a Halloween costume.” However, when action is called and you are in the scene, it demands a certain belief that you have in that world. I have to say, it shocked me how easily it is to completely envelop yourself in a scene with that suit the second “action” is called. Myself, the other cast members, the crew… everyone is really captured by what is happening. In turn, the second “cut” is called, you return to feeling like an idiot again. It’s that wave of feeling a little bit silly and believing in that moment. In Season 2, I have to say, because of the other suits, I miss the Robin suit.
Early on, Robin uttered “Fuck Batman.” What were your thoughts on delivering that line and what it meant to Robin at that moment?
THWAITES: For starters, I don’t think that was on the page. Or, if it was, it was on a version I never read. It was more of an in-the-moment thing from Geoff Johns, who realized this is a very bold character decision. It’s a choice that comes from a lot of pain. It’s a moment where the character needs to say something bold in order to move on. Saying “Fuck Batman” in the scene it’s in retaliation to the drug dealers being afraid of Batman and not Robin. They see Robin and they relax a little bit. So, Robin decides to beat the shit out of them. It’s a way of saying, “Don’t worry about Batman. I’ll take care of it.” But what it’s saying to me, what I saw in that was years of pain and perhaps a childhood that was thrust into fighting crime a little too bit early, and some of that anger and resentment coming out.
Season 1 might have focused on Dick’s identity crisis, but how does this new Titans team make him a better hero or person?
THWAITES: The team really makes Dick to look inside himself and ask himself the question of, “What kind of leader do I want to become? What lessons, good or bad, do I want to instill in this team?” The challenge of having younger, temperamental, more inexperienced Titans in his grasp is making him realize that good intentions aren’t enough. He has to lead by example. That’s when he looks inside and knows he has to do some work.
This season’s bombshell involved Deathstroke shooting Garth. How does that act impact and influence the Titans, past and present?
THWAITES: We understand why there’s been a black cloud over the Titans’ Tower over the last five years. Revealing that helped the audience understand why Dick has been in Detroit, why he broke up the Titans and why he’s reluctant to bring everyone back together again. Later, we’ll see the implications Garth’s death really has, and what led to Garth’s death. Without spoiling anything, Dick feels a lot of that is his responsibly and takes it in his stride. I guess he hopes from that mistake that he and the original Titans – Donna Troy, Hank and Dawn – all can move on and basically can become stronger. That’s one of the lessons he wants to teach the younger Titans.
There was plenty of hesitation surrounding Dick allowing Rose to stay at Titans Tower. Her father, Deathstroke, is basically the Titans’ answer to the bogeyman. How afraid should viewers and the Titans be of him?
THWAITES: The younger Titans may not know the extant of the danger Deathstroke causes. You see Jason shout on TV, “Titans are back.” That gives us an idea that the younger kids becoming Titans don’t understand the world they are about to be thrown into. I think from Dick’s years with Batman, he understands that Deathstroke is at Batman’s level and someone Batman and his colleagues have been fighting for years and years. Dick kind of knows he himself may not be up for the task. He needs to trade a team of people, the Titans, to take down Deathstroke. I think he knows very much of the danger, but sometimes his emotions take a hold and acts a little irrationally.
Deathstroke took Jason Todd hostage. What are the Titans willing to do to get him back, safe and sound? Are they considering crossing that moral line?
THWAITES: Some of them are. Some of them aren’t. Some are supportive that Deathstroke is a very dangerous person and could potentially kill everyone. Others… Hank and myself…are determined to get Jason back under the philosophy of, “We leave no one behind. We have each other’s back.”
In the episode titled “Deathstroke, “Dick goes toe-to-toe with Deathstroke. His weapon of choice is a staff. What kind of training did that require on top of the fight choreography?
THWAITES: I did a bit of Bo Staff work. I did a bit of Kali work. The Bo Staff is something I’ve used for a while, since Season 1. Without a cape, it becomes five times easier to wield around your back. In that fight, it’s important that we see Deathstroke beating Dick at his own game. He’s more planned. He has more weapons. He’s stronger. It is Dick’s mistake in underestimating his enemy.
So, I did a little bit of training her and there. Before the first season, I did a month of hand-to-hand combat, of kicking and general fight choreography and Bo Staff and Kali Sticks.
How aware are you of the anticipation behind Dick becoming Nightwing?
THWAITES: Well, if it’s anything like myself, very aware. When I signed onto this, in an early meeting, they were telling me in the first season, it would be about the transition of Dick becoming Nightwing. That’s where all that training came from, in the preparation that I would become Nightwing. But, the way the story had it, we had other elements to deal with, so we went down a different path. The whole time I was very anxious to read the pages of what the story and the journey of Dick growing into Nightwing would be.
For a number of reasons, it provides an opportunity a character to realize his potential as superhero. When that happens, we feel a sense of confidence watching it. We know we have a leader who is going to win every single time on the screen. But what it also does is gives us an amazing opportunity to build up the power of Deathsroke. We spent a lot of energy and time explaining to the audience how dangerous and serious this villain is. I feel it was worth putting that time on the screen and teasing to the audience that this bad guy can only be put down by another intense superhero, which we all know is Nightwing.
The original Nightwing costume design stands as a fan favorite, but the outfit has been tweaked and modified over the decades. How curious were you about which version they would land on?
THWAITES: I was pretty curious. Curious, more for function as opposed to aesthetic. I have an amazing stunt double who can do anything and everything that Dick Grayson can. I wanted to stay true to the physical aspects that the comic book describes… the gymnastics, the flips, the rolls and the influence of his gymnastic days really jumping into his fighting style. Because we had a stunt guy who could do all that stuff, I really didn’t want to be inhibited by the suit. It was so easy to move in. We could both do a lot more stuff than we thought. That was our main anticipation was whether we were going to be able to flips in it or roll on our backs and do kicks. But when you put it on, there’s a feeling or armor this suit has on me when I’m acting. I feel like I’m a more developed, mature superhero.
In another episode, Conner introduces the genetically enhanced clone with Superman-type abilities. There’s also Kory’s sadistic sister, Blackfire, rumored to be appearing later in the season. What can you tease about where they fit into the series?
THWAITES: Conner is a character who comes to us more out of coincidence. He is also lost and needs mentorship and support. He comes to us in search of his own identity. Over the course of the season, we help him find that. Blackfire, I can’t say much about. Her storyline is about to take off. She obviously has her own family conflicts with Kory. Those two characters are touching again on family conflicts and what it’s like to have an abrupt, abusive family relationship. We see the Titans forming and coming together and being a successful family. On the flip side, we have Kory and Blackfire, who are not that. It creates a lot of tension throughout the series.
New episodes of Titans air exclusively on DC Universe on Fridays.