There is an entire generation of pop culture fans who have grown up on Marvel characters being mainstream relevant. Big brand anchors like Spider-Man, Captain America, and Thor have dominated theaters, owned the toy shelves, and conquered the world of licensed apparel, but a fascinating shift is occurring. Many of the lesser known characters and titles within the Marvel Universe are receiving their own time in the spotlight, from upcoming films based on Black Panther and Captain Marvel, to a television series based on the New Warriors set for a 2018 release. One of the more highly anticipated live action takes on a lesser known group of characters was “Runaways,” which made its debut on the streaming platform Hulu just days before Thanksgiving.
We recently sat down with series star Angel Parker, who plays Wilder family matriarch Catherine, to discuss the multigenerational appeal of “Runaways,” the big themes tackled throughout Season 1, and how a non-mutant can compete in a mutant-filled world.
TrunkSpace: Your new series “Runaways” made its debut a little over a week ago. As an actor, is there any better universe or ongoing franchise to be involved with right now than with what Marvel is doing on both the big and small screens?
Parker: Yeah, it’s definitely where you want to be right now. Now they have something on almost every platform – film, TV, streaming – it’s incredible the amount of work that’s available that’s challenging and fun and cool and badass.
TrunkSpace: And for the most part, their characters and stories are emotionally grounded in reality, but still have a sense of that heightened reality that allows viewers to escape as well. That must allow you to be able to do things performance-wise that you can’t do in other projects?
Parker: Exactly. You don’t get to deal with a dinosaur in your day to day life or in most shows. (Laughter)
You also don’t get to work with such a huge cast and have so many storylines and to be able to connect to other worlds and other characters. It really is kind of cool that we get to tell this story. I love the fact that it’s on Hulu, basically television, because you get to tell the story and you get to really dive into it. It doesn’t have to fit into a two and a half hour movie. We’ve got 10 hours to play with this first season, so it really is an opportunity for you to learn about all of these families and dive into their world.
There’s six runaways and five families in the pride, plus the leaders of it, so it really is a lot of story that can be told. There are so many different ways that we can go about it. We really dive into it and the history of it in Season 1.
TrunkSpace: Hulu released three episodes out of the gates and then took a more traditional roll out approach with the remaining episodes, debuting one every week thereafter. That seems like a smart plant to hook people and build anticipation for what’s to come.
Parker: It’s very exciting. By Episode 5 (debuting December 5), which is one of our hugest episodes besides the season finale, people are going to be hooked. I think you’ve just got to find the show. If the show is good enough, you’ll find it. That’s kind of the new world of television is, it’s not what network and what time, it’s what show. I’ll find that show wherever it’s at.
TrunkSpace: And with something like “Runaways,” it comes with a built in audience with eyeballs that would find it no matter where it was.
Parker: Yeah, there’s the die hard fans of “Runaways” that are going to be so excited for all the things that we made sure are in our show. There’s going to be a lot of new things that just fans of Marvel in general are going to be excited about, with the special effects and with the action elements and with the diving into the stories and the villains and the good guys versus bad guys. “Are they really good? Are they really bad?” All those elements that are in every Marvel production are in our show. Then there’s just the young audience that is going to dive into young teenage drama and the fighting against their parents that everyone can relate to.
I have an 11-year-old boy and he’s read the comic. He can’t be more excited. All of his friends are excited. He’s in the 7th grade. It’s hard to find a show to watch with your teenagers that you don’t want to shoot your brains out. (Laughter) There’s going to be a lot of parents that are sitting watching this show and going, “This is good.” You see the story of the parents and the Pride and the sacrifices or the compromises that they’ve made that got them into this situation where they are sacrificing humans and are pitted against their own children and having to make decisions on who lives and who dies. Those are big, big themes. Then, just because Marvel’s got its paintbrush on it, we’re going to look cool the whole time and say cool things at the right time. (Laughter)
They’ve got some fantastic actors. The adults, the parents, we’ve all been doing this for almost 20 years. We’re all ready for this moment. Really, every actor, you look across the room, especially in big circle scenes of the sacrifice, every character is fully, fully realized and has all their thoughts and their opinions about why they’re here in this moment. It’s very fun to play.
The teenagers are just as great. These are not kid actors, these are actors – young actors. They really bring it. It’s not only well acted and well produced, but it’s a show that people are going to want to watch just because you’re going to want to understand the twists and turns and dive into the universe. “Where does it connect? How does it connect?”
Then there’s tons of little Easter eggs for the die hard fans just to make you jump up and squeal.
TrunkSpace: So much of what we see from Marvel in film and TV in terms of their characters have been around for decades, but what’s nice about “Runaways” is that many of the characters are relatively new in the grand scheme of the universe itself. That in and of itself should make the show more accessible to viewers who may find the history of Marvel kind of creatively daunting?
Parker: I think one of the reasons that the “Runaways” comic was written was for that age gap of a younger audience that was looking for something, but didn’t want it to be over their head or want it to be about things, issues, that relate to their life. You want to see yourself as a protagonist in a lot of things that you read. Kids are going to find that fascinating.
And when I say kids… there are some big themes. There’s a gay character. There’s death. There’s possible suicide. There’s all of these different big themes that are in our show that teenagers are dealing with. It doesn’t talk down to them. That’s the one things that I know about having an almost teenager is, talking down to them is the first way for them to shut down. Kids are smart. Kids figure things out.
To dive into that world and have a hero or maybe not a hero that you’re rooting for, it’s the best part of television. The best part of going into a fantasy world is a world that you could possibly see yourself in or hope to be in or dream and imagine to be in. It’s very cool.
TrunkSpace: In the original comic series, the kids were all offspring of villains. Is your version of Catherine Wilder on a similar villainous path?
Parker: Season 1 is all very much connected to the original source material of “Runaways.” Yes, a lot of them are descendents, but they don’t know. The kids don’t know in the beginning what powers they have or what control they have over outside elements. As an audience, we get to see them discover these elements.
Now, the Wilders don’t have powers. That will have stayed the same. The Wilders lead the group and Alex, who is our lead played by Rhenzy Feliz, he does not have any powers. I think that that makes a great protagonist because you’re like, “What are you going to do in this world when someone next to you is glowing? And another person next to you has a dinosaur. And another person next to you has this special weapon that they can do all these things with.” It’s like, “Okay, what can I do? What do I have?” What they have is their brain and their leadership skills and the qualities of survival. That is also very cool.
To be a non-mutant, if you want to use that word, in a world where people do have powers or special abilities or special strengths, you have to find your own strength and your way to navigate through that world. That’s the exciting thing about following Alex Wilder in this story is, how is he going to fight back? Even when we get to our season finale, it’s like, “What do you bring to the table?” He goes, “I bring this…” Those skills are just what an average human being has, which is their power of negotiation and their power of street smarts, if you could call it that. The Wilders, Geoffrey and Catherine, we have to navigate that world as well and lead it and lead it with other people following us or not following us and being able to come out on top, which is what the Wilders do best.
TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was your favorite thing about Catherine and getting to bring her to life?
Parker: She’s very savvy. She’s very sexy. She’s smart. She is a lawyer, which I have played before, but she gets to do it in such a big way. She makes some major decisions that affects people’s lives and has to reconcile that and still go through with it. That was the element of playing a “villain” that was really, really exciting to me. But then down to small elements like the length of her ponytail, which was something that was in the comics and was drawn so beautifully. The tiniest details are added into Catherine Wilder. And then something as large as, she’s leading the Pride and the sacrifices she’s making for her son and risking her life in many ways, those are the dark elements that are directly in line with the comic as well.
It’s also a multifaceted character I get to play. I get to play mom, wife, lawyer, villain, and doing those at the highest level because she’s an excellent wife. She’s an excellent lawyer. She excels at everything that she does. When things start to go wrong in our world, that’s something that Catherine does not do well with. Everything that Catherine touches succeeds. When things start to rapidly go wrong and her son’s life is in danger, you get to see this woman who’s always had her life put together and has been able to handle anything that’s thrown at her all of the sudden is at a loss.
It’s very exciting, the journey that Catherine gets to take from beginning to end.
TrunkSpace: You starred in “American Crime Story” The People v. O.J. Simpson” last year. When you were shooting that, did you have any idea that it would become the water cooler show that it ultimately became?
Parker: We knew we were making something great. We took a lot of time and care with each of those things. Everyone was very well researched. We’d all watched the trial. We would watch the scene before we shot it. We had read every book written about our character, every book written about the show, and then had experts there at all times. We knew we were making something special. We did not know that the audience would love it so much. We did not know that it would be that water cooler, “I can’t wait for Tuesday night” kind of show or that we would win the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series or that all of those actors would be able to take home the Emmys as well. We did know it was good. We did know we were honoring the story, but we didn’t know the success that it would have.
Also, we didn’t know if people were ready to hear this story again. A lot of people said, “I lived through it. I don’t want to watch it again. Why would I want to watch that story? How are you going to tell that? What’s the truth? Is it just going to be some popcorn story about ultimately these two people losing their lives?” It was about the trial. It was about that shift in culture in Los Angeles and America. Our show started with scenes from the Rodney King beating. I’m glad that that set the tone for where we were as a society for this trial to even take place and for the outcome to be what it was. That surprised us that people were ready for it.
New episodes of “Runaways” arrive each Tuesday at Hulu.