Batwoman’s Ruby Rose Prepares to Make History as TV’s First Gay Live-Action Superhero Lead

The actress on defying naysayers and how being a role model 'saved my life'

Batwoman, starring Ruby Rose, debuts on The CW this fall.
Ryan Pfluger for Adweek; Styled by Ryan Young; Coat by Ellery

Last summer, as producers were struggling to cast Batwoman—the latest DC Comics character joining The CW’s Arrow-verse of superhero series—“we always joked, ‘We need a Ruby Rose,’” recalls Caroline Dries, Batwoman’s showrunner and writer. “And it was like, ‘That would be great, but that’s not going to happen. She’s a movie star.’”

That may be true, but Rose—a former model and MTV VJ in Australia who had her big U.S. breakout in 2015 as Stella on Orange Is the New Black, which led to films like John Wick: Chapter 2, Pitch Perfect 3 and The Meg—couldn’t pass up the chance to make history by starring in the first live-action superhero series led by an LGBTQ character, and played by an openly gay actress. Debuting on The CW this fall, Batwoman—whose trailer was one of the most enthusiastically received during last month’s upfronts week—focuses on Rose’s Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne’s cousin, who after years of training off the grid, returns home to a Gotham in which Batman has been MIA for three years, and reluctantly steps into his Bat boots.

“When people see the show, they will understand why this character is so important to me and why after reading the script, it was a no-brainer that I would happily spend as long as I’m allowed to playing this character, over trying to find new ones,” says Rose. She hadn’t yet seen the Batwoman pilot when she spoke with Adweek shortly after The CW’s upfront presentation last month, but says, “It’s very rare that something feels that special. And if it feels that special, it seems impossible that it couldn’t be special.”

Rose, a former model and MTV VJ in Australia, had her big U.S. breakout on Orange Is the New Black.
Ryan Pfluger for Adweek; Styled by Ryan Young; Suit by Versace; Cuff and ring by Jennifer Fisher

As Dries puts it, “To have the super-strong badass lead character be the base of the show, and that her love story is the love story of the show, is so groundbreaking and so important to me, as somebody who’s gay. If I’d had this show as a 15-year-old, my life would have been so different. It would’ve been so much less depressing, and it would’ve felt like I had so much more support.”

Rose actually made her debut in the role during The CW’s annual superhero crossover last December, even though she says, “I had no idea what I was doing! Because I didn’t know Kate like I know Kate now.”

That changed this spring when she filmed the Batwoman pilot, which was “exhausting and rewarding—and it’s not the kicking-butt side of things I’m talking about,” says Rose. Yes, in one scene she single-handedly takes on eight or nine assailants, but the episode also delves into Kane’s emotional backstory, filled with heartbreaking losses of family members and girlfriends. “There’s so much in it that I think friends, or me when I was younger, or fans, or anyone can watch and feel part of their story is being told,” she says.

During filming, “I would go home and I was exhausted, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, the stunts must be killing you.’” Rose says. “I’m like, ‘No, it’s from crying,’ and they’re like, ‘What? Isn’t it Batwoman?’ ‘I know. I’m as confused as you are!’” (Marvels Dries, “She can go from tough to vulnerable in the snap of your fingertips.”)

While taking on Batwoman and Kate Kane sounded like “a cool idea in theory” when producers reached out to Rose last summer, she approached the meeting with Dries and executive producer Sarah Schechter as “just an open conversation.” But once Rose heard their pitch, she was hooked.

Video by Dianna McDougall for Adweek

Their vision for the role and the season “just transformed the entire conversation,” says Rose. Yes, the opportunity to play the first out-lesbian LGBTQ superhero in a live-action series “is amazing, but [it] still [has] to be done in a way that’s authentic and right, and feel good,” she explains. “The story they’re telling me is so much more in-depth, real, grounded, heartbreaking and wild than what I anticipated.”

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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