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The Boys’ Eric Kripke on toxic masculinity, Soldier Boy, and Herogasm

As part of a roundtable interview with other members of the UK press, The Digital Fix sat down with Eric Kripke, showrunner of The Boys

With buckets of gore, violence, and general raciness, The Boys is certainly not an ordinary superhero series. The Amazon Prime show explores a world in which superheroes live among us: but they don’t have a secret identity, nor are they as noble as The Avengers or Superman. 

Instead, The Seven, an elite group of superheroes headed by crazed narcissist Homelander, are heavily marketed and owned by shady corporation Vought International. With the ‘supes’ in The Seven, as well as that outside of it, engaging in corruption, scheming, and self-serving agendas they’re far from heroes and are definitely not noble.

As the showrunner of Supernatural, which ended after 15 seasons in 2020, Eric Kripke is no stranger to writing complex characters. But he takes that to another level with The Boys, with the politically-charged TV series being as much of a comedy as it is a drama series, including elements of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and everything in between. As part of a roundtable with The Digital Fix and other members of the UK press, he answered a number of burning questions people had about The Boys season 3. What follows is the transcription of this roundtable, which includes questions asked by representatives of various other outlets. 

So, can you just tell us a little bit about what sort of deeper themes we get to see in season three? What stands out?

Eric Kripke: Yeah, for me, the meta big theme becomes this meditation on toxic masculinity. And that’s where the tone falls over a lot of the stories. It falls over Butcher’s relationship with Ryan, and it falls over Homelander, constantly having to front as strong.

I was always struck by that moment after Trump got Covid-19, his first move was to take off a mask, like on the balcony of the White House. What a piece of shit. Why is it more important to you to present vitality over compassion? Like, what is wrong with you that that’s a thing that you need to do?

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And then, the specific lens of Soldier Boy was that John Wayne Marlboro Man, cowboy bullshit. That was always a myth, and never real, was something that had started in the States. And it’s sort of poisoned generation after generation of men.

It’s one of the reasons we’re in a world where Trump becomes elected president, and Putin invades Ukraine because they just are all fronting for how empty and insecure they are inside.

Soldior Boy in The Boys

Why do you think covering real-world topics like Black Lives Matter, the rise of the far-right and fascism is important in a show like The Boys?

EK: When I first got the job, I had dinner with Garth Ennis, who wrote the comic. And I asked him, ‘What inspired you to make it?’ And he said, ‘I was interested about what would happen if you combined the worst of politics with the worst of celebrity’. And he wrote it in 2006.

Even in 2016, we were so sure Hillary Clinton was going to be elected. And even then, with Trump in the running, I was like, ‘What a crazy idea.’ And then suddenly, the world became his world.

And we are actually in real life living at this bizarre intersection of authoritarianism and celebrity with social media, with the way that autocrats are using a cult of personality and celebrity to further authoritarian aims.

And, soo you get to a point where you realise, ‘How do we not talk about it?’ because we’re so uniquely positioned with our metaphor of superheroes to tell that story in a way that almost no other show on TV can. And if they do, they’ll probably be deadly earnest, because it’s just so straightforward, but we have this perfect little metaphor for the exact second we’re living in.

So we just sort of felt like it’d be wasted potential to not chase it down as far as we could. I distinctly remember when we realised it, and my comment to the writers was, if this engine does work, we have an obligation to push it as far as it can go. So that’s what everybody does.

Homelander in The Boys

You introduced a new character, Soldier Boy, obviously played by Jensen Ackles. Was this a no-brainer casting decision?

EK: Unsurprisingly, it was unexpected. Originally, we were setting out for an older actor: John Wayne was the reference. But we weren’t finding anybody. And I just happened to be chatting with Jensen that day.

I was telling him I was having a hard time casting this role. And then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, do you want to do it?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, send me the script.’ I sent him the script, and then he had to fight for it and audition for all the other executives because there’s a bunch of people who work in the show who haven’t worked with him for over a decade. So he had to fight for it and get it.

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But it was obvious, in hindsight, because there’s so many different colours that Soldier Boy needs to have. He needs to be charming, he needs to be emotional, he needs to be really scary.

After working with Jensen, for as long as I have, there was never anything that I threw at him that he couldn’t do. And really, it’s his versatility that I really wanted and needed here. So it was almost meant to be.

How did Ackles approach that character who is the complete polar opposite of Dean Winchester, the character he’s been playing for over twenty years?

EK: Yeah, he was excited. Because he’s played Dean Winchester for so long, he was just really hungry for an opportunity to do something different, and to show what he could do differently. And we approached that with everything, from his hair to his stance — we discussed it all very consciously.

I think he pulls it off. People are going to be surprised. When I watch this season, I don’t say to myself, ‘Oh, there’s Jensen Ackles,’ or ‘There’s Dean Winchester.’ He feels like Soldier Boy to me, he’s inhabiting the character in a way a good actor does. So it’s exciting.

The Seven in The Boys

Can you tell us about bringing Herogasm onto the screen? And does it feel a bit like pushing the boundaries?

EK: From the very beginning, when I first got this job — especially when people who knew the comic heard I got the job — invariably, the first thing they would say to me, ‘I dare you to do it here.’ I don’t like to back down from it.

It’s just it’s such an iconic, infamous part of the comic that I wanted to tackle at some point, but obviously, it’s a massive superhero orgy. And it needs to be depicted honestly. The thing about this show is we don’t try to sanitise anything.

I think we waited this long because, frankly, we needed the goodwill of Amazon after a couple of successful years. I liken it to a parent finally letting me have the cookie. There’s a lot of like, ‘Okay, we knew sooner or later, we’d have to give you this cookie, and here’s the cookie.’

But, yeah, it’s bananas, that whole episode. But again, the thing I always take the most pleasure from is not that madness, it’s that I can put an emotional scene in the middle of that madness. Like, that’s the stuff I find subversive because it’s easy to throw dicks on a screen. But if then, I can make you care about the characters in the middle of it all. That’s the fun for me.

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We know the college spin-off will cover Godolkin University, a satire of X-Men in the comics. Can we expect other big Marvel or DC analogues to pop up in season 3?

EK: In The Boys, we have an Ant-Man character, and obviously, Soldier Boy is a Captain America reference. So yeah, we’re always looking for more. When we’re trying to come up with heroes, we’re always trying to hit like, ‘What are the archetypal heroes that we haven’t done yet?’ The one we haven’t figured out yet is Batman.

So Batman remains a character we still need to touch on. And we should because he’s basically a capitalist nightmare, who is just oppressing lower classes of criminals to advance his family’s wealth. 

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You were talking about power and superpowers as a metaphor for fame and celebrity. I think it’s fascinating how that’s used in the show, especially this season. You don’t have to give your straight opinion on it. But with the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard issue, do you think the themes in this season are going to resonate in relation to that?

EK: Overall, I mean, yes: there’s the metaphor of political power. And then, the show is also about the metaphor of celebrity. And it’s interesting because a lot of the background detail on that comes from Seth Rogen, who is a legit celebrity and is friends with a lot of celebrities, and he’s very honest and forthcoming about what it’s like.

It’s the enabling more than anything else, it’s just being surrounded by a universe of people who are there to execute your every whim and cover up every mistake. And I imagine for a guy like Johnny Depp, with multiple decades of that, it just I’m sure must do a number on your worldview.

Starlight in The Boys

What do you think sets The Boys apart from other superhero shows?

EK: We definitely try, in many ways, to do the opposite of what every other superhero show or movie tries to do. In that, we want to create a world that is as completely realistic as possible and as honest as possible, which just happens to have superheroes in it. And so, even characters having sex, and going to the bathroom.

We’re not trying to be a parody as much as we’re just trying to be a deconstruction of, if you took people with these types of powers, and you put them on planet Earth, what a complete and utter shit show it would be. And so it just kind of naturally comes out of that.

And then I would say, we try to be uniquely character-driven for that superhero genre. Movies usually don’t stop down to focus because they’re movies and you’re moving so fast.

Still, they don’t stop down to focus on the character’s emotional inner lives and complexities. And like I said in the beginning, everyone who’s tuning into the show knows that they’re gonna get madness and ultra-violence, so the best way we can actually really surprise them is to make them care about the characters.

Episodes from season 3 of The Boys will be dropped on Amazon Prime Video from June 3 onwards.