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Jensen Ackles and Karl Urban on The Boys, Herogasm, and Soldier Boy

We sat down with Jensen Ackles and Karl Urban as part of a roundtable to talk all things The Boys season 3, Soldier Boy, and Butcher

Jensen Ackles in The Boys season 3

After 15 seasons of Supernatural, you’d think Jensen Ackles would be a bit sick of Eric Kripke by now. But as well as narrating The Winchesters, he’s also taken the leap (and possibly Compound V) into Kripke’s other hit TV series, The Boys.

Described as an anti-Captain America, Ackles’ character, Soldier Boy, looks set to upset the already delicate balance of fragile male egos and tyranny that has overrun the halls of Vought International. But that isn’t only the way the tables have turned in season 3 of The Boys. The trailers suggest that Billy Butcher, played by Karl Urban, has gotten hold of Compound V one way or another, seemingly giving him Supe-like abilities like shooting lasers out of his eyes. So, how will The Boys’ long-running feud with The Seven, especially Homelander (Anthony Starr) fare now that Butcher has some powers of his own?

As part of a roundtable with The Digital Fix and other members of the UK press, Ackles and Urban 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 Jensen, you’re the new kid on the block for season 3. There were comparisons made to Captain America when your character was first announced. Do you think fans and viewers are still going to have that perception of your character after this season?

Jensen Ackles: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s no secret that a lot of these characters in The Boys are certainly modelled after very famous superheroes that we all have grown up with. Soldier Boy is, I would say, this world’s Captain America. He’s kind of the original superhero, Vought’s first experiment, so to speak, and he gets brought back into the fold after being essentially in captivity for 30 some odd years. So there is certainly that Captain America aspect, but in The Boys, boys fashion only they can do.

After so long on Supernatural, were you sort of expecting a call from Eric [Kripke, The Boys and formerly Supernatural showrunner] to jump on this show?

JA: Funnily enough, it was a call from me. I called him about something unrelated. And at the end of the call, I said, ‘Hey, Eric, what you got? When are you gonna have me over on The Boys? You know, I’m unemployed pretty soon.’ And that got the ball rolling.

Butcher gets superpowers this season – how did the process of filming the superpowered scenes differ from doing Dredd and Thor: Ragnarok?

Karl Urban: Interesting question. Fundamentally, it’s the same. You are imagining elements that aren’t there, and that is just part of the craft of acting. When you are working with a child actor, you have to shoot with them because they only have a limited amount of time. So when you come to do your side of the scene, you have to imagine, and so then, the fundamental skill set is exactly the same, but it was really interesting to try and find new territory.

I stumbled upon the notion that, unlike Homelander, when Butcher utilises his powers, and emits these lasers from his eyes, it would actually be immensely painful. Because he’s human: he hasn’t been doing that since childhood, like Homelander.

So, this season, Herogasm is set to be brought to the screen. How did that feel, reading that script and being part of that journey in this season?

JA: I mean, I didn’t read the comics on purpose because I was told not to. Kripke was like, ‘Stay away from them, I don’t want that to influence what we’re going to create for you and what you bring to the table,’ so I had only heard about Herogasm through a friend of mine who was a very, very big fan of the comic books.

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And he was like, ‘I just wanted to say, you guys are actually going to tackle Herogasm in the season,’ and I’m like, ‘What’s that?’ And then he told me and I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ So we do tackle it, but it is certainly not a verbatim depiction of what the comics wrote. But it is certainly stuff that I can’t unsee.

So, we’ve had Butcher and Homelander, two alpha males these past two seasons. But now, introducing Soldier Boy into the equation, now we’ve got these three apex predators, if you will, interacting throughout season three. Can you talk about the dynamic that plays out between these three characters. Are they all trying to vie for control of the overarching narrative at play?

KU: For me, the starting point of the season is Butcher’s palpable frustration and his inability to fight the fight the way that he wants to. And, through the course of events that unleash Soldier Boy, he comes to understand that this could be a formidable weapon to utilise. So it sets forth a series of events that change the whole world.

There are some significant challenges to Butcher’s plan, but in true Butcher fashion, every plan that he has, generally turns to custard, and there’s one that goes sideways in a big way. And it’s interesting to really see how that power dynamic, that triangle actually shakes out and who you think is the apex predator and who actually is.

JA: Yeah, it was certainly a collision course. I think from the very start, Homelander has been on a collision course since day one. And so to bring, like you said, another kind of apex predator into the mix, it’s just going to make things even messier when everything does collide. And it gets really messy and like Karl was saying, just when you think someone is going to be on top, then all of a sudden, someone else rears up and takes control. So it’s a great dynamic, and it makes for really entertaining television.

Karl, I wanted to ask about one of my favourite dynamics on the show: you and Jack Quaid as Huey. Could you talk a bit about how that relationship is going to develop?

KU: What was so cool about season 3 was to actually get to play scenes and be in alignment with Huey again. You know, because when the characters were introduced in season one, we were very much a team. And then they fractured that friendship in season two, and so to have a wealth of scenes to play where we’re n the same page again, was so much fun.

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Jensen, Soldier Boy is pretty different on the show than how it is in the comics. Would you be able to explain the rationale behind these differences?

JA: Like I said, I didn’t read the literature on purpose. But what I’ve deciphered from the things that I’ve gathered now that I’ve been in this world for a year, is that he is largely at fault, the like the one of the comic, but at different faults. He has kind of different shortcomings, so to speak, which just only makes the dynamics between the other characters and the relationships that much more interesting.

I think we have a character that is so deeply flawed, like the superheroes are, but you very quickly understand what his flaws are. I was saying earlier, I was like, ‘This guy’s gonna get cancelled as soon as he steps foot in this new world.’ And the comics was not necessarily a template for what we used for this, but more of an inspiration.

Yeah. You mentioned you deliberately didn’t read the comics? Can I ask what your influences were for the character? And the process a little bit?

JA: Yeah, I spoke with Kripke pretty loosely about it. Then I just let it jump off the page, he writes so descriptive in such a simple way. You know, I always think that the mark of a great writer is that they can tell you so much with very few words, and Kripke does that. And through the dialogue, through the character description, he just told me, ‘Do your thing.’ So I just kind of stuck to my instincts, and let the script guide me, and that’s what we got.

I didn’t get written up right away. So I figured I was doing something right. And then I didn’t, it’s one of those like, ‘No news is good news’ things. Nobody told me what I was doing wrong, so I’ve just kept doing what I was doing. And hopefully, that’s what they wanted.

And Karl, obviously, you’re returning again for the third season. What can we expect from your character this season? What are the deeper themes for you, and what changes for you?

KU: Yeah, I mean, where we find Butcher at the beginning of this season, he’s a man who is not processing the grief of the loss of his wife. And he is probably frustrated with his inability to take the fight to Homelander or in the seven the way that he would like to who is his boss, and he’s presented with a moral dilemma, whether to turn himself into the very thing that he is fighting against. The moral implications of that, and also the repercussions that choice has, and crossing that boundary has on everybody around him. And then eventually, other characters have to make that same choice.

It’s a threshold that some characters will not cross, and so it leads to interesting new alliances and fractures, relationships, and the whole world changes as a result. Of course, Butcher has been charged with the responsibility of looking after Ryan, he promised his wife that he would do that.

This pathology, this obsession of Butcher to seek revenge on Homelander is completely counterproductive to the ambitions and responsibilities of being a responsible parent. You know, there’s these two sorts of aims and goals at loggerheads. So, in true Butcher fashion, everything goes sideways pretty quickly.

We were speaking to Eric earlier on, he brought up the topic of toxic masculinity being a key theme in this season. As actors, how do you approach such a difficult topic, especially one that’s in the public eye?

JA: Yeah, I definitely was tasked with doing a lot of that with Soldier Boy, because he’s he is, a character from a different era. Like I said earlier, in today’s climate,  he probably would have been, or should be cancelled immediately. So, for me, I just think about everything that I could do that would cancel me.

It is an interesting narrative kind of on our current climate and culture and stuff and, and bringing some a character like Soldier Boy, who is essentially trapped in the past and has not evolved. He’s from an era that’s gone by, and we’re having him come into this world and try to navigate it. He doesn’t even have really have time to do that, nor does he give a shit. You know, he’s not going to assimilate by any means, because that’s not who he is.

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I think that we all probably know people like that, or have at least heard of people like that. And so tapping into that wasn’t overly difficult because you see these people that are making poor choices as human beings, and they are getting called out for it. And I think that Soldier Boy is from an era when they didn’t call them out, they just sucked it up, and they let him be as toxic as he wanted to be because he was the alpha male. And so it was easy to kind of just tap into all that.

KU: What we come to understand about Butcher this season is he is actually acutely aware of his toxic masculinity. And his response to that, his safety valve, is to put people around him who keep that in check. That’s why he has Huey and Mother’s Milk there, they are like his Canaries, they keep him on the centre line on the right line of morality. But not even those checks and boundaries are enough to satiate this lust he has to get revenge on Homelander. And, in true Kripke fashion, he rewards characters for making the right decision and punishes them for the wrong decision.

Jensen and Karl, what was it like working with each other, and what can we expect from season 3 of The Boys?

KU: Jensen was such a fantastic addition to the cast, he came in and was immediately embraced by the entire cast, it was pretty quickly established that he was a heavy hitter on set. And I think that everybody was actually really excited to work with him. Whether he’s aware of it or not, he really helped raise everybody’s level, and he really has the ability to identify what is a weakness or a problem and then turn it into a strength. Wso blessed to have him on our show. And I’m super excited for audiences to see what it’s done.

Jensen Ackles in The Boys season 3

JA: [to Urban] Thanks, man. The last few episodes, are some of my favourite scenes that certainly that I did throughout the whole season three. There’s one in particular we talked about earlier: a scene between Soldier Boy and Butcher that isn’t the outrageous scene it isn’t the explosive scene is the fight scene isn’t it’s a quiet scene. But it’s in those quiet scenes that I feel like you really get a sense of who these characters are.

You really get to peel back those layers. And then it becomes tmore personal to the audience and you get the nuance and you get that minutia that really makes the character a character. And so those are the scenes that I feel like, just even as an actor, like, those are the scenes where I get to grow. And having a scene partner like Karl just makes it even that much richer.

KU: That’s the genius in Eric’s writing. Even with the most intolerable characters, who do and say terrible things, he finds a way to imbue them with a sense of humanity, or weakness, or pain that an audience can identify with, and in a way where you find yourself maybe not entirely forgiving them for their flaws, but certainly gaining an understanding of them, making them more accessible and you can find yourself understanding the point of view and liking characters that really should be hated. It’s quite a skill.

The first three episodes of The Boys season 3 will drop on streaming service Amazon Prime Video on June 3, 2022.