'Supergirl' Star Nicole Maines Talks Suiting Up as TV's First Transgender Superhero (Exclusive)
By Meredith B. Kile
Getty Images/The CW
Nia Nal is about to become the hero she's been dreaming of!
Supergirl returns for an all-new episode on Sunday, which will give fans their first on-screen look at Nicole Maines' character getting ready to embrace her heroic destiny and don her super suit to become Dreamer. The evolution has been hinted at all season, as Nia's dream-based powers have started to intensify, but with the help of her pal Brainy (Jesse Rath), the new CatCo staffer is about to find she has more in than ever common with the show's titular hero, Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist).
Nia's heroic journey is especially significant, however, as it makes Maines the first transgender superhero on TV, who has already shown her strength in battling bigoted hate and societal stigma alongside her friends and co-workers. This week, fans get a closer look at Nia's home life, and the way her journey as a transgender woman will also shape her transition into the hero she is destined to become.
ET spoke to Maines ahead of Sunday's episode about the significance of Nia's heroic evolution and what's to come in the second half of Supergirl's fourth season.
ET: So this week we're going to get a look at Nia's super suit and then next week we'll finally see her suit up. How excited are you for fans to get their first glimpse of Dreamer?
Maines: I am beyond thrilled. I mean, this upcoming episode has been some of my favorite scenes that I've gotten to do and I'm so, so excited to get to see them on screen and to see people's reactions to them... Going to Nia's hometown, getting to sink my teeth more into Nia's backstory and into where she comes from has been really, really great. I'm just excited for people to get a little bit more Nia.
For you as an actress, what did it feel like to put that suit on for the first time?
Uncomfortable (laughs). It's two pieces, so I have one piece that's a catsuit that's the arm and the legs, which is very comfortable and I've broken it in. That's great. I can just lounge around in that for however long. But then I put the vest on over it and the vest kind of pulls everything back. I'm not used to having good posture, so then my shoulders are always being pushed back and I'm like, "Oh wow! I wanna die."
That aside, putting the suit on for the first time was like, mind-blowing. I took so many pictures. I was, of course, sending them all to my mother. And I'm still so excited every time I get to put on the suit. We did this scene the other day where I was in the suit. We were in front of a bunch of Army trucks, or whatever, and it was raining. I was just feeling my superhero fantasy. I was like, "Yeah. I'm Dreamer. I'm a superhero. I'm standing in the rain!" It's really, really cool.
This is, of course, a major moment for any actor, but you're going be the first trans superhero on TV. Does it feel like there's a special level of significance in Nia getting ready to embrace her super self and putting on this suit?
Oh yeah. When they released that promo pic, for me and for a lot of folks, it became real. And we were like, "We have a trans superhero. We can see her now. We see her in the suit and the mask and the effects...We have a trans superhero on television." And seeing people's reactions to that on social media was really, really powerful. Folks having a bad day and having that suit come out and they were like, I feel uplifted. We have a trans superhero.
In last week's episode, we saw that Nia was still unsure about the idea of being a hero when Brainy gives her his book of sketches and ideas. Is there something that's going to push her into this and get her ready to kind of accept the heroic evolution?
Yes, absolutely. Her trip home is really going to help her on her journey into becoming Dreamer. But first, of course, she has obstacles that she needs to get over that are also at home. This episode's gonna be very transformative for Nia.
There's her mother who's kind of helping her become Dreamer and is urging her to embrace her powers, but her sister has been training her whole life to get these powers. Because, of course, the cisgender sister, as the biological daughter, she just kind of assumed she was gonna get the powers. Being firstborn, as well, she was just like, "I'm gonna get the powers." And so, Nia, when she got the powers, she was like, "I have stolen something from my sister."
She's been carrying a lot of guilt around using these powers too, which has been a major roadblock for her. So her trip home is really going to kind of clear that up and set her on her path to becoming Dreamer.
We also know that Brainy's going to have a helping hand in Nia's evolution into becoming Dreamer. What's to come for that relationship, especially after their not-a-date last week?
We definitely have more scenes together coming up because he, as well as Kara, play really big roles in teaching Nia how to be a superhero. And of course, like Brainy said, "New Super Friends."
They really teach Nia the ropes and they show her the ropes around being a superhero. I have some really cool scenes with Jesse where he's training me in combat, and he's teaching me how to fight, and Kara in the field telling Nia, "Dreamer, bring that down to a seven. Coming in a little hot!" Just some really cool scenes and interactions where you can really tell Nia's new at this. She's not your average superhero.
Kara is also dealing with a gap in her support system now, after Alex's memory was wiped. Is that going to lead to her and Nia getting closer? Are they going to be able to bond over their super powers and issues at home?
Absolutely, yeah. Nia and Kara's relationship with their respective sisters are both kind of strained in the next couple episodes. They really come closer together as kind of a chosen family. They're like, "I know you don't have your sister, but you have me." They have some really great scenes together where they get a lot closer.
Apart from Nia suiting up, what else are you excited for fans to see in the back half of this season?
I think some of my favorite scenes that I get to do are with Jesse, just because he's hilarious. He'll do things and not tell us, and so he'll just ad-lib something that's so Brainiac and hilarious that every time I do a scene with him it's just like, a timer of, how long can Nicole go in this take without laughing?
We also have a lot of really great scenes coming up that I'm feeling really excited for people to see how Brainy and Nia's relationship progresses in the back half of the season.
This show does a great job of having its finger on the pulse when it comes to drawing parallels with current cultural and political events, and this week felt no different, with Supergirl fighting anti-alien prejudice and declaring that she's "not going to stop being a hero," amid the Supreme Court's decision to allow President Trump's trans military ban to go into effect. What does it mean to you to be a part of a show like this that's telling these stories right now?
I was on set the day when they announced the Supreme Court had reinstated Trump's ban. I was talking to Melissa about it and I was saying, it's really hard when you are dealing with an administration that is constantly throwing out punches. It is really hard, for me personally, it's really hard to feel devastated. It's really hard to feel the full impact of everything when it comes out, because you get so numb to it. It becomes one of those things where you're like, "All right. Sure. Just pile that on top! Why not?"
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And so, being able to be on set and [talk to people], I just told her, you know, that's what we're here doing. We are here making a difference. We are here making a show people feel good about watching. We're making a show that is both entertaining and meaningful, and important, and relevant, and beautiful, and so special. There's really nothing quite like Supergirl on television right now, I feel.
I think a lot of the time, folks are like, there's so much happening right now. How can I, as one person, make a difference? How can I add my one voice into this conversation and turn the tide? I think on Supergirl, we're all able to go to work every day and do something that we love, but also be contributing to the conversation, and making a difference, and turning the tide -- being able to do that feels really, really good. I was really happy to be on set that day in particular, because I think I needed to be. I needed to be in a supportive environment. I needed to be somewhere where I was like, let's make a difference. Let's throw a punch back.
I think that's really important, because so often, shows like this can be dismissed as comic fantasy, but storytelling is an meaningful part of the cultural conversation.
I mean, storytelling is, when it boils down to it, that's all any of us have. We have our experiences and we have the ability to tell stories. And that is what inspires people. That's what moves mountains. That's what changes conversations, is hearing about people's stories, people's experiences.