Nicole Maines Reflects On "Supergirl" And The Importance Of Bringing A Transgender Superhero To Life
"The bar is now set very, very high, because if you can be a superhero, you can be anything."
For the last three years, Nicole Maines has brought a beloved Supergirl character to life and showcased the importance of representation on TV. With her role as Nia Nal/Dreamer, Nicole has given the transgender community a "fully fledged superhero," and it has been incredible to watch.
To celebrate the final season of Supergirl, Nicole sat down with us to chat about everything — like what she hopes fans take away from watching Nia's story, what it's like being a superhero, her favorite Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes, and more. Here's everything we chatted about:
Things you love about playing Nia Nal/Dreamer on Supergirl?
1. I love being able to, of course, give this icon to our community and to give us our own superhero that we can feel really proud of and we can identify with.
2. All of the scenes I get to do with Jesse [Rath]. He's brilliant. Those scenes are so much fun, and we have so much good stuff coming up this season, I cannot wait for people to see.
3. I love every time she gets a new power. In the Season 6 premiere, everyone was going bonkers about her astral projection and being able to interact with something physically while she's in the astral form.
BuzzFeed: Did you know from the start what her powers would be? Or have you been learning them as you go?
I don't usually know about her powers in advance, but it has been really cool. Dreamer has gone from being Nura Nal's ancestor, kind of based off Dream Girl, and I think Dreamer has moved into her own space. She's kind of like if Dream Girl had Psylocke's powers, or she's like if Green Lantern could see the future. I remember reading about the energy blasts for the first time in Season 4, and I was texting everybody. I was like, "I get to shoot things out of my hands!" They don't really tell me what it's going to look like [with the special effects]. Also, they don't really tell me what to do with my hands, how to hold myself, and what the blasts look like, so it's really a lot of me in my apartment trying to come up with it. I loosely based it off of the waterbenders in Avatar: The Last Airbender and that ethereal one move into the other, but she also has this aggression to her. I've likened it to Uncle Iroh's way of firebending too.
And, these days, with the massive success of WandaVision, I'm just trying not to look like I'm ripping off Scarlet Witch with my hands. Now, I've never been so conscious of bending my fingers, especially my ring finger. Now I'm like, "Keep your hands out or else people are going to think you're Wanda!"
BuzzFeed: I love that you're just hyperaware of Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda moves now.
Totally! She's amazing and I'm just sitting here thinking, "Girl, I'm sorry. I'm really trying not to steal your gig or rip off your moves or anything." I'm really hyperaware of it now. We just shot a scene where it's a close-up of my hands, and I was thinking the whole time, "Extend your fingers, don't bend a single one. Try not to channel Elizabeth Olsen."
4. Next, I love her suit. I think she looks so cool. All of the suits are textured and they have all of these raised patterns and stuff on them. I remember when they were first going through and the costume designer, Victoria [J. Auth], was showing me all of these different patterns and swatches she pulled, and I was like, "I like this and that and that and that." I pretty much picked the gay sci-fi ones. You know, I think Nia has a brand to uphold.
5. And likewise, I love her wardrobe. I think Nia has really settled and I can't wait for people to see some of the looks she wears this season. She's totally taken off in this boho chic style. She's been on a fashion journey. I'll say, she's had some hits and she's had some wide misses. But this season, I think she's settled into this really cool fashion space. So, I'm loving that. I've been desperately trying to steal many things.
TV characters you idolized growing up and/or adore now?
1. First one, and they all count as one: Icy, Darcy, and Stormy from The Winx Club. Growing up, those were my girls. I loved them. You ever need someone to play Darcy, you call me. I will be there in a flash. I have the costume. [laughs] Could you imagine if I showed up [to an audition] already made up like Darcy?
2. Shego from Kim Possible. She was really awesome and such a complex female character.
3. Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Again, a badass female character.
BuzzFeed: I love that Avatar has impacted your life so much. Do you have a favorite episode or storyline from the series?
I mean, Ember Island had to be one of the best episodes. Also, "The Southern Raiders," when Katara and Zuko go on their trip together. That moment when Katara stops the rain, it's perfect. I think those two episodes are my favorite. I've said it before, but "Reality Bytes" from Supergirl, where Dreamer is going on her rampage, that is just our version of "The Southern Raiders." Supergirl and Dreamer are just Katara and Zuko in that episode.
4. And, okay this is more than four, but Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. They go together, so I can't separate those two either.
BuzzFeed: Have you watched Harley Quinn on HBO Max? I am obsessed.
Have I?! Of course! Poison Ivy is the BEST character. Actually, that's a lie, Frank is the best character on that show. He is my hero. I want him to have a spinoff. Petition to have Frank in the DC movies. Next Harley Quinn movie, I really need Frank the plant in there.
BuzzFeed: Honestly, I think we all need Margot Robbie interacting with Frank.
Totally. Can you imagine Margot just hanging out with a giant talking plant? I need it.
Favorite behind-the-scenes memories from working on Supergirl?
1. Honestly, my favorite memories are just hanging out. Someone will always eventually start singing. We don't have our green room anymore because of COVID, but before, we had this great green room and we would just have Lego sets. Melissa [Benoist] was gifted the Millennium Falcon set and it had like 1,000 pieces or something. Just watching that slowly get put together was really, really cool. Just coming in every day and being like, "How much progress has Mel made?" It was really just essentially her working on it too. So, just watching Supergirl sitting on a couch building the Millennium Falcon has got to be a highlight for me.
2. Also, being part of such a female-centered series is just a behind-the-scenes highlight in itself. We have our little "Nikazie" hashtag on Instagram and Twitter ["Nikazie" being a combo of Nicole Maines, Katie McGrath, and Azie Tesfai's names]. It has been really great to form this sisterhood with the other girls because, I think, Vancouver is especially lonely sometimes. It's hard to make friends, so it's been really, really nice to have the other castmates to be able to hang out with. We have our true crime nights and we just sit on the couch and drink wine and order tacos. One of my favorite memories was watching the Lorena Bobbitt documentary together. That was a lot of fun.
Also, especially this season with filming during COVID, we're not really allowed to hang out with anybody else, so it's been really, really nice to see the cast all the time. Staz [Nair] always comes over and we do our Mario Kart nights. He beat me for the first time since we started playing a couple of months ago, and I was a combination of proud and being like, "Next time, I'll bury you."
3. And there are so many memories from when we shoot at Riverview, which is like a hospital and it's notoriously haunted. One time, someone caught something on video and I will never go back there. I wasn't on set that day, but I got the tea later on. Every time we film there and [the crew] is just like, "Do you guys want to hang out on set? Want to go back to the trailers?" I'm always like, "I'm going home." Queer people survive horror movies because we are not in horror movies. We do not mess with ghosts. There is enough trying to hurt us in the real world, we do not need things outside of the mortal coil trying to hurt us too. But yeah, I always think of just the wild stuff that has happened while filming in that haunted hospital and I never need to return to it.
Movies you love and would recommend to anyone?
1. I know this is kind of sacrilege, but I just watched My Neighbor Totoro for the first time and it's already one of my favorites. It's amazing and Mei is a queen. I've always loved animation, cartoons, and anime, so I'd recommend this movie to anyone.
2. I was a big Disney kid growing up, so The Incredibles is another one of my go-to movies. It's kind of fun to be a superhero now because The Incredibles was everything to me. I think, personally, I'm at just the right age for when they inevitably do the live-action The Incredibles reboot, so I will hopefully be able to play Elastigirl. I will have reached my final form if that happens. I'll roll up in the costume for that audition too and they'll be like, "Really? It's a little much," and I'll just say, "Really? I don't think it's enough."
Thing you hope fans take away from seeing a trans superhero on TV?
1. That we are not limited by our gender identity. That who we are and how other people perceive us does not, in any way, determine what we can or cannot do with our lives. We can do and can be whoever we want. The bar is now set very, very high, because if you can be a superhero, you can be anything. It's like, "Well, if I can be a superhero, everything else is very easily within reach." So, that's what I hope people take away from seeing Nia. Also, for folks who are not trans, I hope they learn from me that trans people are more than what's in our pants. We are more than our trauma. We're more than our gender. We are just fully fledged superheroes, who have an arc outside of our transness.
BuzzFeed: I always think about the monumental moment when Dreamer comes out to the world in Season 4 and what a big step for superhero media that was. How much input did you have in Nia's storylines on Supergirl?
That first one [Dreamer coming out on TV], I didn't have as much input on. They kind of wrote that one themselves, but when I read it, they wrote it perfectly. That was a perfect moment. The funny thing about that speech is I actually was very, very hesitant to out Nia as a Gryffindor. I knew it was going to be a point of contention because I know by looking at her, a lot of people are gonna think she's a Hufflepuff. And, of course, as a Slytherin myself, I didn't want her to be a Gryffindor. But she is kind of ruled by this bravery and courage, and the leadership she possesses, and her willingness to throw herself into harm's way to protect her loved one. So, I literally went and took the Pottermore test as Nia and got Gryffindor, that's how invested I was in making sure that small moment in this huge, important speech was right.
But for "Reality Bytes" [an episode where Nia confronts a man who is targeting the transgender community] and for Nia's confrontation with her sister, I had a little more input. Usually, at any point when Nia's transness has come up, I have the opportunity to talk about that a little bit and work with the writers, so I can nudge them in different directions or let them know if they're on the right track. They've been really, really good about coming to me and respecting what I have to say.
BuzzFeed: And now, you're writing a comic book story featuring Dreamer for DC Pride and get to really craft her storylines. How is that going?
I've kind of become drunk on my own power, I'm not gonna lie. I'm kind of like, "I AM DREAMER." I keep having to remind myself I am not actually a superhero in real life. I said I love Dreamer's superpowers, and with the comic, I've maybe sprinkled in a few new things in there for fun. I'm having such a blast. Although I'm worried I may have made her a "Mary Sue," but you know what? Superman has super strength, super speed, heat vision, X-ray vision, frost breath, super hearing, invulnerability, he can survive in space, he can fly, and he's bulletproof, so I don't care. Trans folks have one person, so Dreamer can do whatever she wants.