One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises from the first season of Supergirl was the revelation that there was much more to David Harewood’s character, Hank Henshaw, than met the eye. While comic book fans expected there to be something below the surface, namely a cybernetic bad guy, virtually nobody saw the truth coming: that he was actually J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, in disguise. When it finally happened midway through season one, the fan reaction was profound, and almost uniformly positive. We were part of a roundtable discussion with David Harewood at SDCC 2016, and this is what we found out.
“It was a great episode,” Mr. Harewood said of “Human for a Day” and its surprise ending. “What was really cool was seeing the online reaction. A couple of people posted videos with people literally jumping up and down. It’s pretty cool that people love the character that much that they were excited to see. It just looks awesome, the character looks cool and the outfit is great.”
I asked him if he knew early on what the real story behind Hank Henshaw was. “I had no idea what character I was playing,” Harewood says. “They only told me about a week before we started filming that I was not really Hank Henshaw, so it was a little odd doing this last week. I knew it was changing but I didn’t know what it was changing to. I’m just glad it was Martian Manhunter.”
Once he found out which iconic DC Comics character he was playing, he did his homework, though. “I spent three weeks just reading Martian Manhunter comics,” he says. “I wasn’t familiar with the character. I couldn’t wait to play him. It’s been a real honor and a privilege.”
Harewood demonstrated his knowledge of Martian Manhunter lore throughout the roundtable, indicating that he wants to see M’gann come to the show (it was revealed just days after this interview was conducted that she would, played by Sharon Leal). He thought “Strange Visitor From Another Planet,” which dealt explicitly with J’onn’s origin and the conflict with the White Martians, was in keeping with the best of the character’s backstory.
“It was very emotional,” Harewood says. “When [J’onn] tells the story about his kids dying, it’s pretty deep. There’s lots of echoes with the holocaust. I thought the way it was written was beautiful.”
He also has an idea of who else from J’onn’s past he’d like to see on the show. “His brother (Malefic) who masquerades as J’onn in some of the comics and almost ruins the Justice League and was apparently responsible for the death of Mars,” Harewood says. “Having a bad guy brother would be pretty awesome foe to deal with. We’ll have to wait and see.” It’s also worth noting that Malefic is actually the twin brother of J’onn, so if this came to pass, it’s possible that Harewood would get to play both roles.
As for what it takes to actually create Martian Manhunter on screen, it’s sounds fairly straightforward. I asked how much of that performance is actually David Harewood and how much is a CGI creation. “The face is motion capture, but I have to physically embody the guy.” He says. “Putting the suit on is awesome. There’s a little bit of a disconnect because after I’m done with my performance I hand it over the tech guys and they draw Martian Manhunter. I love the outfit. It looks so cool. In fact, when I see a stuntman wearing it, it’s like seeing someone else with your wife, it’s like ‘get that off, I hate it!’ It’s a good look and it’s great that people are so pumped ever time he arrives.”
With Superman having been active for several years in this world, and the knowledge that J’onn J’onzz has been on Earth for at least that long, it’s natural that the two would have some history, and that’s a major point heading into Supergirl Season 2. “There’s going to be a little bit of tension,” Harewood explains. “In the first two scripts it nearly kicks off with Superman.” Fans got the first look at that tension between Superman and J’onn J’onzz in the first photos from the first two episodes.
“You see a bit of backstory immediately,” he continues. “There’s another great reveal of how they met and why they fell out. It’s going to be cool, I think people are going to be excited about it.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to see them arguing around a Justice League Watchtower table or anything, but that would be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it?
Supergirl Season 2 premieres on October 10 at 8 pm.