With shows like Pretty Little Liars, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Wizards Of Waverly Place on his CV, British actor Gregg Sulkin is no stranger to fantasy or sci-fi. But still, it’s hard to imagine the excitement he must have felt upon being cast in a Marvel project.
Sulkin plays the role of Chase Stein in Marvel’s Runaways, a glossy TV adaptation of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s much-loved comic book of the same name. As in the comics, Chase uses high-tech gauntlets known as Fistigons to band together with his friends and take on a group of despicable villains, who just so happen to be their own parents.
Chase’s folks are an arrogant science genius (played by Buffy’s James Marsters) and his hard-to-pin-down wife (who’s portrayed by Ever Carradine from Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back). They don’t seem like a particularly loving pair, which gives Sulkin plenty of teen angst to work with.
After watching the first two episodes of Marvel’s Runaways season 2, we chatted to Sulkin over an international phone line earlier this week. Below is the transcript, which is totally devoid of spoilers…
You’ve worked on some genre shows before, and you’ve done work with Disney as well. So is working on a Marvel project something that you’ve wanted to do for a while now?
I think every child dreams of being a superhero at some point in their life, and having super powers. So for that dream to come true and to hopefully be a reality for the next few years is pretty awesome. I think when I heard that Marvel was creating this… that we were doing a Marvel show… I was pumped, you know? That was something that I definitely couldn’t turn down. So yeah, just thrilled to be part of the show, and thrilled to be part of the brand really.
Was this one of those secretive Marvel audition processes when you didn’t really know what character you were going for or what the show was?
You nailed it! [Laughs] It’s funny. They are very secretive. Scripts are sent to us in a very private way, and they take pride in nothing getting leaked, and they take pride in their security, so, look, everyone wants to be part of a Marvel show. There are rules and regulations that you just kind of have to accept, at this point.
It was definitely one of those processes where you don’t know who you’re going out for, you don’t really know the name of the project. And obviously the more you get asked back, the more that they are willing to tell you. The more callbacks you get, the more information you find out, basically. And even when I got the role, you know, it’s like… I still didn’t know a hundred per cent of the information.
That’s crazy. Were you familiar with the Runaways comics at all, before that?
You know what? I’d heard of them, but I hadn’t read them. I do know that the comics have a large fan base, because I meet a lot of people at comic cons and things like that and they tell me that Runaways was like their favourite comic back in the day. So, to be able to bring a comic book to life is awesome.
And also, I’ve read it [now], and it’s a fantastic comic. You know, Brian K. Vaughan, back in 2001, was one of the first people to put diversity in a comic, basically. I think it’s sad, but it’s also incredible that now, in 2018, we’re able to do that [on TV]. Sad in the fact that I wish it was sooner, but incredible in the fact that, you know, we now have a TV show where we have six diverse teenagers and everyone has an equal opportunity to be cast and hired, and things like that. So it’s cool.
Yeah, it definitely is. So Chase, in the show, is labelled as a jock by some of his peers, but obviously we know that he’s a science whizz and a nice guy. Is it tough for you to play both sides of that coin, kind of how people see Chase and also how he actually is underneath?
Well no, not really, because I feel like that’s how people see me, in my life, to be honest. I grew up playing sports, my whole life. I grew up playing football, and I used to play for professional academies like West Ham and QPR and Spurs and so, people always used to think I was just like this dumb football player. When, in fact, one of my favourite things in life is to write poetry, which not many people know about.
It’s like one of those things where, I don’t really mind being judged or labelled as one thing, because I know I’m personally not, you know? So it’s like, by people thinking Chase is one-dimensional, from the comics… it’s great, because it allows me then to prove people wrong, and prove to people that Chase isn’t just a one-dimensional character. There’s a lot to him, especially in the TV show, we really expand his storyline. We really expand kind of who Chase is, and we dive into who Chase is. So it’s been fun exploring that world and that character.
And the show jumps in at a point where there has already been a lot of backstory that’s happened. How much do you kind of know about his life up to this point and the relationship with his parents? Do they give you like a bible of the character or are you left to fill it in on your own?
I think every good talented writer has an understanding of who this character is and where he came from, because childhoods basically shape who human beings are. So yeah, me and the writers definitely went back, because as an actor I’m obviously interested as well. I’m interested in creating my own version and my own stories, and my own character development, and at the same time, taking what the writers have done as well, and what the writers may know. So it’s definitely a collaboration, when it comes to characters, development and the understanding of the character’s past, for sure.
I saw an interview where you were saying that James Marsters was a big gamer. It got me wondering, what kind of games does he play and did you get to join in at all?
He’s such a nerd. He’s such a gaming nerd. I don’t think he would ever let me join in. I think he’s probably more protective over his games than he is over his scripts, and he’s one of the most hardworking actors out there. One of the most serious actors. He loves his games.
Hopefully this year, hopefully with season 2, I’ll maybe earn the right to play a game with him at lunch. We’ll see. I hope.
Let’s hope so. Did you pick up any pearls of wisdom from him, and from Ever Carradine? Obviously they play your parents, what was that dynamic like?
I was always raised by parents to always listen to elders, and respect them, because they probably know more than you do. Which is true, for most of the time. And so, you know, I always listened to James and I always listened to Ever. Because they’re wise, you know? They have more wisdom than me, they have more experience than me in the industry, although I’ve been doing this now since I was twelve years old. Some of these actors I’m working with have been around for thirty.
So, you know, I’m always down to listen, I’m always down to learn. James always has great advice. Ever definitely helps me when it comes to… more my personal life [Laughs]. You know, as a TV mum would. And she’s just been amazingly caring and nurturing.
And then James has definitely helped me on the… on the acting side, but also on the career level of how to deal with certain things at a young age. How to deal things like – I mean, I have my parents there too – but James is always giving me advice on being an actor, earning money, being an actor on a successful show. What to do and what not to do. What mistakes not to try and make. You know, so he’s always been there for me when he can be, which I’ve always admired and been thankful for. It’s been cool to have two very experienced actors look out for me, both professionally and personally.
Do you think, in the world of the show, that Chase is the least surprised of these kids to learn that their parents are in on this evil thing?
Yes, for sure, but I think that’s what’s so great about the first season, and what Chase has to deal with. Because I don’t think he ever realised how much he really did love his dad. I think he was always so caught up on fighting him and their not-perfect relationship, putting so much energy and thought into that, rather than focusing on some of his positives. Because he’s not just like an evil man.
James’ character does have some really likeable qualities. And I think Chase, for years, has been so blinded… he hasn’t wanted to see it, and he hasn’t gone out of his way to see these qualities. In that first season, you may see that James’ character isn’t as bad as you might think. He’s still pretty bad, though.
They sent me links to the first two episodes, and we obviously we see the blueprints for the Fistigons in episode 1. But I’ve not kind of seen them in action yet. Can you maybe tease when they show up and what is was like for you working with them?
They will for sure show up. And the coolest thing ever! We’re about to start shooting next week [for season 2], and I am so pumped just to put those bad boys back on. They’re just so cool. They’re just so cool, you know? It’s like my version of putting on the Iron Man suit. It’s so cool. It’s a surreal feeling, to be honest, and I remember once… I was standing on set, and I put them on for the first time, around all my producers and actors. I had that moment in my mind where I thought to myself, secretly, I was like, ‘Mum, I guess I made it!’
It was like a very cool feeling, you know? From being a boy from London with a dream to act, and then years later to come over here with a still big dream, but… you know, dreams can come true but they don’t always come true. So, for me to be putting on superhero Fistigons for a Marvel project? It’s one of those moments that you’ve sort of got to pinch yourself.
Gregg Sulkin, thank you very much!
Marvel’s Runaways currently airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on Syfy in the UK.