Damaris Lewis on the Twisted Sisters of ‘Titans’ and Bringing the Heat as Blackfire
On the heels of that trippy and pivotal Red Hood-centric hour last week, Titans continues its bold third season with an hour that offers us a heaping helping of Blackfire (Damaris Lewis). The surly but so fierce sister of Kory Anders, aka Starfire (the equally fabulous Anna Diop), Blackfire was freed from a military-grade prison two episodes back by sis and Gar (Ryan Potter), but the royal pain is still not playing nice with her new associates. And it is delicious.
Not that we’re surprised. Even with her limited appearances during Season 2, we could tell that Lewis was packing a ton of potential as this complicated character. Is she a villain who callously had her parents, the king and queen of the planet Tamaran, killed? Or is she a misunderstood misfit, resentful of her prodigal sister? Whatever the case, we’re obsessed with her, so a chat was a must-happen. Here, ahead of this week’s episode, “Lady Vic,” the dancer-turned-actress opens up about all things Blackfire, the real-life royal inspiration for some of her looks and how she indeed understood the assignment.
Hey there, how are you?
Damaris Lewis: Damian! Did I understand the assignment?
Oh, hell, yes, you did! I am fed by this woman.
I must say the writers this season did me good. You’re going to be able to watch Blackfire really get the opportunity to play. Each episode has a different part of her as well, which is a privilege as an actor. So many of us get stuck being the same, but I got this really cool opportunity, as you’ll see, where [we] dip into different sides of her. And honestly, I think that’s a villain in general. I always look at the people who don’t fit in in the world…they end up being the people who end up running the world, and it’s because we wanted love, right? So we try to be everything and everyone, and we become so good at being different people, which treated wrong can turn you into a villain.
It’s interesting, because six episodes into this season, it’s like, she’s maybe not a villain? She’s so deeply, deeply hurting.
There we go.
They even reintroduced her in a cell, in isolation. This is a person who wants a connection.
Right. I think you nailed it on the head. Blackfire is going to make us reassess who we call “villain.” There are actual villains, but Blackfire is really going to make you sit back and go, “Huh.” And also it’s a completely personal experience. So someone might see it and go, “Oh, my God, no. Bad apple.” But Blackfire really gets this opportunity to go on a ride this season, and I can tell you that every single time a script came out, I was emailing [showrunner] Greg Walker a thank you.
There’s an interesting point in this week’s episode where she and Conner (Joshua Orpin) intersect, and you realize that both of these people are aliens. They have that sort of outsider connection….
That’s it. And so again, I think it’s an interesting move to bring me back to Wayne Manor. It’s a bunch of people who don’t fit in living in that house, right? And you’re taking her from a planet where she was the only one [who mattered] and putting her into a space where she’s no longer the most important person in the room. It’s going to be really challenging for her as you watch the season.
And you nail that regal attitude she carries. Her trying to figure out who the servants are and why people are even addressing her had me falling over.
[Laughs] It’s so cool that you bring up that point because I played with Blackfire’s octave all season. She’s pretty vulnerable in the cell and her voice is pretty high. And as the season goes on, you notice it gets a little deeper, a little, “Why are you talking to me? Who are you?” But I think that that’s also another very human thing that we can connect with—we’re all looking for our voice. Or sometimes we hear ourselves and we’re embarrassed that we squealed when we saw someone, but that’s a part of the experience. And so you see her in that cell and you see her powerless, in need of help that she clearly doesn’t want. Then she gets out and she’s immediately like, “Your vehicle is filthy. Your car is filthy!” I just stayed in a cell for however many months and I’m complaining about the smell of a car!? [Laughs] That really shows you she is who she is, and you’re going see that come out.
What else did you get to layer in as she evolves?
Oh, one thing I want you to notice this season, [key hairstylist] Stacie Merriman, who did my hair, and I were very, very intentional about my hairstyles versus my wigs. That hairstyle in the cell is the same exact hairstyle from the end of Season 2, which obviously means that this happened in that particular span of time. I could have had the braids there for a really long time, but obviously you see the transformation that happens in [this season’s sixth episode]. That is not coincidental. Blackfire is going to be speaking a lot with her clothing and with her hair. We took a lot of time on this one.
You know, during a panel with the Titans costumer and the production designers, we did talk about how the costuming on the Blackfire and Starfire characters is practically organic to their planet and the lifestyle they’re used to, as opposed to the almost armored look that that Dick (Brenton Thwaites) and Jason (Curran Walters) wear. The form-fitting costuming is so intrinsic to who these women are.
Oh, I got really lucky. Prince, the singer, was one of my best friends and I got really lucky that the women who actually made his clothes in the last couple of years that he was with us, they are in Toronto. The company is called Call and Response Clothing. So I approached Warner Bros. and Joyce Shure, our costumer, and I said, “Hey, rock stars dress like aliens, right? So how do you feel about taking Blackfire into a more androgynous, edgier place, specifically with shoulders?” She’s on Earth now, but I wanted her to still look regal. And so it happened. Basically, Blackfire is designed by a team of women [made up of the Titans team] and Kathy and Lori from Call and Response Clothing, Literally, Blackfire is just women. They made my whole closet, so pay attention, because we actually took my suit as inspiration for the closet. You’re going to see swirls and sequins, you’re going to see patterns that do not match at all, and you’re going to see hints of purple and blacks. Every single piece we use in every single episode was also designed to go with the hairstyle that we chose, even down to when she’s fighting. I got really lucky being able to get Kathy and Lori on the team.
Will we actually be seeing Blackfire and Starfire’s home planet? Are we going to space?
Oh…hmmm. You might. There’s definitely a heavy Tamaranian storyline. I am not going to give that away, because it’s going to be good, wherever we go with the season. I can tell you we’re going to find out some answers to questions that people have probably had since Season 1.
Good. I am wondering how they redeem someone who had her parents killed?
Right. And that’s the interesting part about this season. You have Scarecrow, you have Red Hood, you have me—you have all these people who are going to come in and out, and it’s going to make you go, “Oh, wait, I would have done that, too.” Or “Nooo, I wouldn’t have done that.” So it’s really going to tear you apart a little bit. And I think, to that particular point, yes, how do you have empathy for someone who killed her parents? And I think that that’s exactly it: Why’d she do it?
We only have one side of the story so far….
Yeah. And that’s it. The writers, again, do a really good job at making the viewer ask the question. In the cell, Starfire says, “You killed our parents.” Then I believe I say something along the lines of “You don’t understand,” and I get really solemn about it. So that’s the question. She’s not gloating—she’s just talking to her sister, whom she could have easily ignored when she came into the cell.
Even after their fight in the cell, if she hates her sister so much, why go with her back to Wayne Manor?
Right. Right. That’s another part of the question: Why would she leave? What is she looking for? Why did she come to Earth? And just a tidbit for you that I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody about yet, but my fighting style on the show is deeply based in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira.
That is not messing around.
[Laughs] Yes. So I’m a dancer by trade, and I said to the producers, “This is the first time we’re establishing Tamaran through Blackfire’s eyes. She’s fresh off the ship. What are we going to do? What are we going to do that shows a more animalistic style of fighting?” And for me, animalistic means lower to the ground and that’s very much capoeira. It’s something that you don’t necessarily have to have big flair to make a big impact. So you’re going to see that throughout the season. Blackfire goes back and forth between the American or Western style of fighting, and moves like in the jail cell—she does a kick over Starfire with her hands crossed—that’s pure capoeira.
You mentioned Prince, so I need to admit, I’m in the middle of a New Girl rewatch and spotted you in his episode.
Yes. I have been doing this for a long time! I was on New Girl with Prince and that was one of my favorite days ever. Ever. And I think for me, just on an honoring level for him, I love that I get to play a purple “supervillain” who doesn’t fit in.
I love her, and I cannot wait to see where it goes.
You’re going to have fun. She absolutely loves messing with her sister. She loves it. Also, I’m tall. Very, very, very tall and I am wearing wedges with my supersuit, which I love. So I do get to play with the boys in terms of fighting. But this character who shows up broken—you’re going to see what she does with “broken.” And I think that that’s a really important lesson for us in general. What do you do when you’re broken and all alone and people expect you to be broken? The expectation on my part is that she’s broken, don’t touch her. Most people like that don’t want that expectation on themselves, but they say it’s easier…. I have a poem I wrote and there’s a line, “It’s easier to believe you are broken than to mend alone.” So that’s how I feel about when you meet Blackfire. But I don’t think that’s going to be her full story.
Titans, Season 3, Thursdays, HBO Max