Fans of DC Comics have known Jimmy Olsen for quite literally almost a century. "Born" in 1941, the eager beaver photojournalist has been a constant friend and ally for Superman, Supergirl, Lois Lane and more -- and until now, he's always been about as white as a Donald Trump rally, or a 10 AM screening of "The Intern" in Scarsale. Though of course, once viewers check out Mehcad Brooks' more mature, and (dare we say it) sexier version of the character on CBS' "Supergirl" -- which stars Melissa Benoist in the titular role -- Olsen's racial background should be the last thing on anybody's mind.
"I just don’t pay attention," Brooks told MTV News over the phone, of the small amount of backlash his casting received in certain sectors of the Internet. "I don’t read any of the blogs, I don’t read anybody's opinion... at a certain point in time, it has to stop being my fault; a problem with my race. At a certain point in time, it has to stop being somebody else's fault that you've got a problem with gender, or sexual orientation. At a certain point in time, the adults in the room have got to stand up and tell the kids to be quiet. Like, if you have bigotry as an idea, you're wrong, and I don’t have to read it. I don’t have to pay attention to it. I don’t have to give it any credence whatsoever. For me, that's the best way to handle that."
There. Does that clear that up? Because if so, let's move on to the rest of our chat with the thoughtful and well-spoken star, who chatted about everything to working with Mrs. Channing Tatum herself, Jenna Dewan (she's awesome), to playing the dude-in-distress role in a female superhero show (it's awesome), to everyone asking him when he's going to take his shirt off (not so awesome).
MTV: Jimmy Olsen has always been an adorakable guy, but you seem a bit more smooth than him in real life. Do you guys keep with that characterization?
Mehcad Brooks: He's not really a bumbler. I think some people see him as one in the past, but my version's not really a bumbler; my version is more of he's kind of a dork in the superhero world. Let's say superheroes actually did exist -- so Superman would be like Justin Bieber with a cape right now, right? So if you are Justin Bieber with a cape's best friend, that puts you through this confidence boot camp, and also gives you a unique perspective into the life of the superhero... so he's kind of dorky in that regard.
MTV: Which character traits from the comics did you need to keep the same, and which were you able to play around with?
Brooks: When I first got the role, I was asking, "Well, who is Jimmy Olsen?" And ["Supergirl" producers] just kind of gave me the best answer that you can think of, which is, "He's you... we like you, and we'd really like you to help us create who this guy is."
And I'm a nerd; I enjoy educating myself and learning things... so I think the canon of him being this functional nerd in his job and in society, we're keeping that. I also have freckles sometimes, my mother is a journalist -- so I sort of grew up in that world, know what I'm saying? So there's things that we're keeping, and things that we're sort of changing. The exciting thing about this is Jimmy's 75 years old, he was created in 1940, but whose to say that he wouldn’t look like me if we created him now? Because back then it was so monochromatic, you cant really blame people for drawing or writing what they knew. So I think that we're doing more of a reinvention of Jimmy, in keeping with a lot of canon.
MTV: One thing that's NOT canon -- yet -- is Jimmy with Kara Danvers. The pilot definitely seems to set it up that there might be something there... how does it feel to be set up as a ship so early? Is there pressure to appease the fandom?
Brooks: I mean, okay, so Superman's cousin is the ultimate bro code. Like, I mean, if you don’t want somebody to whoop your ass, it's Superman, know what I'm saying? There is a hesitancy about that... Jimmy was sent out to National City to look after Kara, so if Jimmy goes up to National City to look out for Kara and comes back like, "Yeah, uh, look uh, Superman, yeah man, your cousin's pregnant," all of the sudden he might jump through the phone, you just never know with those Kryptonians.
But no, I don’t think there's any pressure with that. The cool thing about the show is Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, Sarah Schechter, and Andrew Kreisberg have really cracked this code of what a superhero show is supposed to be... in-depth characters who have history, who have relationships, who have complexities and insecurities, and all these things that real people have... and then we have the super heroics too, and you're like "Sh-t, this is amazing." So, its kinda like this high stakes office work place attraction that she and I have, but also, theres a bro code situation going on.
MTV: But bro code aside, how involved will Jimmy get with Kara's nighttime, crime-fighting activities?
Brooks: Oh, Jimmy gets his hands filthy; Jimmy needs latex gloves. No, he's kind of -- for lack of a better phrase, the mentor of what she's doing, because he's the only person amongst her circle that’s actually seen this and done this kind of thing before; its not his first time. So he's there for at least moral support, or just to keep her safe, or give her some kind of perspective. But at the same time, he's also allowing this person to come into their own; allowing this person to be the best that she can be, and just really being a stable foundation for that. At the same time, juxtapose that with his own struggle; he's got his own struggle of trying to come out of Superman's shadow as Superman's best friend, and be his own man. They're finding each other at a time when they really need these sort of external examples of each other, so, it’s a really cool dynamic.
MTV: Being in league with a superhero, though, usually leads to a whole lot of dude-or-damsal in distress situations. Is it the same with Jimmy and Kara, and if so, what's it like having tiny Melissa carry you around to save the day?
Brooks: There's been a couple times where I've been the dude in distress, so I'm all good with that. Women have been quote-unquote superheroes in our society for years -- my mother is a superhero to me, my grandmother as well, and I think that we're just getting to a place in our society where we're actually recognizing their contribution in the way that it should be. So I'm happy to be a part of that, I'm happy to be the dude in distress.
My mom saved my ass more times than I can count; my grandma saved my ass more times than I can count. If it wasn’t for the powerful women in my life, I would not be where I'm at. All men have been that dude in distress, and we're just too prideful to admit it. But women have come to our aid, whether it’s a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a sister, a best friend. I don’t know a man who could say he's at where he's at without a woman. So I'm okay with that. Go ahead and carry me through the fire Melissa, go ahead girl!
MTV: Are you prepared for the inevitable shirtless scenes that come with doing a Berlanti superhero show?
Brooks: There's not any scenes where I'm shirtless yet. I have a gang of tattoos, like, half my body is covered, so they'd have to paint me. I don’t know if that’s going to happen -- it's CBS, and I don’t know if CBS does too much of that kind of stuff. Knocking on wood... but here's the thing, can I ask you a question? If I was a woman would you ask me that question?
MTV: I wouldn't, no. But for women, it's more how the focus is on costumes and diet 24/7.
Brooks: So isn’t that kind of sexist?... I don’t take any offense, but I started to realize -- cause I was at Comic-Con, and they had the guys pull their shirts up. They had me do this challenge, and I did it, and I walked off stage like, "Huh, they didn’t ask Melissa to do this?"
MTV: Right, but for her it was probably, "What does your skirt look like? How do you stay so skinny?"
Brooks: I'm being facetious. But at the same time, its almost like I'm excited by the fact that people want to see that, but I want to make sure people know that I have a brain, and I can talk... I'm working out like crazy too, but James is a mentor and a potential love interest and a friend, and he's all these different things. I have no problem getting butt naked obviously -- you know, sometimes I would just wear socks to work, who cares -- but like, if there's a good reason to be that way, cool. If it's just kind of gratuitous... like, if there's a scene and all of the sudden I'm rubbing butter on my chest, like what the hell? Why is he doing that? Is he about to cook on his chest?
If you're doing it for a movie it’s a lot easier, because you shoot all of your shirt off scenes in like two or three days... but when you do it on a TV show it's like nine months. And nobody can stay like that -- nine months no pizza, not even gluten free. It's bad; those diets kill your energy and your attitude. Just tell me two weeks out if I've got to take my shirt off and then we're good.
MTV: In the comic books, Jimmy got to do a whole bunch of crazy stuff over the years. Like being a giant turtle, for example. Are you familiar with these, and if so, are they're any you want to see turn up on the show?
Brooks: I would love to! In the original comic books they just kind of f--k with Jimmy all the time, and give him different superhero powers every week. Sometimes it was crazy sh-t, sometimes it was awesome -- the giant turtle, not so much, I think that’s kind of jumping the shell a little bit. He was Elastic Lad, he got Superman's powers a bunch of times. So I am looking forward to see if we explore that world. They haven’t told me, because I would probably tell you... I get too excited and I'll let it rip. But I'm looking forward to see where it could possibly go, based on the cannon that’s already there.
MTV: Does that work with the tone of the show? Like "Arrow" is more gritty, for example, while "The Flash" is more lighthearted. Where does "Supergirl" lie?
Brooks: It's hard to keep things grounded when you are flying around and kicking down buildings... but I think that’s the key to success. You forget it’s a superhero show when the superheroics aren’t going on. There is this sort of iconography of what a superhero show or movie is, and I think as of late it's become dark and almost modernist film making... but you know, we're taking it back to the Richard Donner version; those were really just sort of fun, romantic comedy action-adventure films. That’s what were doing, and it's really fun. Like, there's nothing that’s going to be too dark that your kids cant watch it, there's nothing that’s going to be so campy that adults get turned off.
So we're walking that really cool line -- there's a big void that hasn’t been filled since I think Robin Williams, and I think part of our job is to keep it grounded when we're not flying around, being above human. I think that’s what makes the world believable.
MTV: Finally, what has it been like working with Mrs. Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, on set? Is she going to shake things up for James and Kara?
Brooks: She's a national treasure. She's a gift from above... just an amazing human being, incredible actress, and she's really a playful spirit. She's my homegirl, she's from Texas, I'm from Texas, so she and I hit it off immediately, like sort of like kindred spirits. So its great to have her there, and we're going to have her for a long time, and I'm happy about that.
As far as the dynamic that Lucy brings... we have a past. Basically, [James] came to National City, which is the equivalent to Los Angeles, from Metropolis, which is the equivalent of New York... but there's some unresolved issues between he and Lucy Lane, and some unrequited love there. When she shows up, it does kind of put a monkey wrench in he and Kara's relationship, as far as it goes, romantically. But there's -- I like to call it a love rhombus, because you know, Kara's basically two people. James really feels for Kara, he loves her and appreciates her, but at the same time, there's this other element to her where he doesn’t feel familiar as a Kryptonian and a superhero. He's enamored by it; he's almost in love with Kara in two ways. And then you have Lucy Lane who comes back in, and that’s the love rhombus.
MTV: So are you ready for the shippers, then? Have you come up with a shipper name?
Brooks: Yeah, get ready for "Juicy Lane!" That’s kind of disgusting, actually. "Come on down, Juicy Lane!" I don’t get it, actually. I'm good.