interview by JANA LETONJA

Actress Susan Heyward will star in Amazon Prime hit series ‘The Boys’, which returns for season 4 on 13th June. She has previously starred on ‘Hello Tomorrow!’, ‘Orange is the New Black’, ‘Powers’ and ‘Vinyl’ amongst others.

Susan, you’ll be joining the cast of Amazon’s series ‘The Boys’ for its fourth season. Who will we meet when we meet your character?
You’ll meet Sage, a super abled woman billed as the smartest person in the world. She has had a brush with the world of super celebrity before, but it didn’t end well. When she enters the world of ‘The Boys’, she is very far from that culture, living in obscurity. But that doesn’t last for long. 

What can you tease with us about this upcoming season?
I can say this season gives more diabolical, grotesque depravity than ever before. Each time I got a script, my jaw was on the floor and I thought “Maybe the writers have finally found the line and not only crossed it, but blown it to smithereens”. But it’s so fun to be a part of something that pushes the envelope. The world right now is an absolutely absurd place. In reality, there is no line and it can be depressing. In ‘The Boys’ universe, the lack of limits is deliciously naughty. And as anyone can tell from the promotion, the season has political overtones. It’s a major election year in the USA and the season has some great takes on how politics can be personal and vice versa. 

The series has already also been renewed for its fifth season. How exciting is seeing a renewal before the latest season even begins airing?
Of course that’s incredibly exciting. That vote of confidence speaks to the quality of work from the first three seasons and what season four will bring. It’s such a rarity. Part of the fun is to see how the show responds to current events. It’s always been so quick and sharp in its commentary. There’s also some dread, to be honest. The show takes some very sinister turns, even more sinister than before. If the world keeps going in the same direction, we’ll need as much humour as we can get to get us through it. 

What excited you the most from the set of ‘The Boys’, from its stories and about your character?
I’ve been a fan of the show since season one, so it was a special treat to see how the sausage gets made. Everyone is so good, so creative and so funny. I can take myself too seriously a lot, because I care about everything. I learned so much from everyone at each step of the production. I was also excited to put on a suit. It’s a world that is juggling celebrity culture, sexism, racism and classism. We hadn’t seen a black woman character deal with all those issues from inside the world of Vought. Sage’s dilemma, having superior intelligence surrounded by all that brute force, felt like new territory. 

If you had a chance to have a superpower yourself, which one would be at the top of your list to have, and why?
If insomnia could be turned into a super power, I’d be into that. None of the drawbacks or discomfort, no migraines or grogginess. Just an uninterrupted lifetime fuelled by endless energy. Time is so precious and once it’s gone, it never comes back. 

How did your acting career begin? What ignited your passion for it?
I was a latch key kid growing up. I got home from school before my older brother or parents, so I read a lot and watched a ton of TV. Soap operas, sitcoms, cartoons, after school specials, biopics, sketch comedies, movies of the week. One movie was about the life of Josephine Baker, played gorgeously by Lynn Whitfield. I fell in love with her story, with the drama and the glamor. I begged my parents to put me in theatre classes. They made me a deal if my grades at the end of the year were all As, they would find after school theatre classes for me. So I worked hard and got the grades. When I also got the lead in my fifth grade play, they kept their word and made sure I went to theatre camp that summer. I loved the camaraderie, the physicality, the emotionality, the lush language. I went to Freedom Theater in North Philadelphia and the instructors were deeply intentional about teaching the history of black dramatists and African American history along with Shakespeare and classical drama. They opened up a whole new world for me. I was encouraged by the adults and other student-artists around me and my parents taught me about working for what I want. 

What have you learned about yourself so far through portraying new characters for each of your projects?
Slowly, very slowly this work has helped me become aware of pockets of perfectionism I didn’t know I had. But ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist. And with each character I get the chance to bring my ideas to the table and let them be shaped by the moment, the other collaborators present. And if it’s a play, by that night’s audience. Connection over perfection is a lesson I get to learn every time I approach a new project. 

Is there a role you’ve done that stands out amongst them all, and what is the reason behind it being the one that stands out?
Lately I’ve been thinking of the first roles I got to play off-Broadway. I got to play a Rwandan refugee who survived the 1994 genocidal conflict and had to rebuild a life in the United Kingdom. Later I got to understudy multiple characters in a play called ‘Ruined’ by Lynn Nottage. It follows women surviving in the Congo among violent conflicts over the natural resources. I was a proper professional when approaching those roles, I did my homework on the given circumstances, learned the accent to the best of my ability, and didn’t buy new phones as often as I could have. But now with the power of social media and years of people organising, I have a deeper understanding about the real world implications of those dramas. We are so much more connected than I realized. How do I show up as a citizen more actively now? It’s very easy to feel helpless and like the political system is anything but empowering. I know I want to do more than tell stories, and I’m figuring out what that looks like now. @congofriends on Instagram has been teaching me a lot.

You’ve also gotten to fulfil your Broadway dream. What do you love the most about Broadway and performing live?
Broadway is an incredibly brutal schedule. 8 shows a week, one day weekend, lots of repetition in a long run. In work conditions like that, you need a cast, crew and staff that really show up for each other. The sense of community and shared purpose can be deeply satisfying. Couple all that with enthusiastic audiences from around the world and it can be intoxicating. That connection I mentioned earlier is like nothing else. But just like being intoxicated, it can be hard on the body and psyche if you do it too long or don’t have a decent support system. I’m happy to see more performers speaking up about the unsustainable pay structure of Broadway business plans. 

After ‘The Boys’, what’s coming up next for you? What can you share with us about your upcoming projects?
I got to be a part of an independent film earlier this year, called ‘Silent Partner.’ It’s a legal drama about a lawyer who takes a case that has the potential to catapult his career while destroying his home life. I play the lawyer’s wife, a professor who sees the law very differently and struggles to support her husband’s actions. Besides the moral dilemma at the core of the script, I got to work with a team of collaborators all challenging themselves to new heights. It’s Eric Blanco’s first feature as a director and our lead actor, Roderick Lawrence, is also producing after his own on stage experiences. It was so nourishing and exciting to be around people trying things for the first time and stretching themselves, and it challenged me to find ways I could do the same. Hopefully, it will hit the festival circuit later this year.  

TEAM CREDITS:
photography STEPHANIE DIANI
styling DARRYL GLOVER
hair CODY AINEY
makeup JESSICA SMALLS
styling assistants PARIS WARREN and SHENIQUE CLARKE