“[That’s] why this show is so important,” Rose said — she’s a gay superhero whose sexuality is intended to be no big deal. “People being straight doesn’t get that kind of attention. It’s the least interesting thing about [Batwoman].
“I mean, I even look at her as I look at my own sexuality,” added Rose, who identifies as gay. “I would think my sexuality is the least interesting thing about me. We all identify as something. We wake up in the morning and we don’t think about it, it just is. Being straight and being gay, it’s the same thing. It’s just love. It’s who you love.”
Gay heroes have appeared throughout the CW’s DC shows as supporting characters, but never as a headliner. Batwoman is also known as Kate Kane, billionaire Bruce Wayne’s kid cousin, who becomes a bat-vigilante herself and watches over the night skies of Gotham City. The Australian-born Rose, an MTV personality and model turned actress, was the No. 1 choice by “Batwoman” showrunner Caroline Dries for the cape, cowl and, most important for the comic book die-hards, the red wig.
But Dries thought Rose — a budding movie star, recently seen on Netflix in “Orange is the New Black” and on film in “John Wick 2” and “The Meg” — was too big of a name to accept, even if she was offering the keys to her very own Batcave.
“You kind of can’t take your eye off of her. [To me,] it’s like asking Angelina Jolie or Kristen Stewart or something,” Dries said. “In my mind, I was sort of … looking for the gettable version of Ruby Rose and [someone] who possessed all of her characteristics. That hard edge … emotionally vulnerable and smart. All those characteristics. I think I was scared to just reach out and say, hey, what about this crazy idea.”
After going through “tons” of auditions looking for a Rose alternative, David Rapaport, the CW’s casting director, told Dries she should just go after the real deal.
Rose did a bit of soul searching when CW called. Shooting a network TV season often means filming almost year round, leaving a limited window for Rose to make movies. She would have to move from Los Angeles to Vancouver, where most of the CW’s DC shows film.
But ultimately, Rose answered the bat-signal call — the role was too emotionally appealing to pass up. She tried to think of any upcoming role she’d been offered that could make her feel the same way. There weren’t any.
“[This role is] something that we all wish did exist when we were growing up [watching] television. It would have helped [us] as well as other people feel less alone and less misunderstood or all confused or isolated and different and not unlike many other things that come with being young and gay,” Rose said. She hopes the show will impact people who feel alone — “and empower them to feel like they’re a superhero too and that they can change the world too.”
Rose also has an unexpected connection to the Batman universe: She was close with fellow Aussie Heath Ledger, who passed away before winning an Oscar for playing the Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight."
“I just thought, wow, he’s really made it,” she said. “When I got the [Batwoman] opportunity as well I felt, well, I guess I need to pinch myself, because it’s the same thing.”
Batwoman first appeared in the pages of DC Comics as Kathy Kane in “Detective Comics” No. 233 on May 22, 1956, as a romantic interest to Batman. Her debut was speculated to have been a push back against the rumor that Batman and Robin were a gay couple, which was perpetuated by Fredric Wertham, who spoke frequently on the effects he thought comic books had on child development.
She was killed off in 1977, with occasional resurrections typical of superhero story lines. But she didn’t come back for good until June 21, 2006, in “52” No. 7, when she was reintroduced as Kate Kane — and, for the first time, openly gay, as it was revealed she had a prior relationship with Gotham City police detective Renee Montoya.
In 2009, she took over for Batman as the lead character of “Detective Comics” for 10 issues (she’s since had two solo series). Writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams used those issues to retell Batwoman’s origin story, which serves as a heavy influence on the TV show’s first season. The new story focused on her exit from the military after she was outed and her complicated relationship with her father as they dealt with survivors’ guilt from the accidental death of Kate’s mother and sister.
Rucka knew a lesbian superhero would make waves, but said he was determined to help create a story that would give Kate Kane staying power.
“She’s got her baggage. She has her complex. She has her complications,” Rucka said. “But at the end of the day, you’re always going to have a hero.”
On the TV show, Batwoman will go up against the Joker-esque, Alice in Wonderland-themed character Alice (Rachel Skarsten), with whom she shares a tragic connection. When the cowl comes off, Kate Kane will battle emotions after reuniting with Sophie (Meagan Tandy), the woman she had to let go after being expelled from the military.
“The interesting part of [Batwoman] that I don’t really think they explored in the comics [is] … it’s a show about a girl who is so comfortable with her sexuality and it’s never been a question that she would be in the closet or lie about it,” Dries said. “Now here she is wearing a mask. Lying about who she is. Allowing people to think the wrong things about her. And she has to find a way to reconcile that. … She’s going into the closet for the first time and trying to figure out where she fits in that paradigm as a superhero.”
But Rose noted that each time she suits up as Batwoman, the main theme should always be saving the day.
“You don’t fight crime in a gay way or in a lesbian way,” Rose said. “She’s a superhero. That’s what she is.”