Stargirl’s Trae Romano Talks Loss, Legacy and Flirting with Villainy

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It’s not easy being Mike Dugan. When your father is a former sidekick and your sister is a superhero, where does that leave you? On the latest episode of DC’s Stargirl, things started to look up for Mike when he befriended the powerful Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, that story ended in heartbreak, leaving Mike more alone than ever. So, what’s next for Stargirl’s seriously frustrated little bro? We recently had a chance to chat with Trae Romano about Mike’s life after breaking up with the ’Bolt, as well as the similarities between the two Dugans, what it’s like acting opposite a CGI genie and how scared fans should be over his looming confrontation with super-villain Cindy Burman.

Last year you mentioned that Geoff Johns told you some of Mike’s season two development. Did you guys talk about the events of episode three, with Mike getting the Thunderbolt?

What Geoff really touched on more was Mike’s emotional arc. He goes from this really chipper little kid to this definitely more mature person. You can sense a sadness about Mike in season two. Geoff didn’t explicitly say anything about the Thunderbolt or episode three, but when I read the script, I knew that’s exactly what he was referencing. He said there was going to be a major shift in season two and that’s really the episode that turns everything on its head, because Mike realized that he can’t be protected anymore by his father or this or that. He’s literally on his own right now, and he’s dealing with these supernatural forces that only he can deal with, like the Thunderbolt. That really humbles him and makes him realize, “I don’t have this safety blanket or security net anymore. And now I’m really out here just surviving. I have way too much power for my own good and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

That’s really what pushes Mike over the edge in addition to him killing Icicle. There’s this little underlying tone of sadness with Mike because he almost overwhelms himself a lot. That’s where a lot of his stress and anxiety probably comes from. He gets in over his head all the time, and he does these stupid things and he just can’t help himself. That’s really what Geoff was talking about, Mike always digs this ditch for himself. He kind of pushes himself away from his family and the JSA and all these things. It just gradually transcends into a darker side of Mike that we haven’t seen.

How much fun was it to film the Thunderbolt scenes? Obviously, you couldn’t get a live genie on set, so how did you pull it off?

Initially, I didn’t even think about it when I was reading the script, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to be talking to this imaginary Thunderbolt.” I learned my lines, and I knew my marks.

When we got to set, I realized that this is literally just me talking to air with three different cameras. Lea Thompson, who was directing that episode, always likes to use multiple cameras just to get things done quicker. Lea was literally the saving grace in doing episode three because she’s the most animated and most giving director. If I was to do that episode with any other director, it probably would have not come out as good as it did with Lea.

She had these sketches of what the Thunderbolt was going to be doing, so I could visualize it. She would get out there and kind of flail around a little bit and do a little thing to really make me visualize it and that helped absurdly. After the first few takes, there was a prop guy holding up a tennis ball on a little stick for my eyelines. And after that, it just became so second nature.

The Thunderbolt was voiced by comedian Jim Gaffigan, but I understand he did his work remotely.

I didn’t have Jim Gaffigan as a voice actor. The one who was actually reading sides with me throughout the whole process of filming the Thunderbolt scenes was Randy Havens, who actually plays Paul, the art teacher. He was always down to read sides, and he always had the correct timing. His voice is just so energetic and amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him either.

If most teenage boys found their own genie, they would wish for a supermodel girlfriend or a gaming console. Mike’s first instinct was to join the Justice Society. What does that say about him and his deepest desires?

I think it just shows that Mike is an outcast and he sets himself up to be this independent person, which he’s really not. He really does need other people to thrive. And I think that shows how desperate and how lonely Mike has always been, and it also kind of does show how good of a person he is that he’s legitimately just trying to help this cause that he’s always wanted to be involved in. You’re right, Mike really did initially just use the Thunderbolt to try to help as much as he possibly can. I think that seeing all these different people like Rick, Yolanda, Beth and Courtney doing these amazing things—clearly he’s always felt left out. But I think that the genie, he really just used that as an opportunity to get in the Justice Society.

If you look at flashbacks to Pat’s time with the Justice Society, you can see some parallels between him and Mike. They’re both the little brothers that get left behind. Have Pat and Mike ever noticed these similarities? 

Actually, Luke (Wilson) and I have talked about this relatively extensively. Mike is literally just following in his father’s footsteps in every way possible. And the thing is that when you think about that, I don’t know if it’s a good move on Pat’s part or a bad move on Pat’s part, because he knows how bad Mike is probably feeling, but he still wants to protect him. We’ve definitely talked about it, and I can definitely see the parallel in just how blatant it is when Mike shows up to the Shade’s hideout and starts reading off the little notepad. He just can’t help but try to help.

The funny thing about Mike and Pat, is Luke’s character was always kind of the clumsy character with Starman in the old JSA. And you could definitely see the parallels with Mike. Everything that Mike touches always turns to dust. It’s always this overwhelming sense of screwing up whenever you think of Mike, and honestly that’s really how it was with the old JSA and Pat too. Whenever Pat would show up, something would go wrong. It’s almost like Pat’s trying to save Mike from himself, because they both kind of deal with this overwhelming sense of letting themselves down.

After the battle with the Shade, Mike had a great heart to heart with Yolanda where he opened up about killing Icicle. Can you talk about their relationship?

Mike’s relationship with most of these characters is really spawned out of guilt and sorrow, but then he realizes that no, Yolanda’s character also is dealing with killing someone and Rick is also dealing with Solomon Grundy. He realizes that he can open up to these people. The cool thing about the whole dynamic is that all of the JSA almost views Mike as the little brother. They’re all kind of keeping an eye on him. They all just want him to be happy.

It was a really fun scene. It was the first thing that I ever did with Yvette one on one, and we just had a great time. It was such a well written little scene, and it really portrayed both of those characters in their most organic light. I just hope that we have more of that stuff coming in the future because that’s probably one of my favorites scenes I’ve done to date.

At the end of the episode Mike accidentally wishes the Thunderbolt away. Can you talk about what was going through his head?

I talked to Lea extensively about this. When Mike said, “I just wish he was in better hands,” I think he genuinely believes it. As much as he doesn’t want to, he genuinely believes that he’s going to screw up somehow and make everything worse. It’s just this really depressing little ending of this sad ballad of a forgotten character.

When he wishes him away, it’s completely honest. I don’t think that he wants to be lonely, I don’t think that he wants to be alone in this world with the JSA, but he just knows deep down that he can’t handle that kind of power. So, what does that do to him mentally? Does that push him into a dark place? Does that make him want to run away? We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out soon.

The pink pen winds up in the hands of Mike’s friend Jakeem. Although he’s been spoken of frequently, we haven’t seen the two of them together yet. Will we see any scenes with Mike and Jakeem this season?

Oh yes, we will! You know, there’s a lot of great stuff between Alkoya Brunson’s character and mine. I never had someone my age to interact with on set, and we had such a great time. We just played off of each other so well. Some of my favorite scenes in the whole show are with Alkoya, and it’s just a really interesting dynamic. The way Geoff put it, the whole entire series Mike is pissing everyone off. Then Jakeem comes in the picture and you start to see Mike getting pissed off. It’s finally the other way around.

Jakeem is always doing some stupid stuff that Mike is always telling him not to do. Don’t do this, don’t touch this, don’t look at this. It’s really this funny dynamic because you almost get to see Mike be Pat again. Almost exactly how Pat dealt with Mike, that’s how Mike is dealing with Jakeem. Jakeem gets the Thunderbolt, so he’s kind of been trusted with that, and then Mike, even though he doesn’t trust himself with the Thunderbolt, takes Jakeem under his wing and educates him on all the stuff that he was educated on. It’s really this kind of funny and really great friendship, but at the same time there’s almost like a mentor and student kind of vibe.

We know that Cindy has some sinister plans for Mike. How worried should fans be?

(Laughs) They should be pretty worried, honestly. When I was first reading the script, where Mike runs into Cindy, I was a little nervous. I was like, “Mike better not die here!” Cindy is capable of a lot, especially since she has the Black Diamond. I think fans are going to be surprised by how well Mike stands up for himself. There are a few little moments where he really comes in clutch, which is fun.

Aside from all that, Meg and I had such a great time working with each other. I have always known of Meg, and I think she has kind of known me because one of our mutual acting mentors taught both of us back in the day. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but it turned out very well and it was just a really fun scene. A really darkly comedic scene, I guess you could say. Meg’s character is so funny to begin with and my character is jumpy and nervous all the time, so it’s just a great mix. It’s just a really funny little duo and we had a great time.

DC’s Stargirl airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Looking for more on Courtney and the JSA? Visit our official DC’s Stargirl series page!

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