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Homelander on ‘The Boys’ Was Always Meant to Be Donald Trump — But Antony Starr Doesn’t Love It

Starr, the actor behind TV’s greatest villain, explains why he didn’t want to reduce his character to a Trump caricature — and much more — in our in-depth interview

Antony Starr in The Boys

Jasper Savage/Prime Video

Antony Starr, the 48-year-old actor behind the greatest villain on TV right now, The BoysHomelander, really doesn’t like walking around in public with the character’s dyed blond hair. “It kind of sticks out,” he says, in an interview conducted for Rolling Stone‘s recent in-depth feature on the show.  “Like, ‘Oh, there’s an aging chap with blond hair. There’s some dude over there going through a midlife crisis. Oh, look! It’s the Homelander guy.’”  Starr, who had grown his natural brown hair back by the time of the conversation, talks about what it takes to find the humanity in a laser-eyed, cape-wearing monster, and much more.

I know you’re a big music fan. What’s your favorite stuff at the moment?
Queens of the Stone Age is my all time favorite. Just saw them last year in L.A. And at the moment, Idles. They’re a great band. The new album is amazing. They’re playing on Monday night, which yours truly shall be going to.

Do you know Joshua Homme from that band?
I’m one degree away. But I also don’t want to sound creepy about it. If I’m 100 percent honest, there’s not that there’s not that many famous musicians that I want to meet because what are we going to do? Are we going to be lifelong friends? Mostly it would be like, if I’m in an airport and I saw them, I would quietly go up and say, “Hey, I just want you to know, you’re a musical creative hero of mine and appreciate what you do. Keep it up.” I met Ice-T at a convention. He was coming back from the toilet and I’ve been avoiding him the whole time. And as we crossed in this hallway, I was like, “Hey, Ice-T, I think you’re wonderful.” And he was like, “Yeah, thanks, man.” And just walked on. I was like, “Oh, that was just cringey.’ It never quite works out how you think.”

Do you enjoy the physical distance that you get from Homelander in your everyday life? Yeah. I just did a job earlier on this year, a movie called G20, and the director, Patricia Riggen, said she really wanted me to be blond. I was like, ‘No, no more blond! I want to get away from the blond.’ But I ended up blond again while we filmed in South Africa. So that was interesting down there. And as soon as I finished, I just buzzed my head. Just a fresh start. Just to be me for a while, and quite frankly to see how much salt and pepper is going on now because I haven’t seen it in a long time. Turns out, it’s happening. But almost everyone else on the show really looks like their characters. When I’ve got dark hair, it just slips under the radar 99 percent of the time. And I quite like that. I’m very comfortable if I never get any sort of attention like that.

I was just told that day players and crew members who aren’t usually involved with the show sometimes react to you on set as Homelander and basically scurry out of your way. Have you experienced that?
It’s funny, because the show is a tight ship. We do not have a lot of time to mess around, right? Quite frankly, some of the time, we just don’t have time to hedge our way around things. You’ve got to be direct. There’s not enough time to be any other way. [Showrunner] Eric Kripke and I have already done quite a lot of work on the material to get it up to speed to get on set. And then shooting is hard work and you just gotta fucking push. That assertiveness can be viewed very differently depending on what your preconception is.

Also, if you’re walking around very assertively wearing…
I’m walking around in a cape and a muscle suit as well. [laughs] And also, I gotta show up and be this character that is so dissimilar from me. I think people project a lot. I have a lot of fun on set as well, but I do think there is a projection thing there. People are surprised when I meet them. They’re like, “Oh my God, you’re actually not like him.” And I’m like, “Yeah, he’s a psychopathic narcissist. So yeah, thanks. Thank you for that.

Eric loves to link Homelander with Donald Trump, often in wildly unsubtle ways. How do you feel about that?
It’s interesting because that was something that came up a lot.  For me it’s a bit of a red herring because if we strictly stayed in that lane, the character would be one- or two-dimensional and we wanted to create something a bit more layered than that. We wanted more than a cardboard cutout. It’s the same way that you could look at it like Superman and just go bad. I don’t want to do that. I want to start from the ground up and build a human being that was, okay, how was he raised? He was raised in a lab. What damage did that do? In Season 4, we really get into it.  “Homecoming” is a fun episode. But let me put it this way. Whatever parallels there are to the real world, it has to be driven by our characters. The narrative has to be driven by the needs of the character, right? So yeah, obviously, there’s an election in the show, and there’s a real election this year. But that’s actually a really natural progression from Homelander’s perspective, because we’ve been dabbling in politics and trying to get in the military from season one. So there’s always been those elements that parallel the real world. But I feel like they always relate well to the show. It’s not like just, oh yeah, we want to stick that in for no other reason than just to poke fun at something in the real world.

Someone like Bryan Cranston, who played another great screen villain on Breaking Bad, told me he just shook it right off in the evening. But other times, he’s said it sticks with him.
It’s funny, yeah, it depends what it is. Because I’m a little bit obsessive, once I start a job, I wanna go as deep as possible. I think what you realize, especially with a really dark character, is you are constantly thinking from the perspective of a guy with deep-seated emotional, mental, and emotional instability from a terrible upbringing. Years and years ago, in New Zealand, I played a character that over the course of probably about five or six episodes was going through a suicidal spiral and getting wasted all the time and just really falling apart. And I didn’t realize over that long period of time, how you’re thinking about all that stuff all the time. And you do start thinking in a different way. Your perspective shifts. So it’s a slower infiltration for me.

With this guy, [Homelander], it’s a little different because it’s so absurd what I’m doing. There’s a lot of lasering people and it’s very vindictive and vengeful and all that. But right off the bat, just because of the nature of the show as well, it’s pretty funny. And we’ve always tried to find the humor in this character because it makes it a lot more accessible. And we didn’t want to make a mustache-twirly villain where everything is bad. We want to see under the hood a little bit with this guy and see what makes him tick and why his engine is the way it is.

His milk fetish is hilarious. Do you encourage it?
So my memory is itt came up in the scripts — full credit to the writing team on this, because it was so weird. It started with X-ray visioning my Oedipal mummy figure while she was breastfeeding, and me pining like that and having a jealous relationship with the baby. And then at the start of season two, I found some of her… Homelander found some of her breast milk in a freezer and lasers it, starts drinking it, gets caught. And it was so funny and weird and I think I sent Eric an email after that scene going, “Dude, we gotta get as much milk in this show as possible. “This is gonna be like a little motif ror a signature thing. Like, we have to do it.” And he was like, “One step ahead of you, brother. I’m putting it in everything”. And so now every opportunity we get, the milk thing comes out. We don’t have to do anything with it, either. If I just look at someone and sip milk, there’s a twist to it. It’s become a really fun thing. The fans have really glommed on to it. And enjoyed it.

It’s easy to forget that you have to sit there staring at things and pretending lasers are coming out.  You’re supposed to be committing murder with your eyes constantly. That’s a weird thing to be acting at a serious level constantly.
Yeah, that’s never gonna feel good. Lasering something, literally standing there going, doing this little head move and looking very serious. And then trying to figure out the correct distance to hit something. I remember when Butcher first got superpowers. And I remember Karl [Urban] afterwards saying, “Fuck, I had no idea how stupid I was going to feel doing laser eyes.” I’m like, “Welcome to my world, my brother. You look cooler than me, and you don’t have to do that every day.”

It’s a big question, but what does it ultimately take to become this incredibly dark character?
We try and set it up so that I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the scenes. Like, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do. We set a framework that’s solid and then I don’t know what’s going to happen. And if we don’t know what’s going to happen, then the audience isn’t going to know what’s going to happen. It keeps it very fresh for everyone involved. And it’s not exactly what you’re talking about, I know, but it does keep it very fresh and interesting and it keeps the desire to keep going back to this character week after week, episode after episode, year after year. And as far as the darkness, I don’t know. I’m not sure that I have an answer for that. I think it’s just something that you just get used to doing. But I’m not a method guy either. I know that there’s some really big famous actors that want to quit acting completely every time they do a film. And that ain’t me. I think there’s a healthy way of doing it. And I think the result can be as good. That said, one of the greatest actors, if not the greatest actor on the planet, Daniel Day Lewis,  gets pretty immersive. To each their own.

Is it too facile when people assume that you’ve got to be drawing on some dark side of your own?
I don’t know.  I think there’s always a part of you…  But the dark side of this character, it’s so extreme. There’s always a lot of me in everything, every character that I’ve played in. In Homelander, it’s the same. The vulnerability in him — it doesn’t come from nowhere. But then it goes so extreme. So almost like taking me, how I feel, my life experience, and then if it’s not something that I empathize with, research into mental disorders and antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy and blah blah blah. Taking what I know of those things and then just raising it to, like, Spinal Tap eleven. And then we’re in the ballpark.

I’ve seen people try to make a link, and say, “Well, Antony got into a bar fight once. He does have a dark side. That must be what he’s drawing on.”  Is that again, too facile?
In that case, yeah, of course.I was talking about projection before. We live in a soundbite age, where people read a headline and then they make a decision, and, the decision is made, it’s concrete and that’s who someone is. We are in a world where we’re not thriving on context at the moment. We’re not really digging beneath the surface across the board. There’s a lot of really big, bad issues going on in the world that are very complicated, that people are boiling down into something very very easily chewed. And when you don’t have to chew it, you just swallow it. And regurgitate whatever semi-fact you want to. But we don’t often know the real story. And I’m pretty adverse to that. I would rather shut up than speak out of turn about something that’s super-complicated.

Do you see Homelander as emotionally arrested almost at a toddler level?
When people start getting traumatized or whenever they start using drugs to escape, they emotionally shut off at that age. And so we’re looking at a guy who’s physically the strongest man in the world, who I’ve always looked at as the weakest character in the show because emotionally, psychologically, he’s just completely deficient. He’s like a 12 year old. And in some ways, less than. And I, that, we do, we look at that with a little more depth in Season Four. And I think that makes the character a little more empathetic, because he’s mentally ill. The guy’s damaged, he’s been through a hell of a lot, and I think the reality of that, trying to honor his way of dealing with it, and how that plays out in him, is very important. We’re in a heightened, very extreme universe, but it all ties back to something that I actually do personally care about and I wanted to try and honor as much as possible. And that is the damage and the mental health issues that come up from the kind of treatment that he’s had. And we all struggle. We all struggle… I’m interested in how we function, what damage does to us. And I think that’s probably why people strangely empathize with the character. Some people got it completely wrong at one point and were championing him like he was the hero and that was a bad thing. That was wrong. .

It’s still happening to a certain extent.
Well, that’s wrong. He should not be anyone’s real hero, but I do get a lot of people saying that they have very conflicted feelings about him because he does all this horrible stuff, yet he’s desperately trying to be a good father. He genuinely loves the kid. He just doesn’t know how. Because how would he? He’s never been loved.

A lot of people really think you already deserve an Emmy for your work on this show.
I’m not worried about it, man. As I’ve gotten older, my ambitions have changed. And I realize the mechanics behind those things, the politics and all of that. And I think, good luck to everyone, but yeah, that’s not what drives me.

Are you now looking for roles where you can play the nicest, least threatening guy in the world, maybe?
I don’t know, man. I don’t know what I’m looking for anymore. Because I have so much fun playing this kind of character. You know what I mean?

From Rolling Stone US