In today’s Webworm I talk to Ant Starr, fellow New Zealander and star of The Boys — one of my favourite graphic novels, and more recently — favourite TV shows.
It’s the antidote to every Marvel film ever made in that it’s surprisingly violent, incredibly dark, and fucking funny.
And my friend Ant plays Homelander, an All-American psychopath who reminds me a lot of Donald Trump. I am not alone in this:
“A lot of my character has been based on Donald J Trump, so there is a lot of that extremist rhetoric, whipping the right into a frenzy!”
Ant says during our wee chat. Even Garth Ellis, who created The Boys alongside Darick Robertson, had this to say:
“He is really just a series of unpleasant urges kept in check by his own intelligence, which is enough to understand that he can have anything he wants so long as he doesn’t push his luck too far. It might help to think of the Homelander as having all the self control of, let’s say, a fourteen year old.”
I’m beyond happy Ant wanted to be on Webworm. I’m a fan of his. He isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind.
As usual, I’ve transcribed key bits of our conversation below — in case you hate podcasts, or simple hate my voice.
At the end of this newsletter, you’ll find the show-notes — which links to the things we talked about!
I hope you dig Ant as much as I do.
PS - You’ll notice Webworm’s audio edition now has a theme-tune! Thanks Aaron Short!
How are you man?
I’m really good. It’s nice to be talking to you.
It’s nice to be listening to your accent.
Where in the world are you?
I’m stuck in LA for the foreseeable future. I didn’t get out before COVID and it’s just too difficult to get home at the moment.
At least it’s sunny over there.
It is. As Bill Hicks once quipped, it’s perfect weather for fucking lizards! Honestly dude, I am lucky. Touching wood. No-one that I know who I am close to has come down with bug and I am okay, so it could be a lot worse.
I think everyone is kind of waiting for the vaccine to be the miracle saviour, but I am not sure it is doing to be.
I was talking to a doctor, and he said the vaccine is not necessarily the saviour everyone thinks it will be. No-one knows once we get it how long it will last. It’s a minefield.
And I think people are still coming to terms with the fact that this thing isn’t going to disappear and we are living in a world where this is around for awhile and we have to learn how to cope with that.
And it’s like with most of these things where people are faced with uncertain outcomes: we all want answers.
When something is scary we want the answer now, and I think this is one of those things where the answers just aren’t here immediately — and that’s just going to take time. It puts people in a very unstable position but hopefully we can get through it. Where are you, mate?
I am in New Zealand, working remotely. It’s funny, because you always want to be where you are not. I would love to be in Los Angeles right now, especially running up to election time where it feels like — what a place to be for that. And New Zealand is lovely but it’s also very… slow. And I think Jacinda Ardern has handled this situation here so well, I feel very safe, but it’s also just so mellow and so I am sort of jealous of you with these front row seeks to the chaos!
It’s interesting. I hear what you are saying. I mean heading home to New Zealand is like going back in time 20 years. And it’s sweet and it’s nice, and I don’t know any other airport that plays birdsongs as you walk through the welcoming area. They still do it! It’s so cute!
But you’re right, it’s a pretty surreal moment in time that we are right in. Front row seats over here. And it is quite bizarre. There are a lot of people hurting. And there is a lot of weird shit going on. Just where I am, locally — I tell you, a friend of mine has this crime watch app. It tells you any crime in the area. And it’s just almost like an old “ding” every-time, like an old rotary telephone!
There is a lot of fucking stuff going on.
But I think in your life of work, your inquisitive mind, and where you take things — you would probably appreciate being here a little more than me!
Well I appreciate you having this conversation for this strange thing I have called Webworm! And we follow each other on social media, but I feel I haven’t seen you since I was I was a junior reporter interviewing you for Outrageous Fortune, where you played twins. And since then, I’ve started a tiny newsletter and you’re starring in a giant show on Amazon, which fuck me — season two is really good man. And the world we live in at the moment, it feels like a perfect response to what we’re seeing.
Yeah, and look thematically some of those things are timeless, especially in America. Some of the issues that come up in season two are ever present. Now more than ever.
It just so happens we shot season two last year, and then 2020 happened, and it’s like life caught up with what we have in the show. The timing is a bit surreal to be honest.
It’s nice to be involved with something like this. There are two levels to it. It’s great the reviews are out and they are positive — that bodes well in this bizarre environment. People can get some distraction out of it.
And the flip-side of that is there is a little more on offer with this show, there is social commentary going on. It’s reflective of what is going on at the moment, so it’s extremely good timing.
I really got on board with this show last season when your character gave a speech at a Christian conference…
Yeah! You say things in that speech like “America was attacked! Apparently I have to wait for congress to say it’s okay, but I answer to a higher power!” and you go on this huge spiel and it’s hilarious, but it’s also alarming watching that now when you look at what is being said, for real, by leaders!
Yeah, I mean the RNC [Republican National Convention] is going on at the moment and it is, to me, surreal. But just taking my personal opinions out of it, looking at that versus the DNC which was on last week - you could not have a more polarising and divided country at the moment.
Because I think it is good to have opposition and a difference of opinion —
Well, it’s a democracy —
100 per cent. But when the void is this big and deep, I think those elements like the “Believe speech” — and there are a tonne of references to real life things — a lot of what is in the show is very reflective of America. And American values.
[TV series creator] Eric Kripke would tell you — and he’s said it a bunch before — a lot of my character has been based on Donald J. Trump, so there is a lot of that extremist rhetoric, whipping the right into a frenzy. Which is kind of gross to look at, but from the inside it’s so much fun to play.
Yeah, Garth Ennis described your character as “a series of unpleasant urges kept in check by his own intelligence, which is enough to understand that he can have anything he wants so long as he doesn’t push his luck too far. It might help to think of the Homelander as having all the self control of, let’s say, a fourteen year old.” Who else does that sound like?
No-one I can think of!
Yeah, it’s true! I hadn’t seen that quote, but I always thought Homelander’s emotional growth got stunted at about 12 or 13. He is petty and juvenile and underdeveloped emotionally, but it does make for a lot of fun.
I am trying to think of anything that is not negative about him, and I can’t.
I tell you one thing, and this aligns with the Trump side of things as well: he is very loyal.
As long as you are doing what he wants you to do, there is a loyalty. And you see that with Trump: as long as people are playing ball, and kissing ass an aligning with his views and being a Team Trump player, he really takes care of people.
Roger Stone was out of prison pretty quickly…
Well look, The Boys is interesting to me on a number of levels because it’s firing on all cylinders with its political commentary, and also you’ve made it at a time where everyone’s eyes are on the TV right now. Because they want distractions and they can’t go and see TENET right now. I’m happy for you man.
Look I am not happy for the world, but we have a relatively captive audience and like I say, hopefully people enjoy it. Season Two’s are really difficult to get right. It’s really easy to fuck them up.
I think we played to our strengths, and I do think it’s a good step up. It’s at least as good as season one, but I think in a lot of ways it’s even more solid and self-assured.
I mean you know all about season arcs — in New Zealand, something like Outrageous Fortune that went on and on, and Banshee —
There is a season six of Outrageous Fortune that should just be deleted! It was bad. But that’s okay — we got five good ones!
When you jumped into The Boys was there any worry from your agent or publicist like “oh man, you are playing the worst human, over seasons and seasons of TV!”
From their perspective, if there was any worry, they didn’t voice it. I got nothing but green lights. I think it was largely because of the team involved. Having Eric Kripke, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg involved… it is really important when I work that I am surrounded by good people.
As much as you want to be on the best projects with the most talented people, having decent nice humans alongside you is equally as important.
And just the first conversation I had with Eric was like “I have a no asshole policy!”
Thanks for talking me man.
Of course. I’ve been a big fan of you since you did a little string of interviews called Real Talk, which I think is one of the most amazing interviews I have ever seen in my life.
As soon as I knew we were getting on the phone together I have been telling people “this is why I wanted to talk to this guy, because this is the best thing I have ever seen!”
That means a lot. Mutual fan.
You can watch Ant Starr in The Boys here. Season One is out now — and the first three episodes of Season Two are out this week.
This is a scene from Outrageous Fortune, the show Ant starred in back in the day. The comments are quite good:
Here’s an extended version of the Belief speech we talked about from season one:
“I believe that what God wants me to do is get on over there, find the filthy bastards that masterminded this, and introduce them to a little thing called God’s judgment! Sounds like the American thing to do! But no. Apparently, I got to wait for Congress to say it’s okay. I say I answer to a higher law. Is it not my God-given purpose to protect the United States of America? Psalm 58:10! The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance and he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked!”
Here is Gretchen Smail writing on The Boys:
“Homelander is a commentary about the dangers of extreme nationalism and hate, and in Eric Kripke’s Amazon adaptation, the analogy to Trump and his most vitriolic supporters couldn’t be clearer or more relevant. It’s also right there in his name: “homelander” is a reference to the post-9/11 period in the United States, during which time the Department of Homeland Security was founded. American foreign policy was defined by a heightened suspicion of non-Americans — in particular people of Middle Eastern descent — which resulted in an uptick of hate crimes. This all feeds back into who Homelander is and what he represents for present day audiences: a more hateful society, where those who fall outside of the white, Christian, conservative establishment are regarded as unwelcome.”
Here’s the entire season of Real Talk, which Ant Starr likes. In this internet series from 2014, I interview Ben Mitchell and Cam Jones — two actors from New Zealand’s longest running soap opera, Shortland Street. I made this because I knew both these actors loved talking about, well, anything… so I thought I would try putting the big issues to them. Things like the origin of life, the objectification of men, the internet and conspiracy theories:
This is a review of Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell
Season Two of The Boys starts on Amazon on Friday (today in New Zealand, tomorrow for the rest of you!)
Finally — many thanks to Aaron Short, who’s written the music for Webworm. I recommend you check his project Space Above. They dropped a record earlier this year called Glow which is really, really great.
Thanks for reading, and listening. I’m curious to hear what you’re watching, too. Get stuck into the comments below - I’m due for some new stuff to watch!