Aya Cash on Coming Into 'The Boys' as a Fan to Play Stormfront
Aya Cash breaks down what it was like to join 'The Boys' in season 2 alongside Jessie Usher, Antony Starr, Chace Crawford, Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Erin Moriarty, Karen Fukuhara, Tomer Capon, Laz Alonso, and show runner Eric Kripke.
Warning: Spoilers from The Boys season 2, episode 4 are discussed in this article.
We've heard her name multiple times on The Boys like one of those singsongy insurance commercials: "Liberty, Liberty, Liberty..." The mysterious superhero's name and likeness was seen in the background during the season 2 premiere episodes on a feminine hygiene ad. Now, in episode 4, this "second-tier" hero who was active in the '70s was found by Grace Mallory (Laila Robins) in Susan Raynor's (Jennifer Esposito) old files. So, who is she, really?
The truth comes out when Mother's Milk (Laz Alonso), Hughie (Jack Quaid), and Starlight (Erin Moriarty) chase Mallory's lead to a North Carolina address. And like some classic Scooby-Doo and the gang twist, the villain was... systemic racism this whole time.
The Boys trio find themselves at the doorstep of a Black woman named Valerie (played by A Different World's Dawnn Lewis). In the '70s, when she was just a little girl, Valerie was asleep in the backseat of her brother's car when they were pulled over by Liberty. The uniformed protector then murdered her brother in cold blood. Valerie was paid off by Vought to keep quiet about the incident as Liberty went off the radar. But according to Valerie, she's now back, only operating under another name: Stormfront. As in, Aya Cash's Stormfront.
Showrunner Eric Kripke spoke with EW about creating this persona for Stormfront (which isn't in the comics) and using this story to tackle racism and police brutality.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's talk about Liberty. What was the thinking behind creating that kind of persona?
ERIC KRIPKE: We had this notion of wanting to start to hint at how very old Stormfront is. That's a reveal that we always had. It just came from starting to discuss probably who Stormfront was over the decades and the idea that Vought probably would've moved her around and changed her identity. That seemed like a Vought thing to do. We don't avoid hard-hitting subjects. I would say we gravitate towards them. We like to show the difficult, hard, ugly things in America in our superhero show, just 'cause the metaphor of good genre lets us explore that. We were really interested in exploring those horrific pull-overs of African-American men which obviously happened to George Floyd but it's been happening for decades before that. We wrote this two years ago. We really wanted to explore it and handle it sensitively and get the perspectives of different points of view and people of color. It came from really wanting to present this horrific experience and try to do it responsibly, maybe not dissimilar to how we were trying to explore #MeToo in season 1.
I know it's been a long time since you sat down to write these scripts. Do you remember what was going on in the real world that had an impact on the room?
In terms of the specificity of Liberty and systemic racism in authority figures, I don't remember one specific one because there's always been so many over and over and over again. I do know in terms of other aspects of the story, we were inspired by two specific notions, which were the travel ban that the administration launched and then also this notion that "this evil caravan is coming over the southern border to murder you all so you should really be afraid. And by the way, it'd be really useful if you gave all your power to the government so they can save you." To me, it's such a bald move to acquire power and eliminate decent just to get everyone scared by this fake boogyman. If you look at Stormfront's story, you can take super-terrorists and replace them with caravans or immigrants. That story is a very, sadly, realistic one.
Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios
I was thinking of another Amazon show, Hunters. Did you watch that?
I kept thinking when I was watching this season about the aspect of Hunters when they delve into how, after World War II, America made all these deals to bring Nazi scientists over. Obviously, in this season, you're talking about something similar with Vought. [In S2E1, Mr. Edgar tells Homelander how Vought founder Frederick Vought served as Adolf Hitler's chief physician at the Dachau Concentration Camp, where he first developed Compound V before he was pardoned by President Roosevelt and became an American.]
Oh yeah. It was called Operation Paperclip and it was this bringing over scientists, some of which were within the Nazi party, and use them in American industry. Wernher von Braun being the famous one who was our inspiration for Frederick Vought himself. We got to the moon because of Wernher von Braun and the guy was a f—ing stone-cold Nazi. The guy had slaves working in his factory in Germany before he was brought over and then he f—ing ended up on the wide world of Walt Disney. It's just unbelievable. So yeah, we did all the research and I think that's such a strange and fascinating time in American history. It was us and the Soviets versus the Germans. Then when it was over, the U.S. could not wait to pivot and have them teaming up with Germans against the Soviets. A lot of that is infused in the storyline of the show.
For better and worse, you guys have this ability to predict the cultural climate months earlier. Is there a whiplash that comes with this season particularly? When you talk about big swings and not being subtle about approaching certain topics, it feels like that approach is necessary now.
Yeah. We still make sure the show is fun and funny and entertaining. It's our job to be entertainers first and foremost. I understand my place as a carnie. I get it. I don't pretend to be anything more than what I am. But this show, just because it has metaphors about celebrity, social media, authoritarianism, fascism, politics, and how it all swirls together, we just felt we had a responsibility to delve into the most accurate reflection of what that looks like in our world because it's really happening right now. When people say, "I just really want to watch a superhero show and escape" and "you shouldn't be talking about this stuff in a superhero show," my response respectfully is, "You should be watching another superhero show. You shouldn't be watching ours." My idol is Rod Serling. That to me is the gold standard. I reject the premise that genre can't talk about the hard issues. As a matter of fact, I think it talks about them better than most.
We have Elisabeth Shue back this season by way of Doppelganger. But also there's that moment where Stormfront puts her hand on Homelander's back and I was waiting for her to be like "Who's my good boy?" But it doesn't feel like it's a coincidence that Homelander's weakness seems to be these females, particularly motherly kind of figures.
I would phrase it is as, funny enough, for a guy who's so empty and insecure he's attracted to strong women and people who can take control over him. I would say Stillwell did it in a very maternal warm way and Stormfront approaches him much more as an equal. But they are both powerful women who understand what a resource he is.
Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios
What's the psychosis of Homelander killing himself, or at least a guy who looks like himself?
Boy, isn't Antony amazing in that scene? Give that guy all the Emmys for that scene. That's in my top 3 Antony Starr scenes. My only great regret with that scene is that we didn't go all the way and have Homelander perform oral sex on Homelander. I feel we pulled our punch at the last minute and I'm a little disappointed about that. He has this very human need to be loved and this desire for approval and praise. He hates it. He hates it because it's human, he hates it because it makes him weak and vulnerable, but he needs it. And because he's never gotten it, he has this endless hunger for love from these anonymous masses. What Stormfront shoved into his face is "hey buddy that's pathetic," which nobody has ever said to him before. Him killing himself at the end is him trying to kill the part of him that he views as weak and vulnerable and pathetic and needing attention and love because he wants to see himself as this stronger creature who doesn't need any of those things. Spoiler alert, it doesn't work. He becomes more of a mess than ever. I think Homelander's ego way outweighs any sort of sexual preference. I think his sexual preference is himself.
I imagine it must've been an easy yes or no question to get Elisabeth Shue back for season 2?
Yeah, it was funny. She denies this, but when she came on she only wanted to do one season. And so she had seen the season 1 episodes. We've kept in touch and she's so cool. She was telling, "Oh my God, they're so great. I kinda wish I could come back now." And I was like, "Well, funny you should ask..." It was an idea we hadn't landed on yet but had discussed how funny it would be. I came back in [the writers room] and was like, "We're in! We got it."
To help combat systemic racism, please consider donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero, which is dedicated to ending police brutality in America through research-based strategies.
- Color of Change, which works to move decision makers in corporations and government to be more responsive to racial disparities.
- Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal services to people who have been wrongly convicted, denied a fair trial, or abused in state jails and prisons.