Powerless takes a fairly unique approach to the superhero genre, focusing on the employees of Wayne Security who are helping to design the technology that will keep the public safe from literal fallout from superhero and supervillain battles.
Empire goes behind the scenes on the show with a series of cast interviews with Vanessa Hudgens, who plays Director Of Research & Development Emily Locke; Ron Funches as (conveniently) Ron, Chief Engineer, whose passion for superheroes has not been weathered away by constant exposure to them; Danny Pudi as Chief Designer Officer Teddy; and Alan Tudyk as Bruce Wayne's cousin, Van, who serves as head of Wayne Secruity and is considered the black sheep of the Wayne family (though he seens sadly oblivious to that fact).
VANESSA HUDGENS (EMILY LOCKE)
Important question: are you going to sing on the series?
I sing whenever they call cut. The entire time I'm on set, I'm singing. If I'm singing, I'm happy — that's what I've learned about myself.
How comfortable are you in the DC Universe?
I feel extremely naïve, because I don't know a lot of comics. I didn't grow up reading them. I went through a phase where I dressed up as Catwoman, the Michelle Pfeiffer version, for, like, a year of my life. That's pretty much the geekiest I get. I wish I was more involved and knew more. I think I'm going to have to do my homework, because my character lives in the DC Comics universe. I’ve got a lot to catch up on.
What’s your feeling about the show’s premise?
I just think its genius, because we love seeing superhero television shows and movies, but no one's ever explored the aftermath. You see massive cities being turned into rubble, and then just left behind and never touched on again. What happens? Where are the people that are there picking up the mess? I think it's just a brilliant new take living in a world of supers. It's not about the superheroes, though they're definitely a part of it. It's about the people trying to live their mundane lives. My favorite TV shows are Parks And Recreation and The Office, which are both under the NBC umbrella. I'm so excited, because I get to be a part of that family now.
It's so funny, because when I first read this script the character was completely different. She was much more timid, very observant, and did not have balls, I guess. We did the table read and they're, like, "She's a bit more feisty,” which I didn’t necessarily see, but I guess that's something that they liked so Emily grew a pair of balls. It's fun. It's just neat seeing the different perspective of that world.
Can you talk about working with Danny Pudi?
Danny's amazing. Everyone is so amazing. I feel so lucky to be doing this with them, because they're comedians. That's what they do. They're really funny, whereas comedy for me is bit more new. I feel like I'm finding my footsteps behind people who are really great at it. He's hysterical. He has twin four year olds, but he himself acts like a six year old. It's a really great work environment, because I feel like I'm just always on a playdate having fun.
And this is a new genre for you as well.
It's really exciting, and it's also the first time I'm playing an adult who has her shit together. Normally I'm, like, a troubled teen whose pregnant and running away from home, or a drug addict, or someone who’s in high school. This time I'm a young woman who’s taking strides to an earnest, honest living.
Does the rhythm of music teach you anything about the rhythm of comedy?
I have not thought about that, actually. I don't know; that's a good question. I'm sure probably somewhere it does, because a lot of it has to do with timing. I just make everyone else do it for me and I try to copy what they do. I'm getting a lot of help from set luckily.
So what stands out about this show to you?
The superhero shows and movies are always having the spotlight on the superheroes themselves. It's never about the people who are living in that world and then trying to go about their life without the superheroes involved. It's about what that actuality would be like. Like surge prices for Uber during super battles is a real thing. You’re never on time to work, because something is happening or the supervillains are breaking over the airwaves to announce something on a jumbotron. Why can't they just trade phone numbers already and deal with it privately? It's that. It's the everyday life of living in a world full of superheroes.
RON FUNCHES (RON)
How would you describe your character?
My name is Ron Funches and I play a character named "Ron," which is great so no one has to learn anything. I'm a real sweet guy. I don't know if you can tell by talking to me now, but I got a good charming demeanor and it's just going to be what I carry into that show. It's not fake, this is me all the time. So that's kind of my character, I just want to be sweet and hang out, and I'm kind of like the opposite of the other characters who are a little bit more jaded by the superheroes they deal with all the time. I come from a small town environment and I'm just excited to be in the big city where Superman lives. So that's kind of my character.
So what drew you to the show?
I came off of another sitcom called Undateable that was canceled. I do stand-up, that's like my normal trade, so I kind of was just doing that and then pitching ideas for my own shows. I wasn't really even looking for another job on a sitcom unless it was really something that I liked. When they asked me to come in, they didn't even really have anything for me; they just wanted me to kind of pitch an idea of a character that I would do in their world and anything that I saw that might have been missing from their world. When I read the pilot and then watched it, I just thought it was very cute and charming and I love DC comic books. If there was anything that's going to make me come back and do a show besides money, this is it. You know, the idea that they'll give me free comic books. It's the best of both worlds and it really worked out for me.
Were you a comic book geek?
I'm a geek of all general types. I like a little bit of everything, I love comic books, I love pro-wrestling, I love video games. So I'm not necessarily like an encyclopedia of DC knowledge, but I love Green Lantern, Flash, Superman and Batman. Also, my son is a bigger nerd and so he was, like, "You should probably take this job."
How does your character feel about working in a world of superheroes?
He loves it! That's how I kind of pitched my character when they asked me as that this is the guy that would rather die in Metropolis than live in Smallville. He lives his whole life in areas where there were people with powers and he looked up to them and now he's in the big city and even though he doesn't have powers, he gets a chance to make a difference and help people. So I feel like he fits right in.
What’s different about this show?
Most superheroes shows are about superheroes. This one isn't. So that's the big difference right on top. But it's not anti-superhero, it's just the things I feel like everybody says when they watch the movie to think in that nature when you see a bunch of destruction, you wonder about how you would live in that and how you would handle that and what's going on with the people in that city who have to live everyday in that. That's what this show is about, people who still have the same troubles at their workplace and they still want to get dates and still, you know, have their own bills to pay, but also every now and then Superman is destroying half the town. So it really is the best of both worlds in that way where you get to be kind of a grounded workplace comedy as well as have men in tights and ladies in lassos come around.
DANNY PUDI (TEDDY)
The natural place to begin is the attraction of the series for you.
I think it's a couple things. Initially I loved the idea of regular people in the comic book universe. I always have. As someone who grew up a big fan of DC Comics as a kid, it was fun to explore that world. At the same time, as a kid it was very hard for me to visualize myself wearing the Batsuit, riding in the Batmobile or flying the skies of Metropolis. I related to the characters more on the ground and that was something that I thought was fun, timely and exciting, especially within an ensemble comedy. There was a lot there. It was new, different, and I'm definitely drawn towards regular ensemble comedy. I love that. I like exploring dynamics in a regular, real world with high stakes and the high stakes in this universe are rubble might fall on you or you might get attacked by tear gas. That was a nice, fun way to sort of try something new.
At the same time, we’re trying to protect the DC world and make that real, and when you come to our world in the office over at Wayne Security, that world is taken seriously, which makes the stakes much higher for these goofballs in the office.
How much have you been able to dip into the DC mythos?
DC is pretty open to it. I think it's because it's their first comedy. They're excited about it and excited to find ways for these characters to work and I think our goal is to make sure that we're upholding the integrity of DC, but at the same time finding ways to also find moments of unfolding and fun in this world. There's an episode coming up where we find a Batarang. That is, to me, super, super exciting. It's like, of course we would. Batman, he's been through about ten to twenty a day around Gotham City, so you're gonna find one eventually. It's cool to see how these people react to that in the office. Because we work in the R&D unit at Wayne, we're very interested in the mechanics, the technology behind the Batarang. It's like finding an iPhone 10. You want to really dig into it, see what's inside. How does this thing work? It's fun for my character, too, because he's especially interested in innovative products and finding this Batarang is cool from the technology perspective, but it's also cool for the child in him. He's pretending like he's not really affected by it, but like all of us we just want to be Batman.
Superman, please! So how do you view Teddy as a character?
He's an interesting character for me. He's a little bit more of an adult. Teddy's in this place in his life where he's chief design officer. He takes his job very seriously and he has really innovative ideas, but he's also very hard on himself. He comes from this family where they're full of high achievers and sometimes he worries if he'll live up to his family name, which causes him to be hard on himself and sometimes he can be difficult to work with. He's a loyal guy. He's really trying to find what the next thing is for him and how to handle his insecurities. He loves style. He's very fashionable. He likes single malt scotch. He's basically like a brown Joel McHale.
There's an episode coming up where you meet his family to see where he comes from and his background and the things that he struggles with at home. On the outside, Teddy can come across like he's got it all together. He's very confident on the outside, but once you meet his family, and you see him outside of the office, you realize very quickly how frail his spirit might be. That helps in the comedy, because then the audience gets it. Like, “Okay, these aren't just people that are just saying strange or absurd things. These are people who are saying strange or absurd things, because their mom and dad don't fully believe they have achieved their potential.”
When you go into a situation like this, like you you did on Community, how hard is it to gel quickly with your costars?
I think everyone plays at a different, almost comedic style in our ensemble. That helps a lot. Everyone's doing their own interesting thing. Vanessa's incredible as our grounded lead. Alan is amazing and watching what he does with Van is wonderfully bizarre and hilarious. I think we have Christina and Jenny and Ron. We're all doing something very different and fun. The key is that everyone is really a very specific point of view. We owe a lot to the casting directors and the producers and the team who put this cast together, because it's already really fun.
What comics really appeal to you from DC?
As a kid, I was always obsessed with Batman. For Halloween, it was a struggle for me to wear something that wasn't Batman as a kid. As I grew older, my favorite stuff was always Justice League stuff, Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, but my favorite Batman movie is the Michael Keaton Batman movie. That's probably the superhero movie that influenced me as a kid. That was the one where it was so crazy and weird and the tone was all over the place and the soundtrack was amazing with Prince.
There's all kinds of great stuff in that movie. I think the whole world of Gotham and Batman to me was always really interesting, because it was so colorful and weird. It came from a real dark, weird, sad place, and I think because of his humanity, I was always really drawn to it, because I've always been very aware of my own humanity. The limits of my humanity. Over time I've always been just drawn to the darkness of DC. At the same time, I remember as a kid watching Batman on TV with Adam West with my brother, and my first crush was probably Catwoman.
Definitely. Julie Newmar. Jesus, right? I mean, I just remember being very confused by her outfits on such a seemingly PG or G show, which got me excited. Catwoman and all that kind of stuff opened a lot of doors to me.
Now, you get to work with Bruce Wayne's cousin. How awesome is that?
The dream! The dream has come true.
ALAN TUDYK (VAN WAYNE)
You’re a guy who certainly isn’t lacking for work, so why Powerless?
That it was part of the DC world and that it had a superhero element. I'm a fan of sci-fi and it was a comedy with sci-fi, which you don't see too much of. I was a big fan of The Tick when it was on. This show, instead of focusing on those half superheroes, like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, this is the people who are around the superheroes and the normal people who are reacting to them. It's really fun to react off of such high stakes in a comedy. It seemed like it could be a really fun time. So far, we're on episode eight, it definitely has been.
Have you been able to dip into the DC Universe a lot in those eight episodes?
Whenever we have a super or some extraordinary event, it involves DC characters, of course. I'm not allowed to say names, but let's say there was a DC character that could create a bunch of snow...
Okay, let's say that.
That would be about the effect of that on our characters who are just trying to get to work. You know, I get in a fender-bender, that highway is backed up, the thermostat isn’t working. So you have to not only deal with winter, but all these other random snow days that come along. You get used to it, but they’re always such a pain in the butt. Even though the potential is there for death or destruction, they seem to be just so completely over the villains that are basically continually terrorizing this city.
That contrast was nicely established in the first episode, where you’ve got Vanessa’s character in awe watching a hero and villain battle, whereas the guy on the train is, like, “Oh, great, I’m going to be late to my meeting by an hour.”
Exactly! That same thing follows. Then, turning down the volume on the ultimatum by Jack O'Lantern. It’s, like, “I’m trying to focus.” He doesn’t even care to hear the end of it.
How do you view Van as a person?
He's a little broken. He has alluded to his parents, his upbringing in this very rich family with the name, but he didn't get a lot of love from mommy and daddy, he was spoiled. That's really shaped him. He just assumes his place in the world. He's very self-centered and doesn't see the people around him who are helping him. He always just pats himself on the back. He's stupid, but he thinks he’s very smart. Those are always fun characters to play, the ones who are stupid but speak with authority. If they have actual power, then it just can be ... Well, I feel like I'm describing certain things in current events.
Not that we want to get into politics...or presidential elections... Is there an opportunity for a character like that to evolve as the show goes on, or does he basically stay the same from beginning to end?
No, he learns. His team grows on him. He needs Emily more and more, whether he realizes it or not. At the same time, his character of being that spoiled kid grown up will always be there to let you down. But he isn't just a screw-up, he's not necessarily a bad businessman. He can be a good businessman when he needs to be, I guess I should say.
What would you say is the appeal of this series?
I think that it has superheroes in it. They seem to be popular these days.
You might be on to something there.
It's a fresh look into that world, you know? I think that is what is going to bring people in. Then, when they see it, I think it's got a lot of heart ultimately and, because of the premise, it's funny. I value that a great deal. I think a lot of shows definitely come on, make a run at being funny and it's not easy to pull off, but from what I've seen, I'm very happy to share it with others.