David Harewood on ‘Supergirl’ and How He Was “Struggling to Get a Handle” on His Character

David Harewood in Supergirl

Supergirl has become one of the biggest hits of the season, and while many have gone crazy over Melissa Benoist‘s portrayal of the much-loved comic book heroine, the supporting cast of the series has also received praise. Chief among them is David Harewood, who portrays longtime DC Comics hero J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, after posing as scientist Hank Henshaw for the early half of the season (fans of Superman would recognize the character’s name as one of the Man of Steel’s deadliest villains, a now-obvious attempt to mislead fans). Speaking with Vulture, Harewood reveals how he relates to the character and how he eventually got comfortable playing him.

The Martian Manhunter is the lone survivor of the people who had once lived on Mars, and Harewood reveals that he could relate to that feeling because of his career moves. He says, “Coming from England to L.A., I was away from my friends and family. Martian Manhunter lost his entire family with the destruction of his planet and has a loneliness and melancholy that I could relate to.”

In fact, after the show Selfie, which Harewood starred in, was canceled, he nearly returned to England to return to his family. He recalls, “I was still in Los Angeles for pilot season. Selfie had been canceled, and I was getting ready to go back home when my manager suggested I hang around for a couple more weeks to see if any other opportunities came up. I was brought in to meet executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. They sat me down and said they were shooting a pilot for Supergirl, and would I be interested? I read the script and loved it, although I still wasn’t sure who Hank Henshaw was. When I did the screen test, I did it with both an American and British accent, and eventually they decided Hank was American.”

It turns out that not knowing much about Henshaw wasn’t an issue — Henshaw was a cover identity for J’onn J’onzz. Harewood reveals that he discovered who he was really playing after he already shot the pilot. He says, “I found out after the pilot was picked up. Andrew called me into his office, gave me a pile of Martian Manhunter comics, and told me, ‘This is who you’ll be playing.’ Martian Manhunter is such a great character with a rich mythology. And it was really helpful because before I was really struggling to get a handle on who Hank Henshaw was.”

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