“When I started prepping for the episode, I was like, “Why did I write so many monologues? Why am I crying so much?” – Azie Tesfai on Writing Her Own Dialogue in Supergirl
In its last season, the CW’s hit show, Supergirl, is leaving no stone unturned, and that includes finally letting fan favorite Kelly Olsen become Guardian. Azie Tesfai, who plays Olsen, also co-wrote the episode where she becomes the hero, the first time an actor has written for a one of creator Greg Berlanti’s shows.
In this interview, Tesfai talks about writing the episode and what it was like becoming a super-hero. She also talks about a particularly terrible audition and the whirlwind experience she had booking her role on Jane the Virgin.
For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
How did you end up co-writing this episode?
Azie Tesfai: I had a semi-productive pandemic. I went through the range of crying and fear and everything that we all went through, but also I started journaling and writing. I got a writing coach and, like the good student I am, did multiple week sessions and started writing samples and scenes.
And then I had an idea… I started developing with the showrunner and creator of the last show I was on, Jane the Virgin, with Jenny Urman. She was so encouraging of me as a writer and is so brilliant, that it like lit the fire under me to tell that story. So, I wrote a sample script for Supergirl, exploring how we treat our vets post-war with PTSD as a society and how we don’t support them in the way that they should be supported. And I sent that to our showrunners, and they loved it. That storyline didn’t end up happening, but it was enough to send to our producers and the studio to get me approval for the spec and then they let me know that I was gonna be writing an episode. I did not know it was gonna be the episode where I become a superhero, which was an epic surprise.
Then I got like three or four episodes off to join the writer’s room and so I did over a month, ten to five every day in the writer’s room, and broke the story for the arc for episodes nine, ten and twelve and then went off with Jane and we wrote twelve. So, it was like I had the full writing experience for a couple of months.
I was going to ask you, because I’m sure you’re just incredibly busy, how you found the time to write the episode.
Azie Tesfai: Yeah, they made time which was great. And you know, it’s always a compromise when you’re not able to be in episode of the show, you want Kelly to be on screen, but it felt so important. And I really love just being able to write and just being able to be in the room with the writers all day and not be hopping back and forth.
And then I did go back to filming once we started doing our notes calls with the studio and network and that got tricky. I think I had our Warner Brothers notes call in Alex and Kelly’s closet on set between setups. I went in the closet and sat on the floor and like took their script notes. So that became a little trickier. I did it in my super suit, like in the hallway with the full helmet trying to take notes or writing. But the actual script, I had two months to work on it with our writers, which was great
And you mentioned your costume. It looks freaking great. Did you have any like input on how it looked?
Azie Tesfai: I did. I got really lucky with this whole thing. [Showrunners] Robert [Rovner] and Jessica [Queller] really let me have so much creative control and say, which in hindsight is crazy. Thank God it turned out okay! But I think they knew that I would figure it out. I know that they knew I’d figure it out.
The suit, I really, really wanted to do the half helmet. I had like a list of things I wanted to do and they all happened, which was amazing. I don’t think anything on that list I was told no.
I wanted to honor the original comic book. I’m a big bumblebee and Malcolm Duncan fan, which is the original guardian and his partner. And there was so much in that suit that I loved, mainly the gold. And once we figured out that we could logistically do the half helmet, then it was like visibility of her is a black woman, like let’s lean into that. And I wanted to do braids and they said, “Yes.” And then being east African, so much of my culture being Ethiopian, in the suit the gold beads are a like a nod to my culture. And then I just went crazy. The belt came back and it had silver and I was like, “Can you spray paint it gold?” I wanted to honor the comic but also, she’s never been played by a woman, so like still keep her femininity and who she is, and it came out great.
And it was also very comfortable, because everyone before me gave me what was wrong with their suits. Chyler [Leigh] sent me like a long list of issues, with like going to the bathroom or staying hydrated. “When you do fight scenes, your vest is going to ride up, so have them build in hooks into your pants.” Like, little things that you would never think of. So, I think that I had the most comfortable super suit. I would hang out between takes totally fine when everyone else would be peeling off their layers. So, I was lucky. I had the benefit of being last, I guess.
What was it like writing for yourself? Did you give yourself the best and the coolest lines?
Azie Tesfai: It was a very out of body experience and I don’t think, which is so weird, I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to perform it. And actually, when I started prepping for the episode, I was like, “Why did I write so many monologues? Why am I crying so much?”
In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have done it the same way. It felt like I was writing for someone else. I know Kelly so well after playing her for all these years, that I was more focused on her and in a weird way, I didn’t associate it with myself until I had to do it.
But it’s a funny thing when you forget your line and you’re like, “What was that line again?”
When you initially got the part, did you have any idea you’d end up a superhero? I mean that’s the dream, right?
Azie Tesfai: Yeah, it’s the dream. I mean the fans have been championing this since the second I got it. The fan art happened before I started filming, I was getting tagged and stuff, they rallied for it so hard.
I didn’t know if it would ever happen, and then you know covid… it got pushed so many times. I think once we did the crossover and I had the shield, I knew it was happening. And then also, we have fans that come to set and seeing their reaction, a lot of the young girl’s reaction to it, I realized how special and important it was for a superhero like this to exist in the Arrowverse. I felt very protective over it.
I also never dreamed I would write it, but yeah, it is a dream come true. Putting on a super suit for the first time is a wild experience.
I want to ask you about your Jane the Virgin audition. You went to audition, got the part that day and they immediately brought you the table read?
Azie Tesfai: Yeah, so I was the last girl to read. I think it was like six by the time I finally got in, it was like 6 p.m.? And then I got a call at like 7 a.m. “You got the job, and you have to be at the table read out 10.” Casting was like, “We’ll pick you up on the way.”
It was intense. The first scene I shot, everyone came to watch because I think that was like a version of my test because there was no time to test me or do any of that.
It was great. That was an experience. To be on a show, I came in on the second episode, that just catapulted the way it did that first year and to be with such a great group of people, who I’m still really close with most of them, was such a magical, special experience.
And again, the creator of that show is a huge part of why I’m writing. She really encouraged and supported me and still does to this day. I send her sample ideas and she gives me notes. It was as magical as the show seemed on the outside.
What’s been your worst audition ever?
Azie Tesfai: Oh, that’s a good question. Oh my gosh, it immediately popped in my brain.
I love those. Where it still haunts you.
Azie Tesfai: Yeah, it still haunts me. I had an audition, and I don’t remember… it was definitely a franchise. It was a CSI something and it was one of my first auditions. I went in and I nailed the first read. I was playing like a nurse, you know, nurse number two.
And I actually had a chunk of kind of medically dialogue, and I like ran through it and they were like, “You’re so good, will you come back this afternoon for producers?” And I was like, “Absolutely.”
And I was in the Valley, I’ll meet a friend for lunch. I was living on the west side, and I didn’t want to drive back. And we had this very heavy lunch, which was a bad call. I ate carbohydrates and pastas and I got really tired. I was like, ‘Let me counter this with a lot of caffeine.’
And my brain was not operating. I walked in and it was such a big room. I was so nervous, I forgot my lines. I had one chunk and I had to restart three times. And I remember somebody leaning over and saying, “I don’t know why people like this act.” And I heard her. It was so bad. And so, then they were like, “Okay, you have to do it again.”
I had a moment where I was like, “Can I just please leave?” But I didn’t. They handed me a paper and I couldn’t even make eye contact. I read the three lines that I had for that episode and then I just got up and left and I never auditioned for that show again.
I cried. I was like, “Why am I doing this? What’s happening?”
I mean, it’s like we’re already insecure as it is. But whatever, never did it again and I’m still acting. That was like a decade ago. I showed her.