When it comes to offensive Garth Ennis comics, you might go to Preacher for blasphemy, but you’d come to The Boys for everything else. Violence, swearing, gore, and every type of sexual depravity you can think of – and some you can’t. If you’ve ever felt that superheroes are just far too unbelievably clean-cut, then hoo boy is this the TV show for you. “It’s a pretty wild show,” Chace Crawford agrees when we meet up, laughing every time he remembers a particularly outrageous moment from the series.
Crawford plays The Deep, a “spoiled Zoolander meets Aquaman”, and one of the members of The Seven, the world’s top-tier superhero team managed by international conglomerate Vought. But these guys are no Justice League – in Crawford’s words, they are “abusive and they’re fraudulent and they’re liars and selfish people,” which is why Billy Butcher’s (Karl Urban) off-the-books team The Boys are so intent on bringing them down. The Seven’s sheer awfulness is driven home in the first episode, where The Deep casually commits sexual assault as if it’s a matter of course. We ask Crawford if it was a challenge taking on a character who starts off at such a low point, and going on to make him, if not likeable, at least understandable. “I think you do sympathise with him a little bit, because at the end of the day he’s sad. It’s a sad character, he doesn’t really know who he is. And he does get punished in a way, a little bit, he gets demoted, of sorts, and goes on a dark path. You get to peel back a few different layers and see the vulnerability and why he’s so insecure and why he hates himself.”
The Boys touches on some serious topics alongside the utter madness, with the premise allowing showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Preacher producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to “[take] down celebrity culture and the media culture and it even sort of ties in to politics and big money corporations,” Crawford says, not to mention the general conversation society’s been having in the last few years about the abuse of power. “I think it is contributing to the conversation, I hope in a good way,” Crawford muses. The Seven is certainly an excellent example of a toxic workplace, led by Antony Starr’s Homelander, an increasingly unhinged riff on Superman. But all that is incidental – this isn’t a serious, political show. Like Preacher, it’s gasp-inducingly outrageous and very, very funny.
“I think there was a nice balance,” Crawford says. “They used some real moments, some solid, grounded moments, and they also used some really out-there improv stuff that I did as well. I was wondering what’s the tone going to be when this all comes together, because there were so many moving parts, and I think it came together well.” We were surprised to hear that any improv would be allowed on a show that clearly has a lot of elements to juggle, and so was Crawford, although he was thrilled at the opportunity, especially when a lot of his more bizarre takes ended up being used in the final cut. “By the end of it they were a little bit more strict about the rampant swearing, but that was about it,” he tells us cheerfully.
Fans of the comics will see a lot that they recognise in the show – although The Deep’s diving helmet is MIA, much to Crawford’s relief – but the series does not slavishly adapt Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s source material. “Obviously the comics can be so out-there. You can’t do all that stuff [on TV], it can really turn a lot of people off,” Crawford explains. “I think in the beginning of it they follow the first volume pretty closely, where they introduce a new member of The Boys every episode, for the first four or five episodes, and then by the end of it [the show’s] starting to become its own thing, and I think if it moves forward [into Season 2] it will continue to be that. But the heart of the comics is always there.”
One area in which the show begins to diverge from the comics early on is in giving us more of The Seven and Vought, so that the series is basically a dual narrative, following both the supers and the team who are trying to bring them down. “I never even worked with any of The Boys, it was like two different films almost,” Crawford says, adding that the two halves of the cast barely even bumped into each other behind the scenes, although they would all go out to dinner together. “We’re in our glossy Vought Tower in our suits and then they’re shooting all over Toronto late at night in these humid tight cramped spaces and everyone’s yelling – apparently it was like two different experiences,” Crawford chuckles.
But one thing the superhero side had to deal with was the costumes, which Crawford was pleasantly surprised by. “I was actually pretty nervous about it at first, just getting in and out of it and getting too hot… but it’s sleeveless, so I’m efficient now. I’m like a race car driver in a pit stop, I can get it on and off pretty fast.” Starr was not so lucky with his Homelander costume, which was so bulky it required its own cooling system.
Crawford admits to being uncertain about whether the show will be embraced by anyone outside of the usual superhero fans. “[I don’t know] if it’s just going to be a small, cult audience, or if it appeals to more people. It certainly appealed to me,” he adds, which says something as he openly admits to not being a superhero fan himself. The violence will, he says, inevitably put off some viewers, but he thinks that it will appeal to non-comic book fans too. “Not for nothing, it’s entertaining, right?” he says enthusiastically. “It’s really original and there’s nothing like it.”
The Boys Season 2 is on Prime Video now. The Boys Season 1 is on Blu-Ray now.