Movies and TV
An Interview With Powers' and Vinyl's Susan Heyward

Marshall Lemon | 28 Dec 2015 12:00
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There's not much in common between Powers and Vinyl. One was developed by Sony as a PlayStation streaming production, the other airs on HBO next year. The first follows human police detectives in a world of superheroes, while the second traces the tumultuous history of 1970s rock music. You'd be hard-pressed to find connecting threads, save for one prominent example - actor Susan Heyward. And when The Escapist spoke with her earlier this week, it became clear Heyward spends a lot of time thinking about what makes each show click for fans of all stripes.

In Powers case, it never hurt that Deena Pilgrim's role reconnected Heyward to a childhood love of superheroes. "Storm was huge for me from the X-Men," Heyward said. "Rogue, I loved. Loved her. 'Cause she was just this kind of badass country girl who would do whatever she wanted ... In my adult life I'd actually gone away from graphic novels. I'd pick up a few manga here and there because one of my cousins loves it, but I'd kind of gone on to other reading material."

As you can imagine, it's pretty hard to escape the comic book connection to Powers. Originally created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming, Powers follows the ordinary police detectives called to investigate superpowered crime. When a superhero shows up at the morgue, or is suspected of committing the deed, Pilgrim and her ex-superhero partner Christian Walker are on the case. The comic series is critically acclaimed, but when Heyward first auditioned for the role, she still wasn't familiar with the source material.

"When it first came out I was like, 'oh genre cops being superheroes, cool'," she said. "It wasn't until I was going through the callback process that I said, 'There's something here I think I'm missing, let me go back and make sure I know what I'm doing.' I fell in love standing in The Strand reading through [Powers] ... This whole really cynical kind of sinister point of view on a superhero world that I really, really love."

That's not to say playing as Pilgrim wasn't challenging. Detective Pilgrim is a hard-nosed character in both the comic and show, something Heyward struggled with at times. "There's some stuff I identified with," Heyward admitted, "but most of them are things I would kind of mutter under my breath. Deena actually says it out loud, and adds a couple of swear words, and then also adds a gun. So there's a relentlessness to her, there's a willingness to jump into a situation and say whatever she feels that I really admire. And even if it gets her in trouble, she's 100 percent true to herself."

In fact, Heyward even admitted that Pilgrim is rubbing off on her a bit. "It's been really liberating ... I think I might've taken a little bit of it home with me," she explained. "One of my friends, he calls me the Sledgehammer now because something I'll say will just kind of come out without thinking about it first. That is a different tone than I've had in the past. And Deena would love being called the Sledgehammer."

Fans can also expect Pilgrim's determination to be tested in the upcoming storyline. Powers Season 1 ended with Retro Girl's brutal death, which means Season 2 will depict the formative "Who Killed Retro Girl?" comic book arc. But this time, fans will have a far better understanding of the players and politics involved, including the anti-Power Chaotic Chic movement. "[Pilgrim] and Walker are going to find Retro Girl's killer no matter what the cost," Heyward said. "This case is going to challenge all of Deena's ideas of what she thinks she's going to do in order to solve the case. Do the ends justify the means? She's going to be coming up against all those questions ... and maybe not quite finding herself the upstanding citizen she thought she was."

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