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The Boys Star Nathan Mitchell On Bringing Black Noir To Life - Exclusive Interview

The Boys is many things to its many fans. It's a hit Amazon Prime streaming series that comments on the nature of superhero media as much as it pokes fun at it. It's an action-packed show that's never afraid of going as far as possible with its visual gags and various action set pieces. It's a story about loss and corporate greed and righteous anger at an establishment that seems to care more about profit than people, wrapped in a bonkers comic book exterior. And, of course, it's an ensemble series with the advantage of two ensembles, with the anti-superhero team known as the Boys on one side and the corporate-backed superhero pantheon known as the Seven on the other.

Both sides of The Boys ensemble are packed with memorable characters, but one of them has the distinction of being instantly memorable despite never saying a word or showing his face. Black Noir, the blade-wielding enforcer of the Seven, has become a fan favorite throughout two seasons of The Boys for his action sequences, his mysterious demeanor, and his often unexpected comedy. With season 2 all wrapped up, Looper talked to the man behind the mask, Nathan Mitchell, about what it's like to bring Black Noir to life, that big scene near the end of the second season, and why the cast on both sides of the ensemble has become a kind of family. 

Spoilers ahead for season 2 of The Boys!

Black Noir's big moment

You have talked in interviews before about the way that you kind of find freedom in the mask with Black Noir. What were you able to add and discover as you went into season two that season one didn't have for you?

For season two, I think it was just there was more opportunity for us to see Noir. So more of his idiosyncrasies and more of his quirkiness were able to be revealed. And I think it was really a continuation of what we were starting to discover in season one. We just got to see a little bit more.

The funny thing about Noir is you never really know what to expect. And there's a funny moment that we didn't end up including in season one where A-Train and Noir go to track down Frenchie and we go to the tech, the tracking room. And while A-Train's talking to Trevor [the technician], Noir looks over, and looks like he's looking at [a picture of] Trevor's wife. And after A-Train leaves, he slowly leans towards the picture. But instead of grabbing the picture, he grabs some Cheetos and walks off. And so we had all of that funny stuff just cooking and burning, but we decided to get more into it this season.

We have to talk about your big moment in episode seven, the Kryptonite of Black Noir, as it were, which is based on your own allergy. I just wanted to hear your side of the story of how that was integrated.

All right. So I think we were getting on the plane to Comic-Con and I was telling one of the flight attendants I had an allergy, and Karl [Urban, who plays Butcher] was there and he's like, "Huh, what would happen if you actually had nuts?" And I was like, "Oh, I'd go into anaphylactic shock. It'd be pretty bad, not fun." And he's like, "Ah, that's interesting. I'm going to pitch that to [showrunner Eric Kripke]."

So we're on the plane and somebody didn't hear, so somebody's eating nuts and I start to smell it and I'm looking around and I don't know where it's coming from. And eventually I see them and talk to them briefly. They put it away. But by that time it was in the air. And so I couldn't really get away. And so I just put my face underneath my shirt, my nose underneath my shirt, and [Laz Alonso, who plays Mother's Milk] was sitting beside me the whole time. And he'd look over occasionally. And then we landed and I got up. I'm like, "Oh, finally I can breathe." He's like, "What?" "Oh," I'm like, "Someone was having nuts, it was giving me a headache." And he's like, "Oh, I thought I smelled. I thought you were covering because of me." And I was like, "No, no, no, no. That was the nuts." So it was just a funny little thing. And then yeah, Eric found out and we all decided to run with it.

What was it like to shoot that scene? 

It's funny because in real life, my allergic reaction to nuts is different than that. But because I'm in a mask and in a suit, I knew I had to physicalize it in a different way for the audience. So in a lot of ways, it was art imitating life. Not to that extent, but you know, if it was to happen, it could kind of go down that route. And it was... If nightmares can be fun, it was an interesting exploration of what it would be like in that situation and really, really taking that reaction to its extreme. And it was funny because we were really, me and Dominique [McElligott, who plays Maeve], were really going all out there and really trying to make that moment real. And so it was like, yeah, okay, whatever we got to do to make this real, go for it. So she would just shove it in my mouth, and I'd have to spit it out and somebody would have to pick it up off the floor. I know it was a fun, gross, mess.

You've described Black Noir in the past as adorable and lovable, and there are these wonderful little moments scattered throughout the show with your co-stars. Even though you don't speak on camera, what's it been like bonding with your castmates through the show?

Nathan Mitchell: I love them so much. They're my family, and it's so great to get to work with amazing people. They're amazing actors, but they're fantastic people and it's so much fun. It's so much fun. And just getting to work with Karl in season two, I learned things from him, because he did Dredd, so he has that experience. So we talked a little bit about that on set.

I love, love working with Antony [Starr, who plays Homelander] as well. I like a little bit of our real-life dynamic to kind of bleed into the scenes a bit, and he's like a big brother to me. And so there's a bit of that vibe between him and Noir. And then just with everybody I get to work with, it's so much fun to work with people you love. And so that chemistry, it's offscreen, it's onscreen, and it just makes everything better.

Are we allowed to say, are you coming back for season three?

I don't know. I really don't know. What I can say is that Noir came very, very close to death, as has been revealed by Homelander and Stormfront. He's basically in a hospital bed just holding on by a thread. So that was a really serious thing, and yet he's on the edge. So we'll have to see if he can pull through and come back for more madness.

The influences of Black Noir

I wanted to circle back to something you said a second ago about working with Karl and talking about the superhero experience. Because he did do Dredd, and that is obviously a very limiting costume, visually. What kind of advice did he give you? What did you talk about?

It was really an active thing where I'd be making a movement and I could check in with him about how it was coming across. And it was just in the moment, he's like, "Okay, if you lean a little more into this, this is going to show up. If you pull back here, it's going to give this effect." So it was kind of this real, in the moment dynamic where I was learning from his experience of working on a character like that and that added to the scene.

So the obvious, closest analog in terms of who Black Noir is, is Batman. But are there other influences that you brought to the character that viewers maybe wouldn't recognize that aren't so obvious?

Yes. So first of all, I would say Black Noir's probably, you take Batman, Deadpool, and Snake Eyes, you mix them together, that's probably the most accurate depiction of Black Noir. But for me it was actually Raphael and Michelangelo [from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles]. And I did Tae Kwon Do from the age of six to 16, and we trained hard to the point where we could snap into fight mode in a second. We'd be locked in like that, you know? We did it so much that when we weren't in fight mode, we could be kids and goof around and have fun and play. But the second our instructor called us to attention, it was like, boom.

So that notion of Noir is so connected to his killer instinct, his martial arts ability, that he doesn't have to be on all the time because he can be on in a millisecond. And so you take that and that ruthless fighter is Raphael, but when he's not that ruthless fighter, he's goofy, he's fun. There are weird things about him and the way he interacts with the world around him. And that's more of the Mikey side. And so I find it interesting because he's such... You get such a singular vibe of this menacing darkness from him that when you see a different element, that's what really pulls you in and intrigues you. So I had a lot of fun exploring that as well.

So speaking of that and the way you kind of rooted that into your own childhood a little bit, who would you say on the show is most like their character and who is least like their character?

There are ways where all of us put part of ourselves into our character. That's part of acting. We can't get away with it. And so I think the ones I'll say right now are just, they're just coming to mind in the easiest way, I think Starlight, or Annie, Erin [Moriarty] brings this kind of depth and seriousness to her that Erin has in real life, where she's just wise. I'm a bit older than Erin, but I feel like we're the same age all the time, just because of her level of maturity. And you see that in Starlight.

I like to call Jessie [T. Usher, who plays A-Train] the Turn-Up King. Jessie's the one who knows where the party is and is always down to have a good time. And I think Jack [Quaid, who plays Hughie] also... There are cool things that Jack brings from himself into the show.

You know, it's so funny, interestingly enough, when you talk about Anthony and people are like, "Oh, it's Homelander. What's Homelander like in real life?" And he did such an incredible job with that character. And it's also just so cool how he has this really, this lighthearted trickster energy to him as well, that you wouldn't necessarily see just looking at Homelander. So on the flip side, it's really interesting how Anthony just transforms.

So Karl has a bit of a reputation from other sets for being a prankster. Has he ever gotten you? What's it like working with him in that context?

He's not gotten me, but I think him and Jack have some prank wars going on. I haven't decided to jump into the crossfire, but I think there's this one story where, I think one of our first dinners Karl told one of the servers that it was Jack's birthday, but it wasn't. So they come and they bring this cake out for him. And everybody has sparklers and they're singing and Jack's like, "What's going on?" And then a little later, Jack does it to Karl on set and he was recording it. So they have a nice back and forth. It's fun to watch.

So one more question. We all as fans are used to now getting a new episode of The Boys and just going, "Oh my God," freaking out at whatever wild thing is happening onscreen. What is your reaction like when you get scripts? Do you have something similar?

Yeah, it's funny because I read the scripts like a year ago, so it's been a while. But there have never been scripts in my life that I just read from start to finish with such excitement. I'm captivated when I read the script. And so I think... I'm not like [makes exploding sounds] But it's like, "Whoa, oh man. No, we're doing this? Wait a second. Huh?" And so it's a great experience for me. I really love getting the scripts and almost as soon as I get them, I read them start to finish.