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Derek Mears On Why Swamp Thing Comforts Him - Exclusive

The DC Universe series Swamp Thing is not a show you'd necessarily associate with the word "comfort" right away. It's dark, moody, laced with a sense of dread and scenes of monstrous gore, and it's inspired by the horror comics that made the title character a hit in the 1970s and '80s for DC Comics. Look beyond the monsters and the scares, though, and you'll find a show that's deeply embedded with empathy, not just for the title character but the human beings around him. At its core, even with all the horror, Swamp Thing is a show about a group of beings — human and swamp creature alike — who are searching for meaning and truth in a frightening world. 

Perhaps no one in the Swamp Thing ensemble understands this better than Derek Mears, the actor charged with stepping into the big green costume and portraying the title character. In a recent interview with Looper to promote the arrival of the series on The CW a year after its DC Universe debut, Mears noted that he hopes viewers discovering Swamp Thing for the first time will find it "comforting." When asked what he personally finds comforting about the series, he opened up about what the character means to him.

"I think it's that existential crisis that Swamp Thing is dealing with when he explores what we are, what's humanity about," Mears explains. "And that humanity in the show, it gives us not just the stereotypical black and white, but there's so much gray. An analogy I guess would be, if who you are as a human is a bunch of clay, [when you think about] who you want to become, how do you mold that to be you? And also on the terrifying side of it, if everything that you know, that you identify with to address yourself or identify with as yourself, what if that's all taken away? And it brings up so many different questions. So I guess in a sense also with Swamp Thing it's like one of those rock songs where you don't want to tell somebody what it's really about, but let them interpret it for themselves and find out what that meaning is to them."

The caretaker of an icon

That kind of existential journey is baked into every fiber of the Swamp Thing story, because it's important to remember that Mears is not just playing a swamp creature. He's playing a swamp creature who thinks he's a transformed human man, the biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) who died in the swamp and was apparently resurrected as Swamp Thing. But Swamp Thing is not just Alec transformed. He is sentient plant matter that's been embedded with Alec Holland's memories, which gives him an added layer of struggle as he tries to contend with who or what he really is when what he remembers himself to be is something of an illusion. That's a journey many viewers can relate to, and it's something Mears clearly takes seriously. 

Mears also takes stewardship of the character as a piece of comic book history very seriously. Swamp Thing was not renewed at DC Universe after its first season, so it's possible these ten episodes of the series will be the only time Mears actually gets to play the role. Even with that in mind, though, he considers it an honor to be entrusted with such an iconic role for however long he has it. 

"A lot of times you draw the research from the creators, like Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the artists, and every different medium that has ever experienced Swamp Thing. Like with Wes Craven's films, or the cartoon, or the TV show. So you would have all those to go with and the original comics, but the new factor that I found was when I got cast as the character I got on my social media, [I had] a lot of messages from fans saying, 'Oh, you're the right guy. This is what Swamp Thing means to me.' And everyone would share their own personal stories where it was like, 'Swamp Thing was the movie or the TV show that I watched with my father, who passed away. So it reminded me so much of my relationship with my father.' Somebody else was of a different gender saying like, 'Oh, I really relate to a Swamp Thing where I'm in this body and understanding what I am through the character.'

"And I really got to thinking , 'Wow, not just the artists, but also the fans, we have our own stories tied to Swamp Thing.' And it's out there in that mythos, so my responsibility is I'm the caretaker of those memories. And my job is to A, have my own artistic interpretation of what those are, but also to have that care for... I know I'm not going to be the last guy to play Swamp Thing in the future because he's such an iconic character. So it's the game of don't let the feather hit the ground, keep that feather off the ground for Swamp Thing. It's for the next person to come in, because you don't want to disparage or disrespect anybody's memories that they've had with their current relationships. So I'm borrowing their own relationship with Swamp Thing and trying to put him on screen in the best way to represent him I possibly can."

Swamp Thing is now airing weekly on The CW.