Supergirl's Azie Tesfai Gets Candid About Screenwriting, Becoming Guardian, And Representation - Exclusive Interview

National City is getting a new superhero: Azie Tesfai is here to bring a new version of Guardian to "Supergirl." 

Not only does Tesfai offer a heart-wrenching and empowering performance as Kelly Olsen in "Blind Spots," but the "Jane the Virgin" alum co-wrote the episode as well. The actor-writer offered her own voice to the episode tackling everything from police brutality to racist politicians and holding the Superfriends accountable for not being better allies to the Black community.

"Arrow" fans will notice a familiar face in the episode as well, with the return of David Ramsey as Diggle. As the episode's director, Ramsey was as busy behind the scenes as he was in front of them. Most importantly, kids now have a lesbian Black superhero to look up to, and as Tesfai notes, that's a beautiful thing.

During an exclusive interview for the "Supergirl" episode "Blind Spots," Looper spoke to Azie Tesfai about writing the episode, working with David Ramsey to make the episode authentic, and bringing awareness to critical issues like racism. She also teased the return of Jeremy Jordan and Mehcad Brooks and revealed what filming the last episode was like.

From actor to writer

You're the first actor in a Berlanti series to write an episode, so congratulations on that feat — and this is such a groundbreaking episode. How did the idea for you to write the episode come about, and what did those early conversations look like?

During the break, I started writing and, like a true student, got a teacher — someone that I had two sessions with a week and just learned structurally how to formulate a script. And I had an idea that I was working on with the creator and showrunner of the last show I was on, "Jane the Virgin," and she's the biggest inspiration to me, Jennie Urman. And a lot of working with her made me realize that not only could I do this, but I was really passionate about it. Kind of got to work with like the best, and then I was like, "Oh, this is amazing."

And then I wrote a sample "Supergirl" script that I have a story I wanted to tell, and I sent it to our showrunners, and they loved it. And we didn't get to tell that story, but it was enough for them to send it to our producers in the studio and get me approved to write an episode. I didn't know it was going to be me becoming a superhero, but I knew I would get to write an episode this season.

Diggle shows up in National City

David Ramsey directed the episode and made an amazing cameo appearance as Diggle. Was that your idea to have him attached to the episode, or was that planned when you signed on to write it?

He wasn't signed on when I started writing it, but I definitely wanted a director that I felt like would understand the nuances of this story, and then I did know that he was going to act in it. And then once I found out he was directing it, we got on a call and then actually went and had dinner, and I was like, "Oh, this is the perfect person." And then we became really good friends, so that the trust level that was there, it was such a blessing in the material and being vulnerable. We were like a ying and a yang working together, which is really nice.

I love that. Did you and David have any conversations on how to shape the episode or any discussions about your lived experiences that helped make the episode so authentic and real?

Totally. So, in the beginning, J. [Holtham] and I had very different perspectives in co-writing this, and so we brought both of our experiences together and then worked that out to try to tell a well-rounded story. And then once Ramsey came to Vancouver to shoot some of the other shows, we did every Saturday dinners for a couple months. So we would have our standing dinner night, and he would just tell me more about Diggle because it's his baby. And so we did passes on just making sure that Diggle tracked and felt authentic to the story that he'd been telling for a decade.

And then we had some really intimate conversations about his experiences in his life personally, and then trying to color that within either Diggle or through some of our guest stars to feel like all of our experiences behind the scenes were also being represented onscreen with these characters, so that was nice. It was like the more conversations we had, the more it affected passes, and even me talking with our guest stars — and we would do changes to keep all the perspectives as honest as possible.

On-set riffing

What was it like working with him, both from an acting and a directing standpoint?

It was like shooting a small ending. There was a scene in Kelly's apartment where most of the scenes are him and I, and it's mainly him and I alone. I know we were shooting it. It's when his character shows up, and then he would run behind the monitors, he'd look at the frame a bit. And we'd back and shoot it again, and he was like, "I didn't know about that line." And I would be like, "How about this line?"

He's like, "I like that." And then he would do ... So it was like there was no one ... Because they trusted us so much, there was no one we had to like ... We'd be in the scene, and he was like, "How would the director feel? I'm fine. How do you feel about it?" "I'm fine." So it's like a two-person scene. And it was amazing because then we'd go back because I never really watched playback of the scenes, and we got to really make sure we were happy and then move on. It was very calming, just having APs and then also very personal because it was so much of it we got to create. It felt a little indie, almost.

It really felt personal as well. You could tell that element was there in the final product, for sure. 

An Arrowverse trailblazer

Kelly is a trailblazer in so many ways between tackling racial injustices and providing some much-needed lesbian representation on screen. What have been some of the highlights and the responsibility that comes with that territory?

The fans. They mean everything to me, and I know how much Kelly means to them. And truly, I think me stepping into writing and fighting for her and for myself ... I mean, ideally, you want to say it comes from yourself, but as corny as it sounds, it really did come from the fans of the show. They were so vocal and supportive, and I know how much that she means to them, and they mean so much to me that it did empower me to really fight and make sure of the storylines, not just with Kelly and her stepping into being a superhero.

But Alex and Kelly, for the run of the rest of the show, there's a lot that's going to happen with them. And Chyler [Leigh] and I, every morning, would spend an hour in hair and makeup, going over and over the whole episode and making sure that we were protecting them because it was very important to us. So that is something I don't take lightly at all, and it's the most important part, and it's the part I'm going to miss the most. I feel like ... it's rare that you can say that you feel like you had a part in the character, but then also with the fans, I feel like we did it together, and I'm going to miss that.

I love that. I think my favorite thing about "Supergirl" is that they involve you all so much. That's really awesome.


The importance of onscreen representation

My favorite part of the episode is when a young girl uses a trashcan lid as a shield and says, "I'm Guardian." What was that moment like for you as the writer and the actor, and how do you feel being able to give young viewers a superhero that they can really see themselves in?

Oh, that makes me so happy that you say that because I wanted that so bad, and then I got to cast the young girls who did it, and it made me so happy to see. There were two girls, and I got to cast them both. And then when I ... I just remember meeting her. I met everyone in my normal clothes, and then I had to go to change, and then I met that girl as a superhero, and her response to me was such a testament. 

I walked into the cast area to say hi to all our guest actors, and she was like [gasping], and I'm like, "Oh, I'm a Black female superhero." It was the first time I'd seen before we shot that scene, the young girl scene ... And it was just like, she just watched ... To the point where, when we did that piece, I had already shot something, and I was going to do something else, and they couldn't get her to stop looking at me, and so I had to come behind Ramsey and stand behind the camera because she just could not...

And then I was behind the camera, and I had to be like, "What's your most powerful pose?" And then she would do it. So I got to coach her through that, and it was so special, but to genuinely see this young girl be so taken aback by the superhero, it was such a testament to that scene, not just being important for the show, but I think I forget that she ... at the end, she was so scared to ask for a photo, but I felt like a really cool Disneyland character at the park. Yeah. It was amazing. That was such a cool day because it was one of the first days in the suit with a bunch of actors, and she literally gasped and grabbed her chair when she saw Guardian, and I've never felt cooler.

The future of Kelly

Your name hasn't been announced for the "Armageddon" crossover with "The Flash," but Chyler Leigh is slated to appear. Is there anything in the works for you in this universe? Or maybe in that crossover?

I'm not ... They're filming that right now, and so I'm not in that. I'm open to it. I would secretly love to — not so secretly, I said it, we've all said it — work on "Batwoman" because I love that cast so much. I was texting with Kim and Javicia [Leslie] in between interviews. This is all we want in life. I think also about Guardian being a Black gay woman and that not being something that really exists in the Arrowverse. We did with Nafessa [Williams] and with Javicia. I always just thought it would be so magical if the two, if not three of us, got to be together in a scene. I think that would be powerful. So that's something I would do any day, drop anything to do with those girls.

I would pay a lot of money for you and Nicole Maines ... I want to see a Dreamer spinoff. You two together would be really incredible.

Nicole just sat up somewhere and was like [excited expression]. Nicole and I will do things in the scenes ... Katie [McGrath] and I do a lot of things in scenes where we'll touch each other or wink at each other, and no one notices, but we do it together because we like to pretend like Kelly and Lena have a whole backstory that was never explored. So I'll rub her back in a scene, and she'll wink at me, and then it makes on air. The fans find it. But Nicole will try to do it too, and she'll come up with ideas. But Nicole's sweet because she'll go and pitch it.


We're just going to take these into our own hands and have ... It's never going to happen, but for our own joy, Kelly and Lena had a whole separate life where they go out to clubs and live their best lives outside of this world. I mean, those two girls I'm really, really, really close with.

A common connection

I noticed in this episode that you do have a moment with Dreamer a little bit because she's sort of the only one that gets what your character's going through. And I see that play out in her body language, and also she had a line ... I forget what it was, but to sort of acknowledge where you were coming from that not a lot of other characters understand.

Yeah, and that was real to Nicole and me. When I came into this world, there was a lot of craziness, as happens when you join a comic book show, and it was really hard in the beginning — and there was a shorthand. Nicole just kind of got it quicker and faster, and we became very close quickly, and just based on her own experiences, from her perspective, it's different from mine, but there was a shorthand understanding immediately. And so, a lot of the stories in the script are based on our actual relationships in real life.

The OG Superfriends

Jeremy Jordan is coming back to play Winn, and Mehcad Brooks is coming back to play your onscreen brother, Jimmy Olsen. What were those reunions like as you all said goodbye to the show and your characters? Can you maybe tease anything we might see from them?

Yeah. I mean, there is ... everyone comes back. I don't know ... I can't say everyone comes back ... but I think all the fan favorites, and it's pretty epic. I love Mehcad, and to have him back, the scenes we shot were amazing on both ends of everything, amazing, and so I loved him personally. I fanned out that I got to do the things I got to do with him, and I think the fans will be really excited.

It is the end of a chapter, and while this ... Because the show's been running so long, there are different versions of the family and some of us have never crossed before, and so I think having us all in scenes together was interesting. It's like the cast tent was very full in the finale, and it was fun. You can talk to people about their perspective in this. It's such a rare thing to put a supersuit on. And so anytime you have other people that have done it, it's always fascinating to hear what their experience was like. It made it feel like the end, I think, for sure.

A super sad goodbye

What was the last day of shooting like?

It was very ... it's complicated. It's hard to talk about it without a spoiler. It was very dramatic in the material we were shooting, and it was already an environment that most defines emotional. So it was a lot, and everybody was there, which was really nice.

Did anyone cry or have a meltdown?

It was really tough, I felt like, for most parts of it. It was always random. One of our ADs, Bob — I gave the crew gifts, and I sobbed when I said bye to him, it was very random. But yeah, I think it was mixed. I think everyone's really sad, but you're also so tired at the end of this, and it doesn't feel real, you think you're going to come back after the break. So I think it's random. I'll get a text from Chyler like, "What the heck, I miss you so much." And I think we were just like sorry. I'm like, "I miss you, too." As we're rested now, we're processing it. I think all of us ... we'll keep in touch. 

New episodes of "Supergirl" air Tuesdays on the CW and stream on the website the next day. Tesfai's episode "Blind Spots" airs September 21.