As previously reported at MajorSpoilers.com, Valiant Digital will be bringing many of their characters to visual life in the upcoming Ninjak Versus the Valiant Universe digital series, expected to debut in 2017. When the announcement was made at the recent New York Comic Con, Valiant made two actors from the show, Kevin Porter and Ciera Foster, available to chat with us about it. Special thanks to Valiant’s Hunter Gorinson and Andrew Steinbeiser for making this happen!
Kevin Porter: Your interview should start out saying, “Kevin is speaking as Batman as if he were a putty-tat.”
Major Spoilers: Okay! I’m talking now with Kevin Porter (Archer) and Ciera Foster (Livewire), who are playing those characters in the new Valiant digital series, Ninjak Versus the Valiant Universe. How are you doing today, Kevin?
KP: I’m doing great, thank you. I’m very blessed to be here.
MS: The reason I’m talking to you first is because you’re sitting closer to me. Usually, it’s ladies first, by the way. And Ciera?
Ciera Foster: I’m doing great as well, glad to talk with you.
MS: Talk to me about the characters and how you got familiar with them. Obviously, to play the characters, you have to understand their backgrounds. What was it that you did? Was it reading the comics, did folks tell you about it, or was it a combination of both?
CF: Well, for myself, I just literally devoured the background information they provided, of course, then I went to the comic book stores and I did my own research. And then I was very fortunate enough to have such wonderful people come down as Josh Dysart and Dinesh Shamdasani from Valiant and discuss the character further. And I actually talked a lot with Kevin about the character, so I was very blessed to have a very full background and grasp of the character. And I also talked to some fans.
MS: And you, Kevin?
KP: I always go to the source material with everything, no matter what character I play. I go to the point of origin when the character was created, whether it’s Bill Finger or Bob Kane, or Armstrong. Before I was cast, prior to the audition, it was just everything I could find over the Internet, but as soon as I was cast, they sent me that magical box that they sent everyone, and I just scoured it, just basically building a foundation of the character – the frame, and then I just added what I could to it to bring it to life.
MS: Now Livewire is a newer character. Of course, Armstrong’s been around for decades, but Livewire is a rather recent addition. Was there room for you to put your own spin on it, or did you really need to kind of follow what they had said? How did you approach Livewire?
CF: Well, Livewire has actually a very huge foundation although she came about much later after Armstrong. The whole series goes back to 1979, and then published in the 1980s, so you can look up a generous amount of information on Livewire. She has a history – it’s almost like she’s living a double life. Not only can you find the origins of her childhood to learn how she got her powers and what happened to her parents. But then fast forward to her relationship with Harada and how she got her other powers and became the Livewire that everybody knows now and then how she became the leader of Unity. So there was a plethora of information on Livewire that I was able to obtain and really just get into her not only as an artist but as a fan, and I admire her so much and I’m so honored to be playing her.
MS: Okay, Armstrong … this is one of the stand-out characters I think as far as Valiant goes. He is unlike anything else you see in the comics. What was it about the character that attracted you to him?
KP: That he is so different. I think every character has his place in the grand scheme. It was explained to me clearly that not only is Armstrong the comic relief, but he is just this jolt of energy that comes in. So whenever I explode, I explode into the scene, and I’ll drive the energy up, drive the comedy factor up. That’s how it was explained to me. And when you read it, you’re like, okay, he’s a pretty freakin’ funny character. And you take that text which is all black and white and just flat and even less that one-dimensional, and then you breathe life into that, you give it texture, you give it nuance, you give it performance, and then you bring your life experiences to it. You give your own laugh and your own spin on it.
MS: So, are you interacting with Archer as well on this show? Have you been doing that with him on the episodes you’ve filmed so far?
KP: Absolutely! Absolutely!
MS: You guys are like two total polar opposites …
KP: Well, he’s the opposite. I’m the base, and he’s the opposite of me.
MS: (Laughter) So, how’s that been doing that? Are you used to being like the comedic part of the thing? And he’s basically the straight guy…
KP: No, normally, umm, I think I’m a pretty funny guy, I really am, but because of my size, I’m always cast as the heavy. The things that I’ve done for Bat in the Sun, Batman/Punisher … all flat, all straight man, just Clint Eastwood, Clint Eastwood it up. But here, I’m able to be myself. That to me is one of the reasons that I was attracted to the role. I can have fun. I can actually speak and have dialogue and act and enjoy myself, chew up the scenery … unapologetically chew up the scenery!
MS: How about you, Ciera? Livewire is more serious of a character as far as that goes. It’s great to see a woman lead character come in, so that must have been fun for you.
CF: Oh, it’s so exciting! It’s one of the most thrilling experiences of my life… I really will say that because I believe in strong women in general but especially strong female characters that are authentic. What I love about Livewire is, she is physically strong. Not only is she a strong personality and she’s the commander in chief of Unity, but the physicality of Livewire, especially for a comic book … she’s not overly sexualized. Her strength is what is alluring about her, and that to me is very, very fun. I am very outgoing and spontaneous as a person, so naturally we enjoy playing characters that are not exactly like us. To really jump in and have fun and enjoy being stoic and cerebral and have inside/out acting so that when Livewire walks into the room, she might not talk, but you feel her presence. You know she’s there.
MS: A lot of times they’ll cast actors who are very outgoing to play very subdued characters, like the guy that was in Stargate SG-1, he was a very much of an outgoing …
CF: I LOVED that show, by the way! Right? That was amazing! I forgot about that show! That show was amazing!
MS: Well, he was very much of an outgoing guy, and they cast him as this guy who almost never makes any emotion on his face…
CF: That’s very true! They were always getting stuck, though. One time, the teleporter wouldn’t work and then, of course, “We’re stuck here!” In every episode, they were stuck somewhere!
KP: You’re geeking out.
CF: I AM geeking out, but that’s also why I’m a good Livewire because I’m like a true geek. I’m just a geek in heels, a geek in heels!
MS: So you can kind of feel the underneath energy that you have in the character even though she’s not quite as outgoing, say, as Armstrong.
CF: Oh, totally. The thing about me and my deep affinity and appreciation for the character and just really having an understanding as my foundation of who she is… When I am in costume and I am in character, I AM Livewire. When I’m in certain situations as Livewire, you see my reaction come through my pores. It’s almost coming off my skin, and to me, that IS Livewire.
MS: Now you, Kevin, on the other hand, don’t have to hold anything back. You get to just be Armstrong.
KP: The great thing to this is, it’s such a great combination of text and subtext. It’s amazingly written material, and then I’m able to take this framework, and crank it up two notches. So, a lot of times, you’ll have your text and then the text is okay, it’s flat, but then you have your subtext. But here, the text equals the subtext because you can’t take it too far. It’s a good framework, and it gives me a lot of mobility to play. I kid you not, it’s without a doubt the most fun character I’ve ever played in my life!
CF: I have to second that. The text is immaculate! It truly is! I mean, it was written by a team of writers, and the whole story is in a comic book, so people have these rivalries and these relationships that have been set into place for years, so we are very privileged and blessed as actors to be able to bring that to life. So, the text helps a lot!
MS: Your characters don’t actually interact very much in the comics… as least, they haven’t so far.
CF: We don’t even know each other!
KP: That’s all subtext!
MS: (Laughter) That’s all subtext! Okay! That might be fun to go someplace where the comics haven’t gone, where you guys know each other.
CF: I would love to fight Armstrong.
KP: She doesn’t want to fight Armstrong.
CF: Yeah, well…
KP: Again, like I said, it’s not that you’re a girl. She doesn’t want to fight Armstrong because Armstrong’s immortal.
CF: It would be a waste of my exceptional powers.
KP: It would be boring.
CF: I’d like blast, blast, bam, kill. It would be too much.
KP: It would be boring to Armstrong. He would let her… she’s nice, but Armstrong’s immortal. He’ll be around for another 10,000 years. Let’s have the young one have her day.
CF: The young one…
MS: Well, Armstrong actually likes the ladies, as far as those things go.
KP: He’s a big fan of the ladies! As he said, he’s down with the ‘80s because it’s the ladies. So, Armstrong was a big Tone Loc fan in the ’80s. That “Wild Thing,” that “Funky Cold Madina.” So, I think that he would enjoy mixing it up with Livewire.
CF: The thing is, I don’t know if he could ever get close to Livewire because like, you know, just the power thing, being a strong woman, blah blah blah…
KP: See, he would get close to her … emotionally.
CF: He’s actually really obnoxious and offensive, though, and he’s a lush!
KP: Yeah, I know that, but they love him! The ladies love him! It’s like, you know, again… we’re going to go Ogee on it. But like LL Cool J, okay? But here, it’s LL A&A.
KP: Ladies love Archer and Armstrong.
CF: People are going to read this and go, “Oh, no! He went there! Yes, he did!”
KP: Yes, ladies love Archer and Armstrong, which actually predates LL Cool J.
CF: There’s going to be music playing in about 30 seconds. Just letting you know. It’s going to start slow, and it’s going to build up…
MS: How about Livewire as a romantic character. What’s her element as far as being romantic goes?
CF: Well, the thing about Livewire which makes her exceptional, and if anybody’s really, really, really read the comics, they know that there is another side to Livewire – you just have to get to it. I will say this, without giving away too much: There is a soft spot that Livewire has, a weakness. They’re few and far between, and they’re not permanent, but if you look closely, you might see evidence of that in one of these episodes coming here, but certainly Valiant has made sure to develop fully complex characters, so stay tuned for that.
KP: If I may, one thing that Ciera took great care in is the nuance and the subtlety of the details of every single part of the character, and she would toil over the motivation of every moment and every instance. The part that she was talking about, I get chills right now because it was a big moment. And this moment with a lesser actress would have been honestly blown off. But she found the brilliance in the subtext of that moment, and she tied that to that vulnerability that she has. It was beautiful to watch a true actress take this line, that literally could have been “Clint Eastwood-ed” out, to bring life to it. It was a joy to watch.
CF: I appreciate that. Thank you. It was very important. It was a team effort. I collaborated and I bounced things off Kevin since I have a lot of admiration for him as an artist, as a person, and as a friend, but I also spoke with Josh and Dinesh on set and asked, “How do you feel about this?” I wanted to make sure we were on the same page because it was very important to me that Livewire, as strong as she is, as powerful and prominent in the Valiant Universe as she is, that she was not one-dimensional. And the way it was written, there were nuggets, there were little gifts in there, and to me it’s very important to me to know what’s going on in the entire universe and with the other characters interacting with Ninjak so we’re not doing certain things even if it is just a line, it doesn’t come off as just that. You’re getting the full intention of the character.
MS: You’ve just gotten to my next question. Ninjak is the giant bear in the room, and your characters have to interact with him. According to the title of the series, it’s a “versus” relationship. Are your characters actually completely against that character or are you guys going to actually have sort of a gray-ish kind of a friendship or opposition?
KP: Let’s say that there are violent interactions that aren’t clearly motivated.
CF: Yes, that was just perfect! BOOM!
KP: THAT WAS AWESOME! THAT WAS GREAT!
CF: He threw it out there, and you knocked it out of the park!
KP: That answered, but didn’t answer, the question!
MS: That’s what these press things are for!
CF: Yes, exactly! We’re secretly politicians! No…
CF: But no, it’s all about various live action. It does involve Ninjak. It does involve the Valiant Universe, but the motivation behind it is I think what is intriguing. Yeah. See, I think people will get caught by the motivation and that there’s something more to this.
MS: If the writers haven’t completely finished things, I think one of the great things they could do is have your characters interact.
CF: Everybody keeps saying that!
MS: You guys have this great interaction. It would be fun to see this on screen.
KP: Well, what we’re talking now is, we’re talking spin-off.
CF: (Laughter) Right. Make sure you say that again so Dinesh could hear you! You’re only the third person to say that today!
KP: Because you said that we’re so brilliant together.
CF: And that you wanted to see our characters interact together.
KP: I think we’re talking spin-off, similar to Joanie Loves Chachi.
CF: We’re opposites. I’m very stoic and cerebral. He’s a lush.
KP: Yes. And a womanizer.
CF: And I’m the ultimate feminist, super-strong and amazing.
KP: And we’re subletting an apartment in New York, and we have to co-exist. And I’m just like the ultimate chauvinist slob. It’s like The Odd Couple meets Joanie Loves Chachi.
CF: It just got weird. Unless you like it.
MS: So, would it be called Livewire and Armstrong or Armstrong and Livewire?
KP: It’s Armstrong and Livewire. It just sounds better.
CF: No, it would be … okay, that does sound better.
KP: Okay, Armstrong and Livewire does sound better!
MS: Well, much success to you all. I’m looking forward to this. I can’t wait to see it. I hope you get to do more than just six episodes. I hope you get to do a lot.
KP: I think we are!
CF: I think Valiant is just getting started!
KP: And “spin-off” is hyphenated, so whenever you write this…
CF: Yeah. Make it in black bold.
KP: Red bold…
CF: There you go!