Getting the call to play Cyborg in DC’s first film since their box office buster Wonder Woman is a monumental deal. The first big acting job is always an experience. For Ray Fisher, it’s a little bigger than most. Fisher, in his first major motion picture, will take on one of DC’s first Black heroes and one of their most beloved characters.
And while putting on the suit was a little different than his co-workers, Fisher respects the depths of responsibility. For many Cyborg is more than a member of the Justice League. He’s the first time they saw themselves in animation or on a comic book page. Fisher sat down with West Coast Correspondent Joelle Monique to discuss the role, the film, and which Bat-vehicle Cyborg would most like to drive.
Joelle: Well, you know, as Black Girl Nerds we’re about to get into it. I’m really excited to talk to you today.
Fisher: Good, good, good.
Joelle: So, tell me about your first interactions with Cyborg. Like whether it was on the animated show or in comic books.
Fisher: For me, it was the animated show. It was “Teen Titans” back in the early 2000’s. I was in high school. It was my freshman year. I was probably a little bit too old to be watching cartoons.
Joelle: You’re talking to the wrong audience.
Joelle: I’m still watching cartoons today.
Fisher: Even now, their animated stuff is just… I’m blown away by the originality of the stories. I grew up watching all these characters in “Justice League”, “Batman Superman Adventures”, “Batman: the Animated the Series”. I actually started rewatching that the other day. It’s still beautiful.
Joelle: So, as a fan, tell me about the moment when you get to the script and you get to say Cyborg’s catchphrase “Boo-Yah”. Was this an exciting moment?
Fisher: I mean, I think this is one of those things that, because we get to pull from so many different sources, because that’s not something that has ever been in the comics, prior to Khary Payton’s iteration of it, there was a lot of back and forth. Do you do it? Do you not do it? Do you go down the route? Some of the fans are really anticipating that moment. My big thing was that the character not just be relegated to the catchphrase. In this story, there is this healing process that Cyborg undergoes. When you see that, when you hear it being used for the first time, it’s sort of this release for him. Coming back into his human side of things. So, on the script side, it feels like a strange little right of passage. If that makes sense.
Joelle: It’s a well earned moment.
Fisher: Well thank you for saying so.
Joelle: I was excited when I first heard it. I felt like it came at the right time and it wasn’t forced at all. You’re DC’s first Black superhero in this cinematic universe.
Fisher: Let’s not forget Steel starring Shaquille O’Neil. (Laughter) Can’t forget Shaq. You go to throw Shaque in there. You’ve got to pay homage.
Joelle: But coming into this universe, have you run into the googly-eyed children, yet? We saw this a lot with girls and the new Ghostbusters film. They were staring up at the screen going “Oh my gosh, heroes that look like me.” Have you come across that, yet?
Fisher: You know I’ve done a couple conventions at this point and gone to a couple of different countries and it’s cool to have people of color coming up and saying, “Man, I got to let you know that Cyborg is my dude.” But, equally, as important you’ve got differently abled people come up and saying, “Listen, I respond to Cyborg because I’m an amputee.” Or I respond to Cyborg because I’ve also got a prosthetic leg, or prosthetic arm, that kind of thing. So you know I feel like it is important to have representation on every front. With respect to that, I take it as an honor to be able to hold the mantle for people who are underrepresented in the film and television world. I hope I do it justice.
Joelle: Absolutely. Let’s talk about the suit, which was super different. You were saying at the press conference that it wasn’t really there at all. You were the only one without a costume. What were you wearing? Was it just green screen stuff?
Fisher: It was just a onesie. It was just like a patchwork quilt.
Joelle: Is it hard to feel superheroic in just a onesie?
Fisher: I kind of felt like Cyborg. I felt like people were looking at me strangely. In a weird way, it kind of helps because everyone else is in practical costumes. Cyborg is the only member who can’t take his costume off. Essentially he feels ostracized from the human race because of that. And so, you know, while these guys could get instant gratification to see what they look like immediately, while we’re shooting, it felt kinda weird not knowing what I was going to look like. You know, you’ve got to wait several months. But knowing Zack (Snyder) and his crew, I knew at the end of the day I was going to look awesome. So it’s just that level of trust.
Also, there was a training program that we went through. My body naturally floats around 195 pounds. I ended up putting on about 30 pounds for the role for something that we see Victor Stone do prior to becoming Cyborg. And with that change, I felt outside of my own natural body. With that extra mass, it felt like I was wearing the suit in a weird way.
Joelle: So, let’s talk about the potential for a solo movie.
Fisher: I like the way you talk. I like the way you talk.
Joelle: Do we maybe have a chance to see Cyborg in his own movie?
Fisher: We do. We do, as long as people respond to what we’re doing and want to continue to see these films and want to continue to see Cyborg in particular. Maybe we can make enough noise to get that thing up and running. When you look at Wonder Woman and the success of that film and you see how quickly that Wonder Woman 2 has been fast-tracked through production, obviously you want everybody to like every character and you want to make sure that you give them the opportunity to explore who they are specifically outside of the team-up films.
I mean for me, you know, my ideal Cyborg film would be something that’s a little bit more intimate of a story. Sort of like a Logan kind of feel. Victor is taken out. He loses the ability to contact the members of the team. One of my big things is, you know, being a part of these huge franchises you have all these heroes. But then when you have solo films you’re like, “Well why didn’t Superman just show up? Why didn’t Batman just show up and help? This is a world-threatening crisis.”
Being able to take it and make it more intimate and come up with good reason as to why these heroes don’t just call each other up like, “Hey Barry. Come on man. I need you to like spin around. You can get here in a second. Come on. Where you at?”
Joelle: I tell people all the time that I wish the big two (Marvel and DC) would go small and do like an indie size film. I think these heroes work best when they’re human beings first and heroes second. When they’re just trying to get through their day there are so many more stories to tell. Is there an arc in comic books or a story you saw in the cartoons that you would really like to play out as Cyborg?
Fisher: I think there are a couple different aspects to it that I’d like to see fleshed out. From the new “Teen Titans”, you see Cyborg going through and doing daily things in his normal life. Which would be interesting to see from any superhero, even in their alter ego. But to watch Cyborg integrate himself into society and what comes of that I think would be super interesting to see.
You could start the movie off, have the first 15 minutes with him just doing the mundane stuff that one does every day. It’s like Cyborg brushing his teeth. No one envisions that kind of thing. I’d just have a montage of that kind of stuff.
Joelle: Especially because Cyborg probably upgraded his toothbrush in the best possible way.
Fisher: Exactly! He probably has the best electric toothbrush in the business.
Joelle: I love that. Vehicle wise, we see a ton of super dope vehicles. Cyborg drives a few. Is there a vehicle he enjoys driving the most?
Fisher: You know he can fly. That’s the best vehicle of all. Going into outer space – I don’t think there’s anything that can really beat that. Well, I mean, he’d probably enjoy the normalcy of driving around one of Bruce’s cars. You know one of the non-Batmobile-like cars. Like driving around one of his Mercedes or something. Just take a Sunday drive. Not using his powers at all.
Joelle: Driving Mr. Wayne? (Laughing)
Fisher: Oh, no. No. No. That’s a different kind of movie. I don’t think we want that. (laughing) But him being able to just take a drive out and observe just the scenery. Like just going to see the beach and just enjoying the breeze. That sort of thing.
Joelle: I love that you just want to get back to his human moments.
Fisher: I think that’s what’s most important. You know we’ve got a character who is 90 percent robotic. I mean I think that’s what you have to emphasize. That’s what audiences are going to respond to. It’s not about the trauma that he’s undergone it’s about how he responds to it.
Joelle: Your dad in the film is Joe Morton. He’s obviously amazing. What’s it like to work with that caliber of actor in one-on-one scenes?
Fisher: I wish my dad was Joe Morton in real life. (laughter)
Joelle: As long as he’s that Joe Morton and not the one from Scandal.
Fisher: No Papa Pope for you?
Joelle: That’s too much dad to deal with.
Fisher: No, Joe is a constant professional. It’s amazing to be the second Cyborg that he’s built in his movie career. You know I was able to just watch him and just observe because he’s always in the moment. He always shows up and he’s ready to go. He’s always prepared. I think he was shooting “Scandal” simultaneously.
He was shooting parts of Justice League. Then he’d be on a plane. Shoot that for a couple days and then go back. He was bouncing back and forth. The guy just doesn’t stop moving.
Joelle: That’s a true star. Wow.
Fisher: We got to have a chance to talk a little bit actor to actor. And I asked him, you know, I said, “Where do you get the energy?” And he said, “Well, listen. You know, you’ve already experienced it. We’re in a fortunate position that we’re able to do what we love and we’re able to do it at this level.” He said these opportunities may not be around all the time so grab them while you can and work as hard as you can.
Joelle: This is your first major motion picture.
Joelle: What is that process like? You go from auditioning, trying to just get in somewhere to, ok, you’re Cyborg now.
Fisher: By degrees, it goes by degrees. I think, with this, because I had so much lead-up time, from being cast to us actually shooting a film, to the film coming out, I’ve had a lot of time to mentally transition myself and play it down for myself. I do have a lot of friends who are still very much on the grind, and finding their way and trying to achieve their dreams. They keep me super grounded. I know it’s a big responsibility and I feel privileged that I’m able to work on something I feel this passionate about
I tell people, I say listen, you know I didn’t have any success at all, any true success, I feel, until I got really specific about the things that I wanted to do and focusing all my energy on those projects. Life’s too short to spend any amount of time doing something that you don’t really want to do. Particularly with this craft. It’s supposed to be something that brings enrichment and fulfillment. It should bring you joy.
That’s not to say there won’t be tough days. This is what we do. There are different personalities that come into the mix. There are different things that come up that can throw you off track. But at the end of the day as long as there’s this touchstone that you’re in this place of privilege you’re in this place of a desirable position that you know that this is super unique. That’s what’s important.
Joelle: Not that this isn’t amazing and everything, but is there something up next for you or somewhere where we can support you?
Fisher: You can support me by supporting this Justice League movie in general. I’m going through a life transition. I just turned 30 recently. I’ve accomplished one of my major goals in my life and right now I’m trying to figure out what the next step is going to be. And you know luckily I’m not in a rush. When I’m rushing that’s when I end up making a lot of silly decisions.
I think what is going to come after this will be something that comes organically. I like helping with the developmental process. I like talking out ideas with people, especially in this movie.
Joelle: Have you met Tika Sumpter, yet?
Fisher: I have not, no.
Joelle: You need to hook up with her cause that girl is producing all the stuff. She’s super into giving people their next quality thing. She is all about that.
Fisher: Yeah? Well, I just like talking about movies in general. My friends joke around – I’m good friends with Kenric Green and Sonequa Martin-Green – and we actually did the Muhammad Ali piece, the original iteration of that together. That’s where she and her husband met. She went off and did The Walking Dead and all that. We did the show in NY. They’re heroes in their own right, you know?
And so for me, you know being able to talk out ideas with people who are super passionate about and really care about the work, without too much ego, or with as little ego as you possibly can have in this business, cause obviously its art and ideas and all that sort of stuff, is one of the best parts of the job. As far as what’s next goes, we’ll see.
Joelle: Well, we’re excited about whatever it’s going to be. You were incredible in this film. I can’t wait to see what you do next. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me.
Fisher: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate your support and I appreciate the talk.
Justice League opens in theaters nationwide November 17, 2017.
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Joelle Monique is the co-creator and writer of the webcomic Harsh Mellow, a podcaster with Black Girl Nerds, a proud Hufflepuff, and a member of the water tribe. She resides in Los Angeles but her heart resides in Chicago.