When “Batgirl” completed its seven-month production in Scotland, star Leslie Grace received a wrap gift from Brendan Fraser, who played her nemesis, Firefly, in the DC movie — a gold necklace that included two charms, a little bell and a pair of dice.
“The card said a lot of really sweet things, but he basically said, ‘I give you this necklace because in this business you gotta have a little luck. So ring your bell and never stop,’” Grace says. “It was just like, Whoa. And after all this, it’s had so much meaning.”
“All this” is the August bombshell that Warner Bros. Discovery had decided to kill the film, co-directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. After the first disappointing test screenings, WBD executives chose to take a tax write-off instead of trying to complete work on the film, which had cost the debt-ridden studio $90 million, and would have cost many more millions to finish.
Grace says she had no idea the movie, originally set to stream on HBO Max, was shelved, until it was first reported by the New York Post.
“I found out like the rest of you,” she says. “And then my phone just started blowing up.”
Like Grace, Fraser says he was blindsided by the news. “I thought I was getting punked, but it checked out,” he says of reading the initial stories. “Then came hysterical laughter like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’ I know that the filmmakers and producers were expecting to hear from the studio about the film, and the anticipation was, ‘How do we broaden the movie out to take it from a streaming format to a theatrical release?’ But as we all know, it was the complete opposite. When we were expecting XYZ amount of support and money to expand scenes — to do pickup shots and those kinds of things — that was a gut punch. But then we learned that it was in the interest of writing down some debt? That part really stung.”
Fraser immediately called Grace. “What I find most lamentable is that now a whole generation of little girls are going to have to wait longer to see a Batgirl and say, ‘Hey, she looks like me,’” he says. “That makes me sad. I know how good she was. And I know what this would mean to so many people.”
Fraser gets emotional talking about working with Grace. “It was just magical to see how she was as quietly confident as a young actress in this breakthrough role and had a sense of purpose and dignity,” he says. “She has a work ethic that is unrivaled. She’s dynamite — and dynamite comes in small packages but still goes bang. We do battle each other several times. There was a lot of kicking and punching and getting hurt but we were always help each other to our feet after breaking set pieces and knocking the tar out of each other.”
Grace is now back in the spotlight with “How to Win Friends and Disappear People,” a new comedy-thriller podcast series from QCode about a computer scientist (Soni Bringas) in New York City who discovers her neighbor, played by Grace, is a vampire.
Variety talked at length with the 28-year-old Grace. It’s the first time she’s opened up in such depth since learning of Batgirl’s fate.
When the news came out in August that the movie was being shelved, what went through your mind?
It was like deflating a balloon. On that day, I was very much just taking it all in, but also so sure of the magic that happened — in my experience and what I saw in my cast, in our team — that I was like, “This must be some crazy thing that we have no control over.” I tend to be a very optimistic and positive person in these types of circum- stances, and I just really leaned on the beauty of the idea that I got to have this experience in my life. Even though I would’ve loved to share that with the rest of the world, nothing can take that experience away from us.
New DC Studios head Peter Safran most recently said the movie was “not releasable,” and that it could have could hurt DC. Is there anything in your mind that can justify that?
I had my own meetings with Warner Bros. Film Group CEOs Pam Abdy and Mike De Luca, and they explained to me, on a granular level, what they felt about the project, things that were out of their hands, plans and budgets that were set in place before they were even part of the team. There are a lot of things that I learned through the experience about moviemaking, that as an actress you have no control over. They weren’t really specific on anything creative in terms of what they felt about the film and how it would’ve hurt DC creatively. But I’m a human being, and people have perceptions and people read things. And when words are expressed very lightly about work that people really dedicated a lot of time to — not just myself but the whole crew — I can understand how it could be frustrating.
There was nothing that you saw while you were shooting that said, “This movie’s not going to work”?
I’m not going to lie to you. In every film, there are obstacles, and our film was nothing short of that. Half of the shoot was night shoots in Scotland, where it never stops raining. So there were obstacles, but at the end of the day, because of the incredible crew, nothing that ever got in the way of us delivering what we knew we wanted to deliver for this film. At least from what I was able to see.
Did you ever see a final cut of the film?
That’s the one thing I asked for. I got to see the film as far as it got to; the film wasn’t complete by the time that it was tested. There were a bunch of scenes that weren’t even in there. They were at the beginning of the editing process, and they were cut off because of everything going on at the company. But the film that I got to see — the scenes that were there — was incredible. There was definitely potential for a good film, in my opinion. Maybe we’ll get to see clips of it later on.
When you spoke to Variety last April, you had just wrapped the movie and you said you were already talking to the directors about a sequel.
We still are. We were so excited about all the ideas that we had, because you can see long- term potential in the story that we were beginning to build.
Obviously, Peter Safran and his co-chairman at DC, James Gunn weren’t there when this decision was made, but have they reached out to you?
No, I haven’t heard from them. But I wish them the best on all the plans that they’ve got rolling out. They’ve got a lot of projects to handle, and it’s not an easy job.
Matt Reeves’ “Batman” with Robert Pattinson is getting a sequel, and there’s talk that it will include more of the Bat family. Would you consider coming back to play Batgirl?
We’ve definitely had conversations about Batgirl’s future and how Batgirl can make a resurgence. I think fans are looking forward to seeing that. We’ll just see where that takes us; I can’t say one way or the other if that is a reality at this point. I can’t speak too much about a future for Bat- girl or guarantee anything. The last thing that I would want to do is give folks any kind of inkling of something that I have not much control over — as we’ve learned.
Let’s go back again to that first time you talked to Variety about “Batgirl.” You had just been cast and you spoke so eloquently and so passionately about what you, as Batgirl, would mean to young Latinas. What do you say to them now?
Oh, man. That your journey is not a mistake. That everything in your journey can be learned from, can be transformative, can be inspirational and aspirational for someone that you might not even know. I’ve learned that you can make the choice to learn from things and transform it into something that’s positive for you, or you can be down in the dumps, I would say “Just keep going no matter what the obstacle is. If you have a passion for something, don’t let anything that stands in your way tell you that you aren’t worthy, capable, or have the potential to fulfill what you know you’re capable of doing.”
Let’s talk about “How to Win Friends and Disappear People.” Did you record your parts all on your own or did you do it with your co-stars?
I actually recorded before all the rest of the cast. I had already recorded all my parts and all the episodes when we found Soni a few weeks into production. It’s kind of like a self-tape scenario, where they had a reader who was incredible, who embodies all of the other characters that are not recorded yet.
Are you already thinking of adapting it as a TV series or movie?
QCode has done an amazing job of taking something that’s just a podcast and audible, and taking it to the screen. For me, coming in as a producer as well, and being able to create something along with Sophia and all of the QCode team, that felt like something we could potentially bring to screen with, basically, almost an all-Latino cast. That prospect is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to seeing how people respond to it. I think it’s a beautiful way to develop.
You play a vampire. Are you a fan of the vampire genre?
Yes, I’m a “Twilight” fan.
Team Edward or team Jacob?
I’m not going to lie to you. When it came out, I was very much team Jacob. I’m not going to front, but now I have to be a little bit biased. I’m a vampire myself, so I can’t be saying that out here in these streets. My vampire fam will come after me.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.