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Acting Up: Antony Starr Continues to Crush it as Homelander in Amazon’s ‘The Boys’

The Snapshot

In Amazon’s adaptation of the comic book series The Boys, Antony Starr is Homelander, the most powerful man on the planet. Nominally a hero, in reality, Homelander is a supervillain, an egotistical, sadistic narcissist who is the leader of The Seven, a corporate-funded group of “heroes,” just about all of whom are corrupt. 

(The fourth season of The Boys, based on the Dynamite Entertainment series by Garth Ennis and Darrick Robertson, is streaming on Amazon, with a new episode dropping every Wednesday.)

The Performance

The Boys was originally published by DC Comics, but was cancelled after six issues, when it became clear that creator Garth Ennis was poking merciless fun at the Justice League, the publisher’s marquee super team (corporations don’t tend to have a sense of humor about their big-ticket properties). 

When the series was picked up by indie publisher Dynamite, it was allowed to run its full 72 issues, in which Superman doppelgänger Homelander became more and more insane (and ultimately got what was coming to him at the hands of his main antagonist, and one of the story’s heroes, Billy Butcher). Homelander wasn’t just an analogy for the Man of Steel, there was also some Captain America mixed in. The somewhat cynical idea of the character being the personification of the way the rest of the world sees the U.S.

It’s always tricky to translate comic books to other media, be they movies or TV because what looks good on the page doesn’t always come across on screen. There’s also the fact that an actor is bringing the character to life, and all the peril that goes along with it. Fans always have something to say about that, and it’s the brave performer who takes it on. Especially with someone as complex as Homelander.

Enter Antony Starr. The New Zealander was best known in America for the genre series Banshee. Starr could play him as a straight villain, but instead, he allows the audience to see something else. In Starr’s portrayal, Homelander is still a complete reprobate and arguably irredeemable, but there is a childish quality to him that at least partially explains his behavior. It certainly doesn’t forgive it, nor does the show let him off the hook for the depravity he commits, including the rape of Butcher’s wife, but somehow, Starr avoids making him cartoonish.

Starr’s Homelander is a damaged soul who never had a chance to be anything other than what he is. Superman was raised by a loving couple of genuinely good people who taught him the difference between right and wrong. Homelander was raised by wolves, and Starr allows the audience to see the deep-seated wounds, even when he’s doing bad things.

This was especially showcased in the fourth episode of the current season. During a visit home, we got to see a more childlike and complex side of Homelander as he confronted his difficult past. What he saw and learned killed whatever humanity was left inside of him. Now, any pretense of heroism is gone, and Homelander has embraced his dark side.

What has been a slow decline throughout three and a half seasons culminated in the best work Starr has done in the series to date. You see Homelander snap, and you know that from here on out through the end of this season and the show’s fifth and final season, he will have no regard for anything other than his whims. 

Before, it was hard to think of Homelander as evil in the binary sense. Now, there’s no question, and it’s as much because of how Starr lets us inside the psycho’s head as anything else. The depth he brings to the character is what makes The Homelander such an engaging villain. 

The Career

Starr spent years working in his native New Zealand before he crossed over and became well known in the U.S. He first found fame in the dual role of twins Jethro and Van West in the Kiwi series Outrageous Fortune, and his biggest role stateside was in the 2004 comedy Without a Paddle, in which he had a small part as the main trio’s dead friend Billy. 

It was the 2013 Cinemax series Banshee that allowed Starr to find a larger audience. The show is an action-filled melodrama that relies heavily on sex and violence, focused on Starr’s Lucas Hood. Hood is an ex-con who is mistaken for the town of Banshee, Pennsylvania’s new sheriff, a role he takes on and relishes throughout four seasons.

The thing about Hood, though, was that not only wasn’t it the character’s real name, we never actually learned what that real name was. Even when he was in prison, the man was only known as John Doe, because no one could discern his identity.

As Hood, Starr showed off enormous charisma, as well as a toughness that bordered on the superhuman. His stoic, square-jawed good looks made him a perfect protagonist, a center of seriousness around which this bananas circus of insanity turned. To watch Banshee was to appreciate how difficult it would be to remain sane when surrounded by insanity.

Starr earned a lot of fans as Lucas Hood. As Homelander, he has earned even more, and, perhaps more impressively, he’s also earned the respect of the comic book fans who could have excoriated him, but have instead embraced him. 

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