When you think about superheroes, it's usually capes and tights that come to mind, not leaves and vines; when you think about crime-fighting, it's usually Superman flying through the sunny skies of Metropolis or Batman racing through the grimy streets of Gotham in the Batmobile, not a monster wading through the filthy waters of a bayou. Derek Mears – who plays the monstrous side of the titular character in DC Universe's Swamp Thing – said that outcast vibe is what has kept the character relevant for so long.
"I honestly believe that we all have felt like outcasts in our lives, and the overall arc for the series that we’re doing is acceptance – and learning to accept who you are and the world outside," Mears told Ranker. "Even though he’s perceived as such a monster, he’s more human than anyone. It parallels a lot of our own life journeys. There are times where we feel we’re too tall or too short, too wide or too thin, our teeth might not be in the perfect place, and we relate to this character and go, 'I know how he’s feeling.'"
The new streaming series follows Centers for Disease Control investigator Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) returning to her small Louisiana hometown to look into a mysterious outbreak. While there, she meets scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), who has recently died and been brought back as Swamp Thing by a force called The Green to protect the earth. The show is produced by horror maestro James Wan (The Conjuring), and eventually earned itself a Mature rating, the television equivalent of an R rating. Mears said securing that rating was the only way the show could lean into the horror elements of the character and be as faithful as possible to the source material.
"I’m a big horror nerd myself, and when I read the script I thought, 'This is what I want to see personally," he added. "When I got offered the role I was onboard 100% because we had the opportunity, in my opinion, to execute the property correctly and not stereotypical in a sense. No one really talked about the superhero aspect of it all. Everyone was really focused on the horror and humanity the entire time."
Mears is no stranger to horror or playing the monster of the story. He's familiar with stepping into the shoes of legendary film monsters – he played Jason in the 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th and a Predator in the 2010 film Predators. Despite all that experience, he said there are still some self-applied nerves that come with portraying fan-beloved characters.
"It’s almost like taking someone else’s baby and them going, 'Hey, I love this thing so much and now it’s your job to babysit it and hold it. We’re trusting you with it,'" Mears said. "You have to be respectful of the past – and do what people are familiar with – and also take a risk for some new things for a new generation that may have never seen the character before. It’s a hard juggling of those two points."
Playing a superhero was one of Mears's life-long dreams, despite the pressure it comes with; he spent his early childhood learning to read through comic books, including an early issue of Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing's get-up is quite a bit different than the Flash or Batman, but the actor said the suit was one of his favorites to date.
"I’ve worn a few different major costumes and make-ups in my career, and this is really the Cadillac. It’s so beautiful. I would just stand in front of the mirror and get lost. I get to wear art," he said. "Once you put the layers of make-up on, the suit and the contacts, you start to feel at home. It’s that Pavlovian response where once everything is on I’d start to move differently. Every day was a thrill and a challenge hopping into the suit and executing what I thought was right for the character."
Swamp Thing's 10-episode first season lands on the subscription-based DC Universe, which means that a large number of viewers will likely be familiar with the DC stable of characters. Even so, it's possible many know the mainstays like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern, but may be less familiar with the Swamp Things of the universe. To the people who may be unsure about the character, or are curious to check out how the streaming service is handling him, Mears said the show's really about something that's increasingly prevalent today.
"It’s a show about acceptance and humanity," he said. "Ultimately we’re doing a 10-hour horror movie, but there are so many elements of heart and humanity."