British-born actor Mark Ashworth plays Janitor Justin or Shining Knight, the mysterious Blue Valley High custodian with an identity crisis, on Stargirl. The show is currently airing on DC Universe and The CW.
As much as Janitor Justin, or Shining Knight, is a mystery, here’s a chance to learn more about actor Mark Ashworth, who plays the character on DC’s Stargirl. Originally from Manchester, England and now based in Atlanta, Georgia, Mark’s other TV credits include Doom Patrol, Secrets and Lies, The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hallow, among others.
On the film side, Mark has appeared in Black Panther, Jungle Cruise, Star Trek First Frontier and numerous short films. In this interview, we discuss Mark’s beginnings in the UK, his experience playing Justin and hopes for the future, as well as comparing his Stargirl role to a very different DC Comics series – Doom Patrol.
It was such a pleasure to talk with Mark about a wide variety of topics pertaining to his career. This interview was conducted ahead of episode 11, “Shining Knight”, airing on The CW. Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to chat with Courageous Nerd.
You’re originally from Manchester but you currently live in Atlanta, where Stargirl‘s actually filmed. What brought you out to Georgia initially?
Mark Ashworth (MA): That’s correct. Eccles, Manchester, yeah, just outside. So, I moved to America back in 1992. We had visited America on family vacation. Cut a long story short, my family was offered an opportunity by an auto parts business in Tennessee. Some people that we visited, they were retirement age and asked my Dad if he would want to buy it. They made plans and we just started to come over then. A few years from when he had initially started the process to being over here. I lived in Tennessee during my first four years in the country. Right around ’97, I had a job opportunity come up in Atlanta, cleaning carpets of all things. I did that knowing that Atlanta was the closest bigger city.
You have to imagine, coming from Eccles, Manchester, where you can get around where you want. Watch the football, go to the concerts, walk. Coming into America and living in a very, very rural part of the country was difficult. It was a culture shock for me. The opportunity of going somewhere where there was a bit more culture and the arts, it just kind of made me act. I was out the door before I even knew or cared that I was going to be cleaning carpets. Came here in ’97 and I’ve been here ever since.
Something else that people would connect Manchester with is Coronation Street, the world’s longest running soap opera. Did you ever envision yourself being on that show at all, if you had aspirations to act?
MA: Never, never at all. Not before I got into it, not when I was over there. You know, I was 16 when I moved over here, Conor. Acting really wasn’t anything that was ever on my game plan when I came here. It was just something that… life is a journey and different chapters within your journey. When I came to Atlanta, I was living my youth, playing football. Working, making a living, hanging out with my friends. It wasn’t until years later that I got into acting. So, although Coronation Street was never on my mind when I was there in England, when I came over here I thought of the prospect of going back. Seeing if I could work in England. If I could get onto a show like that, I would definitely do it.
Linking two of your worlds together, your Stargirl co-star Neil Hopkins played a Mancunian character on LOST. Have you ever had the opportunity to hear how he did with his accent on that show?
MA: No! You know what, I haven’t. I knew he was on LOST, Neil… does he play Charlie’s brother in it?
He’s Charlie’s brother [Liam Pace] and what he told me was although he has a good understanding of accents, Neil didn’t think his was very good on LOST.
MA: When I saw it… I know Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) was probably more of the focal of the two brothers. Usually if there’s a bad accent, it sticks out for me to even think about it. It never did. He was definitely passable. Actors… me too, I’m my own worst critic at times. Which is a blessing and a curse. I think it keeps you striving, it keeps you working at the craft. At the same time, in the slower times and there are some when you’re acting, they can become burdensome if you tend to focus on them too much. Try not to but it is human nature I think in down, slow times to reflect. But he did great! He did great, I loved that. [Sings You All Everybody].
I don’t know how familiar you are with it but Neil told me that’s not his voice singing that song. They’d already recorded the song before they hired Neil and he was basically the face.
MA: That’s awesome. You know what, I never knew that, Conor. Now you’ve brought that up, I’m gonna circle back and chat with Neil about it. I’d love to hear his experience. I loved Dominic too, he’s amazing, ain’t he?
Speaking of Dominic Monaghan – he’s a big United supporter. Which of the two Manchester teams do you fall into?
MA: That’s probably why I like him so much, truth be told mate. United, yeah. I used to work at Old Trafford, probably about 15 at the time. It was a friend of a friend who was working there and she said that she could get me in. I went in and worked every match day in the VIP Lounge, special guests. It was great. For the amount of work I did, I got paid peanuts. I’d nick a programme on the way out and have a cup of coffee at half-time. I spilled coffee on Paddy Crerand’s [former Celtic and Manchester United soccer player] lap. I was shrinking and he said, “Don’t worry lad! It’s only piping hot coffee.” But I got to watch the games, you know. I was at some great games. I was there at Old Trafford when Eric Cantona came back.
When you were cast on Stargirl, how much of Justin’s backstory were you told from the outset? It’s been revealed gradually.
MA: I was told the most after I booked it. Speaking with Geoff [Johns, creator and developer], he came over, said hello and introduced himself. He was grateful, he said, for me to be there. Which was amazing, he’s such a nice guy. So nice and welcoming, just good, compassionate, present human which is not something you always encounter. You shouldn’t expect that on a film or TV set, there’s so much going on. People haven’t got time to do that or their mind’s elsewhere. Whenever you come across that genuine nature of somebody on set, it’s just so refreshing. Geoff came over and he said… he started talking about the comics and Justin, who Justin was.
I can tell you now, I’ve been on a couple of these before and been a little tight-lipped with it. He would talk about the Shining Knight, Seven Soldiers of Victory, Justin’s backstory as Sir Justin. You know, he talked about it all and it was surreal listening to him tell me this story because I was there playing this character, Justin. When I booked the show, I knew that I was going to be recurring. I don’t think I knew at that point that I would be a guest-star. Guest star recurring is bigger than a co-star recurring. I was sitting there, talking to him, nodding my head and thinking, “Wow, this is an amazing backstory to this character.” I just had no idea that it was going to come out in this scope. Most of it was going to come out within the scope of the season.
I this character would be somebody that’s there that the OG comic-book fan is going to recognise. But not going to be a storyline.
Some people suspected early on that there was more to Justin than just being a janitor. I think that was quite smart of them. As sad as it is, a janitor’s not normally someone people would pay a lot of attention to. They put you in the background and built up as they went along.
MA: Very subtly done.
How satisfying was it for you to see people identify Justin as Shining Knight, based on the clues given?
MA: It was great. It was kind of satisfying but I also knew that it wouldn’t come out until Episode 11. So I’ve been tight-lipped about it until most recently. The cat came out of the bag in I think Episode… was it 7 where Shiv was about to kill Courtney – Stargirl? I showed up with the sword. You’d seen the sword and the chalice. ‘Victory’ was up there on the calendar. It was definitely clues within that. I wanted to hold on to that for those who are just following the show. It’s been great, I’m so excited that I’ve got so many messages today. It just came out, like you said Conor, the episode ‘Shining Knight’. This is my episode. Geoff talked about this back last year when we were working on the pilot.
He said, “We’ll get to really know Justin and you’ll have much more work in Episode 11.” And so, he was right about everything that he said. There’s more in store too. I’m so excited moving forward, we got renewed. It’s great news. I’m so happy, not only for the entire cast and crew but Geoff too. I think his sister [Courtney Johns], lives on through the show and it’s got a special message in there that reflect… I never knew her… but reflect her soul and her spirit. Through Brec and Courtney, you know. For this to live on and he sacrificed a lot to get this done. I think he stepped away from helming DC so he could concentrate on this as showrunner. I’m just delighted for everybody that we are getting the opportunity to come back.
The fact it’s on The CW, over here in the US it’s got superhero shows that have got a lot of staying power. They tend to stick around. The fact that the fans are really getting into the show, it’s told me that this has got a lot of staying power too. Geoff is still onboard at the helm because I know there’s so many more stories that he wants to tell. I read an article just last week about him, I think I was mentioned in the article, it pops up sometimes on my Google search. He said something about how this season, they’re just kind of building the universe. They’re building the world and there’s so many different subplots, storylines. Clues and hints as to which way they could go. They’ve got some great writers onboard – James Robinson. It’s going to be cool, man. I’m excited to see where it goes and what happens.
I’m curious as to if they’re going to go back to school. I don’t see how they can. Tigress (Joy Osmanski) is still at large there. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m excited.
Speaking of the school, you’ve been around the younger characters, Courtney and the other JSA members. How was your experience of working with them in that environment?
MA: It was amazing, absolutely amazing mate. Anytime you get the opportunity to go on set is a great day. When you get to go back and see these familiar faces, both crew and cast, everybody makes you feel welcome. Working with them was a true treat. It was a little different for me because I’d come in, stay in the background, say a line and be off. Sometimes in and out in the space of 6-10 hours, which is a short day. Sometimes it would be like ships in the night. Towards the end of the show, I did get to work a little heavier with them. Their joy, experience and excitement for everything is contagious. They’re really, really talented kids.
Cameron [Gellman, who plays Rick Tyler], is just one of the nicest people you’re ever gonna meet. He was just amazing and he’s all heart, all love and super, super nice. Brec was there just about every day, I think. She would be on set just about every single day. You know she’s tired but she would still make time and just be smiling, knowing that she’s doing what she loves to do. She would come with a air of gratitude and thankfulness which carries on through. As Number 1 on the call sheet, there’s a lot of responsibility. She carried that with dignity and pride. It was trickle down effect. It starts obviously with Geoff, who is a joy to be around. But when the Number 1 on the call sheet is giving that and reflecting that too, it definitely trickles down to every single person.
When I interviewed Eric Goins, he mentioned that the two of you were friends prior to Stargirl. Did you know anyone else before the show, or just Eric?
MA: There’s a young girl who plays a couple of times in the Diner. She gave them a Banana split, Barbara (Amy Smart) and Pat (Luke Wilson) when they met. She’s in the early episodes too, I think it was with Icicle (Neil Jackson) and Cameron (Hunter Sansone), Jordan and Cameron. Yeah, I know Maria Sager from being around here in town, workshops and working together. I think that’s about it that I knew going into the show. I knew a couple of the stunt performers, I’d worked with them before. And the crew as well, when you’re working in town, probably worldwide when you work in the same town, you’re just going to run into people.
The film community, especially in Atlanta, we’ve got something here in relation to Los Angeles that is more community-driven. I think in LA, there’s a lot of cutthroat tendencies. It just comes across as a little bit less genuine than it does here.
You were in an episode of The Walking Dead. How much do you think that show, in the last ten years, has helped Atlanta grow as a filming location?
MA: I think that probably was/is one of the shows that put us on the map here. That probably… we got a tax incentive here Conor, years ago. Forget when it came but it was right at the beginning of that period, I believe. With that came a mass influx of shows that were looking and could get a good percentage of their money back once they wrap production. As long as they’ve got this thing on the very back credits — Georgia peach, it says ‘Made in Georgia’. They get a pretty healthy percentage of their money back. The Walking Dead was here at the birth of all that. That’s more of a graphic novel than a comic, isn’t it? I’ve been schooled before by that. They tell that story so well and fans of that show, they know all about it. It’s got such a massive following. That had been on my vision board, to be on that, since the first season. I was so grateful when I did finally book that.
The role wasn’t what I wanted. I think death is such a big part of the show, that I was just grateful to be on it. It was Season 6, maybe, I think it was. They audition their actors and if they like the read – obviously you get dummy sides that probably encapsulate the emotional arc of whatever the character’s going to be going through, the stakes are just about the same. They usually use fake scenarios. The audition process is: you get the read and if they like, they’ll put you through for a role similar to it. If they like it general, they put it in a special pile. That first audition from the beginning of the season, you could hear something back in six months after. It will come by way of ‘are you available?’ In the middle of a show season, there’s so many people dying off, they don’t have to consistently go through the audition process for little by-roles.
I had to fight for my name in that too, I felt weird doing it. If you don’t mind me telling that story really quick. So I got offered the role, it said ‘Can you work Tuesday and Friday?’ It said the role is called Prisoner #2, the producers will give this character a name on set. Like I said, I’d been vision-boarding getting onto the show for years. So I was like, “I think this is the one”. There were some situations years prior when they’d asked me to work – one time I was in England, one time I was on another show. and I just couldn’t do it. This time, I said to my agent, ‘Let’s go for it Tell them yes.’ I went for the fitting that night and I got the script after I got home that night.
I saw the role and it wasn’t the role that I had thought it would be. He wasn’t going to be coming back. I thought, “Well, if he’s not got a name, they’ll introduce him as Prisoner #2 and he could come back in a later episode and then they’ll give him a name.” That was my thinking on it, possibly. Didn’t have a name and after reading the script, he didn’t come back. More than that, he really wasn’t worthy of a name. The role wasn’t that worthy of a name. I could see why they didn’t name him, to tell you the truth. Been for my fitting, phoned my agent and said, “Hey, this role isn’t quite what I was led to believe it was. I don’t know if they’re going to give the character a name because I don’t think he deserves one. If they don’t, I’m probably going to pass on it. I’m just going to pass. Would you be okay with that?”
I ran it by my agent first and they said, “Yes, we feel the same way. This role felt like it might have had more of a name, more gravitas to it.” So, I said, “It’ll probably be okay, I’ll show up to set in the morning and the character will be there, the character name.” I showed up to set in the morning and it wasn’t. It was still POW #2. I didn’t sign the contract. The set PA said “go down to set, we’ll get you miked up and block the scene out.” I went down to set and we did the rehearsal. They were miking me up and the PA came over to me again and said, “You need to sign this. If you don’t sign this, you can’t work today.” I said, “Well, I’m just not going to work then. If that’s not been changed, I’m not going to work. I’m sorry, I’ve spoken to my agent and they know the way I feel and were supposed to be calling casting but obviously they haven’t, whatever.”
He said, “Okay, wait here” and went away and he got… it wasn’t Greg Nicotero, it was the other EP on the show, I forget his name [Note: We discovered after recording that it was Tom Luse]. Big fella, he’s super, super nice. He came over and said, “Mark, what’s the problem? What’s the issue here?” I said, “Let me show you the email.”
I pulled my phone out and showed him the email that said this character is POW #2, the producers will give this character a name on set. I said, “This is it. I’m fully aware that the character probably isn’t worthy of a role, I am. But at the same time, I’ve been led to believe that he did. I’ve worked tirelessly to get onto this show. Every time I get an audition, I put my heart and soul into it. Probably 7, maybe 10 auditions, for the show over the years. I’m not trying to be a diva or anything but it means a lot to me to be here. I want you to know that I don’t want to go out as POW #2 on a show that means so much to me and I’ve put so much work into it.” He said, “Okay, I understand. Let me call the network and we’ll see if we can get you a name.” So, he went away and he came back a minute or two later and said, “We’re going to call you Evan.” I was made up. It wasn’t about me being POW #2… if I’d been hired as POW #2 and they didn’t say that, I would’ve known what I was getting into when I said yes. If you’ve got a number, you’re going to die.
That’s just the way that is. But the fact they said they were going to give a name, I was led to believe that it would lead to something else. I had to fight for that name and I was so, so glad that I did. It took me years to fight for myself. There’s so many people who would’ve showed up and like, “Okay, it’s okay. I’m working, which is the most important thing.” It is important but at the same time, I’m working for my career not just a job. Nobody else is going to work harder than me for my career. It was a great scene, that was. I absolutely loved it, I worked with my friend Josh Mikel, who played Jared on the show. It was his final episode, he’d been on it for a few seasons. He was amazing, my friend Lane Miller was in that scene with me. I worked with Andy [Lincoln], I’ve known him for years. My friend Neil and him, their kids go to the same school or they did when he was here working.
We’d sit down and have dinner together. He’d been like, “Are you getting on the show again this year?” I said, “Man, I’m hoping so. I’m working, I’m working.” He could recommend… get in touch with casting, tell them Andy sent you. Never really pushed that, I didn’t want to. As nice as it was to have him batting for me, Andy is amazing. To have the opportunity to go at with him, one-on-one was a dream. He was so good in that role, man. Speaking of Number 1s taking the reins and pulling the rest of the cast and crew behind them, he did that to the nth degree. There’s a scene where he breaks down, he did it 3 or 4 times with Lennie [James] and I was on the floor at this point, dead, just as a piece of meat. But I could feel his performance, I wasn’t even watching him but I could feel it. It was shaking my heart. He’s so good, take after take, the director was moulding little pieces of performance. I was so surprised that they went with the take they did with Andy on that. I guess they wanted to show him stronger, he was very, very vulnerable in the takes. They chose one where he was a little bit more resilient.
You know, they’re painting the picture of the entire season with him in mind. There’s a reason why they’d choose that, I know. But man, he’s so good, so good. It was a real treat to be on the show. I’m all about people opening the door or knocking on the door for me. But I’m the one that I want them to see when I walk through that door. I’m the one that needs to earn my way into the room. Those are the little lucky breaks that you can get along the way. Just keeping yourself open, you know.
I’ve had producers, when I worked on Stephen King’s Cell, worked in a restaurant in town and I’d been at it for a few years. I think it was Christmas Day and this guy who was a regular at the restaurant, he came in and said, “Hey, my sister’s in town. They’re working on this Stephen King thriller called Cell. I’d love to introduce you guys.” I said, “Man, that would be great if you could get me an audition for it, it’d be amazing.” So, he got me an audition. I went to the audition, had a callback with the director and they booked me from it. I’m not so well off that I’m thinking people can’t help you out like that. But at the same time, you have to earn it. That’s the most important thing. I don’t want to work on a job that’s been handed to me. It takes years of building relationships and people seeing you work before that ever happens.
Another DC Comics show that you were on was Doom Patrol. The only similarity it has to Stargirl is that they’re both based on comics. Could you compare your experiences on the two shows?
MA: We wrapped Stargirl and I auditioned for Doom Patrol… you know what, I didn’t even audition for that. It was the casting director who put me on Stargirl, Chase and Tara, Feldstein Paris Casting here in Atlanta. Man, they’ve done so much for my career. I’ve booked so many things with them, they know my work. I got a request from my agent to send them a reel. So, I sent them a reel and then I booked the show off of that. You know, it’s weird because I wrapped on Stargirl and went straight over to Doom Patrol. I think I even knew that I was going to be on Doom Patrol when I was working on the last episode of Stargirl.
I kind of view them, in my journey, almost as the same piece of puzzle. Geoff Johns, I think he’s one of the Executive Producers on Doom Patrol. The director that did the pilot episode of Doom Patrol, Chris Manley, was a director on Stargirl. He was a DP on the first episode of Stargirl, the Pilot. I didn’t know that until I’d already booked it and went to him. He said, “Mark!”, I said, “Hey, man” and we met, talked a little bit about the role that I was going to be playing.
That show was almost like… in contrast between the two, I would say there’s the yin-yang effect there between the two of them. I think Stargirl is a little lighter, as many dark elements as there are in there with the ISA and the death that is there, it’s a little bit more adolescent. I think Doom Patrol is like it’s wicked big brother. It’s a wicked show, it’s crazy, ain’t it? So zany. There’s nothing like it, I don’t think on television at all. I don’t think there is.
Everybody feels that way. I would be in the make-up chair… maybe it was my character too that was a lot darker but the Doom Patrol shoot just felt a lot darker for me. I went into the make-up chair four times, they were doing my hair and make-up. They made me into kind of a twisted character. I view it as a twisted show probably because of where my character had to go, that’s the way I looked at it after finishing. I go from the wholesome Justin that I was in that to a Ringmaster in turn of the century sideshow London circus, it was bizarre.
There’s a certain sense of pride. They know that they’re doing something that nobody else is doing and it’s cutting edge stuff. It’s weird and everybody knows that. It literally is like a sideshow circus.
Assuming, as there’s still a couple of episodes left, that Justin survives Stargirl Season 1, what are you hopes for where he goes, going forward?
MA: I hope that they somehow manage to incorporate the Seven Soldiers of Victory. And that you get to see even just an element of Justin’s backstory. It could go way back to… there’s so much that could be picked out of Justin’s story that would be compelling to watch. I’d love to see the encounter with Merlin. I’d love to see the Ogre. I’d love to see the Blessing of Victory. Even fighting alongside Genghis Khan. Winston Churchill’s bodyguard. There’s just so much that can be done. So many different places and times that Justin can live in. It makes his story just… I don’t know, it colours it so rich. I think the sky’s the limit with the character. I have no reason to believe that Geoff won’t bring out pieces of what I’ve just said. Everything else he’s said has come to fruition. I know that he’s looking in the big picture. Right now, there’s a lot of groundwork being laid. I’m pretty sure he’s going to find out just what works here in the first season and try to interweave it all to tell the bigger picture. That’s my hope. You don’t know that yet. You don’t know things yet, there’s a couple more episodes in the season that I should probably keep to myself as to what happens.
Obviously, it goes without saying that we’re in precarious times right now. What sentiment would you want to share with fans of Stargirl or other projects you might be recognised from?
MA: You know, that’s a great question, Conor. These are unprecedented days, as you said. I try and live my life every day finding positives. I think it’s important to always have something to look forward to. No matter how big or small it is. And I think that if you can find what fills you up and follow your heart with that, then you’ll be able to see the good through the dark. Try and make some goals that you can accomplish. Again, it doesn’t matter that how small, if it’s a breath, once an hour. One deep breath. Obviously, in quarantine, right now. If you can take on deep breath every hour just to centre yourself and ground yourself. Then do it, make as many goals as you can, that you can accomplish. It will give you fulfilment. It’s all part of where you want to go. Try and focus on that while making your goals. What do I want to be? Where do I want to go? Just do little things that you can knock off a list and give you fulfilment. It’s important to find self fulfilment, it really is.
I’ve been struggling with the lack of just being able to go out and be sociable. It’s hard to be quarantined right now but all this will pass, soon. It will as long as people are safe and, you know, my thing is that I act like I have it and I act like everybody else has it. I live my life that way. If I’m ever out in public, I’ll wear a mask. If anyone else is offended by that… I’ve been working at a friend’s restaurant running food which has kept my mind busy through all this. I wear a mask at work, obviously, the whole time. I’m wearing a mask in public to protect other people. I find that living with empathy, understanding and listening is important. Just use caution.