Only 15 years of age, Trae Romano is already establishing himself as a must-see young actor. The Atlanta native currently plays series regular ‘Mike Dugan’ on the DC Universe/CW series Stargirl. The show premiered in May 2020 and follows Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) becoming the titular superheroine. Trae’s character, Mike Dugan, is the relatively new younger step-brother to Courtney.
Luke Wilson and Amy Smart star as Trae’s onscreen father and stepmother with other co-stars including Neil Jackson, Neil Hopkins and Eric Goins.
Thank you to Trae for taking the time to chat with Courageous Nerd about Mike Dugan and Stargirl.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this.
Trae Romano (TR): Of course, thanks for having me on.
How have you been finding living in the pandemic?
TR: I’ve been trying to make the best of it. I’ve been trying to watch a lot of movies that I’ve wanted to watch for a long time. I’ve been writing a lot. You know, I took over CW Stargirl Instagram which was pretty fun. I had something to do, got to talk to my castmates and stuff like that. I was pretty happy to find out that Stargirl Season 2 got picked up, looking forward to that. It’s not been too bad of a few months. Everything’s slowly coming back to normal but I’ve tried to make the best of it. I’ve started watching a lot of shows – started watching The Umbrella Academy. That’s pretty much all I’ve been doing. I’ve been doing stuff that I wanted to do for a little while.
You’re from Atlanta, where Stargirl is filmed. How have you found experiencing this huge shift in your life, right in your hometown?
TR: It’s a little easier than being out in LA or anything like that. Or else I’d have to fly out and stay in an apartment, stuff like that. In Atlanta, it was relatively easy. The first day, it didn’t feel like too much of an extravaganza because it was more like we drove 30 minutes to set. It was just really easy. I could sleep in my own bed. It was great because everyone that I knew and loved on set was so close. You could get dinner, hang out. I do love LA and I can’t wait to get back out there. Just from filming a TV show or a film perspective, I think it’s better to be in your hometown or wherever’s more convenient to you.
Fans spent the last 13 weeks getting to know Mike Dugan. How different do you think he is to Trae Romano, in real life?
TR: I think there’s some big similarities but there’s also some big differences. Mike is a lot more hyper version of me, I’m probably a little more laid-back. I’m always eating and that’s probably a big thing. I think it’s almost like an alter-ego, maybe. Not as much complete similarities but very much like an alter-ego. It was just pretty easy to play because…. you know, with The Gambler in the show, played by Eric Goins, he had this amazing Southern accent that he put on for this character. I didn’t really have anything too drastic to put on for my character. I was just being me and maybe going along with the lines to be a little more animated or energetic.
Later in the season, Mike’s writing gets a little more dramatic and little bit more emotional. That’s kind of where I tied in more with him because it was a lot more laid-back and it wasn’t pressing joke here, joke here. It was a lot more similar to me, I guess. That happened with the rest of the cast too, everyone in the Dugan/Whitmore family. We all pretty much didn’t have to do anything because we were all just kind of playing our roles and what they would be in life. Luke (Wilson) was the Dad, Amy (Smart) was the Mom, I was the step-brother.
Everything was relatively easy working with all those great people, of course. Like I said, later in the season, we did a lot more. So yeah, I guess there were a lot of similarities and for everyone, it was a pretty genuine thing to work on.
At the start of Season 1, Mike is very opposed to the idea of Blue Valley. How much has his opinion about the town changed, would you say, across 13 episodes?
TR: I think even in the writing, it kind of touched on that. He was talking about his friend Jakeem. I think that just based off the writing and what I’ve read, I think Mike has definitely taken a liking to it. He has a lot of friends, he has a paper route he’s doing. The only kind of thing was that he was associating this town with not being with his Dad. It only got worse as this season went on. Then the last few episodes were like, “Oh, I’m kind of involved in something pretty cool.” So, it was I think kind of a shift. A lot of things probably happened with Mike to make how he ends up in the last few episodes, how he is. It’s definitely a very big change from the beginning because he completely opposed it.
It actually took a little while for him to be more excited about it, like that first dinner scene was like, “Yeah, bro. I’ve got all these friends now.” I think Mike has definitely settled down. He’s become more mature and he’s ready to help.
When you first signed on for the role of Mike Dugan, how much did you know about his Season 1 arc? Did you find everything out episode-by-episode?
TR: I called the showrunner and creator, Geoff Johns. He didn’t as much tell me the story arc for what Mike’s Season 1 was. He really only told me the story for what Mike’s Season 2 was. It’s very interesting, the stuff he has planned. Also, of course, the thing with Geoff is that on-set, stuff ebbs and flows. Brec was telling me, I didn’t know this, that my character arc for Season 2 was originally set in stone like I’d heard. The way I played Mike was different than how it was written. Geoff changed the arc a little bit in Season 2 when some more stuff is happening. It was such an open set that we could do whatever wanted, it was very creative.
If you had a scene idea, you could write it and do it. With me and Luke, we went to dinner one night and we wrote this scene. The next day, we showed it to Geoff and he actually let us shoot it which is really interesting. It didn’t end up getting in the final cut. Maybe in the Blu-Ray version, who knows? We’ll see. It was very open and the cool part about this show is there’s so many facets that the story can go down, I guess. Multi-faceted show. With Mike, there’s no telling what he’s going to be doing in Season 2. I think I know but I probably don’t. Yeah, so Season 1 I wasn’t really informed on, Season 2, they have some big plans.
Luke Wilson plays your on-screen father. Did you guys have any discussion about what Pat and Mike Dugan’s lives could have been like before they met Barbara and Courtney?
TR: That’s a great question. Yeah, actually, we did. We even worked that into the pilot a little bit. The first scene you really see Mike, hanging out. It’s when they get out of the apartment at Valley Village and Mike’s like, “I thought you said once you got married to Barbara you’d stop moving around.” That was kind of like a little tie-back to when they were on the road and they were just them, for a long time. It was kind of interesting hearing that, it really does tell you a lot about their relationship. Not as much father-son but almost kind of like pals, you know? It’s this different dynamic, different relationship.
Luke and I talked about it a lot. We brought that up a lot of times before we went into a scene. Like, “Hey, maybe we could add this here because they were on the road together. They know each other so well.” It kind of did tie into a lot of parts of the show, very much an underlying factor. Even in how we decided to play our roles. So yeah, that’s a great question.
On a similar tangent; there’s flashback of Pat and Barbara meeting in Blue Valley. How do you think Mike and Courtney’s first meeting went, since it hasn’t been shown?
TR: I do know what their first encounter was like. In the comics, the first encounter was kind of like Mike just said something smart. Courtney walks in and she’s like, “Are you my brother?” I was like, “Step-brother, technically miss.” I always speak in technicals. That was the first line that Mike had in the comics. It was just so funny and so cool. I guess that’s kind’ve how they would have interacted, that’s probably how the first meeting would have gone. In the comics, they both kind of bonded on knowing about the JSA but clearly in the show they broke a lot of those boundaries. Mike, of course, in the show doesn’t know until later on. That’s Mike and Courtney’s first encounter. I would’ve loved to have seen that onscreen but, you know, we still got the comics so that’s pretty good, I guess.
Stargirl has depicted relatable human themes – such as a blended family – against the backdrop of a superhero show. How much do you think that’s helped the show have a wide appeal to an audience?
TR: I think it’s helped our chances of getting a Season 2 and even a Season 3, of course. There’s so many people across the world that are watching. My father and my mother like the show aside from me even being in it. They like the scenes with Luke and Amy, all that stuff, that’s their age group. They tune in because they like that aspect of it. There’s probably some middle-aged people tuning in, like I said, with their children and family. The kids, they see me. The high schoolers see Brec, Hunter (Sansone) and all those wonderful people on the JSA side. It resonates with everyone, I think and that’s why it’s been so lovable, perhaps. That’s pretty much it, it’s a show that everyone can watch. You can really sit down with anyone and watch it.
Just to preface this question, it’s an off-the-wall one. Imagine if there was ever a circumstance where a villain could switch people’s consciousness around, so you’re playing a different character in Mike’s body. Who would you want that to be?
TR: I would probably want to play Luke because Pat and Mike are already pretty similar in some ways and some ways they’re not. But I just think that would be funny to see the stuff that Mike would have access to. He could have the access to STRIPE, he could be in the STRIPE robot doing fun stuff. He could be talking on the com and just saying stupid stuff. That would be so fun, honestly. If Pat was actually Mike, that would be really funny. I think that would be a funny swap.
Mike has his moment in Episode 13, after being sidelined. As the actor playing him, how satisfied do you think he felt, doing what he did?
TR: I think he felt a little too satisfied. It was a little creepy how he had a smile on his face the whole time. That kind of gave us a little insight into maybe Season 2 plans, the rest of the show, rest of the series. Mike, he’s not just the bubbly kid. He’s got a dark side, I guess. I think that was really cool and that small scene, even though it was very important, it was still very small. It opened up a lot of doors to future seasons.
I don’t know if Mike’s going to be a hero or a ruthless villain, there’s no telling. If I was a betting man, I would probably say that he would be like a rogue agent, out for hire. I think that would be pretty cool. It was really cool to play that and to see what the creators do with that.
I mean this in the best way possible; no one would have seen that scenario happening. You don’t really know who it is that’s coming and then they reveal it.
TR: Everyone was so surprised when they saw that. It really set it up in a way that the JSA almost had to feel reliant on Mike for a little bit. They were about to get almost killed by Icicle (Neil Jackson) and then Mike comes in and almost saves the day. I think since it was so surprising, there’s a little bit of respect from all of them, for Mike.
In my opinion, it was a really good way to shoot it. Greg Beeman, the person who directed that episode, it was just a good choice to reveal it that way, so it could have as much impact. I even saw videos from my family friends and fans that were video taping while they were watching it. They saw Icicle about to kill them, saw me come up behind him. That was really cool to just see people really excited about that. It was just really cool.
Aside from Stargirl, do you have any other projects/interests in the background?
TR: I’m always looking for projects. There’s always a few things kind of circulating with actors – ‘this might happen, this might happen’ – but you never know. There’s never a solid answer. Clearly for right now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s proving to be a little bit difficult with just the industry in general. I’m just happy to see what’s going to go on after the pandemic and everything like that. I’ve got a lot of friends in LA that are doing movies, doing projects that want me to see what they’re doing. Be on set, cool stuff like that. I’m just glad that hopefully this is going to be over soon and we can start filming Stargirl. Like I said, I could go back to LA and see what my friends were doing.
Other than that, I’m a writer. I actually just finished my first really feature length script. Nine months that I’ve been writing, it’s a very out-there script. My favourite directors are Wes Anderson, Taika Waititi, Jon Favreau, stuff like that. They’re all unique, visionary directors and that’s really kind of inspired me. I probably can’t do them justice, of course. It was pretty interesting just writing that and being able to just sit down and finish it. I had a dry spell of not writing. Writing is a very interesting thing because writers hate writing. They hate having to sit down and actually physically write the words, it’s just the worst thing.
So, I take as long as possible to have all the scenes laid out and everything like that. That was really exciting for me also, aside from Stargirl getting renewed and stuff like that. There’s some projects hopefully down the pipeline for Mr. Mike, one that might be going on after Season 2 gets released in 2021, which would be really cool. I’m just thankful for everything I’ve got going on right now.
What would you want to say to the fans, who’ve watched the past 13 weeks of Stargirl?
TR: I just want to probably say thank you. You made this all possible for getting a Season 2. It’s interesting with the show and castmates because when you have friends that you’re hanging out with on set and stuff like that, your friendship and camaraderie is not even confirmed for another year. It’s a really weird feeling, you know? For them to have such great response to it and let us do what we did last year with all our great friends. It’s just really special and you have no idea how much you mean to us, just for that reason alone. They let us do this again.
And we’re doing this for you, for the fans. For the people that have been watching this and reading the comics since day one. So, you know, the only thing I can say is I hope we didn’t disappoint in Season 1. I hope that we stay true to the essence of the comics and just thank you again for just letting us do this again.