Alex Collins chatted about playing legendary JSA superhero Dr. Mid-Nite/Charles McNider in Season 2 of the hit series Stargirl on The CW.
Aside from Stargirl, Alex has also appeared in projects including Cobra Kai, Lovecraft County, Richard Jewell, True Detective and 24: Legacy.
Read on below for Alex’s interview with Courageous Nerd. It has been edited for length and clarity. However, you can listen to an extended version on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel, which is linked below.
Welcome Alex and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
Alex Collins (AC): Conor, thanks for having me man, happy to be here.
Could you discuss how you first started acting? Did you first get into it while living in the UK or after moving to the States?
AC: Very superficially did I begin in England. You sort of do the Nativity play when you’re a kid in school. That was honestly the extent of my interest at that point. As you well know, most of the TV we have growing up is American TV. I was really interested… I loved this show called The Fall Guy, which was about an American stuntman. I’m like, “Alright, that’s cool. I want to do that. I want to be a stuntman.”
I would start by throwing myself out of a chair or down the stairs. Punch my brother in the face – my Mum wasn’t very happy with that. So, she channeled that energy and put me into sports at that point. That’s how I started playing football, or soccer. I was a goalkeeper, so I got to really sort of throw my body around and get that same energy out. Then, acting sort of went away. I played soccer for the rest of my formative years.
When we moved to the United States, even then it was all about soccer. I wanted to be a professional soccer player. I did some acting in high school but it wasn’t until I was firmly into young adulthood that I decided to make that leap professionally as an actor.
You’ve just appeared on DC’s Stargirl for its second season on The CW. As you were taking over a role, was your process of joining the show any different?
AC: Yeah, Henry Thomas played Dr. Mid-Nite in the pilot and voiceover for Season 1. Henry’s a great actor with many, many credits. Everybody knows him from ET, Gangs of New York, Haunting of Hill House, that sort of thing. For whatever reason, the opportunity came up again. I had originally auditioned for Dr. Mid-Nite for the pilot, it went to Henry.
So, I think Geoff [Johns] and the creative team based it on my audition then and other things of the course of the first season. They brought me back in to audition for Dr. Mid-Nite again. What’s quite common in Hollywood is that you don’t necessarily know what show you’re auditioning for. Or, if you do know the show, you don’t necessarily know which character. Or, you might have dummy sides that are not actually from the show.
In my case, I got dummy sides not Dr. Mid-Nite sides. It was a made-up scene. There were enough clues in there that I could piece that together with the research. I knew it was Stargirl. So, I was able to bring enough of the character to life that Geoff, the creative team and the network felt comfortable about it.
Dr. Mid-Nite is a classic DC Comics character with decades of history. How helpful were those resources to you, as an actor?
AC: Yes and no. It was, superficially. There was enough information online that I could read and build an emotional sketch. The first day that I joined the cast, Geoff brought me into his office and sat me down. We had a chat and he asked, “What do you need? I was able to say, “I know I enter the story here. But the character’s story is existing before here. Can you provide me with all the scripts?” He gave me all the scripts, I was able to catch up and really start to pencil in the edges.
He also showed me the very first scene from Season 2. It obviously indicates my family, what happens to my daughter. That really set me off on my emotional arc that I needed as the character.
Of all the cast, you primarily shared the screen with Anjelika Wahington, who plays Beth Chapel/Dr. Mid-Nite. How was your experience working with Anjelika and sharing the mantle with her?
AC: You hit the nail on the head, Conor. It is every kid’s dream to be a superhero. Every actor’s dream to get to play a superhero. Then, not only that but I’m taking over for another actor. And also playing a superhero that a younger version is also playing. Anjelika is amazing, we are very good friends. We like to go out for sushi together.
For those who haven’t seen all of Season 2 yet, it’s her maturation. She is growing, stepping into her confidence. Part of that is her relationship to my character. I’m very much a surrogate parent to her given her relationship with her real parents. I take on this paternal role but also, sort of, a professorial role. I’m there to steward and shepherd her along.
A fun little story… whenever the Beth Chapel character is talking to ‘Chuck’ via the AI, usually on set it’s a First AD reading Chuck’s dialogue. On my very first day of work, Anjelika was in rehearsal and we played a trick on her. In the rehearsal, it was the First AD. When they rolled the camera and she was actually recording it, I was around the corner doing the dialogue. She was reacting to me genuinely. When they cut, I poked my head around the corner. Everybody clapped, we had a big hug. Her reactions are her genuine first reactions to hearing my voice.
On the show, your fellow on-screen JSA members include Luke Wilson (Pat Dugan/Stripesy), Joel McHale (Sylvester Pemberton/Starman), John Wesley Shipp (Jay Garrick/The Flash) and Ethan Embry (Johnny Thunder). How do you feel being apart of that group? Considering how McNider finished Season 2, do you hope to share scenes with those actors to explore the JSA dynamic?
AC: That’s such a great question; there’s sort of two parts to the answer. The first part is it’s a real treat and a real honour to play a character that first debuted in 1941. The original JSA was back when America and the world had some real enemies. That was World War 2, the Nazis. It was the war in the Pacific that was happening. These characters took on pillars of idealism. Pillars of hope and moral character.
Getting an opportunity to play a throwback character like that is such a fun thing for an actor. [Also], getting to work with the actors playing those characters was a real treat for me, personally. Geoff Johns, the showrunner and creator, he’s a genius. He has such an encyclopedic knowledge of so many comic book characters. All of the universes, he’s so smart. In his head, he’s got somewhere between 5 and 6 seasons for Stargirl.
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if I get to come back to Blue Valley. Who knows? If I do, I’m standing right by my phone, ready to say yes. I’d love to go play with all of those folks again.
Assuming everyone has caught up on Season 2, what most surprised you about Dr. Mid-Nite’s storyline?
AC: For fans of the show, you’ll notice a dramatic difference in tone in Season 1 and Season 2. Season 2 is much, much darker. They’re not shying away from bordering on a thriller or a horror. That really heightens the situations that each of the younger characters specifically are in. Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite and The Shade, in particular, they’re all very much aware of how dangerous Eclipso is. The younger characters are not so they think they can take on this demonic, dark scary thing. They learn really quickly.
I was really intrigued where the storyline went in terms of where allegiances lie. Is Shade good or bad? You’re not sure. Is Cindy Burman good or bad? Does she serve her own interests? I think for my character, the hardest challenge is toeing the line. Charles McNider is an ethical being; he’s a doctor. His job is to do no harm, but to heal and help.
With the opening scene of Season 2 being what it was, that puts him in direct conflict with his core mission as a doctor. He has to wrestle with that all season long. On my very first day on set, I sat down with Geoff and he showed me that scene. He filled in the spaces for me. That allowed me to paint the picture.
I think whether you are a parent or not, anyone could imagine what they would do if someone did that to one of their loved ones. How would you react? How would you behave? What your moral compass tells you to do versus what actually may happen could be two different things.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors or someone struggling to book roles?
AC: That’s such a good question. I’ve been really fortunate to do this for over two decades. I’ve been teaching other actors for over a decade. For me, the three most important words: Let It Go. The moment you finish the audition, don’t hold onto it. Don’t have any expectations on it. Move on to something else. That will allow you to destress your life, you don’t have to worry about the audition. Statistically speaking, you’re not going to book that audition anyway.
A week later when the phone does ring and you do get good news, it’s a wonderful treat. Our job as actors is really to audition. We’re singing for our supper, so to speak. When you do have the good fortune of booking a job, you have to deliver the goods. That’s how you fall back on your training and instincts. Your experience on other sets. Let It Go are the most important three words for any actor.
Lastly, what do you hope to accomplish in the coming months as we head into 2022?
AC: Wow, that’s such a great question Conor, thanks for asking. With the exception of Stargirl, the characters I play tend to have a chip on their shoulder. They have a little bit of an attitude or might have some flaws in their character. So, I get beat up a lot, shot, stabbed, kicked, killed. Playing someone redeeming like Dr. Mid-Nite, with a nice moral compass was great. I’m really appreciative of that opportunity.
As we get into 2022, I’m really looking to sink my teeth into some darker characters again. Maybe a period piece. I’m a big fan of period piece work, I’ve done a lot of period pieces. Dr. Mid-Nite himself is a bit of a period piece character. I would love to play something 1920s-1940s. A very dark, layered shady character.
Thanks again for taking the time, Alex. Take care and stay safe!
AC: Conor, thanks so much for taking the time and asking some really insightful questions.