Since the fourth season, Azie Tesfai has been playing Supergirl's best pal's sister on The CW's Supergirl. Now she adds writer to her resume by co-writing, along with J. Holtham, Episode 12 of the sixth and final season, "Blind Spot". With Arrow's David Ramsey directing this episode, Tesfai makes Arrowverse history as the first actor in any Greg Berlanti-produced series to write an episode. Known for roles on Jane The Virgin, and The Kominsky Method, Tesfai is becoming one of Hollywood's must-watch actresses as her character Kelly Olsen, an ex-military psychologist & BIPOC in the DC universe wh will be taking on the role of Guardian to address issues of injustice and inequality. Just before her episode airs tonight, Tesfai spoke with Bleeding Cool to discuss how she got the chance to script the episode, how her mother influenced the set design, and how this is a new superhero for a group of people that, she hopes, feel seen in her Guardian.
You co-wrote this week's episode 'Blind Spots.' Other actors have directed before in the Arrowverse and Berlanti projects, but you're the first one to write an episode. Can you explain how that came about?
Azie Tesfai: I wrote a spec episode of a storyline that I wanted to do with Kelly that tackled PTSD, war vets, how we treat them when they return home, and their mental health. I did it during the pandemic, then I sent it off to our showrunners. They loved it and were really supportive. They championed for me to write and send it to the studio and our other producers. Then they were like, 'You're going to write an episode.' I had no idea it was in the episode in which my character became a superhero, which made it even cooler. It was the best experience I've had creatively ever.
Was it always the plan for Kelly to become Guardian?
AT: I think that it was a plan for her to potentially become Guardian. We definitely had wanted to do it because we started the process of the super-suit two years ago. It was never the plan for me to co-write the episode in which she becomes the Guardian. I didn't even dream that that was possible. It's a dream come true of a dream that I never thought I could have.
Developing the episode, you were in the writers' room for a month. So now you're on both sides of the camera now, so what's it like to see your script come to life right in front of you?
AT: It's very surreal. It's the smallest things that blow your mind. Yes, like the super suit is exciting as you see iterations of it as it gets designed and all those things, but it's the little things. It's the casting of actors that you had visualized in your brain when you wrote it and then seeing them in life. I was in most of the scenes in the episode, but the couple that I wasn't in, being able to sit behind the monitor and watch. Those were the moments where I [thought] 'This is crazy. I saw this in my brain, now these people are making it a reality.' I've fallen in love with this side of telling stories.
Kelly Olsen is a very complex and compelling character, vastly different from her brother Jimmy (Mehcad Brooks). How is your Guardian going to be different from Jimmy's Guardian?
AT: Guardian has never been played by a woman and is a man in the comics. While there are parts that we try to honor from the comics- bringing the gold into it, bringing a half helmet, a lot of the costume stuff- we were able to figure out how to make it work in live-action. We still want to honor the fact that it's a woman stepping into her superhero powers. We move very differently. We sound different. I did months of training with our stunt team and came up with signature moves that feel right. They have a Guardian energy to them, but they are definitely specific to Kelly. The way that I use the shield is a bit different than the way he did. There is a thru line through all of it, but we definitely do a different take of it.
I know you got to add some personal touches to this episode. Can you talk about maybe one of those touches in the restaurant that you got to name?
AT: My family's Eritrean. My mom came from Ethiopia and sacrificed everything, as most first-generation immigrant parents do, and always wanted to open an Ethiopian restaurant. She sacrificed all of her dreams so that I could go to the best schools and have an education and have opportunities to live the life of my choosing. Which is a luxury. So in the first scene of the episode, I named it after my mom and had the characters walking out of an Ethiopian restaurant. I haven't said this, but they let me approve so much of our set design and props and had the same casting. With the signage of that, our incredible set designer sent me options and actually sent it to my mom and let her pick. I haven't told them that. She got to also actually design it as well, which was really cool… I always find those really fun, even if it's just for myself to know that the details matter.
Without saying too much or giving away too much, what are you most proud of?
AT: It's really personal. A lot of things that Kelly says in it are my actual feelings, not just because I was able to co-write it and write Kelly's words but they're based on my real experiences. She's a new superhero for a group of people that I hope feel seen in her, especially young girls. I hope they see this new Guardian and know that they are superior themselves and that they're powerful. I hope it does nothing but provide that confidence in young girls. That's always been most important to me.