EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Joshua Orpin Looks Back At Playing Superboy On Titans

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Joshua Orpin Looks Back At Playing Superboy On Titans

On May 11th, the hit Max series Titans came to a bittersweet end after four seasons spanning five years. Fans said their goodbyes, and so, too, those involved in making the show.

Multiverse of Color recently had the pleasure of chatting with Joshua Orpin, who plays Superboy on Titans. Orpin spoke about Conner’s journey (as well as his own), costumes, and what it meant to play such an iconic character throughout his time on Titans

Will G.: Season 4 is the first time there’s been a significant projection on Conner’s character. What was the principal goal and/or intention for his arc when the writing process began? Were you able to contribute your own thoughts and ideas in the same way Ryan did for Gar?

Joshua: Actors come into the picture relatively late in the creative process, so by the time I get there, there’s usually been months and months of work on the scripts and plan (for the season) and character arcs. As an actor, it’s tough to play a character arc, so I would say my main goal was just to play each moment as truthfully as possible. When I’m filming any particular scene, I’m not necessarily aware of what’s going to be happening down the line. For example, when I was doing that scene at the end of episode 1 where Superboy and Lex meet for the very first time, I didn’t know where that was going to lead. I didn’t know about the head shaving at that point! It’s just playing each scene as truthfully as I can and trying to build on what’s come before rather than trying to anticipate what’s coming in the future.

Will G.: As you bring it up, when did they break it to you that they wanted you to shave your head? 

Joshua: Well, it’s funny. We were on set and we were shooting the scene where Tim (Drake) and Conner are training in VR. Greg Walker, our showrunner, was on set that day and came up to me between takes and said ‘Hey, how would you feel about shaving your head?’. And I thought, ‘that gives me a nice hint at what’s to come!’ So they gave me the option and asked if I’d be willing to do it, which was very nice of them. It was either I shave my head or I wear a bald cap, and the bald cap was going to take three hours in makeup each day so I opted for the sleep-in. 

But it was more of a logistical thing. Titus Welliver, who played Lex, did have a bald cap on when shooting and his looked pretty good in my opinion! So I wasn’t afraid of it looking dodgy or anything. It was more the prep time that scared me away.

Will G.: One of my favorite things about season 4 was how much of a focus there was on the Dick and Conner relationship. To me, it’s such an interesting dynamic and its progression just as much so. Was it decided early on that this would be focused on and why was it important for both characters and their development that it was?

Joshua: I don’t know if a decision was made, but it was definitely prevalent throughout the season, as you say. I suppose I would put it down to a natural development of Dick Grayson’s character. He’s worked through all of his stuff, come out the other end, and in season 4 we get a more fully-realized version of this character where he takes on a stronger leadership and paternal role. So as Dick steps into that role in the team dynamic, Conner’s there and he needs guidance. He needs a father figure in his life and he doesn’t really have one. So I feel like it just happens organically. Dick’s the one there to provide him the advice and guidance and however Conner ends up reacting to that, whether he listens or not, is another thing. I think that relationship developed as a necessity of the story.

Will G.: Also Kory, to an extent. I personally felt like we should have maybe seen a bit more of Kory and Conner. I really did enjoy their interactions, what little we got of them.

Joshua: I agree! There were some great moments. I particularly liked the stuff we had together in the metahuman prison, when Conner’s in that Kryptonite cell and they get to have those lovely one-on-one chats. 

Will G.: If the show ever came back, where would you want to take Conner’s story off the back of season 4 and all that he went through?

Joshua: To be honest, one of the things I found most satisfying about Conner’s journey in season 4 is that we really didn’t hold back. I was kind of thinking: ‘what’s left to do after this? Where do we take it after this?’ Part of me thinks that if there were to be a season 5, Conner might have received the Jason Todd treatment or Raven in season 3 treatment where he goes away for a little bit and then he comes back.

But in terms of what I would have wanted, I think I would have wanted Conner develop a few more social skills. I’d love to see some of those things we get in the comics, such as Conner going to school or living with Ma and Pa Kent. So he gets that authentic upbringing and gets to learn about how to exist as a person in the world rather than a superhero. Because, as far as we know on Titans, he’s just been a part of this superhero squad from day one. That’s what I’d like to have seen!

Will G.: I really like that. I would agree. You made a really great point about Ma and Pa Kent because that would arguably open the door for Clark Kent to appear in a way that isn’t Superman, which probably would be more likely.

Joshua: Yeah! I mean, early on, back in season 2, we were having these kinds of talks. They were floating that idea.

Will G.: Mercy Graves returned to the show this season. How did their history with each other play into your performance?

Joshua: I loved that scene, first of all. It was a great scene. I was so thrilled that Mercy was coming back, and Natalie’s great. We reconnected and talked about the scene. For me, it was very important that history was palpable when those characters reunite. It was important to me that he (Conner) brought up those old wounds because, in many ways, he never really got closure there. There was a lot going on in that season 2 finale, and while the storyline was resolved and Mercy was defeated, Conner never got to have another one-on-one with her to confront her about what she did. 

It is a definite shift from where they were back then. He feels a lot less naive than he was and more confident in his own power and abilities. He brings that to Mercy, and the best thing about that scene in my opinion is that, while Conner may think that this time things are different and he has the upper hand, he ends up being manipulated in much the same way. When you think about it, not much changed and it’s still a similar relationship to before. But I do love that scene. It’s one of my favorites.

Will G.: Just off the back of that, was Eve considered to make a reappearance as well, given how significant of a character she was in his story?

Joshua: Possibly. If she was considered, that would have happened earlier in the process, but she didn’t make it to the script stage. But I would have loved to have seen Genevieve (Angelson) come back. We had such a great time shooting season 2 episode 6. It would’ve been great, but there’s just so much going on in season 4. Sometimes it’s not possible to reach out and bring every past character back.

Will G.: Now that the show is over, are there any characters you wish Conner got to interact with more? I would have to say Tim, purely because of their friendship in the books, and I enjoyed what little we got of them in season 4.

Joshua: I would say so. One of the byproducts of Conner’s storyline in season 4 is that he veers off on his own path. A lot of my scenes ended up being with Joseph Morgan, who plays Sebastian (Sanger), and that took me away from the core cast. I would have loved more scenes with Gar, with Raven – we don’t really have too many over the course of the series. I love working with Ryan and Teagan and also Jay. We got a little bit of Tim Drake and Conner early in the season but I would have loved to bring that full circle and maybe have a few more moments. But again, there’s so many plates in the air and things going on. I enjoyed that scene in the series finale where we’re all celebrating Christmas and it’s that family dynamic. A lighthearted bit of fun. I know those are the scenes the fans really enjoy, just watching them hang out together.

Will G.: Coming from @koryanderscurls on Instagram: 

With ‘Inside Man’ being my favourite episode from season 4 – partially because of your performance – I’m curious to know which side of Conner’s personality you most enjoyed playing?

Joshua: I suppose this is how it feels when you’re asked to pick your favourite child. I can’t really pick a favourite. I love all the aspects of Conner. As actors, we crave variety, so whenever I get to do something different I’m up for it and I’m excited.

If I’m not mistaken, ‘Inside man’ is the episode where he (Conner) gets infected by the snake and possessed. I wouldn’t even call that an aspect of Conner’s personality. That was something else entirely! I had a lot of fun shooting that scene in particular with Brenton. It was so wacky and out of left field! You could only get away with it in a comic book show.

Will G.: Coming from @Drakelio on Twitter:

During your three seasons on the show, was a costume for Superboy ever discussed?

Joshua: As you know, we had a costume, and the biggest shift was between seasons 2 and 3. From 3 to 4, we just kept the same look. In season 2, it was an improvised costume that Conner made up of bits and pieces along the journey – it’s a t-shirt that he stole, some pants that he stole, and some boots that he stole. So we went from that in season 2 to season 3, where it’s essentially the same overall look but a more deliberate and functional version of that. I’m sure discussions happened, but in terms of supersuits, we never really got to anything concrete. It was more of an idea that was floating around. It would have been a season 5 thing if it were to happen at all.

For me, the suit was his body. It was the physique, so that was what I was working on throughout my time on the show. To boil it down, the suits look amazing. They’re incredible works of art. It would have been an honor and a privilege to wear one, but they don’t seem very comfortable and the sweat doesn’t appeal to me! I was happy enough just to hit the gym and wear a T-shirt.

Will G.: Whatever happened to the gloves he wore in the closing shot of the season 2 finale?

Joshua: I know, right? That was something I convinced them to let me wear as a little bit of flare. I imagined that maybe Conner was like ‘Hey, I’m gonna rock these fingerless gloves’, just for fun. In some versions of the cartoons and comics he’s had something similar. I think they were mountain biking gloves, and we had to cover them up with little pieces of black fabric because there were logos all over them. And they kept falling off and exposing the logos and I think in the end it was more trouble than it was worth. I’m glad that they indulged me for that one shot! I’m glad that they’re in there for that one scene.

Will G.: Coming from @ratitas_ on Twitter:

What have you, as both a person and an actor, learned from Conner? Do you relate to him in any way?

Joshua: Oh, geez, yeah. From the moment I was cast and in my first season of filming there were a lot of parallels and I felt that we were kindred spirits, in a way, Conner and myself. As much as it was his story of being born into a world that he was completely unfamiliar with and meeting all these people and learning about himself, I, too, was in a new country for the first time. Titans was my first big TV role and I was blown away by everything that was going on and trying to adjust. And as he developed, so, too, I developed and became used to things.

But what have I learned? I suppose what I’ve learned is sometimes you’ve got to take it easy on yourself. You’ve got to trust that everything is a process and not worry about achieving your ultimate potential and just focus on staying true to yourself. I feel like that’s a truthful answer.

Will G.: I noticed Krypto was very much on the sidelines this season. He only appeared in a few group scenes and shared little screentime with Conner. Was there any motivation behind this decision from a storytelling point of view or were his appearances just affected by the availability of the dogs? 

Joshua: It was unfortunate but I would say it came down to logistics. This season was quite ambitious, even by Titans’ standards. The story we were attempting to tell had a lot of moving pieces. I think Greg Walker has mentioned this before but they were trying to reduce the main cast in order to give each character a greater amount of focus and I think Krypto was unfortunately a casualty of that.

In terms of the physical shooting of the scenes… When you introduce dogs into scenes, particularly action sequences which are already difficult to shoot, things just take longer and it adds time to the schedule. We wanted to feel that Krypto was still a presence and a part of the team but we just couldn’t include him in the big set pieces and action scenes, for the sake of time and logistics. For example, we originally had Krypto in the scene where Conner meets Lex, and we rehearsed the whole thing. The dogs and the Krypto team and I went to that location prior and blocked the whole scene out and we knew exactly what we were doing and we were ready to go. But on the day (of shooting), sometimes it’s the nature of this stuff, things changed. For whatever reason, whether it’s lighting or the architecture of the space or needing to move the cameras to a different spot. That would’ve meant retraining the dogs to learn new choreography, and that’s all stuff that takes time and on a tight shooting schedule it’s just time you don’t have.

Will G.: Coming from @dinahsmollett on Twitter:

Who is your favorite Superman actor if you had to pick just one? And who would you want to portray the Titansverse Clark Kent?

Joshua: Okay, I have an answer for this because I’ve been asked this before, and I’ve been wishy-washy so let’s set the record straight. I’m gonna cheat because I know they’ve said just one. Favorite Superman? Henry Cavill. Favorite Clark? Christopher Reeve. Those would be my personal favourites.

Who would I want for the Titans Superman? I don’t think it would be one of the ones from existing media. I think we’d have someone new. At one point, I was pitching them John Hamm. Not that he would ever consider it! But what I was going for there was maybe a more mature and seasoned Superman, I suppose the equivalent of Iain Glen’s Bruce Wayne on the show.

But, for my answer, I’m gonna say Nicholas Cage. Have you seen those old photos of him in the Superman suit for that potential Tim Burton Superman movie? That Superman, with that hair, would be the Titans Superman – I’m saying it definitively.

Will G.: Coming from @KevinTalks12 on Twitter:

To what extent has Conner’s relationship with Dick affected his perception of himself and, in your opinion, why does he value so much what Dick thinks of him?

Joshua: It’s like what we touched on before. It’s just the fact that Dick’s the real father figure that’s present in his (Conner’s) life, as much as we like to talk about Superman and Lex. He idolises Superman, that’s his role model, and he’s curious about Lex. But Dick is the one that’s there. Dick is the constant in his life and he’s the one that Conner turns to for advice and guidance. And for that reason, he looks up to Dick. In many ways, as much as he hates to admit it, he wants Dick’s approval and he really needs it too. He may fantasise about meeting Superman, his actual father, but Dick’s the parent he’s got. That’s the guy he turns to and needs that love and approval from.

Will G.: More on a personal level, in terms of your career, what’s next for you?

Joshua: There’s nothing specific that I can mention right now but, as I said, actors like myself crave variety and what I’m searching for is something different to what I’ve been doing. I’ve loved every second of playing this part and I love the genre. I loved it previously and I still love it now. I’m excited to step back and be a fan again, just go to the movies and watch the superhero films and watch the TV series and read the books. I want to veer off in a different direction and do something completely different so those are the roles I’m going to be searching for in the immediate future. I guess whatever the flip side of the coin is to playing Superboy.

Will G.: Finally, is there anything you want to say to the fans?

Joshua: I’m so grateful to all the fans and to everyone who’s watched, especially those who have shown me personally love, whether that’s on social media or in person. I hope that season 4 has felt like an appropriate ending and, whatever your opinions are, I hope you’ve enjoyed watching it and enjoyed the ride. I’m just so grateful to have played this role. It’s been one of the definitive times in my life and career and I won’t forget it. All I feel is just gratitude towards the fans and I’ve had nothing but positive encounters with fans over the years. I’m planning to do a few Comic Con things here and there because I wanna get out there and meet more fans. I love them all! What else can I say? I’m just thankful for the time I’ve had and for the love and support.

Catch Titans seasons 1-4 on Max and, for international viewers, on Netflix.