Ricky Church chats with Legion of Super-Heroes star Harry Shum Jr.…
Tomorrow the next DC animated film Legion of Super-Heroes is set to be released, taking viewers along a ride to the 31st Century with Supergirl as she learns to hone her powers. Training alongside new Legion recruits as well as the egotistical Brainiac 5, a descendent of Superman’s enemy, Supergirl and her new friends discover a threat that could destroy the universe and must work together in order to prevent it.
We spoke with actor Harry Shum Jr., who voices Legion member Brainiac 5, a descendant of Superman’s deadly foe Brainiac. Shum has also had a pretty big year for himself as he has also joined the long-running Grey’s Anatomy, was a special guest in an episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks in one of the franchise’s wildest stories, but most of all Everything Everywhere All at Once where Shum played Chad who, in a twist on Pixar’s Ratatouille, had a racoon named Raccacoonie on his head controlling his movements as they worked together in a teppanyaki restaurant.
We discussed Brainiac 5’s appeal, his confrontational relationship with Supergirl, the Legion’s popularity and his role as Raccacoonie in Everything Everywhere. Check out our interview below…
In Legion of Super-Heroes you play Brainiac 5. Brainiac is commonly known as a Superman villain, but this version is actually a hero with the Legion. What’s it like to play a heroic version of this character?
I think it’s a wonderful spin on the idea of what we’ve kind of been accustomed to seeing, especially when you look at the original Brainiac and seeing over the years, really decades, Brainiac trying to destroy the universe. To see this being utilized in a way that we can explore with someone like Supergirl who is also living behind the shadows of her relatives with Superman and behind the boys club which you see in the Legion in a lot of ways and then seeing her having a central story along with Brainiac 5, I think it it is the perfect match.
Yeah, for sure. Brainiac 5 and Supergirl do have a really combative relationship in this movie. What can you tell us about their relationship? Did you ever get a chance to talk with Supergirl’s actress Meg Donnelly about how to approach their rivalry?
You know, this was recorded during the pandemic around September. It also happened so fast and the things that we were trying to figure out while in the midst of trying to prepare for the character and get it together is how are we going to even record this thing? There’s so many things happening that Wes Gleason, our voice director, was just such a wonderful central point in into all this and putting a lot of ease into it. Usually at least we’d be in the booth around or near the other actor, but during that time it wasn’t even possible.
The team had to do things a little differently as well to try and kind of string this whole movie together to make it coherent and make it something that justifies the great story Josie Campbell wrote. In that I just feel we were able to really combine our talents together and to trust the animators and trust everyone to kind of put the movie that was birthed through the craziness of the pandemic and what it’s become. Watching the film, it just really, really made me so happy we got the results that we did and we got a really, really wonderful action-packed and also in a lot of ways heartfelt film, especially in the DC animated universe.
Awesome. To that point about how this is a heartfelt movie, I found Legion is kind of a coming of age story for Supergirl, Brainiac 5 and the rest of the young Legion recruits who are all at this academy together. How did that aspect influence your performance?
I had to, when you think of someone who’s intelligent, like chess players, these younger geniuses or someone who’s working on a level that’s beyond their years, you see a maturity that makes you forget they’re still young, that they still haven’t experienced many things in the world even though they might excel in a certain field. That’s something that I had to always think about. When you think about 12th-level intelligence, when you think about a clone, when you think about an android, you think about all these things like well, are they going to act robotic? Are they going to speak robotic? Are they going to have an error where they don’t feel any of their emotions?
I think some of it rests true in the character, but also forgetting that there is a sense of human aspect when you’re talking about how all the characters are interacting with each other because these relationships that we have, no matter what you think of AI, is trying to get closer to what it is to be human and then also not think like us as well. So it’s all these things that I kind of have to rearrange and figure out what the priority was so the voice that can come out of it, the way he speaks in information, can at least make it feel realistic for someone like Brainiac 5 who has so much knowledge of things, but hasn’t experienced things to be able to justify that intelligence.
Yeah. The Legion of Super-Heroes are a beloved team by DC Comics fans, but they haven’t really been explored or introduced that much to the mainstream audience. How do you feel bringing the Legion more to the forefront in their first animated movie?
Yeah, I love it! I think when you’re talking about the superheroes that we love, that we know about and the popularity behind them, I think it’s also what I love is that they put so much love and resources behind this particular group because when we watch these films, we watch for the relationships, we watch things that they’re going through, when you’re talking about coming of age these are the types of stories to be able to even have the opportunity for them to grow. We can watch a lot of Supermans and Batmans over and over again and I enjoy watching those origin stories to a certain degree, but I think it’s giving these new casts some love and I love how it turned out because there’s so much humour that can come behind it. They’re also not taking themselves too seriously and we as an audience aren’t as well, but at the same time we know the struggles of what it is to have no one believe in you. Then when you finally do, hopefully they can grow from there and we can see more of them not just in comic books, but in these DC films.
Yeah, for sure. Now this year in particular for you has been really crazy between voicing in this movie, joining Grey’s Anatomy and starring in Everything Everywhere All at Once, particularly with that film with all the recognition that it’s been getting at award ceremonies. How does it feel just knowing all that has happened within this year? What are your feelings on Everything’s recognition and can we see a Raccacoonie spinoff?
(Laughs) Yeah, I poked the Daniels about that and getting them started on that and hearing their full pitch of a possibility of that is crazy! That alone made me so happy. But I think that this movie is just like, I just remember joining it and hearing about it, and then watching Key doing his fanny pack scene and his fight and then going from there to South by Southwest, it’s just been such a really fun journey to see people that I’ve grown up watching or people that I’ve been friends with become recognized for something that I feel in my heart they deserved a long time ago.
As we’ve seen like Key’s speech and Michelle Yeoh’s speech and then seeing them finally recognized in a place where they get so little opportunities to showcase what they’re capable of, I feel it in my gut because me being able to have these opportunities as well is something I’m just incredibly grateful for. But at the same time, I can’t help but say also it’s about damn time I get some opportunities and that are meeting to the challenge. I say that with complete gratitude, which I think a lot of people on this movie as well does, but at the same time look what beautiful things can happen when people just say yes, even the audience. I’m just so grateful for the audience that they said yes to a film that they might have said no to a while ago if you would have explained it to them.
Thank you to Harry Shum Jr. for speaking with us!
Legion of Super-Heroes will be released on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD February 6th and digital February 7th.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.