The sad story behind superhero Stargirl
American actor Brec Bassinger is firm believer in the theory that if you can see it, you can be it.
The 21-year-old Texan grew up loving superhero movies and dreamt of being an actor but found it difficult to connect the two from the characters she saw in her favourite films.
"I loved Spider-Man but I could never be Spider-Man," she says via Zoom call from her Los Angeles home.
A lot has changed since then. Superhero movies and TV shows are still the dominant Hollywood genre of recent years, and thanks to massive hits such as Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and the upcoming Black Widow, the ledger is starting to even up, with greater representation for women.
And as cheesy as she worries it might sound, she hopes that in her role as Stargirl in the new DC series of the same name - which just wrapped up a successful first season in the US and has been renewed for second - she hopes she can help keep that momentum going for the next generation of aspiring actors.
"I feel like just by doing this I am representing women in general and I hope girls can watch it and see themselves and be inspired to do anything they want to do," she says.
"I know that's so broad and almost campy but it's the truth for me."
A former athlete and beauty pageant contestant (she won the Our Little Miss World title in 2009), Bassinger had already carved out a career in TV as a teen actor in Nickelodeon shows including The Haunted Hathaways and the title role in Bella and the Bulldogs.
But she says scoring the role of Courtney Whitmore - an ordinary LA high school student who becomes the super-powered Stargirl after finding a powerful weapon called the Cosmic Staff - was an entirely different prospect.
Not only did she acutely feel the responsibility of being at the centre of a big budget production that employed hundreds of people, she also knew that the comic book nerds who are never backwards in offering their opinions online were watching closely.
"It's been overwhelmingly positive with the comic book fans, which I was really nervous about because they are very opinionated," she says.
"And rightfully so because they know their stuff and they know what they want and they know what they deserve."
Bassinger says she threw herself into stunt training and put herself on a "superhero diet" to get into the shape she knew she'd need for the long days and action scenes on Stargirl.
Her background as an athlete and a competitive cheerleader proved to be invaluable - except for when it came to swinging the Cosmic Staff.
"It actually helped me with every part except the staff," she laughs.
"That's the part I struggled with the most. It was like 'I'm co-ordinated, I have a gymnastics background' but I had never done any bo staff work. I hit the camera with it a few times, I hit people with it when I wasn't supposed to be hitting those people. But now it's another skill I have in my back pocket and I can add it to my resume."
Although the tone of Stargirl is purposefully lighthearted and family friendly, mixing kick-ass action with high school shenanigans as Courtney goes about assembling a team of teen heroes to battle the nefarious Injustice Society of America, the character herself was inspired by a tragedy.
Comic book writer turned TV producer Geoff Johns, who has been an integral part of many of the DC films and TV shows including Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, dreamt up the character as a tribute to his sister, also called Courtney, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996.
"When I got my first audition and you look up Stargirl online, that's the first thing that pops up," says Bassinger.
"So, I knew going in the inspiration behind Courtney - but hearing him and seeing how passionate he was about this project, it made me so much more honoured to be a part of it and excited to do good work and inspired to do good work. Seeing how much it meant to him, I couldn't help but want to do my best for him and his family."
Luke Wilson, who plays Courtney's stepdad turned superhero mentor and sidekick, says he hit it off with Johns right away, thanks to a shared history of having moved to Los Angeles around the same time.
Unbeknown to the star of The Royal Tenen baums and Legally Blonde, Johns had actually written the part with Wilson in mind having seen his breakout 1996 film Bottle Rocket.
The 48-year-old Wilson, who grew up on the Christopher Reeves Superman movies, says not only has the show made him a hero to his brother Owen's sons, he was also struck by Johns' pitch that he wanted to make something hopeful that the whole family could watch together.
"That immediately struck me as a great idea and that was before the pandemic had even hit," he says.
"But with the current political climate there is so much division in our country, it's nice to think there is something that was almost old-fashioned in a what a good feeling it has."
Having had a moment as a hot young talent in Hollywood thanks to his early collaborations with Wes Anderson in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, Wilson says he very much felt like the elder statesman on the set of Stargirl - for better or worse.
"I definitely did," he says with a laugh.
"When I signed on I thought 'gosh, what are all these Millennials going to be like - are they going to be on their phones all the time or are they going to be twerking?'
"But once I had met everybody and especially Brec, who kind of set the tone - so prepared, so focused and just really nice to be around. I grew to really love being around all these kids and they were so nice and fun and smart and professional. I was thinking 'man, I was not like this when I was 20 - I was like a puppy running around or something'."
All episodes of DC's Stargirl streaming from August 22 on BINGE
Originally published as The sad story behind superhero Stargirl