It's hard to overstate the sheer unpredictability of a show like The Boys, the Amazon Prime Video superhero satire in which a Superman-like figure is revealed to have a milk fetish, a dolphin sexually harasses its benefactor and Charlize Theron shows up to proclaim her love of the Third Reich. Now in its third season, the series continues to upend expectations, making its moments of gore startlingly funny and its more comedic scenes disturbing in their darkness. At the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney, cast members Chace Crawford, Claudia Doumit, Jack Quaid and Jessie T. Usher spoke about spending hours covered in fake blood, the most memorable bits of direction they've gotten and what goes into playing incredibly unlikeable characters:
The Boys is wild. This is a show in which a speedboat plows into a whale and a roomful of people's heads burst open. When you're part of a show that has these big dramatic moments and outlandish scenarios, what is the most memorable bit of direction or acting note that you've been given?
Chace Crawford: The most memorable bit of direction I've gotten is also the grossest. It was when The Deep was getting his comeuppance in season 1 and that girl was assaulting him. So there was a fake torso on top of me with these fake gills (that the girl had to penetrate) and the camera was right there. The director was going, 'It hurts more! Scream louder! It hurts!' And I was going: Aaaaaaaa! Can we stop now? That was the weirdest.
Claudia Doumit: For me, it was the first time I was in a scene in which a head exploded. We were shooting the courtroom hearing scene. I remember them positioning a gun full of fake blood aimed right at my face, and the director going, 'We've got one shot at this, don't anticipate it.' I was sitting there, shaking and thinking to myself: Don't anticipate it, don't anticipate it. Don't blink, don't you fucking blink. So that was a fun day.
Jack Quaid: I don't know if this is a note or a bit of direction, but this is something I heard Laz Alonso, who plays Mother's Milk, say. We shot the season 2 scene inside the whale, where he was comforting me and after a take he went, 'Ugh, it's so hot. Hey guys, can we get some more AC in here?' He wanted more air conditioning inside the whale, something we did not have access to. Someone had told him that the whale was air conditioned. That's the weirdest thing. Every part of that is odd to me. I will never forget it.
Jessie T. Usher: But if the AC had cut on, the legendary status of the show would've gone through the roof. We've all had really strange experiences that would've never happened on any other show, or even probably for the rest of our lives. We've had some pretty good stuff.
Jack Quaid: My second day on set was when Jessie ran through (my girlfriend) Robin. Like, 'Welcome to the show, here's some craziness.'
Jessie T. Usher: That was my first day. It was fun!
How much room is there for improv on a show like this? Is there a moment or a scene that you've come up with that you're particularly proud of?
Chace Crawford: (Showrunner) Eric Kripke lets me improvise the more comedic stuff but he's always like, 'Just get one take the way it was written.' In season 1 when The Deep is banished to Sandusky in Ohio, the guy who's showing him around is like, 'There's your apartment and there's a Dairy Queen down the street.' The Deep responds, 'What? They've got, like…blizzards and stuff?' That's one line I really love. That was improv. I remember throwing that out there and almost cracking up.
Claudia Doumit: They're like, 'We'll get one or two takes and then you can improv.' But I feel like a lot of improv lines make it into the show.
Chace Crawford: They do! And when you're watching it, you're like, 'Oh wow, they're using that stuff.' It's fun.
Jessie T. Usher: There's room for improv on this show. You have to nail the material because it's so intentional, but once you get it, you can run with it. That's what's beautiful about being on this show. It's tough, it's a big meal for us, making sure we're hitting all the elements and all the moments on that day. But once you do find that groove, you can take it anywhere. It's a huge blessing to be able to work opposite people like Jack because no matter where you go, he's going to follow you. Whenever he wants to try something, I'm comfortable, we can work off each other and see what we get. A lot of the time, we end up with these hybrid takes of what was on the page versus where we went with it.
Jack Quaid: I'm always so curious as to what they keep when we do improvise something. I'm always like, 'Oh they kept that. That's interesting, I never thought they would.' The cast trusts each other so much now, you can basically take the material anywhere and they'll roll with you. Kripke has been so great in terms of making us nail what's on the page but also giving us the freedom to play around. One of my favourite things when I'm watching a movie or a TV show is when I can tell that something wasn't scripted, and it was just something fun that happened in the moment. In terms of favourite lines that I've improvised, it's the season 1 line, 'You played my butt like jazz — with poise and skill and willingness to improvise.' It has the word 'improvise' in it! Just thought of that. What a show we work on. They kept that in.
Jessie T. Usher: I would've too!
Jack Quaid: I do conventions and when people ask me to sign quotes, I write: You played my butt like jazz. Here you go. I love my life. This is great.
Jessie T. Usher: Classic Hughie.
The Boys is obviously great fun to watch, but I imagine it must be tough to shoot — covered in fake blood all the time, having to act opposite CGI sea creatures, running rapidly from one mark to another. Talk me through some of the tough bits of this job.
Claudia Doumit: Honestly, at some point during the day when you're covered in fake blood, it just becomes another part of the outfit. I just walk around and I'm like: Hmm, gonna go to craft services. I forget that I have a face full of blood.
Chace Crawford: Are you pulled over by the cops on the way home?
Claudia Doumit: I've FaceTimed my dad and he's been like, 'Aaaa!' But you get used to it.
Chace Crawford: I thought I was going to be in the water a lot, like in the therapist's office talking about lobsters or in the Vought boardroom or eating poor Timothy (the octopus). Justice for Timothy. But there hasn't been anything too crazy.
Claudia Doumit: It's interesting when you have to imagine something happening. Like Homelander (Antony Starr) flying away. He's supposed to take off but (in reality), he's just standing there. He's just doing that pose, but you have to look at him and go: Woah!
Jessie T. Usher: I do have to run around, but that's all slowed-down, so that kinda helps. When you're covered in blood for 12 to 14 hours, that's not the best thing. I've been there a few times, it gets really sticky and hard.
Jack Quaid: It's fine if you do a scene in which you get covered in blood and then they cut to the next scene. But it's hard when you're covered in blood and then they stay with your character for a few scenes after that because that means you have to come in for weeks and every morning, as you get the blood reapplied onto you, you stick to everything. You stick to your clothes, it hurts to move. That's the hard part. But Head & Shoulders shampoo, shaving cream and Dawn soap all get it out really well. I'm not being paid by Dawn, I just want to put that out there. Not yet at least.
You all play characters who are unlikeable at various points during the show. What is your approach to playing an unlikeable character? Do you lean into how unlikeable they are or do you find things you love about them?
Claudia Doumit: It's very human to have unlikeable qualities. They're deeply flawed people. It's not easy to play, but you can understand where they're coming from or what their struggle is. They're feeling very human feelings and having very human reactions, wrapped up in a very extreme packaging. It's easy to find that heart of the character. With Neuman, it's very easy — do you ever get that feeling when you're in a social setting and you have to put on a face? Many people do that in many situations. She puts on whatever mask she has to that day.
Chace Crawford: Kripke always talks to me when there are a lot of absurdist moments. Like the (scene in which I get sexually propositioned by a) dolphin or (I have sex with) the octopus. He's like, 'The more nuanced and real you play it, the funnier it is.' Obviously the Starlight (Erin Moriarty) sexual asssault scene was a little more delicate. The Deep feels like he's entitled to do that, this is the way things have always been. It's like a fraternity hazing for him. In his mind, it's more casual than she makes it out to be or that it comes across in the moment because he's so disconnected and un self-aware. He's an asshole. That's a grey, nuanced area.
Jessie T. Usher: I tend to find something that I love about them. It's very natural to like or unlike someone in different scenarios and A-Train teeters on that line a little bit. We see him make very bad decisions, but for good reasons over and over and over again. I like being able to do a bit of both. When I see something I like about him, I like to really emphasise that and to say: He's not that bad! Even when I know what's about to happen, it's nice to see him battle with that himself.
Jack Quaid: I'm the same way. That's what I love about our show, every character is so dynamic. Even with someone as evil as Homelander, you still understand why he's doing the stuff he's doing. In terms of likeability, I actually enjoyed playing a not-so-likeable version of Hughie this season. When a character is more flawed, they're more relatable. Even when they're not as likeable. Everyone has flaws. I was like, 'Yesss!' because I was so excited to play a way more flawed Hughie. I really enjoyed it.