Caroline Dries has a beautiful nerdiness about her.
We mean that as the highest compliment. Bespectacled, smiley and casually dressed, she has none of the imperious airs producers so often radiate. That’s a feat unto itself, given that she’s executive producing and showrunning one of this season’s biggest productions, Batwoman. The show, which stars Ruby Rose as the title character, airs Sundays on The CW.
Dries is no stranger to The CW, having written for shows like Arrow, The Vampire Diaries and Smallville. Her experience paid off when Executive Producer and superhero Svengali Greg Berlanti selected her to bring the first out-queer superhero to the screen. Dries, who married her wife Danielle Maynard in 2015, would need to engineer a show that delivered on its genre expectations while still dealing truthfully with the issues facing a gay woman.
After a special episode screening hosted by Dries herself, Queerty scored a little one on one time with the head writer to talk about binging Batwoman to life, handling fan expectations and blazing new trails.
So, there are a lot of firsts here. First queer superhero—a queer woman no less. There are all kinds of levels to the trailblazing and ambition of this show, which is incredible. That said, it’s a lot of pressure, and kicking down doors always brings blowback. So I have to ask…are you ok?
Thank you. It’s funny, I didn’t think too hard about it when I took on the project. I’m not really an advocate type of person. I have strong beliefs, but I’m of the mind that everyone has their beliefs. Only in the past couple of years, with Hillary Clinton, did I feel my feminism start to rise. I’ve become a bit more comfortable about being public with what I believe in.
But in terms of the gay element of my life, it’s not something that I’m closeted about but it’s not something I ever promoted. So then to have this show, I started realizing people are looking at it as a trailblazing thing and I’d better deliver on it. So I did become insecure about that. I think casting Ruby really helped.
She can do it, and she’s the face of it. Then it just became really easy after that, because [the issue] became what stories would I be interested in watching? I love genre stuff, but having a female lead that is allowed to date women…on TV shows it’s usually the “D” storyline. So this is a dream come true job.
I heard you say in a Q&A that you wanted to make sure the show was “gay enough,” which I’ve never heard a showrunner say before. And you said that Kate should be a more butch woman. How does your own experience inform the character? How are you bringing verisimilitude to the show?
It’s interesting. I’m more of a Sophie. Kate is what I aspire to be. So she is so confident. Everything about her aura and presentation screams confidence. Whereas, I’m more like Sophie: more bumbling and struggling and insecure. So understand both, though I’d love to be a Kate. That’s why writing is such an aspirational job.
And it’s to both the credit of the show, and to you, that the series concentrates so much on that relationship. I know so many lesbians who tell a similar story of falling in love with a girl in high school or college who later left her for a guy. That’s so key to Kate’s character.
One thing that really drives me crazy in current genre entertainment—film & TV—is this idea of fan service. Nothing can change, and a project has to pander to fans with all kinds of meta in-jokes. It’s like a lap dance.
Oh my gosh.
It’s almost like a movie or a show needs to be more about validating the audience than telling a story. How do you combat that? Or do you?
Well because we’re so new—just six episodes old—we haven’t necessarily, even if we wanted to, been able to adjust anything based on fan reaction. I do see myself listening to what people are saying. I’m not necessarily reexecuting anything, but I’m aware of it. Some of it does make me insecure, especially when it’s about the Sophie storyline. I just have to stay with my original plot. I’ve built up a whole season and I want to be true to my initial instinct before all the people that I don’t know are giving me notes on Twitter.
It’s tempting, I’ll say that much. At the same time, when I was on Vampire Diaries, that show was on so long that we kind of did want to pander a little bit. Whereas with this, I’m aware that it’s a new show and we’re coming into an established universe. I’m just trying to stay reverent to the idea that we’re new here. We’re not going to try to be another show. I’m just trying to stay the course.
But it is hard though.
Well and I know Ruby Rose has had to delete her social media accounts over harassment for being a queer woman and playing one on TV.
This is a pattern of behavior, particularly toward minorities: Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Leslie Jordan and so many others have dropped off social media over harassment.
Because you’ve been working in genre TV so long, at exactly what point did fandom become so toxic? What’s that about? How do we combat it?
I don’t think we can combat it. It’s too late. Social media has the floodgates open.
People are going to be mean. Period. People say don’t read it, that it’s just some idiot in his mom’s basement. But it does affect you. You’re a human being. When people call you ugly every day, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know them. It hurts. I’ll read ten positive things and one negative thing, and I’m automatically like who is this person. Who do they vote for?
I just have to revalidate myself. So it does get to you.
So, my timelines are what show I’m working on.
I think it was Season 5 of Vampire Diaries, so like 2013, where I just felt that Twitter had taken over TV. And I do go on Twitter for TV. I follow a lot of writers. And then, obviously, there are a lot of TV watchers.
So how do you keep from letting it overwhelm you?
I have to remember I’m above what they are doing, if that makes sense. I’m sure when you get comments on your stories, if there are ten good ones and one mean one, it’s like boop!
Well yeah. But you have to just go live your life.
Ruby and I were joking that the trailer aired on YouTube, and the most liked comment was one that said “The Batcave should be a kitchen.”
Yeah. And it had however many thousand likes. And we were like we should totally open on her vacuuming the Batcave.
You realize you’re being affected by somebody that’s stupid. That’s what encourages you to get over it.
You’ve been in the business more than a decade. You’ve written for other superhero shows. You were at Vampire Diaries for years. For you as a queer woman, have you encountered a lot of homophobia in the business? Do people question, because you’re a lesbian, if you can, for example, write a straight woman? When it comes to actors, I hear so many horror stories.
I have not experienced that, though I understand why actors would. For me, it’s been a delicious pattern of working for The CW for many years. You give them story areas for every episode, and for the season, and there is never ever a hiccup or a bump of “too many gay storylines.” That has never once happened.
I think the powers that be—Greg [Berlanti] and Sarah [Schechter]–wanted to hire a lesbian as the showrunner for obvious reasons. I can relate to the character better. But I personally have never experienced [homophobia] on any show.
That’s so encouraging. When this show began, Queerty ran an essay on what it would have meant to have a queer superhero growing up. What would it have meant to you? Which characters did you gravitate toward?
I gravitated towards Dawson Leary [of Dawson’s Creek] because he was trying to be a writer. That’s what I wanted to be but I didn’t have any reference for it. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in love with Joey Potter [played by Katie Holmes].
But I didn’t understand my feelings yet. So I have gone through what you went through. What if I was watching Batwoman? There’s this feeling of weird jealousy that I don’t get very often. Obviously, I love writing it now, but had I had it, how different things could be.
When it comes to genre stories—and this has come up a few times recently—the idea that in genre stories the great heroes and heroines kind of transcend gender.
That’s really true of Batwoman also. What is it about the great heroes that they’re almost too big for one gender?
I think that’s what I loved about our decision to make Gotham think that Batman was back. It’s less about the gender underneath. It’s just a symbol of hey, we’re safe now. So I do think that is really interesting, though I don’t know why we attribute it to that. It might be because every time you add definition to someone, it humanizes them in a way. The more of a symbol something can be, the easier it is to respect.
And in the case of this show, everyone assuming Batman is back also speaks to a certain gender assumption.
Well, and in a recent episode, characters assume she’s straight because she’s a woman.
So, along those lines, we’re living in a great time of expanded representation. You’re the custodian of something very important here. Queer kids will get to say “I’m Batwoman,” and straight kids will learn to empathize and relate to her. That’s a lot of pressure. How do you deal?
Yeah. I’ve had conversations with Ruby about this, even changing little lines of dialogue and even remembering that I, as a cynic, have a certain outlook on the world that is slightly darker than what younger people have. I have gone through my experience already. Young people are just starting theirs. So she and I have had conversations about how we have our own belief, but at the end of the day, people are looking to this character for guidance. We have to remember she needs to feel a bit more mainstream to queer kids who need guidance in their life.
So it is a lot of pressure, making sure I do what I want to do as a writer, but there are a lot of expectations.
And how do you deal with that?
I don’t really feel it get to me. I surround myself with amazing writers and creative people like the actors. We can have an open conversation about that which allows for the best version of the story.
Batwoman airs Sunday nights on The CW.