The CW series Supergirl makes history tonight with the origin story of Dreamer, the first transgender action hero on an American television series. The actress behind Dreamer’s mask is Nicole Maines, the New England transgender activist who prevailed in a landmark 2014 discrimination case that resulted in transgender students getting access to campus bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

After an international search to fill the Dreamer role the casting of Maines was big news last summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego where she was introduced as a “real-life hero.” Maines, who was also featured in HBO’s doc series The Trans List, showed her acting chops with a transgender role on a 2015 episode of USA Network’s Royal Pains that went on to win a GLAAD Media Award.

The CW
CW

Maines joined the Supergirl cast in October as cub reporter Nia Nal and the ramp-up to her costumed career as Dreamer began as a mystery. The newcomer to National City grappled to understand (or deny) her prophetic dreams. In tonight’s episode, titled  Blood Memory, Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) accompanies Nia to revisit her roots to find clues from the past that might illuminate her unknown connection to the future. The episode was directed by Shannon Kohli working from a script by Jessica Queller & Dana Horgan. Before it’s over viewers will get their first on-screen glimpse of Dreamer’s costume (Next Sunday’s episode, called Menagerie, will deliver the first scenes of the costumed Dreamer in action).

Deadline caught up with Maines to talk about the challenging path that led her to the Supergirl role as the aptly named Dreamer. On Friday, after the interview below, GLAAD announced its Media Award Nominations for 2018 and Supergirl is one of the contenders in the television drama series, as is The CW’s Black Lighting, another DC Comics adaptation that features smart, nuanced portrayals characters from LGBTQ sectors. The CW has announced plans for a Batwoman plot in the fall and, as the first openly gay or lesbian superhero in the title role.

DEADLINE: With your fascinating odyssey you’ve been the subject of a landmark legal battle, a book, a screen documentary and countess headlines across this country and well beyond. Do you see any ways that experience has directly affected your acting craft?

The CW
CW

MAINES: Of course. I mean, before I ever started acting, I was being an activist for transgender rights and learning about my community and hearing different peoples stories and experiences. So now that my acting career has started to take off, a major focus of mine is intersecting that with my advocacy. I’m very aware of the character’s storyline on screen as well as how it translates off screen. It’s important to recognize that what happens on screen directly affects people’s attitudes and ideologies in real life, and that’s always something I take into consideration when playing a role.

DEADLINE: The DC Comics shows on The CW have become a real vanguard of LGBTQ representation in television, which I’m not sure is getting as much attention as it deserves. Dreamer, Canary and Batwoman have planted a flag, in a way. How does it feel to part of that vanguard?

MAINES: It’s very surreal for me to be able to be a part of a universe that has been so representative of queer identities because before I was cast on supergirl, I was a huge fan of the Arrowverse. So getting to be a part of that in general is a dream come true, but being able to do so while bringing my community into the spotlight, and adding our voices to the conversation is even more rewarding and special to me.

DEADLINE: Every role is a new challenge and a new opportunity/ What do you see as your biggest challenge and as your biggest opportunity with Dreamer?

MAINES: With Dreamer, the biggest opportunity and challenge is being the first. There’s a lot of pressure to set a good example and carve a path for more trans heroes, but that’s also what is exciting about it. We’re doing something on SG that hasn’t been done before, so that is equal parts scary and exciting. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many people on set and in the writers room who are dedicated to telling this story as honestly and respectfully as we can, and we’ve all been so excited about Nia’s transformation into Dreamer, I can’t wait for everyone to see it come to fruition.

DEADLINE: This character’s name has a long history in the pages of DC Comics but this interpretation is quite different than the one portrayed in the comics for decades. What do you especially like about the character and how would you describe her to someone who is new to her adventures?

MAINES: So Nura Nal is the descendent of Nia Nal, so their powers and backstories are similar. In the comics, Nura is Dream Girl and is one of the members of the Legion of Superhero’s. She is already confident in her powers and knows how to use them. Nia is introduced at a time her her life where she is not at all confident in using her powers, and doesn’t even really want them in the first place. So when I started bringing Nia to life, I wanted to use Dream Girl as a kind of Point B for Nia’s character arc. And as she blossoms, she gains more of the confidence in her dream powers that Nura has.

DEADLINE: The powers of many superheroes are fun to think about but wouldn’t;t necessarily fit we into the real world. But Dreamer’s abilities are pretty fascinating to consider. I’m sure you’ve thought about that — do you think it would be straight-up awesome to have her powers or more a mixed blessing?

MAINES: I mean, I think it’s kind of a mixed bag with Dreamer’s powers. It’d be pretty handy to see stuff coming and be able to prevent disasters in your life, but not knowing what you would see in your dreams every night has got to be stressful. And I’m a person who really likes sleep, so not knowing if I might just literally see the end of the world or something crazy like that would make it pretty hard to get some shut eye.