Donna Troy has been a staple of superhero comics since the medium's Silver Age. One of the Teen Titans' original members, she's survived numerous incarnations, outfits, tragedies, and triumphs to emerge as one of the most beloved heroes in the DC Universe. At long last, she makes her live-action debut in the latest episode of Titans (watch "Donna Troy" here), in which she's played by the affable Conor Leslie. We caught up with the actress this week and got the lowdown on how she embodies the Amazon warrior...
There are a lot of well-known characters in Titans, but Donna is the only one who goes back as far as Dick Grayson.
Oh yes. She's a founding member of the Teen Titans. [Laughs.]
And she's won a legion of fans in the last 50 years. Let's start with a question from a DC Universe member... "Batboy1138" asks if you had any prior knowledge of Donna Troy before taking on the role.
My little brother is a massive comic book fan, so they were around my house growing up. I’m definitely not unfamiliar with the comic book world, and with DC especially. I hadn’t read them when I was auditioning. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about Donna Troy specifically. I knew Wonder Woman, and I knew some of the main superheroes. But I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about her, which was kind of nice -- because when I started really doing research, I was looking at it with fresh eyes. Then, when I found out more about her, I was very excited because I fell in love with her. I fell in love with the character, as a superhero, as a person. It was a nice thing to discover for the first time. I knew enough from my research, but then my little brother, who’s just a huge fan, he was very excited and passionate. He kept my casting a secret for like a year, so he deserves a lot of praise. But yeah, my welcoming into it was through my little brother, and some of my own research, which I tried to do as much of as possible without getting overwhelmed by her backstory.
As you did that research, were there any particular stories, or versions of Donna, that were especially helpful in informing your take on the character? DC Universe member "JLWWSM" asks if there were any comics you read that helped you prepare for the role.
Yeah, definitely. When I was looking at the comics, I read "Who Is Donna Troy?" [in The New Teen Titans #38]. I first wanted to know where our creators were going with her backstory in our show, because when I was doing my research, going back to her first appearance in The Bold and the Brave and even the last few years, I saw that the Rebirth Donna is a different Donna than the original Donna on the Donna in Return of Donna Troy. I just was so overwhelmed with it that I tried to take pieces of her character traits from all of them, and find what was a common thread or common theme in who she was. Then, with the Wonder Girl aspect, I was informed about what her backstory was going to be. We go, obviously, where Diana saves her from a burning building, guides her, and raises her, and inspires her to be the woman she is now.
I was trying to take pieces from everything. Just because between auditioning and casting and being given the job, I think that would be a really crazy character if I tried to put in every storyline and where she’s at now, given false memories... My mind started swirling, and then I went, "This poor girl! Let me try... OK, she’s saved from the burning building. That’s my starting point. This is Diana’s role in her life" That was really important to me, and then kind of finding where we were going to go from there, because, obviously, she hasn’t been Wonder Girl in quite some time. So I was trying to piece all that together.
How much of Donna's backstory do you think we'll see moving forward?
The first time we see her, she's explaining the impact that Diana’s presence had in her life, and it’s obviously such a contrast to that of Bruce’s impact on Dick’s. The future is still to be determined, how much we’ll lean into that backstory. But it will be, without giving things away, definitely a very important storyline for the Donna that we are watching. It’s realistic as far as the Donna in this world goes. Because it is 2018 and these people are living in these cities. So we give a backstory that we could work around these other characters. It honors that in a truthful way, and it will be seen later.
As far as the show's action goes, how you did you train and prepare for it?
I loved training and preparing for the action scenes, because it was just so much fun and challenging, and I love a challenge. We see a taste of it in this first episode that we meet her in. We see a taste of her strength. But we will get to see, without giving too much away, the elements of Wonder Girl. I’m calling them "accessories" because it doesn’t give anything away. But if you’re a comic fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. [Laughs.] I’m helping out the other characters. It’s so wonderful.
As far as the training... Donna's got incredible hand-to-hand combat skills. She’s fast. Her ability to react in a split second kind of comes through in our stunts, and they’re brutal. What I really loved about the stunts we’re doing in our show is that they’re not cute. They’re meant to be brutal and ugly. That is something we didn’t do in our training, but our stunt team is incredible. They were really helpful. I told them, "I want to do as many as you’ll let me, and train as much as you’ll let me." Because as an actor, it helps. I can’t backflip over a truck, unfortunately, but I can at least be as involved as possible. Because it just helps me embody Donna Troy as much as I can without being a half-Amazon. [Laughs.]
But yeah, the stunts were really fun and exhausting to do. I have a new respect for actors who do all their own stunts. Because it’s one thing to do the stunt once, to do it take after take after take... Sometimes it’s been seven hours, and you’re still doing it, and you’re not doing it in your workout clothes and sneakers. You’re doing it in your costume. That’s very difficult to do while also not looking like you’re out of breath at the end of the take. When I first started doing these stunts, I remember thinking, "Okay, I work out on my own. I’m very athletic. But I have to not look out of breath. Wonder Girl can’t look like she’s out of breath! She has to do it without breaking a sweat." That was probably the most challenging thing, just trying to do these scenes without looking like you’re making an effort. Because she’s not a human being. It would be one thing if you were playing a secret agent or whatever, like Jason Bourne. But this is a non-human. She can’t look like she’s out of breath after she’s attacked a bunch of bad guys. So that was hard.
How would you describe Donna's relationship with Dick Grayson? What was it that first drew them together, and how do you think she perceives him now?
The thing that’s really beautiful about Dick and Donna’s relationship is that it’s this great friendship, and that’s what the comic book fans love about it. They have a bond that’s unlike any that of any other members of the team, or anyone else in their life. Because they both come from this place of not being raised by their original parents. They’ve been guided by and taken under the wing of these superhero guardians. They’re both the same age. Dick was raised by Batman, and Donna by Wonder Woman. That’s something that no one else can understand the pressures of, or the the loneliness behind, or how confusing that can be. I think that Donna's an escape for Dick and always has been, and vice versa. But when you see him turn to her, he’s turning to her because she's the last person he knows he can go to. A person he doesn’t have to keep a guard up around. It’s someone he knows is going to roast him probably and give him crap, but, at the end of the day, from a place of love. Dick turns to Donna to say, "You’ve figured this out. Please show me how." I think that relationship is very, very special. Especially since how Dick Grayson is known for hooking up with the women that come into his life. Donna remains this person that’s just his friend; which is important, because she's a grounding force in this crazy chaotic world and the situations that they’re put in.
Donna's also known for the many different costumes and looks she's worn throughout her long comic-book history. Do you have a personal favorite?
When I was researching her, I loved her red suit with the gold stars. My preference is the old-school, red-and-gold suit, only because it’s so classic. When you think of Wonder Girl, you see the gold stars, you see the red, you see the belt...and the lasso is so classic. Because the lasso is so specifically tied to Wonder Woman, it's kind of the ultimate goosebumps. She’s also got the bracelets. That one would be my first go-to. I would, however, love to explore some of her other costumes.
Speaking of lassos... In addition to your stunt training, did you have to learn any rope tricks?
Yes. We had to do a lot of that. I would train with my stunt double so I could work with the rope, training with tension, because, ultimately, it’s not this golden digital thing that I’m working with. Working with the rope was tricky because you had to work your body around it. It’s kind of like a dance. There’s some really cool things that are done with that. A lot of it was just hand-to-hand combat, which requires a lot of like quick reactions. But there was rope training, and building stamina, and lots of punching, kicking, and grabbing guys. I could do it with my pinky, toss them across a warehouse with ease, and make it not look challenging. [Laughs.]
This question come from another DC Universe member "TurokSonOfStone1950"... What is your impression of what Donna Troy's powers are? Are they just like that of an average Amazon?
If I had to rank them? She’s got so many similarities to Wonder Woman and her strengths. Wonder Woman’s obviously the strongest. It doesn’t really go beyond that. But she’s close to it. The things we’ll see her do, I don’t know if there’s a way to rank them or to compare them to other Amazons. But she’s got such control of those powers by now, and you’ll see that because of Diana's influence she's definitely not a rookie. She’s not figuring out the ropes -- no pun intended. [Laughs.] She knows what she’s doing, and she’s got a harness on that. So she’s powerful. She already figured all that out with Diana. She's in her late 20s now. She’s a seasoned Amazon.
If you could have one of Donna's powers or abilities in real life, which would you choose?
Flying. I think that’d be pretty cool. That's the one that I could use the most... I’d love to borrow that lasso though. [Laughs.]
Is there a particular direction you’d like to see Donna take as her story is told on Titans?
Yeah. I’d like to see a bit more of her current relationship with Dianna, because a lot of her story will be revolving around what she has known from growing up with her and from being taught by her. So I’d love to explore a lot of that in her backstory. Because that would just give a little bit more insight into this version that we’re seeing now. I would kind of love that. Just to get more into her past.