Since her debut in Season 4 of Supergirl, Kelly Olsen has been an invaluable friend, sister, and beloved partner of Supergirl and her close friends and family. Her relationship with Kara’s sister, Alex, has been one of the best highlights of queer relationships in superhero TV. Even though Supergirl is ending this season, Kelly still has more moments to shine, especially as she takes up the mantle of Guardian left by her brother Jimmy, who has left the hero life behind.
We at The Nerds of Color were fortunate to speak with Azie Tesfai, who plays Kelly, and ask her about how she relates to her character, the upcoming episode of the season she co-wrote, the power of the representation that Kelly offers, and what the Kelly and Kelly/Alex fandom means to her.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Thank you so much for speaking with The Nerds of Color today. So first off, I want to ask you, how did it feel to put on the Guardian suit for the first time, and what exactly spurs Kelly to take up the mantle?
Yeah, so, it was amazing. I actually recorded the whole process of putting it on for the first time, because it is an experience that not many people get to have, putting on a super-suit, and then knowing what it represents, and who I’m representing felt very emotional and exciting to me. It was very magical. And then we were able to address Kelly picking up the mantle in a really organic way, and it burst from this episode where she starts seeing real holes in the system as a social worker and realizes that there are more ways than one to help people in need.
What has Kelly meant to you over the years that you’ve played her, and what do you have most in common with her?
Oh, man, I love her so much. She is the goal in which I wish to exist as a human being. She’s so kind and compassionate, and she means so much to me and I think more than anything, I know how much she’s meant to fans in terms of representation, and that means so much to me. I don’t take Kelly as a character — and her stepping into Guardian being a role model — lightly at all. It’s something that I feel so proud that I get to be a part of. And I like to think that we have in common that we lead with our heart and we really want to both put good into the world, and have a lot of empathy and compassion for others. I do think of Kelly as me on my very best day. So I do aspire to be more like her in the way that she is so incredibly kind, and I think also with these episodes specifically coming up, the way in which to make the choice and steps into her power I think we both went through that process the same time in real-time together. And that was emotional and powerful for me.
I love that. So onto Kelly’s relationships, what can fans expect for Kelly and Alex’s relationship for the rest of the season?
So much. I think that they both get real clarity and what they want in their separate lives and get very specific in their own purpose, which does nothing but strengthen their bond with one another, which again is really inspiring. I think their love, and the way that they communicate with one another and can support one another is the most inspiring relationship that I’ve ever got to play, let alone see on television. And so they really do step into their highest selves in terms of purpose separately and watching them support one another and navigate the highs and lows of that together, it’s really exciting to me. And to Chyler!
Very excited to see it! So you co-wrote episode 12 of this season, and you’ve teased in a previous interview that it’s going to be “epic” for Kelly. So first off I’m wondering what the experience of writing the characters you play and interact with was like. And do you see yourself writing more than TV, and maybe even comics like your co-star Nicole Maines, and maybe do you see yourself directing?
The writing experience meant everything to me. I had started writing over the break more and have always kind of felt very protective of Kelly, in what she represents, and making sure that that was
protected and represented properly on screen. Getting to be in the writers’ room for a month, every day 9-5, and have a hand in the story arc that’s coming up as well as the episode that I co-wrote just gave me the green light to tell a story that felt personal to me, and show the inside of Kelly that we haven’t seen yet, but I felt like it was important. Again, I think that was the strange thing, or serendipitous thing I guess, that happened was that Kelly and I both were going through similar scenarios that were playing on screen and finding our power and our voice, and the highs and lows of that at the exact same time, which I hope translates to on-screen as personal as it felt for me in real life.
I definitely love writing. Telling powerful Black female stories and something I’m incredibly passionate about. I think representation is obviously incredibly important. And the first step of that is with Kelly Olsen and putting, you know, her on a pedestal as a superhero and as this aspirational person. The next step of that is showing us as flawed characters, which I think is more relatable to the greater audience, and hopefully bridging the gap between everyone else and particularly Black women, and also showing our joy, you know, not just our trauma but the joys in which we shine and highlighting that. So I think that there’s a lot of work to be done in that space, and it’s something I’m actively excited to write and develop.
I find myself to be much more of a writer and storyteller than a director I haven’t had the bug to direct at all. I think it’s because I like writing and working in my bed in my pajamas. (laughs) That’s much more up my alley than having to navigate a huge crew in real-time. But I do like how my episode working with David Ramsey was really incredible and I would film, and then I would find myself in a couple of scenes sitting behind the monitor with him and really caring so much about every process of it. So I do love collaborating with directors, in particular, but writing is my fire and passion, and there are so many stories I think are needed to be told, and I am excited to hopefully do. So, yeah, definitely sparked a fire within me.
I think we’re all really excited to see what you come up with! So this is the last season of Supergirl. We’ve loved the show so much. We’ve loved seeing Kelly with Alex, Kelly on her own and now as a hero. So, you’ve said before that “the fans over the years have made you step into being more protective over Kelly, and they’ve empowered you to fight for her and speak up for her.” I’m wondering if you can expound more on that, what it’s like to see so many people in your corner that way rallying for you and Kelly, and what message do you have for the fandom who’s been so supportive of you?
Yeah, you know we have this really incredible experience. Even being here in Vancouver when we sit on location, we get to meet a lot of the fans afterward because they are there and they wait to meet us and for me, it was a pivotal moment when we shot the crossover where Kelly picks up the mantle for the first time, the shield for the first time, and there were a group of girls and a handful of young Black women who were very emotional about it and had expressed that they had been waiting for a very long time in the Arrowverse for a character like me to step into that power. And I immediately realized that while I look up to Kelly, and she means a lot to me, there’s a bigger power in her stepping into her purpose, and how I’ve been directly able to meet young girls that this affects. And so, that moment in itself for me, makes me so protective over the story that we tell and how we show and highlight her.
I think the fans are everything to me, and I hope that they know that. So much of this experience for me has been made through the really vocal support of the fandom to Kelly. They were making Guardian art of Kelly Olsen two and a half, three years ago. So, they have rallied and championed for the evolution for a storyline in a way that’s greater than anything I could have dreamed of personally for myself, and to have a fandom that allows me as a woman, to step into my voice and something that I think is so rare, is so special, and it means so much to me. I don’t know if there’s a way that I could ever express to them my gratitude but I tried to in this back half of this season in what we’re giving back, and I just I genuinely have so much love for Kelly fandom and for the Dansen fandom as a whole. They’re incredible.
Supergirl, “Welcome Back, Kara” returns this Tuesday, August 24, airing and streaming on The CW. The episode Kelly co-wrote, “Blind Spots,” airs on September 21.