Spoilers for The Boys Season 3 follow!
For many people, the scene that sold them on Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys will have been its very second in the first episode, a violent and tragic example of the potential of superpowers that in many ways acts as a thesis statement for the entire series. Arguably the star of this scene is Jessie T. Usher as A-Train, the superhuman speedster whose carelessness sets the entire conflict of The Boys in motion. The Prime Video original – adapted from Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book series of the same name by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and superstar producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – returns to this moment again and again across its three seasons as we see A-Train’s relationship with superhero society shift.
While that moment crowns Hughie Campbell as the de facto protagonist, in introducing us to A-Train it also reveals something about The Boys going forward: just how willing it is to blur the lines between hero and villain, good and evil. Since that scene, A-Train has been on a journey of redemption and rediscovery. In The Boys Season 3, that manifests in the character returning to his community, only to find it being over-policed by a racist superhero named Blue Hawk (Nick Wechsler). Plotlines like this, and an eventual reunion with Hughie where their dynamic is flipped on its head, leave A-Train in a new and compelling headspace that moves him into a thrilling position on the chessboard that is this show.
A-Train is brought to life by actor Jessie T. Usher, who brings superstar charisma and dramatic introspection. Usher made his name as a child in TV commercials and has previously starred in major Hollywood productions including Independence Day: Resurgence as the son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller, 2019’s Shaft as the latest in the titular dynasty, and most recently the horror smash-hit Smile. He is set to reprise the role of A-Train in The Boys Season 4 and its upcoming college-set spinoff Gen V. In a show filled with big personalities like Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and fellow super-powered members of “The Seven” like Antony Starr’s Homelander or Erin Moriarty’s Starlight, Jessie T. Usher impressively finds no trouble in leaving his mark as A-Train.
Reflecting on the blockbuster-sized third season of The Boys, we sat down with Jessie T. Usher to talk about A-Train’s character arc, on-set relationships, and what the future of the Prime Video original series might hold in the upcoming fourth season. This is the second installment in our FYC interview series with The Boys cast, featuring Jack Quaid (Hughie Campbell), Laz Alonso (Mother’s Milk), Karen Fukuhara (Kimiko Miyashiro), Tomer Capone (Frenchie), Jensen Ackles (Soldier Boy), and fellow member of The Seven, Chace Crawford (The Deep).
Exclusive FYC Interview with Jessie T. Usher for The Boys on Prime Video
A-Train’s character has changed a lot across the show, especially in season 3 where we see him reconsider his place in the world. Did you have an idea of that trajectory from the beginning, or has it been more of a fluid process around developing the character?
Jessie T. Usher: It was very fluid because I didn’t have a clue what direction A-Train’s character was going to go at the start of season 3. I knew that he was going to have some type of nemesis or someone that was going to sort of be egging him on. I felt that there was going to be some type of breaking point for him, I just didn’t know when it was going to happen or how. So that was really interesting to see play out. From the first three scripts or so, I figured it was going to be Blue Hawk because he was abruptly just the person. He was the guy to hate, especially if you’re A-Train. So I was able to put that together early in the season but from the very beginning, I didn’t know where it was going to go.
Does that kind of character journey excite you? Because you went from a character who the audience is primed not to like to being someone who is still maybe not a traditional superhero but is more morally nuanced.
Jessie T. Usher: I think that’s the best part about playing the character, he’s on the line a lot of the time. But I feel like in a real-world scenario, someone with this much power and with this much pressure would always be somewhere in the gray area. The fact that we do get to play around with that is honestly the best part about being on this show. Because nobody is 100% good or 100% evil, right or wrong, there’s just a matter of perspective a lot of the time and we do play around with that. We get to really dial these characters in and find out who they are, where they come from, and how that plays a part in their position in the world now.
You know, bouncing ideas off in the writers’ room is the most exciting aspect about being on this show aside from, obviously, the typical big explosions and a lot of the fun crazy wild stuff that we get a chance to do. It’s the fact that these characters are so nuanced, and [showrunner] Eric Kripke cares so much about how dialed in they are and how real they feel. I think the balance of that is honestly the most exciting.
Part of what is so exciting about The Boys is that there are no major moral judgments, the show blurs lines and challenges our expectations. Has there been anything that surprised you about A-Train or even yourself through playing the character?
Jessie T. Usher: When you hear that you’re going to be doing a superhero show, you automatically think one thing. Then I got the source material and I was surprised… I wasn’t sure how this was going to go when I was reading the comic books. When we started getting into the scripts, I realized that this show is entirely different than what I could have ever imagined. The trajectory of these characters and the things that they’re up against felt so real and so reflective of the world around us.
It’s easy to put yourself into this position even though the circumstances are so out of this world. It’s easy to tap back in and make every moment feel grounded. That’s sort of what we have been playing around with in the last three seasons. I think that’s both the most exciting thing and the most challenging thing about playing A-Train, but that’s what I look forward to. When I’m turning the pages, I’m first trying to see what challenges are going to be put in front of A-Train and how he’s going to figure out and navigate through them.
The Boys season 3 reintroduces Nathan Franklin as a grounding rod for A-Train. Did having that personal relationship with another character who knows him from far back change how you played A-Train or encourage you to explore different angles in the performance?
Jessie T. Usher: Yeah, definitely. Getting to work with CK [Christian Keyes] who plays Nate, every scene we have together changes how A-Train sees himself, how he sees the world, and how he starts to ration with the decisions that he’s been making. It regrounds him and brings him back to neutral. It’s very interesting because when Christian comes to set, I never know how he’s going to present these lines that he’s been given. He always seems to have a wide variety of levels that he can deliver and I play off that because, most of the time, A-Train is reacting to what his brother’s telling him. It’s something that he hadn’t thought about it. His brother is giving him a tidbit of information that he didn’t have before or he’s challenging him in a way that he hasn’t been challenged before.
Christian is so good at easing his way into these conversations and really making A-Train think in the moment. He does a great job of playing the pauses in the scene where he gives me time to react and process. Also, every take we do is a little bit different. I absolutely love working with Christian. I’m glad that he’s able to present so many different variations within the scene and then change the direction of A-Train’s trajectory based on how those conversations go. Because sometimes the tension is very high, sometimes it’s very mild, you know, we’re talking just the way you and I are right now. But it could be in the same scene and the way that those scenes go, the way that they end often will change how I see A-Train moving forward.
So it’s almost like the relationship you and Christian Keyes have on set is the same relationship the characters have?
Jessie T. Usher: It’s very reflective, the relationship. As me and Christian got closer, I felt like we were able to dig a little bit deeper with the characters. Even if the scene is only a page or two, as we developed a real-life relationship and a little bit of trust in each other, we were able to take it a lot further. So it’s very reflective.
Do you think that’s the case anywhere else, where the behind-the-scenes relationships sort of reflect what’s happening on-screen?
Jessie T. Usher: Absolutely, with the whole cast. In season one, we were all getting to know each other. So it was easy for me as A-Train to put up a cold front with most of the characters that he interacted with. I felt like he didn’t care, he was very self-absorbed and it was easy to do that because I didn’t know these people as well as I do now. So Jack Quaid, for example, you see Hughie and A-Train have different kinds of meeting points throughout the series. It continues to grow, but we would never have been able to tap into the level of depth and conversation that we have without knowing each other off-screen as well.
From the very beginning, you notice how cold A-Train is and that’s easy to do because I didn’t really know Jack. Then as we got to know each other, it was easier to sort of feel for him. You can feel the angst in A-Train when he’s approaching Hughie, even when he’s putting on his normal A-Train mask and pretending that he’s the shit and doesn’t care about anybody or anything. But, for some reason, there’s something about this guy – he feels a little bit differently about him, he feels bad for him, he feels regretful, he feels a range of emotions. That became more possible as Jack and I grew closer. It’s the same with everybody on the show, at least with me. As I’ve grown a lot closer with these people off-screen, we get the chance to really do some dancing on-screen.
Interestingly, while we can see the broad connections and how things tie together, A-Train’s story in The Boys season 3 seems to almost exist on the outskirts of the broader narrative. This makes him a point-of-view character in the grand scheme of things in a way he hasn’t previously been. Do you think that’s where he wants to be? Or do you think the central conflict is calling his name?
Jessie T. Usher: I don’t think A-Train ever thought that he would end up in this position. I also don’t know if that’s where he wants to be, but it’s where he is. That’s the reality of the situation. What he’s up against is what he’s up against and he has to do what he has to do. I’m personally very thankful for that, you know, I was able to see something play out in the world around me and then portray a character that is at this point in the show where we exploit this thing that we’re watching and it just felt surreal.
I was proud of him, I was happy that it affected him in the way that it did. I was happy that he made the decisions that he made, given the circumstances that he was given it seems a little crazy still, but he’s A-Train. There’s nothing mild that’s happening around him. It’s all going to be explosive, it’s all going to be grand. The fact that we were able to pull in something so real and so relevant, and then make this character as heavily involved in it as we did, I felt like that was a huge plus for A-Train in season 3.
The scene in episode 7 where you wake up having been implanted with Blue Hawk’s heart is a horrific moment and while A-Train keeps his reaction to himself, there’s obviously a lot going on in his mind. What do you think he’s thinking in that moment and how did you see that attack on his autonomy driving him forward?
Jessie T. Usher: I think that moment ties a lot with the moment where he decided that he was going to drag Blue Hawk to death knowing that he couldn’t run without essentially killing himself. Knowing that risk, expecting the worst, that moment was his solution to the problem. “I’m going to do whatever it takes, and if it kills me, it kills me.” He was ready to throw in the towel and then it happened, he had a heart attack on the road. He knew that he was going to die, he expected it and welcomed it almost. Then he wakes up in the hospital given a second chance, but probably in the worst way that he could possibly imagine.
So for him, it felt like he was trapped, there was no way out. Death wasn’t a way out. He was given a second chance but it comes with a very heavy price and I feel like the underlying tone of that scene coming from Ashley Barrett is, “We’ve given you a second chance, we’ve given you this heart. Vought has done this, Now what are you going to do with it?” So it almost feels like I owe Vought my life now. They did keep me alive but I didn’t want it like this. Unfortunately, there’s nothing he can do about that. At that moment when he wakes up, there are all of these things that are going through his head. He’s happy about what happened to Blue Hawk but can’t believe that he’s still here and now he has this guy’s heart!
That scene where A-Train kills Blue Hawk is obviously huge for several reasons, but one thing that stuck out to me is that it feels like a big moment of release for the character to launch off in a way he hasn’t been able to. What’s that like playing as an actor, considering your body’s physical capabilities in a way that you can’t in real life, how you carry yourself around people who are, in the world of the story, less powerful than you?
Jessie T. Usher: Absolutely, playing around with that has been very interesting throughout the entirety of the series. How does he feel when he walks in the room knowing that humans can’t touch him? There is nothing that they can do. He’s there to please but, at the same time, he’s much stronger than almost everybody that he’s in the room with all the time unless he’s in a room full of supes. So the way he carries himself comes from that. I think the humility that he’s gained over the last three seasons has allowed him to feel a little bit more vulnerable, even when he knows he’s not, but allowing himself to feel is what allows him to connect to the world around him. Without that, he would be lost.
So it’s nice to play around with the balance of that, “How vulnerable am I going to be from scene to scene, from moment to moment, and from interaction to interaction?” Allowing himself to be vulnerable enough to connect to Hughie is probably the most vulnerable he’s ever been aside from the times when he’s talking to his brother. Even though he can’t touch him physically, I feel like his brother would be the only person who could put his hand on him and actually make him feel something. So it’s interesting to play around with that power dynamic.
Are there any stand-out moments you have from filming The Boys season 3? Anything that stuck out to you and made you think “Wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this?”
Jessie T. Usher: Oh man, there was a lot. The scene with Hughie in the Herogasm episode was one of those because it was such a long-awaited moment. It was such a heavy moment between the two of us, but in the most absurd set that we had to date. So that was a surreal “I can’t believe we’re doing this” moment. There was also such a technical aspect to dragging Blue Hawk with superspeed, that was another one that felt like it was a long time coming, and I didn’t know how they were going to grasp the gravitas of this scene for this character. It was done so delicately and intricately, so that was another one. I was just thankful that the writers, directors, and everybody who was a part of this show spent so much time carving out these moments and making them matter.
Every season I always feel like there are huge moments, but the ones that really stick out the most are usually the smaller ones because we get a chance to spend a little bit more time feeling what the characters are going through and not necessarily trying to do everything at once. There’s less to focus on and I can really tap into my character in those moments. So the one with Jack honestly was probably the biggest moment for me in season 3.