Ray Fisher Interview Part II: On Working With Zack, Protecting the Hero, and Lasting Effects
My conversation with Ray Fisher–who plays Cyborg in Justice League and will reprise that role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League–did not end with a glimpse of what the Cyborg character should’ve been. Fisher gave me an in-depth look at the struggle to keep the character authentic to the Black experience, the human experience, and the vision he developed with director Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio. Fisher also revealed how working with Zack changed him as an actor.
Almost an Avenger?
Fisher’s dedication to the Cyborg character is not an accident. He was a DC comics fan long before Snyder considered him for the hero. Fisher revealed this and that he was talking to another (rival) company about a role before meeting Snyder for Cyborg.
“Before I was cast as Cyborg, I did have conversations on the Marvel side of things and the casting people on that end. They were gearing up for some stuff that they couldn’t tell me about.” Fisher admits that these types of meetings are typical for a new actor in Hollywood. The actors go out and meet with several people about several projects before finding the one that fits.
This means that he also had meetings with Warner Bros about some DCEU projects. For Fisher, the choice between the Marvel project and the DCEU one was easy. Why? He explains, “I’ve been into DC my ENTIRE life! The video games [and] even TV shows–all that stuff. And so, with me, it was like a no-brainer.”
“ I’d seen Man of Steel at that point. I was like, ‘this is the type of superhero movie I want to be in. It’s real. It’s got consequences. It’s gritty. These things are not inconsequential, the things they are talking about [in Justice League].” The fandom is glad to have Fisher, too. However, I can’t help but think about what would the MCU have become with Fisher as Black Panther, Falcon, or War Machine? (Just these characters because we all know the powers that be at Marvel were not trying to replace the other foundation characters.)
On the Responsibility of Playing Cyborg
Fisher talked about the importance of analyzing and developing Cyborg is as a real Black character. However, he says we must remember that the character is also an amputee, which comes with its own responsibilities for the actor. Fisher realizes the weight of those responsibilities and he is grateful to Snyder for the opportunity to shoulder them.
Fisher says, “They trusted me to be like the steward or the guardian of that particular perspective. We’re dealing with a black character, number one, but we’re also dealing with a character that’s differently-abled. That’s a whole ‘nother layer. That’s another facet. That’s another representation that needs to be taken into consideration.”
Knowing that the character needed to be a serious one, Fisher always spoke up when he saw something that would compromise Cyborg. “So, it was important for me, it’s important especially for them as well, that Cyborg is not just relegated to being the catchphrase spitting ‘cool Black dude’. That’s not anything that I’m interested in watching. It’s definitely not anything I’m interested in portraying.” Snyder gave him the space to become that voice of what that hero should be. Such privileges do not happen in Hollywood, especially for a new Black actor in the blockbuster superhero film genre. This relationship only helped to improve Fisher’s work in developing his character for the screen and advocating for Cyborg during production.
He explains, “Zack and Chris, they literally empowered me to say, ‘You know what? I don’t have to back down if I feel like something is being represented in a way that is not helpful to the culture. I don’t have to just be quiet and just do the work.’” On Snyder’s set and in production, Fisher was able to ensure that this black character stayed unproblematic and untouched by Hollywood’s tokenization shenanigans.
A Truly Inclusive Workspace Became More Empowering
The privilege of his empowerment was never lost on the actor. He says, “as a black man–number one–in Hollywood, [that responsibility for a character] is a very rare thing to offer a person. That’s something rare to be offered as a black man in the business or too, as a black man that hasn’t had any film credits. I’m being treated with the same level of dignity and respect by Zack and Chris as they would treat Ben Affleck. The same level they would treat anybody.” Fisher was able to speak up when he felt the character was being inauthentic or caricaturized, and have his voice heard, validated, and used in decision-making. This is rare for such a high-profile film and director. It’s also rare treatment, as he says, for a Black man in Hollywood.
Fisher went on to say that this working relationship “spoiled” him for future roles. He says it’s more than just being loyal to the man (Snyder) who put him “on,” there’s more. “I’ve seen people get put on and not be loyal when times are tough. So, it’s deeper than that. I think it’s a little bit deeper than that. It’s not about just, ‘Hey, I got a job’. It’s ‘you’ve shown me that it’s possible to have this kind of relationship with the work and with people who you’re collaborating with. And, I will never want anything other than that from this point forward’. So, if that means I don’t work as much, because the other opportunities that come along will be less collaborative, then fine! I’ve gotten spoiled. [Zack and Chris] spoiled me.”
Fisher picks out his roles with more deliberation now, which led to his stunning performance in the latest season of True Detective. Recent rumors have Fisher reprising the role of Cyborg for the film The Flash due out in 2022. That empowerment and the integrity of working with Snyder and Terrio will stay with him. It seems to be what carried him through the work with Joss Whedon on the theatrical cut of the Justice League.
Maintaining Cyborg through the Cuts
Although Fisher did not directly describe the reshooting process under the direction of Joss Whedon in our interview, he did talk about fighting to maintain the integrity of the Cyborg he developed with Snyder and Terrio.
“I will say I was–especially after working with Zack and Chris–I was certainly empowered to let them know where I found certain things can be problematic. Even after Zack had to step away from the picture. So, I still found myself being sort of a steward of what and how Cyborg would ultimately be viewed particularly in our community because you don’t really have many Black creatives working on the project.”
“And so, you become the de facto steward of just making sure that all those things are what they need to be. At the end of the day, I know how all these things go. I know how I would [feel], watching something like this if I were seeing things that are stereotypical, or you have a Cyborg screaming catchphrases every two seconds. The thing is, I know where things can get problematic. I know what it is that I, as a Black man, do not appreciate watching, right? If I’m coming from that place, then I can go ahead and better steer the conversation.”
“So, at the end of the day, I think the foundation that we built–with respect to Zack’s version of the Justice League–definitely informed what ultimately became the theatrical version.”
“But, you know, sometimes you gotta pick and choose your battles to fight. And that’s just Hollywood, period. That’s not even anything specific to this particular venture or this particular project. Like I said, when you see Zack’s version, you know…it’s a…you’ll see.”
Zack Snyder’s Justice League premieres on HBOMax on March 18, 2021.
This interview is syndicated from The Black Cape article published June 30, 2020.