When viewers meet Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes in Runaways, she’s giving a passionate presentation about feminine power and trying to get apathetic students to join her in doing a little activism to make the world a better, more progressive place. By the end of the first episode of Hulu’s new Marvel series, though, Gert’s not just fighting for social justice — she has to deal with her parents, who are literal supervillains.
Ariela Barer, the 19-year-old actress who plays the outspoken purple-haired teen on Hulu’s adaptation of the beloved comic series, told Inverse that there’s plenty of room for both battles in the Marvel universe.
Inverse chatted with Barer the day before the first three episodes of the show premiered, and discussed how the show changed Gert from the comics, the role of activism in a world full of superheroes, and what’s next for Gert and her telepathically linked dinosaur, Old Lace.
Both in the original comic and in the Hulu series she’s this very tough, smart, badass feminist. Within the narrative structure of a show, we get to explore her a little deeper, which is exciting because you get to see the softer, more emotional side of this Teflon-tough character, which is just a fun little duality that you get to play. It’s kind of cool because this character archetype is typically a man, and it’s typically the lovable goofball, smart, dorky dude. And now she gets to be a girl. It makes her very very fun to watch and to play.
How do things change now that Gert has an adopted sister? In the comic, Molly, the youngest Runaway, lived with her own parents, but on the show she’s living with your character.
It’s cool, because Molly in the comics is someone we all kind of watch out for anyway, and now there’s more of a direct reason to. It makes that relationship a little deeper which also kind of adds stakes to everything that then happens. And, just having a little sister — I’ve always been a little sister — but it’s just very nice, all around. There’s just so much love there, and seeing so much love between characters even when things are going wrong or they’re mad at each other, makes you care so much more about these characters.
Will that new relationship impact Gert’s closest two relationships with Chase and Old Lace from the comics?
Molly becomes this fun little wingman who is more of a teasing little sister than an effective wingman. She’s quick to give Gert some shit, which is kind of what she needs at times to bring her back down to Earth. But ultimately I think the relationship between Old Lace and Molly and Gert is a lot more similar to the comics. Maybe just the protectiveness over Molly makes her a little more careful with Old Lace. With Chase, you’ll have to see.
All of the parents are villains, obviously, but some of them are better than others. Chase’s dad is the worst, for instance, but Gert’s parents seem pretty cool, all things considered. Does that make things more difficult for Gert, or are they not even as good as they seem?
It’s obviously a little harder for Gert to accept, because of that. I think there’s a little denial, but ultimately Gert’s getting the same information as everyone else is. So even though her parents might be some of the better ones, she’s learning the same things as the rest of the group is. It makes for some great… situational irony? I learned this in middle school. I don’t remember. Is it dramatic irony or situational irony? One of those.
It’s exactly that, where everyone is not exactly on the same page, and it hurts this what could be very good relationship, and from then-on the navigating of that is very difficult and heartbreaking.
The Runaways all have to change and mature over the course of the series. How does Gert evolve?
I think hers is probably the most subtle. She’s this very tough girl who is learning to open up and ask for help, and be a little softer with people who she now feels are allies, but without changing who she is. That’s a lot of Gert’s arc throughout the story, really. I don’t think it’s quite as extreme as the rest, but it’s equally as important and especially relatable for young girls right now.
How important is Gert’s activist streak to the character and you as an actor?
I think it’s one of the most important things about Gert. It’s the core of who she is, especially because it shapes her entire world view. Everything sort of stems from there. Throughout, it becomes this sort of personal is political situation, where she has to put aside her personal problems with people to kind of put her money where he mouth is and stand up for what she feels is important and it makes for a cool dynamic within a character where she’s learning herself how to be a true activist and true to herself and really try to do good in the world because that’s been part of who she is from the start even before the who villainous thing.
I normally hate this term, but what does it mean to be a “Social Justice Warrior” in a world where there’s a Justice League — or the Avengers, in this case?
The Avengers aren’t standing up against institutional racism. It’s two different things. They can absolutely team up together. The activist side of it is a little more personable, so to get a superhero who is both is truly ideal because they’ll stand up for the individual and the group. I think it’s to differentness but equally valid and cool things.
In the comics, there’s an arc where we learn that a future version of Gert goes on to be the leader of the Avengers. We probably won’t see that happen in the MCU, but do you think Gert in the TV show could become that type of hero in the future?
I absolutely think so. I think she’s on a very intense journey to finding that version of herself, but I very much believe that exists in her. I think she’s very smart and quick on her feet and she’s a really deeply strong person in every possible way, and I think that’s something she can end up doing once she gets over some personal hurdles.
What’s your favorite part about being involved with the show?
Gert is very much someone I was when I was sixteen, and I still relate to very deeply, and I think a lot of what she’s going through right now I relate to and I sort of got past it and relate to it. Diving back into that mindset is a little tough, like taking the work home with me. I have to breathe and remember that it’s not what I’m going through. I have to leave it on set and remember I’ve already done this in my real life. Not the superhero part, but, you know.
As for the fun part? I really wish I was as quick as her. The fun part is all the great lines they just give me off the fly on set. I’m just like, “oh my god.” If I was in high school and I could think this fast, no would have ever been mean to me. I just could have ruled the school.
Last thing, and I’m asking every Runaways cast member I talk to this: Have you ever seen The O.C.?
Oh my god, yes. I’ve actually been rewatching it since I started with this series. It’s so good. I actually met Rachel Bilson at the premiere, and we fell in love.
The first three episodes of Runaways premiered on Hulu on Tuesday, November 21. Subsequent episodes will debut on a weekly basis.