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Titans Executive Producer Greg Walker and Guest Star Titus Welliver on the Church of Blood, Destiny, and Lex Luthor

Changes at WBD and DC Studios reflect "a real focus on what DC is and isn't," showrunner Walker says.

by | November 3, 2022 | Comments

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Although the Warner Bros. Discovery multiverse often seems in a state of Crisis (of the DC Comics kind), Titans — returning for season 4 this Thursday on HBO Max — soldiers on in its own reality where the next generation of heroes comes of age. Beginning with an rather infamous quote from Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), the series survived the demise of the DC Universe streaming service and found a legion of devoted fans forever anticipating the next step in the journey of Dick, Kory Anders (Anna Diop), Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft), Gar Logan (Ryan Potter), Conner Kent (Joshua Orpin), and the newly recruited Tim Drake (Jay Lycurgo). Although, for those new to the series, Lycurgo may seem familiar from another DC project: The Batman.

Jay Lycurgo in Titans

(Photo by HBO Max)

As executive producer Greg Walker told Rotten Tomatoes, serendipity saw the young actor appear in the film — as an unnamed gang member Batman (Robert Pattinson) lets go earlier in the plot — and join the Titans team.

“We cast him after he had already [shot his Batman scenes],” Walker revealed. “You’re in a weird zone when you’re casting for roles like [Tim] … I was looking at tons of film, seeing what people were like. I just responded to his reel, and he was most interesting.

“I don’t think anybody mentioned it to me until after he was cast, and I’m like, Well —, you know?” he continued, indicating that it must have been destiny for the actor he called “gifted.”

Titus Welliver in Titans

(Photo by Steve Wilkie/HBO Max)

Destiny is one of the key themes of Titans‘ new season as the group leaves behind Gotham for a road trip which almost immediately sees them heading to Metropolis to face arch villains like Lex Luthor (played in the show by Titus Welliver) and the Church of Blood, a group not as famous as Superman’s best-known foe, but one just as tied to Titans lore.

Created by the New Teen Titans creative team of writer Marv Wolfman and the late George Pérez, the church first debuted in New Teen Titans #21 as the descendants of a religious sect from the fictional country of Zandia. After hundreds of years in the shadows, they were on the cusp of a world domination plot when the Titans shut them down.

Joseph Morgan in Titans

(Photo by HBO Max)

Well, for a time anyway, as the church and its leader, Brother Blood (or someone claiming to be him), would return time and again with various rituals to restore their plans and get revenge on the young heroes. And as seen in previews for the new season, the Titans take on Brother Blood (Joseph Morgan), Mother Mayhem (Franka Potente), and the cult features a overtly supernatural mysticism.

“We give it an origin story, a kind of psychological and environmental explanation as to why they may be who they are,” Walker said of the church and its leaders. “We give them some background colors and shading so you understand that it’s not just somebody who was just demonic from the get-go or emerging in our show as a fully formed villain.”

Franka Potente in Titans

(Photo by HBO Max)

The group’s arcane practices also lead directly to certain questions. As Walker put it, “Is there an invisible hand driving you or do you have a say in that?”

Beyond diving into the theme, the church also “allowed us to go into horror again, which we had dipped a toe or two into in season 1,” as Walker explained. “Not that we fully left, but it’s in our DNA. So, it allowed us to go back there.”

We can confirm the show’s horror roots are on full display in the initial episodes, a contrast from the more grounded third season, which saw Dick and the team facing off against Jonathan Crane (Vincent Kartheiser) and a fallen-from-grace Robin, Jason Todd (Curran Walters).

Titus Welliver in Titans

(Photo by Steve Wilkie/HBO Max)

But that supernatural aspect of destiny is balanced by the way someone like Lex Luthor tries to create destiny for himself. Coming from a knowledge of the character across decades of comics and the other actors who played the part, Welliver had a clear direction in mind for driven and seemingly a more mature Lex.

“[He is] a guy who is so powerful, has such a broad intellect, and a kind of genius that with that comes a level of kind of arrogance and narcissism,” the actor said of the character. Unlike some of the more theatrical, but nonetheless valid versions of Lex in the past, Welliver wanted to express that “unbridled self-confidence” with a certain measured stillness. “I felt like he’s a guy that doesn’t move unless he wants to,” he explained.

Visually, this is expressed by a strikingly long beard and a dedication to dark clothing. The beard, although a recent trend for the character on other shows (and Lex’s comic book look in the mid-1990s), occurred because Welliver had to maintain it for another role. But he also looked at it from Lex’s point of view: “If Lex Luthor’s going to have a beard, he’s going to have a beard.” The clothes were partially inspired by real life big thinkers who had closets “full of the same trousers, the same shirts, the same blazers and what have you.” The patterns may differ from garment to garment, but this Lex is far less interested in fashion than some of his multiversal counterparts.

“With that chrome dome and that big black beard, it cuts a cool silhouette,” he added.

The actor also noted a dinner scene in the debut episode, which sees Lex eating as chaos breaks out behind him, as the best example of just how collected the character can be within the Titans world.

“He’s relishing his food, and he’s drinking his wine … and there’s no reaction. The core of Luthor is he’s unflappable,” he said.

Titans season 4

(Photo by HBO Max)

Nonetheless, Lex’s sense of destiny is evolving in the context of Titans, which expresses itself in a desire to know his “son,” Conner. Or, rather, the clone of the genius intermixed with Superman’s DNA to produce something that will “satiate his obsession to be able to almost meld with Superman.”

“[He] hopes that some of his evil genius will pass on to Conner,” Welliver explained. That wish leads to several scenes between Lex and his cloned son.

“We had a lot of fun shooting those scenes because it was very uncharacteristic [to see] any kind of vulnerability or emotion that’s displayed by Luthor,” the actor said. “There’s a kind of desire on Luthor’s part to be paternal, to pass himself on to Superboy, [and say] ‘This is all yours.’ And this sort of natural progression as a parent to want to imbue or to pass on something that they can grasp and continue a kind of legacy.”

And that legacy (or is it destiny?) is apparent in Orpin’s performance, which even began to feature certain Luthor tendencies toward the end in season 3.

“I don’t think we could go much longer without going into that duality. We had to,” Walker explained. “This season, the writers really embraced it and then Josh ran with it.”

“He’s a wonderful actor,” Welliver added. “[He’s] very intelligent, gives a very nuanced performance, knows the canon really well, and very, very thoughtful, very prepared.”

Titans season 4

(Photo by HBO Max)

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The other Titans also continue their journeys toward maturity and, now, destiny — something Walker hopes to express, in part, via a greater mastery of their abilities. “We’re always more interested in what the powers represent rather than the powers themselves,” he explained, although he teased Gar will transform into a wider range of animals across the season.

“But when you get to the end of the season,” he added, “hopefully you’ll see that those powers represent a potential character exploration and destiny that he did not know before that’s far greater than the powers themselves.”

Teagan Croft in Titans

(Photo by HBO Max)

Rachel, meanwhile, will have a chance to show off the control she’s found with her powers after spending much of season 3 on Themyscira.

“We put her through the ringer last year for that, and she had to suffer to get more wisdom about her powers,” Walker said. “I see Rachel becoming someone who’s just more elemental. She’s understanding more of the world and how it works, both supernaturally and naturally, and her powers are a portal to that understanding.”

Lycurgo’s Tim, meanwhile, is “wholly unprepared for the task of being a Robin,” according to Walker, despite his tech and detection skills. Nevertheless, he is an interesting contrast to former Robins Dick and Jason as he “understands what it’s like to be in a family, how to function in a family, and that gives him a skill on a human level to be part of the Titans family. The rest is just trying to figure out how to fight crime — which is not nothing — but he has the best teachers in the world in an RV driving through the country to help him”

And that tutelage should lead to his destiny as the third Robin and, depending how faithful the show wants to be to the comics, a team of his own someday.

(Photo by HBO Max)

Tim’s teachers also face new challenges as Dick deals with the repercussions of events in Metropolis and Kory embraces a new form of power in the wake of what she learned about her family last season. As Walker put it, “I think she set the big red reset button on her life [last season and] that everything’s been figured out in a way … except her destiny.”

Navigating these destinies also requires a certain level of corporate approval from above. The DC characters are, of course, important to Warner Bros. Discovery — going as far as to establish a new DC Studios to shepherd their media adventures — and Titans uses some of the characters in very provocative ways. According to Walker, everything is approved, with some elements receiving more scrutiny than others.

“Using Lex, for sure [required approval],” he said. Less plot-critical references to things like Roy Harper working at A.R.G.U.S. require less oversight as “there’s a confidence we’ll have a light touch with it.”

Walker promised viewers will see “a lot of reference to other shows and other connectivity in the DC Universe on our show more than in the seasons than we’ve done in the past.”

And looking to the future, Walker said the changes at WBD and DC Studios reflect “a real focus on what DC is and isn’t, and where TV is and the movies are in a renewed light on it, and we’ll be part of that.”

Whether or not that means a fifth season of Titans is a more distant question for the moment. In the more immediate future, the team must face a new major threat and, hopefully, grow in the process.

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