Nicole Maines went from playing trans superhero Dreamer on the CW, to writing the new series
The trans activist, author and Yellowjackets Season 2 cast member says a trans superhero is a powerful symbol
For Nicole Maines, the best part of being an actor is being able to give "somebody something that's going to make their day better." It's what she's tried to do in her breakout role as Nia Nal, a.k.a. the superhero Dreamer, who first appeared on Supergirl and then as a recurring character in The CW's Arrowverse family of shows.
Like Maines herself, Dreamer is transgender. In 2014, while still in high school, Maines was the plaintiff in a lawsuit that established the right of trans students in the United States to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender. At the time, it felt like part of a march toward broader trans acceptance. Now, with transphobic lawmakers trying to undo that acceptance, Maines hopes that characters like Dreamer will help provide hope and encourage trans youth and their allies to keep fighting.
"One of the amazing things about Dreamer is while all this shit is happening … we have a superhero who is fighting for us, who is one of us, who is showing people what it really means to be trans and dismantling all of this nonsense that is flying around," Maines told Tom Power in an interview on Q.
For Maines, who has long been passionate about trans representation, playing a character on TV sometimes feels like she's not doing enough. At the same time, trans characters on TV have long been either villains, punchlines, or overly sexualized and victimized. And characters like Dreamer allow the world to see a different face of the trans community.
"We are able to get up, share our own stories and say, 'This is who we are. This is how we exist,'" she said. "We are getting to share our humanity with people who otherwise wouldn't see it and wouldn't get to experience that. And [that's] especially important right now as our humanity is continuing to be brought into question."
Maines is still a relative newcomer to Hollywood, having only started acting full-time in 2019. One thing that continues to surprise her about the industry is how nice everyone has been to her. In addition to her work in the Arrowverse, Maines is also now playing a recurring character on Showtime's hit thriller Yellowjackets, where her castmates include the likes of Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci. She said that she's always afraid of running into "the nightmare Hollywood experience that we always hear about" but so far everyone's been lovely. One interaction she had with Lewis on her first day on the Yellowjackets set made an especially big impact on her.
"In all the hecticness of her first scene of the season, my first scene of the season … she found a moment to just pull me aside and say, 'Hey, I know that this is probably really nerve-wracking, but you're here because you deserve to be here. You're here because I loved your audition, and you're going to nail it,'" she said.
That meant a lot to Maines, who didn't formally train as an actor and said she is constantly dogged by imposter syndrome, referring to herself as a "college art major dropout."
"I feel like I've fooled somebody," she said. "I feel like I snuck in under the velvet rope and somehow crept my way backstage."
For Maines, her imposter syndrome has ramped up lately as she expands to yet another new creative endeavor: comic books. Dreamer was a character created for the Arrowverse — she's supposed to be a descendant of canonical DC character Nur Nal — but now, Dreamer will be woven into the DC comics universe in a series of books written by Maines.
"I never went to school to be a writer," she said. "I never went to school to be an actor. Here I am doing these things and I'm bringing this character, who's so monumental and means so much to so many people, to the forefront of media. And sometimes I feel like I really shouldn't be the person to do it. But I'm doing it because I have a genuine love for this character and I will always be her number one fan."
The series, she said, feels like another representational win, and that while she hopes it resonates with broader audiences, she's mostly just doing it for herself.
"It's a trans girl story written by a trans girl for trans girls," she said. "I'm really excited to bring that into the world. I hope that everybody likes it as much as I do.… I don't know what story people want to hear. I've just been writing a story that I like and hopefully there's another person who likes it, but I'm really just doing this for me."
The full interview with Nicole Maines is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Nicole Maines produced by Vanessa Nigro.