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November 15, 2017

Born This Way

Marvel offers up a new kind of superhero in Hulu's Runaways.

Bruce Fretts
  • Tracey Morris

A superhero hiding a secret identity is hardly an earth-shattering premise.

But for Virginia Gardner, there’s a twist: her character, Karolina Dean in Hulu’s Runaways, is Marvel’s first gay superhero.

“It’s really cool because she appears to be someone she’s not,” Gardner says. “She seems like this perfect church girl with a perfect life from a perfect family. But the more you get to know her, the more human she seems.”

Or superhuman, in this case.

“My superpower is I get to fly, and that’s literally everybody’s dream,” the actress says. Yet Gardner has no trouble keeping her feet on the ground.

“I’m from Sacramento, and whenever I told anyone I was moving to Hollywood, they would pat me on the shoulder and say, ‘Good luck, kid.’ When I started getting cast in shows, people were like, ‘Oh, you’re really doing this! I’m sorry I was really condescending for your entire childhood.’”

Guest gigs on Glee and The Goldbergs led to her breakout role in Michael Bay’s found-footage sci-fi drama, Project Almanac, and she soon found herself reading for a top-secret Marvel project. “I tested for the role,” she recalls, “and afterward the director said, ‘If I were you, I’d start reading the Runaways comics.’ It went from there.”

In the first episode — released November 21, along with episodes two and three — Karolina and her high-school classmates find out their parents are secret villains and they must summon their inner superpowers to fight evil. That process of self-discovery resonates with Gardner.

“I relate to my character, and I think everybody can,” she says. “When I first moved to L.A., I had this image of what I thought people here needed to look or act like. I noticed there was a big shift in my career when I stopped trying to please everybody else and tried to be true to who I am.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 10, 2017

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