Nia Nal is arguably one of the most important characters on TV today. In addition to being a groundbreaking transgender superhero on Supergirl, she’s a beacon of hope and light in the world — a world right now that is especially terrifying. She brings joy to our lives every time her character is onscreen, and so does her portrayer, Nicole Maines. In the time that we’ve known Nia, we’ve seen her grow from shy, nervous reporter intimidated by Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) to one of Kara’s closest friends, and her relationships and how she deals with them (with her family, her boss, her roommate, and her…Brainy) have helped define a character that we want to be and want to be best friends with, if not more.
Nicole recently spoke to The TV Junkies to discuss how she’s coping with quarantine, what’s in store for Nia for the rest of this season, and so much Star Wars talk that it wouldn’t all fit.
The TV Junkies: I just want to start off by saying you are such a delight on Instagram. I really liked the Live where you were baking a cake.
NM: Oh, God. That went completely not the way I expected, because normally, I am very good at baking. I went to a friend’s party, and I made this whole cake for it. I made marshmallow fondant, and it came out brilliant, and so I was like, “Oh, I can make cakes. I’m really good at this.” And then this — it just didn’t happen. And I was like, “Okay, cool, everyone here is just watching me fail. Alright, cool.” But if my failure was able to make other people laugh, I’m like, “Alright, I’m glad someone’s liking it, because I am in Hell.”
TTVJ: Well, I’m very sorry. Do you have a go-to recipe?
NM: Usually it’s much simpler, but when my grandmother passed away, we got a bunch of these old recipe cards that she kept in her kitchen. And of course it was my dad’s birthday, so I was like, “Okay, I’ll try and make some family recipes, yadda yadda.” So there was this one that was like Aunt Corrine’s chocolate frosting. So I was like, “Okay, he’ll love that.” Of course, as I’m making it, it’s a complete disaster, and as I’m talking to my parents later, they’re like, “Whatever was written on that card was a lie because Aunt Corrine didn’t cook a day in her life.” So there was some kind of deception happening in those cards. But Grandma Betty and Aunt Corrine, wherever they are, they were laughing at me.
TTVJ: A lot of us really appreciate how you’re making us laugh — not just with that, but in general. I’m just wondering, because it’s a really tough time right now, what are you doing to try and remain optimistic?
NM: Well, of course, as with any hard situation, laughter, I think, is the best medicine. I think that no matter what you’re going through, if you can find a way to laugh, then it’s a sign that you’re gonna be alright and you’re gonna get through this. It’s not the end of the world. And likewise, if you can make someone else laugh, then that is the greatest gift that you can give someone. I’m trying to just stay optimistic, stay hopeful, keep a sense of humor about it.
Coronavirus memes have been helping a lot, so I’ve been loving those and sharing those with friends. I have been doing art. I have my tablet, so I’ll just sit in bed, watch something, and doodle. Video games have been a big part just kind of keeping me busy. And then I got Disney+, and so I’ve been bingeing Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I tore through Mandalorian finally. So now there’s the final season of The Clone Wars, which was a big, big show when I was growing up. And so there was, of course, the ten-year hiatus between Season 6 and Season 7, so I’ve gone through — I started at Season 1 and I’m rewatching the whole series leading up to it, so I’m very excited. Almost done with Season 3.
TTVJ: Oh, that’s awesome. Mandalorian was so good, and I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Clone Wars is like the one thing I haven’t seen.
NM: It holds up. It was really good. I mean, of course I loved it as a kid, but watching it now, I’m like — especially the episodes — of course all the blasters and the Jedi are really cool, but especially watching the episodes in the Senate. I just watched the one that was all about kind of heroes on both sides and how politics is never black and white and how there are good people on both sides, and I was like, “Damn, this is deep for a kids’ show!” I was getting into it.
TTVJ: Who’s your favorite character in the Star Wars universe?
NM: Aayla Secura, probably. She was a background character in Episode II and III. She was a blue Twi’lek Jedi, and then she died in episode III on Felucia. She was the one where they all shot her in the back with all the planets and the fungus, and when I was little, I called it the Dr. Seuss world. And then also Padmé — of course in this series, she’s just a badass, and also Episode II…and III, and I, I thought she was cool, too.
TTVJ: She deserved better.
NM: Homegirl deserved so much better. She was great. My favorite moment in all of those movies was where they were in the arena — she, Obi-Wan, and Anakin — and they were all tied up to those pillars. And he was like, “How are we going to get out of this? What about Padmé?” And she’s already scaled the thing and he’s like, “Eh, she seems to be on top of things.”
TTVJ: The women in those movies just really always seem to have their shit together, and nobody seems to realize.
NM: Absolutely! What was the Reese Witherspoon quote? I think she was talking about her production company and she was like, “In every movie, there’s always a scene where the girl goes to the guy and says, ”What do we do now?” And she’s like, “What woman have you known ever in a crisis situation who did not know exactly what to do?”
I love those movies. I mean, she stayed with Anakin. There were red flags everywhere. Killed younglings, and she was like, “Nah, I’ll stick around.”
TTVJ: How do you think Nia would do with social distancing?
NM: Dreadfully. Well, greater good, of course, so she’d do it. She’d hate every second of it, ‘cause Nia’s a hugger. I mean, she would — the Superfriends would be on FaceTime 24/7. I feel like Nia and Kara would have a constant Zoom call going. Like, the counter at the top would be like 13 hours and running. And I just feel like they’d prop each other up — their laptops on the couch and just like be with each other that way. They’d all kind of — they’d spend time together like that.
TTVJ: It’s really nice as a viewer to have these characters who are trying to be so hopeful and optimistic and do the right thing even when they’re faced with — you know, and almost making some poor decisions, so just in general, as a fan, I just want to say thank you for bringing her to the screen. I love Nia.
NM: I love her so much. I’m so happy with how she has developed and how she’s grown. I think her character growth has been really phenomenal and really organic. I was looking back at that first scene with her and Kara in the elevator, and I was like, how this character has just grown up. Because she’s still the same Nia. She’s not nearly as bumbling over herself and nervous and clumsy. She’s become a lot more grounded and she knows who she is. I just love the character so much, and I’m really happy with everything.
TTVJ: If Nia could choose only one relationship to repair, would she choose her relationship with Brainy or the relationship with her sister?
NM: Why would you ask me that?! I don’t know. Oh, God, no!
TTVJ: You don’t have to answer it!
NM: No, we’re going to stay with this. We’re going to stay in this. I mean, of course, on the one hand, my knee-jerk reaction is “Brainy, of course!” But then I’m like, “Well, it’s her sister,” and we’ve seen what having Kara and Alex apart has done, especially last season, when Alex’s memory was erased. We saw how dreadful that is — to effectively lose your sister and not have that. And so now, a season and a half later, she hasn’t moved on. But she’s kind of starting to adjust to not having that. And we saw her breakdown. And I think she would probably choose Brainiac, only because I think just after that relationship with Maeve fell apart, that kind of hole in her heart was kind of immediately filled by Kara. And Kara was like, “No, hey, look, I’m Supergirl. I’m here. You have me. I’m with you.” And Kara has kind of filled that void that losing her sister left. And so she does have a sister still. She has that kind of relationship with Kara. And so she doesn’t really have anything to fill that hole left by Brainiac other than Brainiac. So I think she’d choose Brainy.
She sees him every time she goes out as Dreamer. It’s like, “Hey, girl, save the world but also can you do it with your ex-boyfriend?” Just realistically, any of us — if I lived in the same city as my ex-boyfriend, I might move. Can’t risk it. It’s like, “Okay, cool. Save the world with this dude.” We saw that when Winn came back. She was trying to have dreams, he was there, and he was like, “You literally saw nothing?” And she was like, “Dude, you need to get out of my face before I hit you.”
TTVJ: Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite episode of the show?
NM: I loved “American Dreamer.” I loved, loved, loved “American Dreamer.” That was so fun, and that was the first time we got to see Dreamer really hold her own. Because, of course, with the absence of Supergirl, Dreamer really got to step up, so that was the first time we really got to see that and play with that. And, of course, it was David’s [Harewood] directorial debut, so there was so much fun with that and getting to collaborate with him. And then, of course, just with the fight scene at Al’s Dive Bar set to “American Woman” was so awesome, and I felt so cool doing it. That’s definitely one of my favorites. And then also that cool moment when they’re all fighting in Catco and amidst all the chaos, it’s Brainy and Dreamer, back to back, ready to kick ass. I was like, “This is a cool episode, man!”
TTVJ: That was an awesome episode, and the music usage in that one just blew me away.
NM: Recently in Season 5, Episode 10, when we did NSYNC, a bunch of people were like, “Why are they doing NSYNC?” And I’m like,”Why wouldn’t we be doing NSYNC?” This is amazing. It’s campy! It’s kind of cheesy.
TTVJ: Can you give us a preview of what we can expect for Dreamer and for Nia for the rest of the season?
NM: Now that she’s kind of lit everything off of her chest, she’s able to start moving forward and start honing in on her dreams again. So we’re going to see her dreams develop more importance and they’re going to have greater consequences. And so her problem is — it’s still kind of what she’s been dealing with, is having that recurring figure of Brainiac in her dreams and trying to suss out what is a premonition and what is just her subconscious messing with her. And so then it’s, “Okay, well, how do I sort through all of this? Do I sort through it at all? Or do I just kind of like push that out and just, ‘I’m gonna punch stuff and blast stuff’? Because I don’t have to think when I’m doing that.”
What are your thoughts on Dreamer and Supergirl? What would you love to see for Nia next season? Sound off below!
Supergirl airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW and Showcase.
Monica is a queer fangirl who lives in Pittsburgh with her wife and cat. She cohosts a Wynonna Earp podcast called There’s Something in the Heir, her favorite Buffy episode is “Doppelgangland,” and one of her favorite TV couples is Ben and Leslie. You can find her shouting about strong female characters and queer representation @lesbiyinzer on Twitter.