Azie Tesfai Dishes on Writing the First Appearance of Kelly Olsen as Guardian in Supergirl
Since 2019, actress Azie Tesfai has captured our hearts as the compassionate psychologist Kelly Olsen on The CW's Supergirl, and it turns out that her role in the Arrowverse is about to get much bigger.
Tonight, Sep. 21, sees the release of Season 6, Episode 12, titled "Blind Spots," which wasn't only co-written by Azie herself, but also sees Kelly take on a bigger role, stepping into her brother James' footsteps and taking on the role of Guardian. It's a momentous night both for fans and for Azie, the first Arrowverse actor to ever write for one of the series, and we got to ask Azie all about what the honor means to her.
Sweety High: You've long established yourself as a talented and multi-faceted actress, but have you always wanted to be a screenwriter?
Azie Tesfai: Deep down, if I'm being honest, I always wanted to tell stories, or maybe produce, but I never thought I would write or direct. I think I just realized that if I wanted to tell stories, I probably better figure out how to write.
SH: At what point did the opportunity to write for the Arrowverse arise for you?
AT: Over the pandemic, I was waiting quite a bit, and I had hired a writing teacher to learn structure and to start writing a lot and get notes on it. I had started developing an idea with a showrunner and creator that I've worked with on another show, so I got to have that experience, and then I wrote a sample script of Supergirl and the storyline that I really wanted to tell for Kelly that was based on my own time in the military, and I sent to my showrunners, and they loved it. They sent it to our producers and the studio and they got me approved to co-write an episode. I knew that was gonna happen—I had no idea that it was going to be me becoming a superhero, which is the dream.
SH: What does it mean to you to be the first person to do that crossover—to be both an actor and a writer within that world?
AT: It's incredible. I feel so lucky. And when it happened, I didn't realize I was the first. I was already midway through the scripts when I heard that I was, so that was good. I was already in the process of it, so I didn't put too much pressure on myself at that point. I want to nail this and I want to make the producers really happy and deliver something that's really special so that more talent, especially women, and especially women of color, get to share their perspectives in the sci-fi, superhero space. There's a responsibility in trying to do the best job I can so that I am the first but not the last.
SH: What was it like getting to become a superhero with Guardian, while also writing that episode and being able to put your personal touch on the character and her origins?
AT: I had no idea that I'd also get to have such a big part in designing the super suit and the arc of the story that was going to bring the Guardian into her full hero's journey. It was great because I got to make it really personal to myself and all the things that I hoped and wanted to see, as a fan of the Guardian character. The costume hadn't been shown before, with the gold helmet, which we were able to do, which felt exciting because I always like it when things are comic book-accurate.
Also, the character is a man in the comics, so adapting that and keeping the femininity of the character, because she's a woman hero, and I don't want that to be hidden. And the braids and the beads were a cultural reference for me being East African, which I was able to integrate into the costume, and there were little notes throughout the story that were also personal for me, and my culture, that I was able to hide in the story. As Kelly was finding her power and her strength, I was finding it as a writer, so we definitely paralleled in a lot of ways. It merged between her and me for sure during the stories and becoming the superhero. There was a lot of me in this episode and a lot of my culture that I hid throughout the episode and in the costume.
SH: Supergirl is also coming to a close this season. What does it mean to you, as a writer, to get to help it move forward toward its conclusion?
AT: I think it feels good. We do so much this season, and the show's been on for six years now. I think we wrap it up in a really beautiful way. I think Kelly does everything this season that I could have hoped she would get to experience, and for me, it feels like a send-off for her to live her best life, which makes me really happy, because I'm protective over Kelly, and I love her very much. The same for Alex. It's open-ended but in the best way.
SH: How do you feel like Kelly has grown over the show, and in what ways have you grown with her?
AT: I think Kelly and I have really been on a similar trajectory in finding our power and our voice and stepping into that. She's such an aspirational woman. I think she's so kind and smart. I like to think that on my very, very, very best day that I have similarities to Kelly. To play a character like that, for all these years, is a dream because the character seeps into my own life and the level of compassion that she shares for everyone around her is something that I hope to always aspire to do. I feel like I've learned a lot from her. Even in this last pass of co-writing her character, and then acting it months later, she helped me step into it as well. I think I'm like one step behind Kelly. I'm gonna miss her most. I feel the most comfortable playing her because I love her so much.
SH: On a different note, you're also the founder and CEO of Fortuned Culture. Can you tell me a little bit about the brand and its mission, and why it's important to you?
AT: For me, being a first-generation American—my mother grew up in Eritrean in Ethiopia—I always realized that there was a big gap between where my family was from, and me growing up in Los Angeles. As a kid, I didn't quite understand why there was so much opportunity there and such a lack of resources back home in East Africa, and it never settled right with me. I was the first member of my family born in the states, and I wanted to use the luck I had being born in the United States—the resources that I had—to try to help and support as many children, women and young girls in any way that I could.
In designing pieces and selling them, it was a very tangible, easy way to raise money, as opposed to like acting, which only works for so long. And as a kid, the infomercials were really presenting a false image of Ethiopia. I felt almost as if people saw me as "less than" when I said that was where I was from, even though I knew how beautiful the country was, and how that was not an accurate representation of where I was from. The idea of presenting charity or giving back, not as someone who's less than you. We all go through cycles in our life. Someone's helping you out now, and it will come back to them in some other way. I try to integrate things like love or health or wisdom. We all want the same things in our lives, and to humanize the connection between all of us, so it feels less like reaching down and helping someone versus helping your global brothers and sisters, which to me felt more accurate of what the world is. It's all circumstantial, but within one circumstance, we could be in a very different position, and approach that as a way of connection and giving.
SH: Is there anything else you want fans to know about you or the episode?
AT: I hope that the episode allows for people to either feel seen or have a better understanding of how to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations. I'm happy that there's another representation of a superhero that I think is important, and I feel honored that I got to be a part of it.
Obsessed with all things Supergirl? Click HERE to learn more about Supergirl actress Nicole Maines, who plays Dreamer.