Trae Romano is an Atlanta-based actor with a career to watch.
His breakout performance started opposite Beau Bridges in Comedy Central’s Robbie, but audiences are going to know his name after watching him in DC’s Stargirl. Romano plays the precocious Mike Dugan, the step-brother of Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl (Brec Bassinger) and the son of Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson). Not only is Stargirl a large-scale superhero series on the CW and DC Universe, but it’s a series with heart as it explores life in a blended family and the growing pains that come with it.
Maggie Lovitt (ML): How did you get into acting?
Trae Romano (TR): I probably got into acting about eight years ago when a good family friend was filming a movie here in Atlanta. I was on set when I was little, probably five or six. I really liked being on set and seeing what everyone did. I actually met Larry David, but I didn’t even know who he was then. But I hung out on set and got to sit in the director’s chair and I just really liked the sense of camaraderie between the actors and everyone on set. That was probably the first time I realized this is what I want to do.
ML: Do you have any aspirations outside of acting? Writing or directing?
TR: Definitely, I would love to write or direct. I’ve been writing for probably just as long as I’ve been acting. I’ve always wanted to direct the stuff I write. I’m hopefully going to be doing a short film next year with my friend Patricio. We’re getting that all buttoned up. I’ve written one feature and I’m in the process of writing another one now during quarantine. I’m lucky to be in a position where I have a little more wiggle room.
ML: Especially with working on Stargirl, you’ve met so many people who can help facilitate making that happen.
TR: It’s very special. I’m very grateful to even be around those people. They’re a very big influence on me.
ML: What was the audition process like? Did you know that you were auditioning for a DC show?
TR: I did not know I was auditioning for a DC show. It was the scene from the pilot episode, where we’re walking down the street talking. To me, it just felt like a fun comedy pilot. They also gave me a scene from later in the season that was a little more dramatic. Not even knowing that it was DC, I saw that Luke Wilson was already attached to the project which gave it a little more legitimacy. Once I found it was DC, I really submerged myself in the comics while we were filming.
ML: What was it like to be part of such a large scale project?
TR: It was so interesting because on large scale projects, it can feel very cut and dry. Very corporate. But the way Geoff Johns, Stargirl’s showrunner, made the set feel was almost like a bunch of friends who got together to make a show. I would hang out with Luke and Brec Bassinger in between takes and we’d all eat lunch together. I didn’t have as many scenes as Luke and Brec, but I’d hang around after my wrap and watch their scenes. There was a real sense of community. And that sense started from the top down with Geoff. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life.
ML: I have to say, having watched the first two episodes the series really feels like you’re watching a movie.
TR: It just keeps getting better later on in the season. Since we have so many different directors, each episode really has its own flavor. When different directors would come on, they would clearly have their own preference for camera work and how they wanted actors to perform. Later on in the season, there are some really great scenes that just really showcase the variety.
ML: What is your process for getting into character?
TR: I don’t really think you need to prepare to play a character like Mike. You just have to be quick off the trigger with witty comebacks. Mike is a really fast-paced character. I didn’t have to do too much; it’s not a Daniel-Day Lewis in Lincoln performance. It’s a very lighthearted and down to earth performance. Mike has this swag that he owns. I like to think I’m a little more calm than he is. But I did not have to do much.
ML: Did you get to improv any moments?
TR: I was in the callback process for another film when I got the Stargirl audition and I had been working on the scenes with my friend Josh. When we went to record my audition for Stargirl we decided to just riff at the end of one of the takes. Just improvising about thirty seconds of dialogue afterwards in character. That ended up carrying over to when I was actually on set.
Geoff firmly believes in doing it once as it's written and then doing another take and having fun. Luke and I would go out to dinner and we would write these scenes that were funny to us. Then we’d show them to Geoff and he’d be like, “We can work with that.” It was great to be part of the creative process. Geoff gave a lot of leeway for Luke and I. That dynamic between us gets very important.
ML: How would you describe Mike and Courtney's relationship? Are they friendly or do they have a sibling rivalry?
TR: I wouldn’t say that they’re not not friendly. They’re in kind of a stalemate right now, in the two episodes that have been released. Courtney views Mike as an annoying step-brother. And he is. The first five episodes, you don’t really want to like him. Later on, that dynamic changes. They start to respect each other more.
In the middle, Mike is clearly very jealous of Courtney because she’s spending so much time with his father and taking time away from him. He’s always been with his father since he never knew his mother. But I think it’s a very cool arc. Like I said, it starts as a stalemate and by the end of the season it’s a very sweet story.
ML: Do you have siblings to draw inspiration from as an annoying brother?
TR: I have two older sisters. Some of the dialogue later on between Courtney and Mike feels so authentic. It’s so like how an older sister would react or what the younger brother would say.
ML: What would you do if you found out your own sibling was a superhero?
TR: Well, first I wouldn’t say anything. Because I know if I say anything about anything, they’ll probably kill me. I would just keep that to myself, you know. Until they end up on the local news and then I’ll be like “Yep, that’s my sister!”
ML: Is there an upcoming episode that really stands out to you? Maybe your favorite to film?
TR: The last five episodes are my favorite. The whole cast had gotten into this groove. We’re all great friends. The JSA (Justice Society of America) and ISA (Injustice Society of America), all the SAs were friends. There were these great directors that came on board to direct. It’s at a point where the episodes show a shift in everyone and stuff is getting real. Things are really starting to go downhill and everyone starts to come together. All the loose ends get tied. For Mike and Courtney, there are some scenes later on where they open up to each other. They have this understanding with each other. And he is kind of at peace with everything. It all comes full circle.
ML: Did you get to do any stunts?
ML: What superhero would you love to see come to Stargirl?
TR: I think some of the superheroes from the original JSA, like the Flash or the Green Lantern, would be cool. Just seeing Flash zip around Blue Valley. I’m sure Geoff has ideas. I would not be surprised if later on down the road more superheroes appear.
ML: How does Mike feel about superheroes?
TR: I think Pat took it very seriously not to expose him to that world. He knew the threats of being in that life and he understood how dangerous the ISA was. Even in the first episode, Courtney says: “I know who they are. A bunch of superheroes from the old days. They quit when I was a kid.” I think Mike might’ve been aware, but it was never at the forefront of his mind. That’s why it’s so shocking later on. He’s not really aware, but I think he will look up to them later on.
ML: This series has a phenomenal soundtrack. What’s on Mike’s playlist?
TR: Mike knows where all the tunes are at. I think his music taste is influenced by his father. He’s probably listening to some classic rock like the Kinks or the Rush. I think Pat Dugan was playing them 24/7 on his radio. Maybe some Johnny Cash. I think Mike is an old soul.
ML: Mike is obviously a big gamer, but have you been playing any video games lately?
TR: Lately I’ve been playing GTA Online. It’ll never get old, but it’s also the only way to hang out with my friends. GTA is just a great way to stay connected.
ML: Now, a dangerous question… DC or Marvel?
TR: I have always loved Marvel. I mean, I know Geoff loves Marvel too. But comic book lovers just love superheroes. It doesn’t really matter if it's DC or Marvel. The way I was exposed to superheroes was through The Avengers; Iron Man, the Hulk, and Black Widow.
I think with DC, what they do so well is the extended universe. The litany of things that it has going on in the background. Not that Marvel doesn’t, but I think the backstories of DC characters are so intriguing. I mean, look at Stargirl. The JSA in present-day Nebraska? I mean, damn! That’s a cool concept. When Joker came out, that changed DC for me. It was huge. That was what superhero movies should be like. I love both for their own reasons. I think superheroes is the answer.
ML: Now for some fun questions! What is something you have to have in your trailer?
TR: I would probably say my guitar. Whenever I’m not on set or reading my sides, I’m playing guitar. Also my golf club. When I was hanging out with Luke at his trailer, he had it parked in this spot that had a perfect patch of green grass and he’d hit to this manhole cover. Luke is a tall guy. I’d have to use his clubs and it just wasn’t working so eventually I was just like, “I have to bring my own club.” So that’s definitely a necessity.
ML: I have always joked that I got into acting because I love set catering. What’s the best meal you’ve had on the set of Stargirl?
TR: It’s funny you say that. I remember talking with Luke one day and I had a bag of those little donuts on set and he’s like, “You’re getting donuts from crafty? That’s amateur hour.” And I told him, “Look Luke, the reason I got into this business was the crafty.” He was like, “Alright, I respect that. That’s a valid answer.” But I think the best meal after a long day of work was penne and broccoli. The chef Tony was Italian and he made these great dishes like my father would make. He’d add some olive oil and pepper, and the perfect amount of garlic to the penne. It was great.
ML: Aside from donuts, what do you always have to grab at crafty?
TR: You know what they had that I hadn’t seen since I was small? Scooby-Doo fruit snacks.
ML: There’s a great debate about the best sparkling water. La Croix or Bubbly?
TR: I think Pelligrino. The problem with La Croix or Bubbly, for me, is that they don’t have enough flavor. Pelligrino has real fruit juice in their drinks.
ML: You mentioned working on writing during quarantine. Have you worked on anything new? A lot of people are tapping into their creativity with video series or podcasts.
TR: You mentioned video series and you know I started writing this little web series. Have you ever watched Atlanta? It’s a really accurate depiction of the city. My father came down to Atlanta from New York. We’re Italian and there are no Italians in the South. There’s always these bad Italian restaurants and we’re like “This isn’t Italian food!” So, what I’ve always wanted to see on TV was something about Italians living in Atlanta. I started writing about that as a mini-series. I know Luke is also writing. And Brec wanted to get into writing as well. I think everyone is really getting involved with writing. It’s nice to have this time to write.
ML: There’s so many new series on streaming services, have you binged anything lately?
TR: I’ve been watching Dave. It’s brilliant and Lil Dicky is hysterical. He did a great job for his first show ever. So many people that are on there are also represented by my agency. It’s such a cool story because so much of it is true. GaTa is the best character on the show. It’s such a great show. I also watched Catch-22, which was a limited series on Hulu. George Clooney is in it, and produced and directed a few episodes. It’s such a cool story. There wasn’t this huge story, it was just a feel-good WWII period piece. It was depressing and happy at the same time.
Lastly, this is a huge one. What We Do in the Shadows comes out every Thursday. Taika Waititi is a genius. I told everyone to go see JoJo Rabbit. I’ve probably watched it seven times. Takia is just brilliant and so is Jemaine Clement. It’s so out there and absurd. I watch it every Thursday with my grandfather. He loves Taika too.
ML: I adore Taika’s work. I just saw the news about him directing his own Star Wars movie.
TR: Outside of superheroes, I am such a big Star Wars fan. So much of my influence with writing comes from Takia and Wes Anderson, who I’ve been watching a lot of movies from too. But for him to be doing a Star Wars movie it’s just so exciting. There’s no knowing what he’s going to come up with. He’s a creative genius. I hope one day I can meet the guy and tell him he’s the GOAT.
ML: Hey, who knows. Maybe one day you’ll end up in Star Wars too.
TR: You never know.
Catch Stargirl Tuesdays at 8 PM (EST) on The CW and DC Universe.