Gotham Knights: Tyler DiChiara Talks Playing Cullen Row (Exclusive)

On The CW‘s Gotham Knights, unlikely allies Turner Hayes, Harper and Cullen Row, and Duela Dent have become a team as they try to clear their names after being framed for the murder of Bruce Wayne/Batman while also trying to take down the Court of Owls, the shadowy secret organization behind the murder and their plight. Each of the fugitives — as well as their non-fugitive allies Stephanie Brown and Carrier Kelly — bring something unique to the table, and for Cullen, that contribution is multifaceted. Over the course of the season thus far, Cullen has proven himself to be both brave and capable, but also very much the heart of the team — and this week, in “Bad to Be Good”, we get to see him step up even further when the Knights find themselves dealing with an art thief. sat down with Tyler DiChiara, who plays Cullen, to chat about Cullen’s role on the fledgling team as well as the importance of bringing to life on screen a transgender superhero that is human first and foremost.

Warning: spoilers for this week’s episode of Gotham Knights, “Bad to Be Good”, beyond this point.

Nicole Drum, You play a canon DC Comics character from the general Batman world of it all. What is it like to take that on? Were you familiar with this character prior to taking on the role?

Tyler DiChiara: I actually was not familiar with Cullen Row or this multiverse before. When I got this audition, it was a lot of deep diving into comic books. It was a lot of research. It was a lot of learning what I wanted to do for Cullen and what I didn’t want to do for Cullen, especially with him being a damsel in distress in every dang comic. I wanted him to definitely have a fighting chance in this series, and the writers definitely gave him that. It’s very scary for sure to take on a character that has not been seen before, live action. You kind of have a big shoe to fill there.

But I think I’m definitely doing Cullen justice, especially because now we get to see him in a whole new light where he and Harper work together rather than Harper is constantly having to protect him and save him. And it’s like no Cullen can take care of himself. It’s just no one’s given him the chance. So, I’m just so happy to give him that voice and give him that leg in this team, because I think he’s also the glue that’s holding everybody together if you want my opinion.

One of the things that I love about Gotham Knights is that each week we get a little bit more peeled back about each of the characters, but with Cullen in particular, each week we get a little bit more of where it’s starting to feel a lot like… He’s not only the smartest guy in the room, but he also has the biggest heart. And this week in particular where we really get to see that because he’s the first person who’s ready to jump in to stop this art thief just because it’s the right thing to do. Talk to me a little bit about Cullen’s mindset in this episode.

Yeah, I mean, I got to say, I think the smartest people in the room are definitely Stephanie and Harper, because they always butt heads with that fact. I’m just the smartest man with having to separate them. That’s my way. That’s where I become a genius. I definitely think he’s smart in so many ways and he’s definitely the heart of the group because at the end of the day, they’re still kids. And Cullen has been through a lot of… Cullen and Harper have been through a lot of trauma, but especially with Cullen, the Gotham Knights, the CW Cullen, having him to transition under the table with an abusive father in the next room, it definitely… It can make or break you as a person. It can either change you into the person you don’t want to become or it can change the person that you want to be.

And Cullen, he took that abuse but transformed it into, okay, how can I make myself nothing like him? How can I make sure that no one else feels the way that he feels? Especially with Stephanie when they were talking about each other’s parents, it’s like he understands that so much and it’s like he doesn’t want anyone to have to feel like they’re alone in that aspect. So, at the end of the day, Cullen is still a kid and he just wants everyone to feel okay and not want… He doesn’t want anyone to feel the way he felt with his family.

And I love that about him because we get to see all this humanity and we don’t always necessarily get to see that at the same level with the other knights. There’s a maturity there that again, like you said, you know it’s a hard one for him, and you get the sense that even though the choices he’s had to make prior to this, being a hero is something that’s coded into his very being because of what he’s been through.

Right. Exactly. And I think because sadly with Turner and Carrie, they’re still mourning the loss of… Robin saw Batman as a father figure, but Turner that was actually his father for a while. And I think with that, everyone mourns differently, but with them it’s clouding that heart that they used to have. It’s like it’s there, but right now it’s just cloudy. No one’s really thinking about anybody but themselves at this point, but it’s like… I mean, it’s Gotham. But at first, we were all thinking about ourselves and especially Cullen. I think he just wanted to do right by his sister, but as this progressed and he saw everyone’s… Cullen saw everyone in distress, he’s like, I don’t want to leave them like this. I want to help as much as possible. I think it’s just Harper too, just has that maternity figure kind of mindset where you just want to help and you don’t like… Who wants someone to feel like their whole world has crashed down and there’s nothing they can do.

I also really love that while there’s a lot of action. In this episode, there’s action, but in the series there’s action, but we also get to really see Cullen using brain over brawn, and I think that is something that is really very comic booky, especially this episode. I’m particularly thinking of the moment where they’re in the warehouse and he throws a cup to make a distraction and it’s super logical.

And it’s just so simple. I think Cullen’s brain over brawn is very equal. He needs to be smart in the right places but needs to be strong in the other places. It’s just like Batman, he had to be stealth in some aspects, but he had to go hot and heavy in other aspects. It’s just finding the right moments to be smart or to be brawn. I think the whole team, not Turner so much because he’s not using his head anymore. He’s more clouded by the fact that also Cressida has stabbed him in the back. He’s losing that control, so you can see that he’s using more brawn than brain. He just walked up to that security guard and whacked him. So, you could definitely see everyone’s kind of becoming… This whole situation’s a very hard situation to be in. We’re all framed for murder and we’re all homeless right now. And you can definitely see that weigh on everybody.

Even Cullen a bit, he has his moments, especially where he just feels like this is so overwhelming for him that he’s just, I can’t be the glue anymore. Because I feel like no one wants to have each other’s back. I’m the only one who would be there, but if I turn my back, you’d be the one with the knife. We have those moments. I think this is getting too much because we’re just kids.

It’s really interesting to see that even as they come together closer and closer as the team, they’re also at the same time really developing almost polarizing personalities within the same… It’s together, but apart at the same time. It’s just an interesting dynamic, especially as things get more and more dangerous, which they clearly do this week.

Yes, they definitely do. I’m super excited for the danger because with every dangerous thing that we’d be a part of, it’s like we want to just protect each other more and more. It’s like we just realize how dangerous this all really is. So, we definitely created a family dynamic, but we’re still so… Just, I don’t know. I guess we’re still trying to trust each other.

Now, fans of the CW DC series are no stranger to transgender superheroes. Supergirl gave us Dreamer with Nicole Maines, who is fantastic. But one of the things that I personally and I think that a lot of fans appreciate this as well is the more natural and subtle approach to Cullen. This is a character who we get to see just living his life. He happens to be trans, but that’s not all he is. He’s a person first. It’s part of who he is, but it’s not all he is. I want to know how involved you were in crafting this.

I was just going to say about the crafting that aspect. I really told the writers, I don’t want to shove the fact that I am transgender down the audience’s throats, because guess what? It is not all that Cullen is. Yes, he is a trans man, but he is way more than that. That is just who he just so happens to be. But he is charismatic, he is courageous, he is brave, he is smart. He can do so much for this team. And I just wanted him to subtly talk about his trans needs. It’s like with the name change, I didn’t want to, it was just subtly thrown out there with the dead name… In the pilot it was just subtly, organically thrown out there because these things happen, but it’s not centered around Cullen’s transit. What we’re worried about is clearing our names, and that’s what I told them.

I was like, we need to just create characters where they just so happen to be transgender. Don’t center it. Because that’s when people think that we’re trying to shove it down their throats. It’s like, no, we live among you. I bet you that you probably sat next to a transgender person and you didn’t even know about it today. It’s like we’re everywhere. So just let us live. Let us tell our stories organically. You don’t need to make it this big conglomerate thing because guess what? We’re humans. We’re just like you. We’re just a little different.

When you mentioned that thing about the name that in particular is what really caught me. That’s just so human. And I think it’s a good way of reminding people… It’s easy to forget, and I hate to say this because you don’t ever want to forget representation because it’s so important. But it’s easy to forget because it’s normal.

Exactly. That is… Yes, being trans, I am so proud to be, but that is not all of who I am. There’s so much more than just my identity. So, I’m just so glad that the writers heard me and really did that. I am just Cullen who just so happens to be transgender, who just also happens to be a Gotham Knight. Like that’s sick. Hell yeah.

And you get to rock some pretty cool hoodies. I recently talked to y’all’s fun costume person, Jennifer, who I love, and I’m just blown away by all of the costumes and details and this. But I got to say, for as much as I love everybody’s looks, Cullen’s hoodies, I love them.

They get better and better. Yeah, he gets hoodies this episode. He starts wearing hoods this episode. It’s nice. I mean, again, what you’ll see is we start… I’m jumping franchises, but Marvel like Tobey Maguire’s first Spider-Man suit. It’s not the best, but that’s what we got. We got all of our… These are our… We’re making the knights right now. These are our origin stories. So, I’m really excited to see our first costumes come to life.

I can hear the excitement in your voice looking forward to this. So, I think it’s probably safe to tell my readers, get excited for when this happens.

Get excited. If you guys followed us this far, just wait for the rest of this episode. Trust me. Seven more episodes left, soon to be six, and they all just get better and better. And it’s like, you’re going to want a season two, trust me.

Gotham Knights airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.