LAWNSIDE, N.J. — Ray Fisher used to jump from trees in the backyard of his family home in Lawnside, a towel tied around his neck, pretending to be a superhero.
A few things have changed: The 30-year-old actor is getting paid to act like a superhero in “Justice League,” which opened this week, instead of just doing it for fun. And Cyborg — the half-man, half-machine he portrays — does not wear a cape, terrycloth or otherwise.
But Fisher, who was born in Baltimore and spent his first few years in Camden before his family moved to Lawnside, still feels connected to that kid who ran around the backyard. And it’s not just because friends and family affectionately remind him of it when he returns to South Jersey.
“It’s my childhood come true,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
His young niece brags to her friends about “Uncle Ray” being in a movie, and he jokes that his 1-year-old nephew isn’t into superheroes yet, but “I hope Cyborg stays cool long enough for him to think I’m cool, too.”
That might not be a problem. “Justice League” is the second time Fisher plays Cyborg (the first was a small role in last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”), and in 2020 he’ll get the leading role as the character in a new DC/Warner Bros. film now in development.
Fisher co-stars with Ben Affleck (Batman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Ezra Miller (The Flash) in the film USA TODAY called “a worthy follow-up to runaway hit ‘Wonder Woman'” in a three-star review.
The Cyborg of “Justice League” is different than the burger-chomping, “Boo-yah!”-spouting Cyborg of the popular Cartoon Network series “Teen Titans Go!” (though Fisher does squeeze the character’s catchword into the movie). Fisher’s first introduction to the character came from the comedic cartoon’s precursor, “Teen Titans,” which aired from 2003 to 2007.
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers said Fisher “finds the heart in a hunk of metal” as Cyborg and his alter-ego, Victor Stone.
Fisher said he hadn’t yet read the reviews that were posted online Wednesday morning. But giving a more layered persona to Cyborg, who in DC comic book canon is a darker, more conflicted figure than his TV counterparts, was a goal from the outset.
“He’s got a lot of issues,” Fisher observed, “including the loss of his body and the loss of his mother. He’s trying to figure out who he is, and what he is.”
The comic book Cyborg, who first appeared in 1980, dealt with other issues that resonate today, Fisher noted.
“Those early Cyborg comics were very politically charged, and he was very aware of being a black superhero,” Fisher said. “There are questions of race and diversity; he tackles the question of hate and he tells (a friend): ‘This isn’t The Man who did this to me, it was my father. I can’t hold hate in my heart.'”
There’s also the issue of Cyborg being re-created from a badly damaged human body, something Fisher discussed with director Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio.
“We talked about what it means for him to be the only black superhero,” Fisher said. “But also that he’s differently abled than other people. It was important to all of us to treat the character with dignity and respect; it would have been very easy to slip into stereotypes that were offensive or insensitive.”
That awareness and empathy may come from his South Jersey roots.
“I loved Lawnside, and I still love it,” he said. “My family is still there and I’ll be back for the holidays,” celebrating with his mother, grandmother and siblings.
“I felt like a typical kid growing up, and Lawnside is a nice town with a huge historical significance,” Fisher added, recounting the borough’s place as a stop on the Underground Railroad. “There was a real sense of pride.”
Attending Haddon Heights High School, which also drew students from Barrington and Lawnside, gave him a wider worldview than he might otherwise have had.
“I was really able to integrate into a diverse school and learn to get along with all different types of people,” Fisher remembered.
Reading Shakespeare’s plays aloud in his high school English classes instilled a love of words, he said, and his first turns onstage were in productions of “Into the Woods” and “Guys and Dolls.”
To celebrate the release of “Justice League,” Fisher rented out the Somerdale movie theater where he once worked to host a screening for the family, friends and teachers who inspired and supported him on his journey to a starring role in a DC Comics superhero franchise.
“It’s a way to highlight them and the way they supported me and encouraged me,” he said.
His family always welcomed him home as he embarked on his acting career.
“They pushed me and took care of me when I couldn’t do it myself; when I struggled as an actor or couldn’t find work, they always made a space for me and never told me to give up or get a ‘real’ job,” Fisher said.
“I really wanted to thank them for everything they did.”
Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/