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Superheroes go bad in Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ — but Elisabeth Shue’s pulling the strings

Elizabeth Shue in the series "The Boys."Jan Thijs

Elisabeth Shue wishes we cared less about superheroes – an ironic stance to take, she acknowledges, amid promoting Amazon’s pitch-black superhero satire, “The Boys.”

But Shue, a Harvard graduate, thinks “The Boys” (streaming on Amazon) is something different. Hailing from the comics-savvy trio of Eric Kripke (The CW’s “Supernatural”), Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen (both behind AMC’s “Preacher”), it’s set in a world where superheroes have been massively commodified, lucrative film and marketing deals distracting from their actual deeds, good and (more often) very bad.

“I’ve had so much resentment in the past of our culture caring too much about superheroes,” says Shue, 55, while speaking by phone. “But the show looks at that head-on. It asks: Why are we giving our culture over to this mythical hero [expletive]?”

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The veteran actress, best known for her roles in films like “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) — for which she earned an Oscar nomination — and “Adventures in Babysitting” (1987), remembers her uncertainty upon being approached by Kripke to play the part of ruthless Madelyn Stillwell, a public relations spin doctor for The Seven, a high council of superheroes who’ve been wholly corrupted by their fame and power.

“I was interested in why they would think of me for that part, because I haven’t played it much in my past,” says Shue. But as Kripke discussed Madelyn, who enjoys a supremely complicated dynamic with hyper-patriotic Seven leader The Homelander (Antony Starr), Shue found herself hooked.

“She wasn’t just this corporate figure,” explains Shue. “I was instantly attracted to how complicated their relationship is, the power struggle between them, the neediness, the insecurity they bring out in each other, the lust for power they both share.”

Shue’s enjoyed a career playing all kinds of characters, from a valiant blood spatter specialist on four seasons of “CSI” to a soccer champ’s fierce mother in “Gracie” (2007), drawn in part from her own childhood experiences playing soccer on an all-boys team in New Jersey. She started acting young, while attending Wellesley College, as a way to pay tuition. After transferring to Harvard in 1985, she dropped out to pursue a by-then burgeoning career, just one semester shy of a degree.

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But rather than turn her back on academia, Shue returned to Harvard 12 years later, finally getting her diploma. “It was one of the great choices of my life to finish,” she says.

“It was a little nerve-wracking to finish up when I was 37 years old, with a 2-year-old son,” adds Shue. “Going back into seminars at that age, I was kind of worried. But it turned out to be the best seminar of my life. To be that old, looking at education as the gift it is, I was a better student.”

Though steady work on projects like “The Boys,” which will begin shooting its second season later this year, has kept Shue busy, she has at least one good reason to come back to her alma mater: her niece, Shue says, is entering her sophomore year at Harvard this fall.


Isaac Feldberg can be reached at isaac.feldberg@globe.com, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.