When Zack Snyder called to offer him a role in Justice League, Ray Fisher reacted like the superhero fan he has been since his childhood in New Jersey. “I started rolling around the floor, telling him, ‘You’re lying!’ ” the actor recalls with a laugh. But no lie: Audiences will see Fisher’s first major big-screen role Friday in Warner Bros.’ superhero team-up (reviewed here), in which he plays Victor Stone, a college athlete who becomes the hero Cyborg when much of his body is replaced with machines following an accident.
Justice League sees Fisher hold his own opposite Oscar winners and seasoned movies stars — all in his first starring film role.
“Because he’s new to the screen, it’s a difficult transition to make, from theater,” says Superman actor Henry Cavill. “But Ray works very hard. He was on time every day, he was dedicated. He spent so much time at the gym, he completely changed his body type and size, and that’s a hard thing to do.”
Raised by his single mother and grandmother (he’s the second youngest of five siblings), Fisher found his way into theater in high school and later earned a scholarship to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. When his grandmother died in 2007, he wanted to return home and quit acting altogether. “My mom said, ‘There’s nothing here for you. You got to keep going.’ It was good getting that push,” he recalls.
Working at Abercrombie & Fitch by day, he spent nights bartending on Broadway, where he got to know such stars as James Earl Jones when he bartended during the actor’s 2008 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “That’s the only time I’ve ever been star-stuck, and I haven’t been star-struck since,” says Fisher, who politely knocked on Jones’ dressing room door and was surprised when the actor invited him in to chat.
Fisher took another chance when he walked into a casting agent’s office after he got word she was casting Fetch Clay, Make Man, a play about the relationship between Muhammad Ali and actor-comedian Stepin Fetchit. Soon his headshot and résumé were in the hands of the agent, and days later he had landed a non-speaking role in the play. He had plans to try to understudy for Ali, but co-star Ben Vereen told him if he worked hard enough, he could play the lead outright someday.
“I started eating everything I could get my hands on, starting lifting all the weights, doing all the pushups and the silly stuff, and three years rolls by and I’m literally lusting after this thing, training for this,” says Fisher, who during this time went off to other parts of the country to work in theater.
It paid off, and in 2013 he landed the lead role for the New York production, his life changing after director Ang Lee came to the show (while scouting for a boxing film). “It was like wildfire,” says Fisher. “People were coming every night. It was kind of like blood in the water.”
Soon he had a Hollywood manager and was auditioning for roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Justice League. Soon after landing a role in Justice League, he shot a cameo as Cyborg for 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and spent time in New York chatting about literature, theater and his character with screenwriter Chris Terrio (“He’s probably one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met,” Fisher says of the Oscar-winning screenwriter).
Fisher, now based in L.A., developed a special bond with Snyder, who stepped away from Justice League in May following the death of his daughter (Joss Whedon oversaw reshoots and postproduction). Fisher honored him at the San Diego Comic-Con by wearing an “I ?ZS” T-shirt.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Joss for stepping in,” he says. “This is a nontraditional experience, but it’s the only one I know, so it feels normal to me.”
Producer Chuck Roven notes Fisher has to shoulder one of the more mysterious storylines in Justice League. Victor Stone’s life was saved through alien technology, but that technology in turn threatens the team.
“He’s got a complex role,” says Roven. “We’re not sure whether he’s real or not. If he’s one of the good guys or not.”
Unlike some blockbuster up-and-comers such as Star Wars‘ Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Fisher has not yet signed on for another franchise, or even another film role. While he has hopes for more Cyborg in his future (rumors are that Cyborg could pop up in Flash actor Ezra Miller’s Flashpoint movie), he not racking his brain for how to keep the heat going from Justice League.
“That’s not my lifestyle,” he says. He’d like to produce, because “that’s where a lot of the important decisions get made,” particular in terms of onscreen representation.
“I’d love to do something in a more humanitarian context,” he says, adding of what’s next, “I think it will come to me. I’m not trying to rush my life.”
Hometown: Lawnside, New Jersey
Big Break: Justice League (after a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.