When a kingdom is in trouble, it’s up to a knight to restore hope. Cullen Row, however, is not a typical knight. He’s a teenage runaway struggling to make ends meet alongside his sister Harper. They’re both part of a group of teens that have been framed for the murder of Batman and the whole Gotham City Police Department is searching for them. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, a mysterious group called the Court of Owls is closing in, determined to eliminate Cullen and his friends.

Despite all this, Cullen Row is a knight. With Batman gone, Cullen has stepped up to the plate, helping to clean up Gotham as part of the new vigilante team that the media has dubbed the “Gotham Knights.” But are they heroes…or simply desperate young outsiders doing what they need to survive? Tyler DiChiara, who plays Cullen on Gotham Knights, recently had a chance to chat with us about his character’s journey and role on The CW’s newest DCTV series.

Prior to taking the role, how familiar were you with the character of Cullen Row?

I was not familiar with this universe or with Cullen whatsoever. I had to do a lot of deep digging into some comic books, and into some worlds that I've never even heard about before. When I got the audition, that was the first time I ever learned about the Court of Owls. After learning about Cullen, I was so excited to finally bring him onto screen and bring him into real life because I feel like we could give him a little bit more of an edge now and a better story.

Gotham Knights has had the opportunity to explore Cullen in a way the comics haven’t.

He's definitely not needing Harper to fight back anymore, which I love. He's not the damsel in distress.

Harper and Cullen’s relationship has evolved as the series has progressed. We've seen the stress of their relationship tested as they've been on the run. How would you describe the evolution of their relationship?

The evolution of Harper and Cullen definitely comes from Harper being just very motherly, because we lost our mother and ended up alone with an abusive father. She took on this maternal instinct instantly and just never could see the potential that Cullen had. When all the shit hit the fan with being framed for Bruce Wayne's murder, it was kind of inevitable that we would have to split up at times for things like gathering evidence. I don't think she knew that I was going to be so ready to infiltrate the GCPD, or get into the dirty details of everything, especially with the fighting. With this all going on, it kind of ignited something in Cullen where he wants to take care of Harper because we've been on the run for two years.

Fallon Smythe and I did some talking as actors, and we decided that Cullen and Harper were homeless for two years. They've been trying to do their best, and with that have evolved this back and forth of arguing over protecting one another. This has evolved now to "I know what you're capable of, you know what I'm capable of. You have nothing to worry about unless there is something to worry about."

You mentioned discussing Harper and Cullen's backstory and developing things. Do you have in mind how Harper and Cullen wound up with Duela? That is a weird but fun match.

Being homeless and taking jobs from a bunch of rich people, Harper and I had to save our money, but we didn't get enough to get out of Gotham. We still had to go to soup kitchens, sleep on the streets, and do all this stuff. One day, when we were at a soup kitchen, Duela just kind of plopped right down next to us, saw us sitting there and thought that we would be the best people for a job because we don't attract the most attention. I kind of mentioned that in the interrogation scene in the pilot, how she pirouettes her way into the soup kitchen with a plan—a one-time robbery.

Cullen probably had his suspicions, but at the time being two homeless kids, you'll do whatever you've got to do, especially in Gotham.

The Knights have kind of become this mini family. How does Cullen see himself within this group? What is his dynamic among all these crazy personalities?

I really do feel like Cullen is the glue that's holding everybody together. He reminds them that we're all here for the same reason. “There's no reason to butt heads. There's no reason to go all anti-vigilante with Duela. We all need to stick together.”

I think if he were to not be there, shit would just hit the fan with everything. I think everybody would just go their separate ways and whatnot.

We do have to talk about Officer Himes, who I affectionately call “Cop Cullen.” I love this character! Tell me everything about playing him.

When they told me I was going to be disguising myself as a cop, I was just so shocked. I was like, "Listen, I'll give you a cop, but if you're going to let me disguise myself as a cop, can I please get my New York accent back?"

I'm originally from Staten Island. How Officer Himes talks, that's how I used to talk. Getting my voice to sound like a normal regular person and not coming from Staten Island, it was difficult. So the fact that I got to let it out again playing Officer Cullen was just so much fun. And when they put that mustache on my lips, it was the first time I ever grew a mustache technically. So I was just over the moon when I saw myself with facial hair. I always tell myself, "Superman, Clark Kent, hello? He just wore glasses and called himself Clark Kent. I went the whole nine yards—the costume, the glasses, the mustache, the sideburns and the accent." Now that is top tier disguise mode!

Are we getting more Officer Himes this season?

It would be a shame if we didn't. Come on now, that would just be teasing us, giving us only a little of Officer Himes. We might see a little. I don't know. You have to watch.

I heard that you've helped the writers with some of Cullen's dialogue. I'd love to hear you talk about that.

It wasn't much. It was like one or two lines from one or two episodes. For episode two, there is a line where Cullen mentions that he did pick his name and he doesn't want to change it. He doesn't want to have to run away and have to hide for the rest of his life. He has a chance to clear his name, the one that he not only fought really hard for, but to look like. It's special to him. He's deciding he wants to stay. He wants to clear his name and wants to stay for Turner and Carrie. So that was one of the lines I was able to help tweak a bit.

It really meant a lot to me because I changed my name when I was sixteen, when I first started my transitioning. My name means a lot to me because it's just who I am. And for Cullen, it's who he is. Especially after trying to transition with an abusive father in the next room. He did not want to get rid of that name.

I read another interview where you talked about how you felt inspired watching Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black. As a young trans viewer, that representation meant a lot to you. I don't know if it's hit you or not, but for young viewers watching you as Cullen on Gotham Knights, you are their Laverne Cox. Do you have a message for those viewers?

I want to say thank you for watching. You're making me cry now. The fact that I could be someone's inspiration at all—it means the world to me because I was at a place where I thought no one was going to be able to see me for me. And the fact that now millions of people get to see me for me, it's beautiful. And especially with everything going on in the world with all these anti-trans laws and anti-everything laws, if I could just be that escape for fifty minutes—that they see themselves on the screen, they can picture themselves as a superhero themselves—then I did my job as an actor, as an activist and as just a person who happens to be trans. If you can take up that space, especially in this time, take up the space.

Gotham Knights airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CT) on The CW.