Wolé Parks is a Superhero on his Own

Written by | Screen

March welcomed the much-anticipated return of CW’s Superman & Lois, developed by Greg Berlanti and now in its third season. Not just a retelling of the Superman story that has been rehashed in a myriad of films and TV shows, this show centers on our famed comic book couple in their biggest challenge yet – being parents in today’s age. Of course, there’s always the supervillain lurking in the shadows … this season is rumored to welcome Lex Luthor. Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Superman, has been the focus of many gay blogs because of his handsome good looks and that spandex. Well, stealing the spotlight is Superman & Lois costar, Wolé Parks – and he’s one of us.

Playing John Henry Irons/The Stranger, a soldier from an unidentified parallel Earth, Wolé has seen his character go through some major changes. Starting off as Superman’s supreme nemesis, hellbent on killing him, the two have eventually forged a partnership to protect the world from the baddies. This is the first TV iteration of the Superman story that has featured Parks’ character, who has appeared as a titular character in the comics. Working with the writers, Parks’ character has been an evolution in progress as his story has grown. This season will focus on John Henry’s role as a single father and things will get a bit deeper.

I’m one of the cast who actually read comics growing up. So I knew about John Henry Irons. When I booked the role, I didn’t know I was John Henry Irons, I found that out after. I was like, oh my God, these comics that I read when I was 10 or 11 years old, I’m now doing it! I went and re-watched the animated series and I see John Henry Irons and I’m like, oh yeah, that’s me! It’s a little surreal.

The show has been the main focus of Parks’ career for the last couple of years. The fans love the show, critics love the show. What does Parks love most about the show?

Honestly, it’s the people, the relationships. Because you can work on a great show insofar as the script’s amazing and you get to play this cool character, but if you go to work every day and you hate it because you hate who you’re working with, it’s horrible. We’re here 14 hours a day, at least sometimes. I get to work with amazing people, and I know it’s a cliche when people say that, but we truly do all get along. I am so happy with the cast and the crew – we have a blast. That’s for me what makes it work. And that’s what I’m most thankful for.

Even in the current age of Hollywood celebrating fluidity in fashion, fluidity in characters, and fluidity in sexuality, the comic book world still remains largely a macho-centric genre. Parks’ character is a straight, cis man, and his fitness and strength are featured heavily. As a gay man, did Parks have any issues with having to display a certain type of masculine energy?

I’m going to keep it real with you, this is what I have to deal with sometimes in my head and I have to watch out for. It’s funny, I was telling Emmanuelle who plays Lana Lang about this last week. Sometimes because my character is straight, I feel like I have to be “this is how a straight man would act.” And there is some truth to that in so far as gay men, we’re more touchy-feely with each other. Like a straight guy’s not going to come up and be like, “Hey, bitch!” and hug or grab on you. They don’t do that. I’m not going to lie, there are sometimes when that does play into my mind, but I have to let it go because ultimately you just have to trust the character. And that’s probably my own prejudice. I’m sure there’s maybe some sort of small amount of internalized homophobia or prejudice that I might have or preconceived notion because it’s a different world right now. I’m really proud of the kids and Gen Z. They’re so proud of themselves and they’re owning their truth, which is great. I came from a world where (I was born in 1982) it was a different thing. It is just mentally what I have to kind of deal with and go through.

The battle of masculine versus feminine energy is nothing new to Parks, who grew up in a generation where that just wasn’t talked about.

I grew up as a child with a single mom. I’m an only child. I grew up around women, I was kind of raised around women. I was really effeminate and growing up, people made fun of me. You know when you’re gay and you don’t know yourself, and kids can be cruel. So honestly, even before I got into acting, I had to teach myself how to butch it up and sort of pass because that’s just what it was.

I’ll never forget it, I was 12 and I was going into the men’s room, and as I walked in a guy behind me was like, “Excuse me, Miss, this is the men’s room.” Maybe because I had a big butt and I walked like a girl, I guess. I turned around and he was like, “Oh, I’m sorry” and then he just kept walking. So, it’s stuff like that, that gets to you mentally. But you get to a point where you’re like, I’m a grown man. I’m sure there are other actors out there who might be closeted or don’t want to talk about their stuff, that’s fine, I don’t begrudge that. But for me, if I have a life where I can’t acknowledge who I am and I have to hide that from everyone else, then is that really a life worth living? Is that truly success? That’s my barometer. Everyone else, do you, do whatever you want. I’m not doing it.

Growing up, Parks wasn’t seeing Black men or gay men enjoying the representation on screen that we now have. Now Parks gets to be a part of that.

I look at the reason we’re able to be here because people were pushing the boundaries like Greg Berlanti (he’s technically my boss) I think about what he did and what he pushed. His film The Broken Hearts Club – I was 18 going to see that in the movie theater. I was like, oh my God, it’s something I could relate to. I wasn’t living in West Hollywood, but I could relate to the idea of this is what gay men do, how they interact. I love that. So he’s pushing, and obviously Ryan Murphy and all these other people and Shonda Rhimes. We don’t just have gay men in the industry who are pushing it, which is great, but we have some amazing allies who support us too.

I know some people roll their eyes when they hear “diversity” and they hate it. Especially now, it’s become all politicized and I really hate that’s where we are right now. But it’s easy to say that when you don’t have your rights being taken away. There’s no “should straight people be allowed to get married? Should we teach straight education to kids? How old should they be until they can understand these things?” Yes, you don’t think about that because you don’t have to deal with it. When you grow up with that and when you hear those things and it messes with your head because that’s who you are, it’s kind of fucked up. So, it’s nice to see somebody on screen. You’re like, I can be this and I can be okay. So yeah, it’s important.

Not only is Parks using his platform to talk about diversity and the importance of staying true to yourself, but he also uses his time to give back to the community, something inspired by his mother.

My mom does a lot of volunteering and philanthropy. She was a teacher for 30 something years and she always stressed the importance of education. I do a lot of volunteering. There’s a program called School on Wheels that’s based in SoCal. I’ve been working with them for almost 10 years now, and tutor kids who might be impoverished or not have as much money, who basically can’t afford proper tutoring. It’s just important to give back. I was just taught that it’s really important.

Meshing his love of fitness and philanthropy, he has gone on two AIDS Life Cycle tours, a grueling 545-mile bike-a-thon from San Francisco to Los Angeles, benefiting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

I’d heard about it before but I kept pushing it off because it sounds like a lot, during those seven days. But everyone said it’s the best week you’ll have because it’s nothing but a love bubble. Because the idea is that these are people who’ve taken off a week of work and they’re raising thousands and thousands of dollars, all for a good cause. You will never feel a sense of community like that. It is truly a love bubble like they talk about. What I took from it is kind of how I just live my life. I’m very much a goal-oriented person. I kind of describe the meaning of life for me as growth, whether that’s spiritual, mental, physical, or whatever. And so, I was scared. I was like, I know how to ride a bike, but riding a bike versus riding 545 miles … I was scared, but I wanted to see if I can do it. I kept pushing myself and I did it. Then the second time , which was last year, 2022, it was even better. I was able to finish faster. I think one day I came in the top hundred, which I was really proud of. Cause I’m competitive, lol! But it’s great. It’s an amazing cause and I love it.

Parks has been achieving his goals all of his life. After being headhunted for a Kit Kat commercial in high school and doing school plays, he went to NYU to study acting as well as finance. Finance actually played a huge part in Parks’ early career, ultimately leaving his job as a finance director and moving to LA at the age of 28 to pursue acting.

I had to take a leap and I’m a person who likes a sure thing. Writing, acting, producing, none of this is guaranteed. All this stuff we do, it’s because you love doing it – I love the idea of a steady paycheck and I have control issues. But the reason why I did it was that I didn’t want to have any “shoulda coulda woulda.” I didn’t want to look back when I was 40 or 50 and be like, what if …? I just wanted to at least give it a shot. So, I did it.

And did it he has. His first big acting role was alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the feature film Premium Rush and he has gone on to work with Marc Cherry on Devious Maids, Kevin Costner in Yellowstone, Ellen Barkin in Animal Kingdom, America Ferrera in Superstore, Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan, Kevin Bacon in Taking Chance, and appear in TV favorites like The Vampire Diaries, As the World Turns, Law & Order, Gossip Girl, NCIS, and more. What he learned from working with some of the greats is to keep it humble, and keep it real.

Another very real achievement for Parks is his 16 years of sobriety. Sobriety in the LGBTQ community is recently gaining open traction and celebration. Prior, sobriety was treated as a negative as the LGBTQ culture is so wrapped around nightlife and Pride celebrations. Sober members of the community have often felt ostracized or left out. For Parks, it saved his life and probably his career.

I went through a lot where I didn’t know how to deal with feelings. I was not good with feelings. If I felt good, I needed to exacerbate them and keep them going even more. If I felt bad, I felt like I was going to be stuck in this hole and never feel good again. And that’s what I was kind of dealing with. Alcohol didn’t necessarily make me feel better, it just made me feel nothing at all, which was better than how I felt. It was just getting to a point where it was getting really, really bad. By the end, I was starting to black out. For me came down to the idea that I didn’t know how to like myself and love myself. Once I achieved that, then I really didn’t need it anymore. Today, I can go to bars, I can go to a party, I can be a fool, act a mess and then the party can end and I can go home. I’m really glad I made that decision, but I had to go through the process of trying to figure it out and actually decide to do it.

Wolé is a superhero on his own. In addition to his acting, philanthropy, and working out, he is exploring his passion behind the camera by shadowing directors and working on his pilots. For him, whatever he is passionate about is what he will be pursuing. And his role as a spokesperson for people of color and the LGBTQ community in the DC Universe makes him one of our leading trailblazers on TV today. His message to the community as we enter Pride season?

We obviously see there’s a storm brewing right now with these anti-drag queen laws and trans stuff that’s happening. Just be true to yourself. Don’t stress about what anyone else is thinking about you. You focus on yourself, and you keep doing your own thing. Everyone’s going to have an opinion. You just need to learn to love yourself and be true to yourself and keep going because that’s endurance. That’s what we’ve had to do this whole time. I mean, we’ve made a lot of progress, but as we see, it’s a pendulum. It swings back and forth and it’s an interesting time now.

Catch Season 3 of Superman & Lois on CW

Follow Wolé on IG: @WoleParks

Last modified: May 25, 2023