Cat King in ‘Dead Boy Detectives’ captures a familiar queer dynamic


This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Dead Boy Detectives.”

When the Dead Boy Detectives Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland are first summoned by the Cat King, the shape-shifting feline just wants retribution after they break his rules.

But after whisking Edwin away to privately discuss his crime and potential punishment, the Cat King is quick to admit that the handsome teen ghost fascinates him. He turns up his seductive charm — while shirtless in a fur robe — and then magically traps Edwin in his small town.

“Because Edwin has his walls up so much, it’s suddenly a game to him,” said Lukas Gage, the out actor who portrays the Cat King in the supernatural drama. “Edwin is very guarded and well put together so that entices the Cat King. He wants to rough him up a little bit and see him get angry and get kind of messy.”

Based on the comic book characters created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner, “Dead Boy Detectives,” now streaming on Netflix, follows Edwin (George Rexstrew) and Charles (Jayden Revri), the show’s solvers of supernatural mysteries.

Edwin and Charles’ longstanding routine and dynamic are shaken up after they meet Crystal (Kassius Nelson), a very much living teenager with a demon ex-boyfriend and no memories of her past.

George Rexstrew and Lukas Gage facing each other in dim room

The Cat King (Lukas Gage), left, is fascinated by Edwin (George Rexstrew) in “Dead Boy Detectives.”


“We always knew that part of the Season 1 journey for all three of our core characters was going to be an exploration of identity,” said Steve Yockey, who developed the series.

“All of our characters are trying to figure out who they are,” added Beth Schwartz, who served as co-showrunner with Yockey. “They’re teenagers and they’re having a coming-of-age story, just in a nontraditional way because two of our main characters are dead.”

For Charles, who died in the 1980s after being attacked by school bullies, this involves confronting why he is so outwardly happy and positive all of the time. While Crystal, with no memory of herself, has to both figure out her actual identity and who she wants to be in the aftermath of a toxic relationship.

“For Edwin, we wanted to hit him from all sides,” said Yockey. “The Cat King is that older experienced man that maybe doesn’t have the best intentions, but is also charming and seductive. Monty [a younger supernatural suitor], who you think has nefarious intentions, really just tries to honestly be affectionate with Edwin. We’re just giving him all of these different eye-opener experiences and context as he slowly realizes, ‘Oh, wait, this is something that I am and it’s OK.’”

In addition to realizing he is attracted to men, Edwin has to sort through his feelings for his best friend over the course of the season. According to Yockey, the relationship between Cat King and Edwin was of particular interest for the gay writers on the show because it was a dynamic many of them were familiar with.

“When you first are starting to come out, you always find a more experienced gay man who’s happy to hold your hand and walk you into that world and not always with the best intentions,” said Yockey. Their aim was “capturing that in a supernatural way.”

Kassius Nelson, Jayden Revri, George Rexstrew and Joshua Colley in the woods

Crystal (Kassius Nelson), from left, Charles (Jayden Revri), Edwin (George Rexstrew) and Monty (Joshua Colley) in “Dead Boy Detectives.”


While “Dead Boy Detectives” is set within the broader “Sandman” universe (as played up by a couple of cameos), the Cat King is an original character Yockey created for the series. A longtime fan of the “Dead Boy Detectives” comic books, “The Flight Attendant” showrunner explained that they wanted the Cat King “to be as fun as possible.”

“And then we got Lukas and that fun was realized,” said Yockey.

Gage, who has played a string of memorable roles in buzzy shows like “The White Lotus,” “You” and “Fargo,” said he didn’t have much time to really prepare for the Cat King since it immediately followed his wrap on this year’s remake of “Road House.” It wasn’t until he put on the Cat King’s robe and makeup for the wardrobe test that he figured out the character.

“He has a bunch of fur on and I remember [thinking] there’s a bit of a sensuality to this character,” said Gage. “He feels very comfortable in a robe and seducing this ghost in his lair.”

Gage admits he was primarily drawn to the project for the opportunity to work with Yockey, though he does describe himself as an animal person who loves both cats and dogs.

“I’ve been fascinated by cats and how they kind of just play hard to get and give you a little bit [of affection] and then they’re like ‘OK, I’m done with you, leave me alone,’” said Gage, who says his time as the Cat King was a joy. “I always love to play these kind of complicated characters that you can’t tell if you hate them or like them.”

Lukas Gage lounging in greenery

Lukas Gage says the Cat King is untrustworthy, even to himself.


For Gage, part of the excitement in playing characters like the Cat King where his backstory is a mystery is “the creative freedom to fill in the blanks for yourself.” So although he describes the Cat King as a brat, he believes it stems from past heartbreak.

The Cat King “clearly has a lot of wisdom and has been around for a long time, but there was a lot of idiosyncrasies with him,” said Gage. “He came off so cold and heartless, but I think it came from a place of getting his heart broken for hundreds of years.”

What made the Cat King particularly fun for Gage is that he is untrustworthy and a liar, even to himself. So in crafting the character, Gage was interested in exploring the Cat King’s rage as well as his narcissism.

“He loves hearing the sound of his own voice,” said Gage. “He loves the way he looks. He loves his body. I wanted to get in touch with that and [explore] how much of that was actually a lie, how much of that was a mask, how much of that was a front.”

For Gage, the Cat King’s thirst for attention, at least, was something he could relate to as an actor.

“I can connect to that as a kid who didn’t feel like he got enough attention growing up and [chose] this career where he essentially was going to have the world give him attention,” said Gage, with a laugh. The role also brought new challenges, such as acting opposite tennis balls that were stand-ins for cats that would be digitally added later. (Yockey and Schwartz said only two real cats were used during the production.)

Yuyu Kitamura holding up a cat while talking to and Kassius Nelson

Niko (Yuyu Kitamura), left, and Crystal (Kassius Nelson) searching for the Cat King. Only two cats in the show were portrayed by actual felines.


And although he starts off just toying with Edwin, “there’s something kind of beautiful about this person that’s been around for hundreds of years but still has the giddiness and the butterflies of having a crush and falling in love again,” said Gage.

The showrunners credit Gage’s performance for the Cat King’s unique appeal.

“Lukas brought this fully realized performance,” said Yockey. “He has this sort of wink in what he does, and I think it’s really fun to see a character be playful about sexuality in a show that can be very serious on the topic sometimes.”

“Even though it’s this nefarious character that is a full-on predator, people come away from the show loving him because of Lukas’ charm,” said Schwartz. “He brought a different side to the Cat King, where the Cat King does start to really learn something about himself as well.”

Gage describes the Cat King’s arc as going from “jaded to open to possibilities.”

He also recognizes that “aspiring to be a supernatural creature is cornerstone queer culture in a way,” said Gage, who was so obsessed with “True Blood” in middle school that he wanted to be a vampire. “From my experience in the queer community, we love a form of expression other than dialogue. There’s something akin to drag in supernatural things.”

“There’s a part of my emo punk preteen [and] teen self that would have just devoured this show and the queerness of it all.”

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