In 1984, a seven-year-old boy saw a movie about a girl with the powers of Superman. Feminism wasn’t yet a concept to this boy — all he knew was that this woman had cool powers like flying, heat vision, and stopping runaway bulldozers. That boy has been waiting 31 years to see Supergirl take over the world (okay, fine; it was me) and now CBS has brought her back as the star of her own show!
Melissa Benoist plays Kara Danvers, the Kyrptonian girl who came to earth a little later than Superman. Hey, she took a detour through the Phantom Zone — what can you do? We met Benoist, along with the rest of the cast and producers of Supergirl, this summer, and here’s everything we found out in time for tonight’s premiere.
Supergirl is the role of a lifetime for Benoist, who has been a supporting player on Glee and in Whiplash and Danny Collins. Though she’s earned her chance in the cape, even she was surprised to learn she got the part in her first meeting.
“Stephen Amell was the very first person we saw for The Arrow, Grant [Gustin] was the very first person we saw for The Flash, and Melissa was the very first person we saw for Kara,” producer Andrew Kreisberg said. “As soon as we saw her, we just knew she was the one. She had the strength, the hope, the heart, the humor, and just that instant likability. [Warner Bros. TV President] Peter Roth said after watching her that it’s the closest feeling he’s had since he saw Christopher Reeve, and it really is the truth.”
Ally McBeal herself plays Kara’s boss, news mogul Cat Grant. Cat dubs the city’s new hero “Supergirl” after her first rescue, but doesn’t suspect Supergirl is her own assistant Kara Danvers. New to the comic book world, the real-life Mrs. Han Solo revealed she looked deep into the comic books, even if they didn’t apply to her version of Cat Grant.
“She’s been everything,” Flockhart said. “She was an alcoholic in one of the versions and her son dies. She was married to a guy named Joe Morgan. All of this was a new discovery for me. She’s a really complicated, interesting character. I don’t know what we’ll do in this series but all of that is great backstory for me as an actress.”
Chyler Leigh plays Alex Danvers, a brand new character in Supergirl. Alex grew up with her adopted sister, and now works for the covert organization tracking escaped Kryptonian criminals. While reluctant to let Kara reveal herself, Alex is actually Kara’s biggest supporter.
“When Kara comes into the picture, Alex was the only child,” Leigh said. “For Alex it’s just a lot to try to live up to so there’s a competitive nature from her side of it, really. Kara’s just trying to figure out who she is and how to handle herself and what she’s got and all these abilities, and Alex is trying to keep up. With Kara being who she is, it kind of intrigues Alex to become the scientist that she does become. She really is fascinated and intimidated and sisterly. It does create a lot of wiggle room for the ups and downs and turmoil of being sisters.”
The writers of the Supergirl TV show are the first to acknowledge that the word “girl” can be tricky these days. Even Kara objects to the suffix as an alternative to “woman.” So Cat Grant gives a speech about just how powerful a girl can be. Besides, there’s already a Superwoman in DC comics and this isn’t a show about her — but Kara will make any woman proud to be a Supergirl.
“I think that the way we’re redefining the word ‘girl’ is very universal,” Benoist said. “I think that what we’re trying to say is that it doesn’t matter her gender. You’re not going to remember her for that. What you will remember her for is her bravery and her strength and what she’s fighting for.”
The Superman movies — never mind the comic books — eventually had a hard time thinking of challenges for their indestructible hero. You can only have so many villains use kryptonite before it gets repetitive, but they found more creative ways. Supergirl is also redefining Kryptonian powers a little. She’s still super, but it’s not so easy for her.
“In the comics, Superman actually takes a lot more punishment than just Kryptonite,” Kreisberg said. “It was important for us, especially [in] a weekly TV show, to put her in situations where she isn’t all-powerful, so that you can root for her. I think sometimes there’s a tendency with Superman to sort of make him so powerful that there isn’t any danger. Week in, week out, you want to feel like Supergirl might not survive any of these things. A lot of that is based on the comics… there are plenty of things besides Kryptonite that can take her down. That was a very conscious effort on our part. We’re always looking for ways not to diminish her, but it’s to make it feel like there is actual jeopardy for the show.”
Richard Donner’s original Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve is still the benchmark for Superstories (sorry, Man of Steel). Geoff Johns, current chief of DC Comics, even said the show is modeled after Donner’s film.
“I think when Dick Donner sees the show, he’s going to be really proud that it was inspired by the movie tonally,” Johns said. “I worked with him for four years and he has the same kind of passion. He used to have the sign ‘Verisimilitude’ over all the production offices in Superman, which meant truth. And he said it was about emotional truth. That goes back to what everybody is bringing to the show.”
When she’s not flying around saving the city, by day Kara works in Grant’s news office. Like anybody trying to impress their boss, Kara doesn’t always get things right, and sometimes her failures are hilarious. Producer Greg Berlanti compared Benoist’s comedy skills to the late great Christopher Reeve when he played Clark Kent.
“There’s times where we’ve watched the dailies and Melissa is sort of fumbling or doing what Clark Kent may have done in a scene or a sequence like that,” Berlanti said. “To me it’s the most evocative since Christopher Reeves in terms of capturing, I think, that sort of relatability. That was our hope and our desire, but you never know if you’re going to be fortunate enough to do that. We’re excited to keep doing more of them.”
Supergirl hasn’t even aired yet and the cast is already growing. Jenna Dewan Tatum will play Lucy Lane, the younger sister of ace reporter Lois Lane. Kreisberg also announced that Lucy is joined by her father, General Sam Lane.
As for villains, Supergirl is going to have to face off against Non. If he sounds familiar, you saw him as the mute behemoth Superman fights in Superman II. Chris Vance will play him on Supergirl. They’ve also announced Red Tornado, a military robot run amok, will be played by Iddo Goldberg, who also plays Tornado’s creator, T.O. Morrow. Yes, that’s “tomorrow.”
Supergirl’s job would be exhausting for someone with superpowers, let alone a normal human actor. On August 2, a week into filming Supergirl, Benoist tweeted this:
Right this second marks the end of the first full week of filming @supergirlcbs and I am a zombie
— Melissa Benoist (@MelissaBenoist) August 2, 2015
Luckily, we saw her on August 11, still looking happy and vibrant. She shared with us everything that goes into playing Supergirl for just one week, and she’s still doing it with a smile (and a sense of humor).
“I posted that in the best way possible,” Benoist said. “Just the sheer volume of what we’re trying to accomplish and what we are accomplishing, it’s a lot. It’s kind of a behemoth. Just a lot of stuntwork and really long hours and Kara’s almost in every scene, so I have to be there all the time.”
Supergirl premieres tonight on CBS at 8 p.m. Season one is Certified Fresh; read reviews here.