The CBS action-adventure drama series Supergirl follows Kara Zor-El, now known as Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), as she decides to finally embrace her superhuman abilities and be the hero she was always meant to be. After 12 years of keeping her powers a secret on Earth, Kara will need to find a way to manage her newfound empowerment with her very human relationships, as she takes to the skies as Supergirl to fight crime.
During this recent conference call with press, actress Melissa Benoist and executive producer Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow, The Flash) talked about this once in a lifetime opportunity, seeing the costume for the first time, the villains Supergirl will face, keeping a sense of danger, how the character relationships are affecting the story, the very distinct aspects of Kara’s world, keeping up the fast pace of the pilot, making a Supergirl movie every week, and why this character is more than just a hero.
Question: Melissa, when you were first cast in this role, you were not as well known as you are now. Have people already started recognizing you more?
MELISSA BENOIST: No. First of all, I’m not really in public that much because I’m working quite often. But when I am in public, I haven’t noticed and external change in my life. It’s more internal, as far as what I’m dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
What was it that initially drew you to this project?
BENOIST: The reason that I was so drawn to it, from the beginning, was that I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I just think it’s such a beautiful story to tell, in a sometimes scary world, and that it would be something I’d be really proud to be a part of.
Did you read any comics to prepare for this role?
BENOIST: I read some of the New 52. But also, what I love about what Ali [Adler], Greg [Berlanti], Andrew [Kreisberg] and Sarah [Schechter] have created is that I truly feel like we are making this modern, 2015 version of her. So, I wanted to know the world, but I wanted to separate myself from it a little bit, to really make her my own.
Andrew, was there a moment for you, in watching Melissa, where you felt you really got the casting right?
ANDREW KREISBERG: We knew that she was our Kara and our Supergirl, from the very start. I don’t think any of us ever questioned that. But it was that first time that she put on the outfit for us, we were at Warner Bros. in the costume department, with Colleen Atwood, who designed the costume. For all the good intentions and all the good planning and all of the talented people in the world, you can sometimes misfire on these things, especially when it’s based on a comic book. But when Melissa stepped out wearing that outfit, it was like, “Oh, this is going to work.” None of us had any doubts, from that point forward. We knew we had the right girl, but after that, we knew that we had something really, really special.
What villains will Supergirl face this season?
KREISBERG: We always have a traditional big bad for the season, who’s an uber-villain that’s setting the plans in motion. But just like with the other shows, there will also be villains of the week. The pilot sets up the idea that there was an alien prison from Krypton that crash landed on Earth, and all of the prisoners escaped. So, we’ll be meeting some of those alien villains. There will also be human villains. We’ve announced that the Toyman is going to be appearing on the show. Additionally, we have some major Kryptonian villains that are going to be the big bads of the season.
Since not everyone can have Kryptonite, how are you going to make Supergirl vulnerable, so that there’s a real sense of danger?
KREISBERG: There’s a collective mistake that Kryptonite is the only thing that can hurt a Kryptonian. In the comic books and in other adaptations, specifically the Superman animated series, Superman can be hurt by a lot more than Kryptonite. On the show, we’ve shown that fighting certain aliens [can hurt her]. She fights Livewire, who has electrical powers and enough electricity to stop Supergirl’s heart. There are other things on this show that are beyond Kryptonite. We always want to feel like our hero is in jeopardy.
What surprises have there been, along the way, as you’ve been crafting this first season’s story, and how has that affected things?
KREISBERG: In a lot of ways, this reminds us of The Flash because this show feels fully formed, a lot sooner than we were expecting, especially when it comes to the relationships amongst the characters. When you do the pilot, you come up with all these characters, and then you cast them and you hope the cast is going to gel and you can find scenes that can come out of the character work. Watching Melissa’s scenes with Calista [Flockhart], with Chyler [Leigh], with Mehcad [Brooks], with Laura Benanti, with David [Harewood], and with Jeremy [Jordan], it’s a lot easier to come up with things because we’ve seen the evidence of how much the character work on this show is really engaging. Probably the biggest surprise, which also happened on The Flash, is how hard it is to pull these shows off, week in and week out, with the visual effects, stunts, and amount of planning that goes into making them. You think, “Oh, we pulled off Arrow, so we’ll be able to do The Flash.” And then, The Flash turned out to be a lot bigger. And Supergirl has turned out to be a lot bigger than The Flash. Every one of these shows has had a very steep and unforgiving learning curve, but we’ve been incredibly proud and excited by the results. Hopefully, everyone out there will be, too.
Kara has help from people in various parts of her life. Will those various parts of her life eventually intersect?
KREISBERG: One of the fun things about the show, in the beginning, is that she has very differentiated parts of her world. She has the DEO, led by Hank Henshaw, that her sister works at and where she works as an unofficial agent. But she also has Jimmy Olsen and Winn Schott and, whether she realizes it or not, Cat Grant, back at CatCo. Part of the fun of the show is that she’s keeping these things very separate. As the show moves forward, they start to bleed into one another, and then you get the fun complications of the people who consider themselves the professional alien hunters having to deal with what they consider to be the civilian amateur alien hunters. What’s great about the show is that everybody has something to contribute, everybody has value, and everybody is constantly learning from each other. Kara learns very different things from these worlds. With the DEO, her sister and Hanks, she really learns to hone her powers and become an even better superhero. But from her friends at CatCo, she really learns the importance of being Kara Danvers, being a woman, being a human being, and staying grounded and tied to the people she’s sworn to protect.
Melissa, how do you feel about balancing being a good role model for young women and just making a good action show?
BENOIST: How I approach it, every day, is that as long as Kara and Supergirl are enjoying themselves, and are finding the joy in being a hero and the joy in finally using her powers after so long, everything stems from that. I just always keep in mind her bravery, her hope, her positivity and her strength. I think that it will be hard for girls not to look up to that.
Andrew, will Kara develop any female friendships, outside of her sister, in the show?
KREISBERG: She’s going to become friends with Lucy Lane, played by Jenna Dewan Tatum, who comes to the show as a former love interest of Jimmy’s. The fun part of it is that Kara, being the nicest person in the world, is someone who Lucy really likes, and the two of them will have some adventures together.
Are you looking to keep up the fast pace of the pilot, every single week?
KREISBERG: Yeah, we are intending to keep up that pace. We don’t know any other way to do it. We’ve often talked about how with the TV landscape, and honestly with the feature landscape too, at any given moment, there’s a feature film on, like The Avengers, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Iron Man or Thor, and you can get this stuff anywhere, so you have to really provide something special and singular, every single week, to keep people entertained. So, we think of this as trying to produce a Supergirl movie, every single week. We just have to figure out a way to do it and not kill Melissa.
BENOIST: It really feels like we are making a movie, every week, just with the sheer amount of what we have to do, and not just me. There’s a crew behind us, and the other actors, and we are working non-stop and pretty tirelessly.
Melissa, do you have to do any training for the physical side of this role?
BENOIST: I trained before we started shooting the season. Now that we’re in the thick of it, the work is the work-out. I’ve found that I have sustained my endurance over the past few months, just by doing the stunts and the physical work that I’m doing, every day.
Andrew, this is a very hopeful superhero story. What does that allow you to do, with this show and the storytelling?
KREISBERG: I think that Superman has always been more than just a hero. He’s been an inspiration and a beacon of hope and something to aspire to. We’re certainly guilty of putting a very dark hero on television with Arrow, but there is something about Supergirl that represents the light, the hope and the goodness in people. It’s important for our time, it’s important for our world, and it’s so tied into the character. There’s a tendency to not embrace what things are, but you do that at your peril. So, we’ve really embraced that. Hopefully, not only Melissa, but the show itself can be an inspiration.
Melissa, which superhero power would you be partial to having?
BENOIST: It’s the cliche, boring route, but I would want to fly. I think the power of flight is, hands down, the one I would want.
Supergirl airs on Monday nights on CBS.