In a mass media age where there are new superheroes being cast every other week for a variety of film and television projects, few have come with as much immediate hype as when Melissa Benoist earned the lead role in CBS’ upcoming Supergirl TV series.
While the big screen variations on these super-powered demigods, from Marvel to DC, predominately remain boys’ clubs with a few token exceptions, Benoist has been catapulted to the top of the caped TV stratosphere as the solo star of the biggest budgeted and most hyped superhero serial ever attempted, even by executive producer Greg Berlanti (who has previously launched Arrow and The Flash on the CW).
And for Benoist, it’s been the starring vehicle debut for a career that has fast-tracked through two seasons on Fox’s Glee and an appearance in last year’s Whiplash. Yet when she walked into a San Diego hotel ballroom for another round of press interviews about Supergirl, only hours before her first panel appearance in the cavernous Hall H,she seemed at ease and undeterred by the massive spectacle of Comic-Con’s three-ring circus. Rather, she appeared genuinely thoughtful and earnest in her desire to realize those aforementioned hopes and expectations for the first major film or television series starring a superheroine—no team qualifiers needed.
What have you discovered about Kara Zor-El both on this show and in the comics that informs your performance?
What I love about Kara is that she is still in this process of discovering herself. I really look at it as a coming of age story. I love when she finds her strength and when she owns it. That is my favorite aspect, my favorite parts to play; she has no fear.
This year, you did a ton of research and read a lot of comics. What have been your favorite stories about this character that you discovered?
I read a lot of the New 52—I think she has this lovely naiveté a little bit. I love that she has a knowledge of where she comes from. I think her history is so sad that she knew her home. I mean, Kal-El had no idea about the planet he came from or what his parents were like, and she has a very clear image of where she grew up. And I think that’s a really, really beautiful, sad story that really informs who she is.
Sarah [Schechter] was talking a lot about accessibility and relatability for teenage girls and young girls who might watch this show. Could you talk about this show being one about identity and the powers of womanhood?
Oh yeah, of course. I’m sort of going through it on my own right now. I don’t think you’re ever done learning about yourself, especially as women. We’re complicated, multi-faceted creatures, and very flawed. That’s another thing I love about Kara is that she is constantly messing up. And she’s kind flying by the seat of her pants half the time in our pilot and with what we’ve done so far. And I just love that there’s room to grow, and it shows that no one has it all figured out, no matter how many powers you have.
And it’s funny, I knew that this was going to be a facet of it to be a role model for young girls. But the crewmembers would be bringing their daughters on set, and until I saw them in person when I was in the suit, I didn’t realize what it was going to feel like and that was a powerful moment.
It’s an amazing thing for this audience and that demographic.
How did it feel putting on the Supergirl suit the first time?
I felt like I was on top of the world the first time I put it on. It’s impossible not to feel this internal shift of strength and bravery. It makes me feel great wearing it.
Could you talk about your favorite comic books or comic book movies growing up?
I watched the movies more. I wasn’t much of a comic book reader when I was younger, and not until college. My closest friend is a huge comic book reader, and [likes] graphic novels, so I kind of read some of them when I was in college. But I loved Michael Keaton as Batman, I grew up on those movies. Yeah, I was a fan and of sci-fi in general.
Any TV shows?
I liked Lois & Clark, yeah.
And now Dean Cain is your dad?
I know! [Laughs] He’s so nice too. He’s such a nice guy.
How important is it to be on a TV show where you play a female superhero that young women are going to watch and look up to you on?
I look at it as such a privilege and a responsibility to show people you can have strength and be a strong woman without—I think so often these days, it’s kind of assumed if you’re strong and powerful, you’re not really the nicest person, or you’re a B-I-T-C-H, or what have you. I want to show girls that you can spread positivity and hope through your strength.
I don’t know that was a horrible answer! [Laughs]