10 things to know about Melissa Benoist and “Supergirl”

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Don’t expect me to be in bondage-style gear!’ says Supergirl’s baddie Owain Yeoman.

Debuting October 26th on CBS, Supergirl is the first bona fide female superhero show to hit primetime TV since Wonder Woman went off the air in 1979. (No, Buffy doesn’t quite count) So showrunner Greg Berlanti felt a considerable responsibility to make it fly. The 36-year-old Chepstow-born actor, who found fame Stateside in the FBI thriller The Mentalist, is to play the intergalactic villain in the pilot of the much-hyped comic book adaptation, starring Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. “I’m only in the pilot so far and I can’t really say a lot, but I can reveal that I won’t be in the red bondage-style gear Sean Connery was dressed in for (the film) Zardoz.The hero of Supergirl, as promised by the show’s title, is plucky Kara (Melissa Benoist), a flying Kryptonian who wears a red and blue jumpsuit with a cape.

Though superheroes have become a massive business for Hollywood in recent years, Marvel and DC — the two biggest providers of superpowered people — have been slow to venture beyond the standard-issue white-dude-in-a-costume model for their movies and television shows.The Supergirl movie released in 1984 might be the entertainment industry’s biggest argument against superhero movies and a warning sign that this superhero high we’re on now could come crashing down at any minute.

Supergirl, premiering Monday night on CBS, follows in the same path of other prime-time DC Comics superheroes established on the CW by Arrow and The Flash. It helps, of course, that Melissa Benoist, formerly of Glee, is an effervescent, unexpectedly amusing presence as Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El – think Annie Hall in a cape.

The beauty of comic book-based TV shows is that they can draw inspiration from many sources, he added, Supergirl having been the brainchild of Greg Berlanti, executive producer of such mega-successful superhero shows The Flash and Arrow. “Basically, my character was sent to Earth to find Supergirl but is then put in prison by her mother and is a bit angry – it’s a bit of a change for me because I get to play someone completely different from my previous characters. But one of the cleverest elements of the new CBS series is the way it acknowledges the elephant in the room: Looming perpetually in the background is “the other guy,” her cousin and fellow resident alien, who made it to Earth years before she did. That changes tonight when Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) takes to the air on CBS’s “Supergirl,” the latest superhero show from the team behind the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash,” executive producers Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg and Sarah Schechter. The haphazard celluloid tumor was bafflingly bad, prompting critics to sharpen their daggers and throw out phrases like “queasily suspended” and “mildness of the material.” “The best way to approach Supergirl is through a statement by Clint Eastwood, who once observed that his spaghetti Westerns worked only because he played them completely seriously,” Ebert wrote. “Supergirl doesn’t know that.” Recently, we’ve seen the superhero genre take Ebert’s (Eastwood’s) advice too literally.

It felt like anything else, it felt like just putting on tights and a leotard and then when I saw myself in the mirror—it’s almost like a physical, internal change. Supergirl was created in the late-1950s as a lazy knockoff of a hit character—Kara’s like Superman, but female!—but the new show smartly plays on those tropes, presenting a hero who’s easy for villains to misjudge and who cheerfully capitalizes on any sexist low expectations. It’s not just the fact that it’s a woman (who rejects a sexed-up potential uniform) in tights that makes “Supergirl” feel different from so many other superhero stories on film and TV. “Supergirl” is a series with multiple powerful women who earnestly debate the best ways to exercise their considerable abilities. Camp and brightness became running gags in Fox’s original X-Men trilogy, Spider-Man is now a brooder, the Avengers talk about human sterilization and numbness of feelings, and the upcoming Batman v Superman film looks to pile on even more grayscaled gloom and doom atop Christopher Nolan’s turn on the Batman franchise. It’s also an entry in the genre defined by joy rather than grit and angst, and by the blue skies of Los Angeles rather than the perpetual darkness of Gotham or Marvel’s New York.

The Superman family franchise is as reliable, and family-friendly, as it gets: The Adventures of Superman was TV’s first superhero hit show in the ’50s, and more recent times have given us such successful variations as Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville, which, respectively, were a prequel and a pre-prequel to the Man of Steel story. And rather than dodging the series’ feminist implications, a conversation with Berlanti, Adler, Kreisberg and Schechter are embracing the opportunity* to shake up the conventions of the genre where they’ve told so many stories and to stage new conversations about women and authority. Yeoman tells that the story of Supergirl’s (played by Melissa Benoist) origins is an important story to tell: “A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek of course, but it also tells the struggle of an adolescent girl who is dealing with this huge adjustment in her life.” “It also stars Dean Cain and the original Supergirl Helen Slater,” says Owain. “I’m a huge fan and I grew up watching Lois and Clark.

But since her space-pod got waylaid in the mysterious Phantom Zone, where time doesn’t pass, she arrived after him and thus dons her heroic mantle in his shadow. Melissa Benoist, from Glee, plays Kara, whose space capsule from the doomed planet Krypton takes a time-warp detour on her way to protect her younger cousin, who was headed for Earth. I even auditioned for the last two Superman movies, but they weren’t ready for a British Superman – or so I was told. “Now that’s exactly what we have.

Like Clark Kent, Kara works for a newspaper (well, a “media conglomerate”), wears glasses in the guise of a “secret identity,” and was adopted and raised by loving human parents. So there are times where Flash or Arrow would have gotten their a– kicked, and we would have watched that, and everyone would have been been fine with it. So when I came back to my deal here at Warner Brothers four or five years ago, they said, “Which of the characters do you think would make a good TV show?” And I said, “I’d like to do an origin story of Green Arrow.” It unfurled from there.

And we were in testing and people were watching Supergirl get beat up in the middle of the episode and people were getting uncomfortable about it,” Berlanti noted. “But then, you can’t have the same kind of joy and exhilaration at the end if you don’t have that point in the middle. … What we try and do, what would our code be if it were a dude, and let it be the same, and let the audience figure out for themselves what they think the difference is.” “We’re not really particularly interested in putting each other down and fighting each other,” Schechter explained. “If they’re fighting, they’re fighting over philosophical or moral differences, not out of any sort of competition. It’s hard to glean the show’s future prospects, but it’s not the disaster some might have predicted from early advertising that leaned heavily on scenes of a bewildered-looking Kara bantering with her office mates.

And that’s where this Supergirl show provides its biggest, and only, spark — because that media titan, named Cat Grant, is played by Calista Flockhart. Berlanti said that while “The Flash” often reminds him of his previous show “Everwood,” working on “Supergirl” takes him back to “Political Animals,” his sharp, sexy 2012 miniseries starring Sigourney Weaver as a riff on Hillary Clinton that also meditated on the dilemmas particular to powerful women. “Whether you think it’s true or not, I think it is much harder to be a woman in the world,” Schechter explained. “And I think that is an opportunity for us in terms of drama and the depth of character and relationships. Amidst this age of gloom-and-doom superheroes, Supergirl has no fear of being happy, hopeful, and bright — something that’s true to the character that writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino created for DC Comics in 1959. Kelley developed Wonder Woman for NBC in 2011, the resulting pilot (which was never picked up to series) was a catastrophe, filled with every sexist trope you could imagine in a show about a female hero in a poorly designed halter top trying to balance her work life and her love life. Isn’t it really cool to hang out with Superman and Batman?” We did a show at the time called Jack and Bobby, and a lot of writers on that liked comic books.

In Supergirl, Kara is slightly bumbling in the office (again, shades of Clark Kent), but has a good grasp of her powers, and the show delights in watching her surprise anyone who mistakes her for a ditz. And in Supergirl, essentially playing the Meryl Streep part from The Devil Wears Prada, Flockhart injects the show with some very welcome energy and fun. While Supergirl flexes some dazzling special effects — the show feels very expensive — and engages in some complicated myth building, at its heart Supergirl is really about the decision to be great.

It’s OK for supervillains to be more interesting than the comic book heroes — that’s been true, especially in DC Comics, ever since the first appearances of The Joker and Catwoman. Benoist is charming enough to steady the pilot during its shakier moments, most of which involve the dull exposition required to quickly lay the groundwork for every other character in the ensemble. Susan Rovner, who’s the executive vice president and president of Warner Horizon Scripted Television, just kept saying, “Supergirl, Supergirl, Supergirl — how would you do it?” I said, “Well, I wouldn’t do it small, and I wouldn’t do it just for young people.

Alex (Chyler Leigh), her adopted sister, serves as a mentor and voice of caution, inducting Kara into a secret government agency that deals with alien threats on earth headed by the morally ambiguous Hank Henshaw (David Harewood). So she had her own super-version of that and took on all of that, and too in Earth with the lens of an immigrant.” Added Schechter: “I still maintain there’s nothing more frightening or terrifying in the whole universe than being a 13-year-old girl. It’s like watching Perry White steal every scene from Clark Kent — and even when Cat Grant uses her media platform to christen the new flying hero Supergirl, Kara, though she hates the name, doesn’t put up much of a fight.

She’s left her parents’ (Dean Cain and Helen Slater, who played Superman on Lois & Clark and Supergirl in that not-good movie, respectively) small-town home and is now an assistant to media empress Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), a devil who wears Prada. In tonight’s premiere episode, little of this series jells — especially not the idea that Kara and her equally super cousin, because they live in different cities, seldom make contact with one another. Her do-gooder deeds include saving a plane that’s about to crash, busting some bank robbers, and stopping an evil alien with her laser vision—classic scenes that the show manages convincingly.

While Superman’s story is about saving the world, Kara’s story is about living up to those lofty expectations. “By putting on that uniform, Kara decides to live up to the legacies and responsibilities that come with it,” Sterling Gates, the writer of DC’s Supergirl comic book (2008 to 2011) told Vox when asked about what he thought the character represented. “In spite of that overwhelming pressure — I mean, her cousin is Superman, for god’s sake — she doesn’t give up or walk away. Next month, Netflix’s Jessica Jones will continue this progress (albeit with a far darker take), but the dearth of series like it, along with CBS’s slick production and Benoist’s likable performance, makes Supergirl an easy show to cheer for.

We want her,’ ” Berlanti said. “And that’s very much the arc of the first season to a certain extent, is really the city as an entity coming to terms, and the universal thing being where in our lives do we feel second best? And by wrapping itself around the idea of “Superman’s cousin,” Supergirl becomes a meta-commentary on the lack of female superhero clout in pop culture. But seeing subtle sexism and ignorance come from people who don’t necessarily mean it, and seeing how that affects Kara, gives us something much more frustrating and relatable to chew on.

Armen Kevorkian is our visual effects supervisor across all the shows, and we have a system in place where we start talking about the sequences months in advance – even before we write the episodes sometimes. We just sat in a room and talked a lot about what would be Kara’s journey, what would we like to see her struggling with over the course of the season and the series. As Schechter put it, “I think if a female kicking a– makes you uncomfortable, it’s a good opportunity for you to look at yourself.” * When I joked that I wouldn’t write a “Can ‘Supergirl’ have it all?’ headline, Berlanti immediately replied that this was the theme of a forthcoming episode, and Adler had a whole raft of reasons that such a balancing act would be particularly salient for a superheroine. She’s a light leading the way.” Kara’s most powerful moment in the comic books is actually her death, which happens in Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 7 — “Beyond the Silent Night” (1985). Editorially it was iconic because the character was beloved and her demise was considered the last time a superhero’s comic book death mattered (nowadays, superhero deaths are considered PR and sales ploys).

She protects her cousin, but also charges head first into taking out Monitor and saving her friends: There are moments in Supergirl’s first episode that call back to this moment from the comics. The original Richard Donner Superman films were a touchstone for us – this sense of optimism and hope, that you could have a hero with a smile and charm without necessarily that meaning the show had to feel soft or that there weren’t stakes. And it’s going to be just as rewarding when dads come up and tell me that they watch Supergirl with their sons and that they’re just as excited by it as when they watch The Flash. But since we called her and said, “You got the part,” everyone’s been like, “Oh my god, thank God we all made that decision.” During her first audition, I just found myself giggling uncontrollably.

In our heads, we’re not going to connect the movies, because our Superman has done different things than what’s been established in the films, so we’re not thinking about it that way. But the bigger overarching stories for the characters – their own personal mythologies and the mythologies of the universe that we’re building – are ultimately the things that interest people the most. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again. Director X has been making music videos with pop’s biggest stars for over 15 years — but he’s never seen anything like the reaction to Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Released earlier this week, the “Hotline Bling” video became instantly memorable (and meme-able) for its hypnotic, minimal vibe showcasing Drake’s endearing goofball dance moves and X’s highly stylized sets.

As X prepares to shoot his first feature film — he won’t name it, but mentions it’s a dance movie — he took some time out to talk about musicians as directors, the talented choreographer Tanisha Scott, his relationship to the work of acclaimed light artist James Turrell and more. I like doing my own thing, but I also like it when an artist has a clear vision for themselves and you can focus on molding that idea into a full working piece.

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