As Supergirl rises in popularity and overcomes the initial criticism of that first teaser, Melissa Benoist takes a look at her role and realizes that playing Supergirl has allowed Melissa to be a part of something more than bringing a comic book character to life. Ms. Benoist recognized the responsibility that comes with playing a superhero almost immediately.
In fact, as Melissa recalls receiving word that she had won the title role in the new Supergirl live action series, she remembers that she was overcome with emotion.
“When I learned that I got the part there were a mixture of many emotions that rushed through me — elation, relief, immense joy and then, there was also a huge sense of responsibility that came immediately,” Ms. Benoist said in an interview. “I definitely thought to myself, ‘Oh man, you’ve got your work cut out for you.'”
Ms. Benoist recognizes that her responsibility extends far beyond simply representing the Supergirl comic book character with faithfulness to the role. Melissa proudly accepts the responsibility of portraying one of thew female superheroes currently on television and Ms. Benoist hopes that Supergirl will inspire female fans of all ages.
“I do think there’s a lot of pressure. I want to do right. Of course this is a broad statement, but I want to do right by women. I want to portray someone they can relate to and look up to that’s not a trite or a shallow depiction. I want her to be complicated and flawed,” Melissa said. “I guess I just want all women to feel like they could be Kara and Superwoman as well. I don’t want it to be campy. I want it to be grounded and human. That goes for anybody. It doesn’t matter what sex. It doesn’t matter if it’s women or men I inspire, I just want to inspire people in general to realize their strengths and their potential, and that you can do the things that you feel like are impossible to accomplish.”
Even so, the Supergirl star does recognize the importance of recognizing the way that Supergirl speaks to female fans. Ms. Benoist feels that pressure acutely as an actress and a role model.
“Of course I feel pressure because of that. It feels big. I’m accountable for the message we’re trying to spread and what Supergirl does—whether she defeats a bad guy, how she defeats him, how she deals with her problems. But I think there’s this climate now where women are really speaking up and women aren’t afraid anymore,” the Supergirl star said. “I know that this is not Gloria Steinem, but I think it’s important.”
Melissa has discovered that beyond the image she presents to Supergirl fans and critics, the role has also tested Ms. Benoist’s limits in more physical ways. One of the greatest challenges for Melissa has been her new experiences working with green screen technology.
“It’s flexing different acting muscles. I was raised in a musical theater sphere of this business, and playing a superhero in front of a green screen is a beast compared to that,” Benoist confessed. “You have to keep a grounded humanity even though you don’t have anything around you and you’re saying these one-liners. Finding the humanity to that is important to me, but it’s very difficult.”
Melissa found that she wasn’t as alone as it might have sometimes felt, especially with Helen Slater on hand during the filming of the Supergirl pilot episode. Benoist eagerly sought Ms. Slater’s advice and inspiration and soon found that the elder Supergirl had much to offer.
“The advice I did get made me so jealous. We started talking about it and she asked me what kind of training they had me doing. At that point, I was just doing some boxing, strength training and a lot of core work. She gave me this look, and I was like, ‘Why, what did they have you do?’ ‘Oh, I went horseback riding, and fencing and doing some archery and I was swimming.’ She went through this whole gamut of awesome outdoor activities that I would love to do to train. Also, she’s just so kind and such a sweet, sweet woman,” Ms. Benoist said. “That’s really what I’ve learned from her. She really is a super girl. I’m so honored that I’m following in her footsteps.”
The Supergirl pilot episode will air on Monday October 26 on CBS.
[Featured image: Melissa Benoist courtesy of Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]