A Super Sisterhood
Behind the bond of CBS's Supergirl and her screen sister is the real-life link between actresses Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh.
Supergirl, AKA Kara Zor-El, came from Krypton, but her older sister, Alex, came out of nowhere.
While much of Supergirl's comic-book history is woven into the CBS series of the same name, the character of foster sister Alex Danvers was fashioned out of whole cloth by creator-executive producers Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Ali Adler.
"Alex could have been the star of her own show about a doctor-spy-alien hunter who works for a top-secret government organization," Kreisberg quips. "She couldn't be any more super if she tried. The only problem is that her sister is Supergirl."
And that could be the secret to the success of this series, which has been renewed for a second season. For all of its action, drama, special effects, romance and comedy, its foundation rests on the complex bond between the sisters,
"It's exploring so much of what it means for women to be close," says Melissa Benoist, who plays Kara, "and how we deal together with our problems and our relationships."
With so much riding on the chemistry between Kara and her sister, it's surprising that Chyler Leigh auditioned only a few days before the first table read. "It was just sheer luck that she's as incredible as she is," Benoist says. "She is a gem of a person, a really rare breed — someone who is truly good and also really good at what she does."
Leigh was smitten just as quickly. "What was so glaringly apparent was how pure Melissa's heart is, what an amazing artist she is, and how grateful she is for where she is and what she has. She's the real deal."
And that relationship "sets the tone for every day on stage," Adler reports. "It sounds trite to say that we're a family, but we really are — and Melissa and Chyler are so much like sisters." For all Kara's superpowers, Alex has spent her life protecting her sib, and that vibe resonates with the actresses. Benoist chalks it up to Leigh being a mom. "She's so protective of her family. It completely translates into Alex's makeup."
Leigh has this perspective: "I believe that a very big reason I am on that show is that I was meant to be there for [Melissa], I also believe that's why it carries over so well on the screen. I care about that girl. I'd slash somebody's tires for her — I'm not gonna lie."
That sounds a bit like the episode in which Supergirl was poisoned by red kryptonite and turned temporarily evil. "I was surprised by how much I loved playing her as a villain," Benoist says. Leigh didn't realize how physical her own work would be — firing weapons, hand-to-hand combat — or how much she'd enjoy it.
"I have a 12-year-old boy," she points out. "I have probably accumulated the most cool-mom points on the planet."
She's also proud to be on a show that her son and two younger daughters can all watch. "Here's somebody who's really smart," Leigh says of her character. "She works really hard and has gifts and talents — they might not be superhuman, but she can still be a superhero, too."
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