Over the past three years, Melissa Benoist has accomplished an awful lot as the lead of the CW’s Supergirl, spending her days saving the world from various alien invasions, fighting for inclusion on all fronts, and reinforcing the idea of Woman Power on prime time television. Yet it seems that her greatest triumph — strictly on a personal level, mind you — has been this summer spent on the Broadway stage, bringing the life and career of singer/songwriter Carole King to life in the musical Beautiful.
In it, Melissa — who is also Supergirl’s secret identity, reporter Kara Danvers, on the television show — plays Carole from the time she was a teenager getting her start writing classic pop songs for the biggest musical acts of the time (beginning in the early 1960s), to the woman who, finding the inner confidence to do so, began singing her own songs and achieving a whole new level of success. It’s a show that’s impacted Melissa in a significant way, made obvious during a chance to talk with her at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. Just as obvious is that she’s starting to get back into the mindset of playing the Girl of Steel, though isn’t entirely there yet.
Melissa loves Broadway, but looks forward to more Supergirl.
“I’m having so much fun in New York,” enthuses Melissa, certainly no stranger to singing having been a cast member of Glee. “I literally just had a show last night, and I’m living out my childhood dream, which is completely surreal. I couldn’t be happier, because being on Broadway was something I’d always imagined. I’ve also found that it’s kind of a different skill set, a different style of acting. I’m singing every day, eight times a week, which is hard, but it’s also challenging in so many different ways. Being on stage has been such a joy for me, and truly soul-fulfilling, though I’m really itching to get back to my family in Vancouver on Supergirl.”
When she does so in the next few weeks, it’s her belief that the Broadway experience will remain with her. “And,” Melissa points out, “not just because I performed on stage and realized what that entails, but also because Carole King’s spirit will never leave me. She’s an incredible force, and I think there’s a bit of Supergirl in Carole King. She is a super girl; a real life superhero, and telling her story has been really inspiring.”
Which seems appropriate considering how inspiring Supergirl has been to many of its millions of viewers from the very start, providing a model for young viewers to look at with admiration and, as a result, aspire to greatness. “Our writer’s room,” she says, “handles things very deftly and with a lot of care, because of the younger audience. I don’t think that makes it any less important when we touch on those issues. This season will be no different; they’re going go even further.
“From the scripts I’ve seen,” Melissa continues, “the tone is very different in a really cool way. Last season was a lot of fire and brimstone, and witchcraft and fantasy, which was great, and felt like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I loved. But this season I think it’s going to be a little more topical and grounded in the reality of the state of the world today. And kind of relating it to what it would look like in National City.”
The show will be taking some bold steps.
Part of that has to do with new additions to the show’s cast, including April Parker Jones as Colonel Haley, described as a “hardline career military woman”; David Ajala as Manchester Black, referred to as “the type of guy who brings a knife to a gunfight and still walks away the winner”; and, perhaps most importantly, transgender activist Nicole Maines (who played an integral role in allowing trans individuals to use the restroom of their choice) as Nia Nal, a reporter for the CatCo media company who will be “a soulful young transgender woman with a fierce drive to protect others.” Her journey this coming year will see Nia fulfill her destiny as the superhero Dreamer.
“I’m really excited about Nia Nal in more ways than one,” Melissa explains. “Not just for what Nicole’s meant to people, and the story she’ll be telling and how inspiring she’ll be, but Kara and Nia’s relationship is very special already in the scripts that I’ve seen. And it almost purely exists in the CatCo offices right now. Since Cat Grant [the former head of CatCo] is gone, Kara kind of steps in and acts as a mentor in the same way that Cat was for her, which is something that we’ve not really seen Kara do — act as a mentor to a younger girl. Kara’s always been kind of learning the lessons, and she’ll continue to do that, but it’s nice to see her affect someone younger. I’m excited for Nicole and for what she could mean to people. I’m excited for these records that she’s breaking and how important it’s going to be for young people to see that.”
Which is not to say that there isn’t going to be the requisite superheroics. At the end of last season, Supergirl saved the day by defeating Reign, but in the process created a double of herself, who showed up in Siberia. The set-up is that this is a take-off of a Superman comic book called Red Son that suggested what would happen had the character landed in Russia instead of America and been raised there.
Melissa muses, “I think that in the way the first Red Son explored the differences between two doppelgängers, men that were raised in two very differents areas of the world with different cultures and ideals, that’s what we’re going to explore. How two people with such extraordinary abilities, how differently they would use them if they were from different places. It’s going to be a really cool experiment in nature versus nurture. I think it’s going to be a slow burn, but I’m excited to see where it goes.”
And yes, more crossovers are to come, this time with Batwoman.
And then there’s the annual crossover event between Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which this year is going to dip its toes into the Batman universe by introducing the character of Batwoman, who, it’s been announced, is getting her own series.
“I can’t tell you anything about this year’s crossover, and I wish I could, but I don’t actually know anything,” laughs Melissa. “Last year’s ‘Crisis on Earth X’ was so much fun to film, and I have no doubt this year will be awesome, because it’s an opportunity to expand this universe and get more and more characters into it. DC has this huge cache of characters, so why not try to integrate all of them together when you can and see something come to life from page to screen like that? And with Batwoman… Supergirl’s always had little asides through the seasons of how she thinks vigilantes are nuts, and there have been comments about Batman. I think she might feel the same way about Batwoman. She always gets worried when humans are fighting crime the way that she does, because she doesn’t want them to get hurt. I have no idea how she’ll react, but that’s my gut reaction. She’ll be, like, ‘Whoa, what are you doing? Be careful!’”
In wrapping things up, Melissa has two distinct points she wants to make about the show in general and the direction things are moving in. “With the first transgender superhero,” she says, “I think it’s the perfect time to show inclusivity and love and acceptance and understanding, and tell people’s stories that aren’t always told. And for Kara, I’m just always looking to find more ways of her being empowered as a woman. She obviously has arcs through the years, season by season, but I’m more interested in the long run of things. And the kind of woman she’ll be at the end as opposed to what she was at the beginning of season one. So, for me, this show is more of a step at a time. Like, how is she changing in this episode, and what does it mean for her down the line?”