Superman’s cousin is coming to TV, and the arrival of CBS’ “Supergirl” could not be more timely.
“People have been champing at the bit for this character,” she added. “The success of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Cinderella,’ and this year with ‘Blindspot’ and anything Shonda Rhimes does and Hillary Clinton, it feels like women are becoming front and center and we can finally stop having the conversation of, ‘Can women do everything that men can do?’ We know they can, and now they’re just doing it.”
Beyond being a symbol for female empowerment, Supergirl is also an iconic comic book character with a lot of baggage and expectations.
This time around, Melissa Benoist plays Kara Zor-El, a superpowered Kryptonian who’s trying to navigate Earth in the shadow of her slightly more famous cousin Clark Kent. At age 24, she finally decides to embrace her own powers and become a hero.
Below, Kreisberg discusses the gender politics behind portraying a female superhero, how Benoist helped shape the character before she was even cast, and whether or not “Supergirl” will cross over with “Arrow” and “The Flash.”
1. Supergirl can take a punch
Kara has super strength and can certainly hold her own in any kind of fight, but producers and network execs were still careful in depicting the young woman in combat, particularly getting beat up by men.
“There were some concerns about that from the network,” Kreisberg said. “What we tried not to do was create a show where people got on soapboxes and talked about what it means to be a woman — what it means being a woman in the workplace, what it means being a woman dating, what it means being a woman in combat situations — we just have her doing it. You can’t say she’s just as strong as Superman and then not have her get punched.
“What’s amazing about her is regardless of her gender, she takes a punch and then she gets right back up again and gives it all she’s got. Obviously, we’re very conscious of not wanting to show violence against women, but it would be a mistake to have somebody this strong and with these incredible powers, and not have her go up against people who wish to do her harm. The joy and triumph derives from watching her overcome these difficult obstacles.”
2. Melissa Benoist helped shape the character before she was even cast
The former “Glee” star, like “Arrow” star Stephen Amell and “The Flash” star Grant Gustin before her, was the first actress brought in to read for the role of Kara. But her casting is more than just a fun story. Though producers auditioned hundreds of girls after her, the actress was already shaping who the character would ultimately become.
“There’s just something about her,” Kreisberg gushed about his lead actress. “At first blush, I think she wasn’t what some people were expecting. But for us, Melissa, as a human being, is such a special person. She has this amazing, engaging quality that you just kind of fall in love with the minute you meet her. She’s just so full of energy and life and enthusiasm and hopefulness. That is who Kara is. What was so interesting for us, having seen her first, and then having to then see literally every other young woman in Hollywood, everyone we compared to Melissa. At that point, we were still writing the script, and we realized we were writing the Melissa version of Kara and Supergirl, so we were so blessed that she wanted to do it.”
3. Big action set pieces every week
While “Arrow” stays mostly grounded and “The Flash” added in meta-humans for more CGI-heavy action sequences, “Supergirl” opens up whole new worlds by introducing aliens. That’s going to be a challenge to sustain on a weekly basis, but they’re doing it regardless.
“Pilots are promises, and if you show her catching that plane and fighting alien villains, you have to keep doing that,” said Kreisberg. “Episodes 2 and 3 are legitimately bigger than the pilot, even though we had less time to do them. You just learn how to do them better, faster and more economical. There’s no appetite for us to start hitting the brakes. People are really going to be blown away by the scope and level of special effects and level of stunt work that they’re going to see coming up.”
4. It’s more “Flash” than “Arrow”
With “Supergirl” being on CBS and not the youth-skewing CW like “Arrow” and “The Flash,” there are some differences between Kara’s story and those of Oliver and Barry — and the network is not the only factor.
“Anytime you have a character who can fly, that changes the scope of the show,” said Kreisberg. “We also shoot in Los Angeles, standing in for National City, and that has a very different feeling than Vancouver [where ‘Arrow’ and ‘Flash’ shoot]. I think the show feels a little bit more grown up, especially when you have actors like David Harewood and Calista Flockart. It’s about an adult woman. It is like ‘Flash’ in the sense that it has a hopefulness and kindness and heartwarming quality. ‘Supergirl’ traffics a lot in family and friendship and a cast of characters that really support each other.”
5. No “Arrow” or “The Flash” crossovers anytime soon
As “Arrow” and “The Flash” become more of a cohesive universe prone to frequent crossover episodes on The CW, clamor for “Supergirl” to join in the fun won’t likely die down any time soon. However, there are no immediate plans for a cross-network crossover.
“It’s certainly not up to us,” said Kreisberg. “That’s a decision CBS, The CW and Warner Bros. have to make. If we were to ever do it, we would have to explain why no one on ‘Arrow’ or ‘Flash’ or ‘Legends’ have ever mentioned that Superman exists. Right now it’s enough for us to just have that [CW] universe be linked and it’s enough to just be creating this amazing world in ‘Supergirl.’ Down the line, if that’s what the fans want and what the brass want as well, then we’ll fly over that bridge when we get there.”
“Supergirl” premieres Monday, Oct. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET.