Chyler Leigh, co-star of The CW’s Supergirl, talks to Awards Daily about learning to play a bad ass character as we lead into the Season 2 finale.
Supergirl‘s Chyler Leigh experienced a literal physical transformation taking on the role of Alexandra “Alex” Danvers. While the series moved from CBS to The CW in its second season, fans stood by the series and by its cast. The outpouring of affection and devotion touches Leigh each and every time she interacts with fans.
I want to be able to talk to everybody, hug everybody and just let people know how much they are loved and appreciated. Supergirl and our fanverse has given me the platform to help a tremendous amount of people.
I met with Chyler Leigh Supergirl finishes its season season tonight. Here’s what she had to say about playing Alex Danvers and about her character’s touching and gracefully handled love story.
OK, how amazing was last week’s episode where it ended with Superman, but then we have Cat Grant return.
It’s so cool just that we have these amazing characters coming back. Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant is phenomenal, and Calista is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Brenda Strong, who plays Lillian who I’m absolutely in love with, is amazing. Tyler Hoechlin as Superman comes back, and that whole reveal was amazing. That reveal where we pick up with the finale is continued right from last week, and it’s intense. They said the whole of the finale and last episode is one of the biggest episodes that Supergirl has had yet. It’s just been a whirlwind, all the stunts which I love doing. I have such a blast with that because I’m so not that in real life. My husband jokes he worries about getting into an argument with me now.
It looks like they’ve left the best til last. I hear it’s everything.
The stunts, the visual effects, were skimmed down on episodes prior to these just so they have extra money in the budget for it because it’s spectacular.
There’s a lot of action for you. What’s it like playing someone who is so bad ass?
I love it. I didn’t think that I’d be cut out for that. So many of the characters I’ve played have been pretty similar, like the Lexie Grey character. The majority of characters that I’ve played have the same mentality, and when the whole thing came up for me to be on Supergirl, I couldn’t even see it. My husband was the one who convinced me. He said, “No babe, I’m telling you right now ,you’re going to be like the new Trinity.” I was like, “Get out of here.”
Cue to me jumping off a building, turning around, shooting someone. For me, it’s been so much fun exploring a whole different side of myself and really understanding what I’m capable of. Not only just from a physical standpoint. That in enough itself was a lot of learning with stunt sequences. I’m really adamant about doing as much of it as I can. Luckily, we have such amazing stunt teams that they really are thorough with practicing and rehearsing all the stuff with all the beats that we need to hit. We do it as many times as we have to so that, when we get it, we get it. Everyone’s looking around and high-fiving and hooting and hollering the whole thing, but it’s such a sense of accomplishment. I love that I can look over my husband and say, “See that roundhouse kick? That was me.”
We have a 13-year-old son who is all things comic, and he thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. I have the best mom points.
Are you the super cool mom? You’re in Supergirl, and everyone is watching it?
Yes I am.
You have the weapons. You have the fighting. Talk about what you had to go through physically? Did you get hurt?
We’ve all been injured quite a bit. I have too. One of the first episodes in Season 1, the first time I tried to train Supergirl was when I put her in with the kryptonite emitters, and I take some of her power down so we can even fight. It was one of our very first fight sequences, and she ended up throwing a jab and swung her elbow around and actually ended up hitting me in the eye.
She got punched in the face by an MMA fighter. I’ve punched David at one point. I hit someone’s nose, and almost gave them a bloody nose. It’s not that we’re haphazard. We’re figuring all that stuff out too. It’s a learning process, but we got a bit better in the second season. By then, we had some experience of knowing that, if we had to improvise something because we missed a beat, we can figure out how to do that and still make it look good and authentic.
In Episode 15, there’s that scene with Jeremiah where I’m beating the hell out of him and it was just so much fun to do. [Laughs] It’s exhausting, and you wake up the next morning and say, “Oh my god.” Suddenly, there are muscles in places I never even knew, and it’s been an incredible experience across the board. It’s grown so much.
You went from one fandom in Shondaland – and I still haven’t forgiven her – to this. The comic fandom. It’s huge.
Oh my gosh, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s amazing.
It’s crazy, but how are you finding it and adjusting to it?
Yeah, you know it’s been a really big adjustment in life in general. That ties in very heavily with the whole fanverse thing. It’s been life-changing being on the show. It really has. It really has bled into all aspects of my personal life. Of course, coming across the fans and the way they have responded and reacted and the thousands of letters I’ve had from fans saying, “You have no idea what you’re doing and how it’s changed my life, and how it saved my life.”
I’m getting letters from fans telling me how they almost committed suicide or they cut. I can’t tell you how much I have cried in the best way and in a heartbreaking way where people are telling me their stories and knowing that what we’re doing is changing lives and really shaping an entire movement if you will. In a lot of ways, we’re breaking the mold. It’s this comic book show that’s coming along and making waves, and I’m so dumbfounded by the whole thing. I meet people at comic cons, and it’s heavy.
My husband has a band called East of Eli and we’re about to go on a European tour. It’s his project, but I sing with him as well. We’re leaving soon but the last few shows I’ve done with Nathan where fans have also been fanverse fans, and I literally spent hours afterward meeting people. They come up and say they want to share their stories. They give me letters and bracelets, and it’s so overwhelming and wonderful. I want to be able to talk to everybody, hug everybody and just let people know how much they are loved and appreciated. Supergirl and our fanverse has given me the platform to help a tremendous amount of people. The music too, everything we do is very purposed and very intentional.
We’ve really been able to make such a huge impact on people’s lives and I’m so grateful for that. A big part of what we’re doing in Europe while we are out there is talk to people and encourage them. It’s so surreal and amazing. It’s such an honor to be on the show.
Alex is such a great character. Let’s talk about her story arc, and how beautiful that was. What was it like when you heard about the direction that it would go in because the way they did it was absolutely beautiful.
When I found out about it, it was just a few weeks before filming. I had no idea. It was almost like being blind-sided. Towards the end of Season 1, Andrew Kreisberg said he was thinking about next season and possibly having Alex come into a romantic relationship. It bummed me out. I didn’t want it to be about someone now as she’s gone from her and Kara to her and somebody else, and I thought we wouldn’t have the chance to know who Alex is. Nothing was said, and we were waiting to see if we were picked up at all. Then I was told we were moving to Canada, and we have three kids so it’s not like you can up and move. We have an entire life to move. Around that time, that’s when they told me Alex was going to be gay.
I was terrified, to be honest, and worried. I wanted to make sure the integrity was incredibly high, and I didn’t want it to be something that was a ratings ploy or something used for shock value. The way they handled it was absolutely brilliant. Greg Berlanti told me from the get go, “We wouldn’t give this to anybody else. This is something that needs to be handled really well, so we’re trusting you because we know that you can do it.” OK, so added pressure. Got it. He said, “We’re going to handle it carefully.”
When I first talked to him about it, I think he was anticipating a 20-minute conversation which turned into 90 minutes. It is a tremendous amount of pressure. I would be the face of an entire community that would be put out there. I have a lot of LGBT friends and family. It’s not that I wasn’t familiar with it. It’s just that it wasn’t on my radar to be a part of it like that. Greg told me, “Just so you understand, you’ll get a lot of notoriety for this.” For me, it wasn’t about that, it was about doing it right.
The process was well hashed out between all of us and I wanted to make sure that my voice was heard to since it was going to be my face and my voice being a part of it. I want people to know it’s not just me getting a paycheck or reading lines. I don’t work like that and that’s not who I am anyway. Family is always first. I need to know it’s worth the time and investment. I’m sold out when I do something. For this, it was so incredibly important for it to be done right. Even when casting Floriana and Maggie. I was adamant I wanted to be part. Chemistry on-screen is just as important as chemistry off-screen. So many of us have been part of stories on film that are terrible in real life. I didn’t want that to happen here. I want to make sure the people on set are right. We are so fortunate and our cast is amazing. There’s not a bad egg in the group.
When it came to casting Maggie, we had moved to Canada, and I asked to be a part of the loop. I wanted to fly down for a chemistry read, meet them, and make sure that we are on the same page. I wanted to make sure that whoever else came in was equally invested in telling a great story and wasn’t about just getting a role.
With Nathan, he said, “If you’re going to be getting a girlfriend, I’m going to pick your girl.” [Laughs] Greg sent up three links to auditions. Floriana was the second one we watched, and he pulled the computer to him and joked that he got to see it first. So he watched it and said he found her. I watched the tape too and she had something. When you know you know. She had this mischievous smile about it.
I flew down to California, got in the room, and read with all three girls. She was the second one to come in and I read with her, and said, “OK, that’s my girlfriend.” They all agreed and that was it. From the first moment, I told her how excited I was and sent her a text to say how excited I was to fall in love with her.
She’s so cool and we have such great meaningful conversations, and I’m so glad it translates.
It was so magical to watch unfold. It was just natural to watch on TV.
The they wrote it very organically. It was this crazy, intense, emotional rollercoaster ride from the get-go. It was like a really crazy journey for me too. Having been through everything with Alex in Season 1 and her being so driven and so many things she was about. It was never about her. For her, it wasn’t as important, so meeting Maggie was like, “I know there’s this amazing woman who I want to spend time with who we get along and we understand, so it’s nice to step out of the DEO.”
Episode 5 was the one at the bar and I say to her, “Maybe there’s truth to what you said.” It was intense to be part of that journey and it was fun.
The other gorgeous moment was when Alex got kidnapped. That was my favorite moment. Do you have highlights?
A lot of them tie into Maggie. All the stuff with Jeremiah created this vulnerable experience for Alex. Having Maggie there was critical. When Alex breaks down with Kara thinking Maggie has rejected her, when Alex broke down with Maggie. There were all these beautiful moments with strong women around her that helped her in her most dire moments, it was such a beautiful progression.
I have so many moments. It’s changed my life for the better.
Why are people taking to the story between Alex and Maggie, and even the whole Supergirl story?
There are a lot of strong women out there which is incredible and empowering. There’s something so authentic about Kara and Alex. Kara is adopted, and that right there is something. All the trauma she’s gone through, for kids and adults who have been in that realm and to see that portrayed with the struggle, people relate to that. They relate to the morality issues. To see someone so conflicted about the way she has to handle certain things makes her relatable.
Same with Alex. When you spend so much time caring for other people and never step into understanding who you are, people relate to that too. Those things that didn’t click before is incredible, and that’s something people relate to. This is a character that isn’t coming into the show established as being gay. Maggie walks in and everyone knows. Alex is having moments. The ones where you see her putting the pieces together, as heartbreaking and liberating as they might be, are still part of this journey that she is figuring out and is almost thrown into.
Navigating that, Alex is giving people hope, and that’s driving people to love the show so much because our show has such a tremendous heart. There are infinite stories that we can put out that people can relate to.
What more would you like to learn about Alex because there’s so much more we can learn from her about her?
One of the things I look forward to is the dynamic between Kara, Alex and John which was such a huge evolution last year. I think it got lost this year in the mix, but even the fact we never got to see a conversation between John and Alex about her being gay. There are so many things that can be something we hopefully visit next season.
The Supergirl Season 2 finale airs tonight on The CW.