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Melissa Benoist on Playing ‘Supergirl’: ‘She’s the Annie Hall of Superheroes’

“Glee” showed us she can sing and she can dance — and now on CBS’ “Supergirl,” Melissa Benoist is going to prove to the world that she can fly, too.

“If we had not found her, I would have said ‘I don’t want to make this,'” says executive producer Greg Berlanti of Benoist, who was casting director David Rappaport’s pick for the role. Like Stephen Amell (“Arrow”) and Grant Gustin (“The Flash”) before her, he had her audition first to signal she was The One.

It worked — and Benoist landed one of the most coveted roles of pilot season. Here, she talks to Variety about the “surreal” feeling of playing a female superhero.

How do you get the role of Supergirl?

I believe I was the first girl they saw. I think the same went for Grant. Ten auditions later, three screen tests later, two and a half months later… I got the call. Greg championed me the whole time and was in my corner. Even when I didn’t think the part was mine, he was always rooting for me. That support goes a long way, especially when I’m fighting for something I want so badly. His belief in me really touched me.

Why did you want the part?

Not only because she’s a strong female and a female hero which I think is so important and will speak to so many people at this time right now in the world. I also was so drawn to her humanity, even though she is an extraterrestrial with powers. I was drawn to how flawed and complicated she is. She’s more complicated than you see in superheroes nowadays. Greg breathed that life into her from the get-go. He even said to me in one of the auditions, “She’s like the Annie Hall of superheroes” — and that sealed the deal for me. I was like, yes!

What did that mean to you?

Just that she is quirky and eccentric and intelligent and on this journey of self-discovery. She’s figuring out how to be a woman and the difficulties of that.

What it’s like working with Berlanti?

From the second I started auditioning for him, the kindness, the passion, and the intelligence just radiates off this man. He’s really an inspiration. It’s such a rough business to work in. Sometimes there are some bad eggs and people who don’t have their priorities set straight and he really does. He’s focused and driven and above all kind. It’s a dream to work for him.

How did you feel when the pilot got picked up?

Elated! I was on cloud nine. I kind of had an instinct that it would be (picked up) because we all worked so hard and Greg brings so much passion it’s really infectious. Everyone working under Greg busts their butts, so I was like, it’s going to happen. So when it did, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with it. I wish I could have really flown away and done some somersaults in the air.

Do you have any ideas where the show is going creatively?

I have a few ideas. I know generally who the big bad villain is. I know about Supergirl’s relationships. The whole team has given me a lot of freedom to create her as my own.

Do you feel any pressure?

Of course I do, but not in a negative way. I’m not necessarily a person who works well under pressure. But in this situation, I am so excited about it. I’m not going to let myself doing anything less than what I think people will want to see.

What does it feel like to play a superhero?

Not like what you would expect! There are the moments you feel like a badass and you feel empowered. You feel strong and confident. But I have to say there are moments when I step back and look at the bigger picture and I’m on the set with fire and explosions and I’m in the suit and I’ll have to do a doubletake and be like, “What am I doing?” This is hilarious and surreal and amazing.

Are you doing any of your own stunts?

A lot of them. My stunt double is amazing, Shauna Duggins. She is incredibly talented. There are some stunts that she does that I would never try. But I have been doing a lot and I want to keep doing them. Already I’ve fought a male on the show. Supergirl’s fight moves are boxing. She’s really heavy-handed. There’s some flying that involves kicking and punching mid-flight that’s kind of awesome.

What kind of training have you had to do?

Lots! The wirework for training is mostly core work. It’s mostly ab-centric — the whole area of the body that nobody wants to work out. You have to get strong. You have to carry your whole body weight when you’re up in the air.

Where do you see your career in five years?

I can only hope that I’m still doing things that inspire me as much as this does and things that I’ve been lucky enough to do so far. I never imagined myself getting a role like this. My 5-year-old self would be running up and down screaming if she knew this was going to happen.

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