Joy and hope fuel new Supergirl

Melissa Benoist gets to explore both the goofy and the tough sides of Supergirl
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Melissa Benoist gets to explore both the goofy and the tough sides of Supergirl

Superheroes are so dramatic; dark, brooding heroes battling past demons, being crushed by the fact that "with great power, comes great responsibility".

But if there's one thing Melissa Benoist (Glee, Whiplash) brings to the role of Supergirl in TVNZ's new imported American drama it's pure, unabashed enthusiasm.

Kara Zor-El, aka Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl fetches coffee for a high-powered boss at her media job, does online dating, eats in front of the television and just hangs out.

She is not a spy, killer, seductress, or by any means a bad-ass - and when she is, she flaps her arms and squeals with self-congratulatory excitement.

And Benoist is just as excited as her character. When asked how it's all going, she says: "I'm having the time of my life".

"Once I finally [got the role], I just had this huge sense of relief, like; 'oh my gosh, you worked your butt off for this and it's finally happening'. It's been pretty surreal," she says.

The new TV series starts out with Supergirl's origins story, explaining how Kara Zor-El was despatched to Earth at the same time as her famous cousin Superman - but was lost in the Phantom Zone where time stops, thus delaying her arrival to a time when Superman is already a hero.

We follow her alter-ego, Kara Danvers, as a grown woman through her daily life - working, dating, friendships - until she embraces her powers and sets out on a heroes' path. And she's pleased as punch about it, too.

"There's romance, humour, the office workplace where she's figuring out her day-to-day life as a human, then there's crime fighting and the action - I'm not going to lie, there's a lot, and it's awesome," says Benoist.

Benoist's Supergirl is earnest and enthusiastic - a welcome change from the dark, brooding heroes currently in the market.
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Benoist's Supergirl is earnest and enthusiastic - a welcome change from the dark, brooding heroes currently in the market.

She describes Kara as "extremely uncomfortable in her own skin, very shy and awkward and a bit of a wallflower".

"And when she becomes Supergirl and gets to use her power, she's this joyful being and I think she wants to spread love and share some of that with the world. I find her to be a rebel. Really tough and strong and hopeful - she has a lot of guts."

And she needs it - both of them do. Comic book fans are already rising up to see how Benoist's Supergirl will play out.

"There are so many people and they're true, true fans and that's an awesome thing. There's a lot of pressure, sure, but you have to take it in the best way possible. It's such a rare thing to be in the position I'm in now and I'm just trying to soak that all up."

And if there wasn't enough pressure already, Supergirl is also the first lead female superhero we've had since Wonderwoman was on screen in the 1970s.

Fans are already evaluating the representations of female characters on the show and even counting the number of scenes that pass the Bechdel test - where two women in a scene share a conversation about something other than a man (there are seven, by the way), and even a debate over whether the title Supergirl is "un-feminist" and should be replaced with Superwoman - a debate settled with a most on-the-nose but nonetheless fool-proof argument by her media-empire boss (Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart) in episode one.

But Benoist isn't getting distracted, choosing to let the character and story do the talking for her. "I think the pressure is there and it's real but that'll just push me to do the best job I can, really - just really bring it, and not disappoint," she says, unflustered. "I think it's beautiful and such a necessary thing right now, it's about time."

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Supergirl starts on TV2, tonight, 7.30pm.

 - Stuff

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