Melissa Benoist explains why directing Supergirl's Lex-centric hour was 'daunting'
Supergirl definitely isn't complaining about her latest team-up with Lex Luthor.
This Sunday, The CW's Supergirl returns for the final run of season 5 with a Lex-centric episode that marks Melissa Benoist's long-awaited directorial debut. Benoist has been dying to get behind the camera since season 3, but wasn't able to until now because of scheduling conflicts. Luckily, it seems like it was well-worth the wait because she got to helm an episode that diverges from the show's usual structure and perspective, which she admits was initially quite daunting.
Cleverly titled "Deus Lex Machina," the flashback-heavy hour essentially starts on day one of the post-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" world and sheds light on all of Lex's (Jon Cryer) behind-the-scenes machinations we haven't been aware of — from manipulating Eve Teschmacher (Andrea Brooks) and his sister Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), to pitting Supergirl against Leviathan. In other words, it's very similar to season 4's "O Brother, Where Art Thou," except this time around the criminal mastermind is trying his hardest to keep his Kryptonian hatred in check so that he can focus on defeating Leviathan.
Below, Benoist walks EW through her experience in the director's chair, working with Cryer, and the challenges of handling such an exposition-heavy episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What jumped out at you from a directing perspective when you read the script for the first time?
MELISSA BENOIST: Considering it was the first time in the director's chair for me, I think I'd be remiss if I didn't say how terrified I was. That just went without saying, that I was scared, but reading it also had this thrilling aspect to it because I was going to get to be the one to visualize it and make sure the tone was coming across. I guess only since season 4, we've had these episodes that were a departure from the story and took a step back and gave us Lex Luthor's point of view, and this is one of those episodes. So, I couldn't believe how lucky I was that I got to be the teller of that particular story for our season, where we recap the entire season from Lex Luthor, Jon Cryer's eyes. And I was very excited to get to work with him closely in an actor-director relationship. Aside from the initial terror, and wondering whether or not I was capable of doing it, I was so excited and immediately just imagining what I wanted to do and thinking of shots.
How would you describe the tone of the episode?
Tonally, it's difficult on these kinds of shows when an episode is from the perspective of our, for lack of a better term, villain, and he is one of the ultimate villains in the DC Universe. So I wanted to keep the tone light enough while still having that dark, macabre Luthor feeling to it. I wanted it to still feel like an adventure, like an episode of Supergirl, and he was the hero for our episode, whether you hate him or not. But it's hard to hate Lex Luthor, he's so delicious.
By nature, this episode is very expository because it’s explaining the season from his perspective. What challenges came with that?
I'm glad you pointed that out because that exact point was the most challenging aspect and the most daunting one because there are a lot of time jumps that let the audience follow Lex as he [learns about Earth-Prime]. It starts the day after Crisis. So in the way that we had Kara Danvers wake up after Crisis in her loft and it was this new world, Earth-Prime, this is Lex's telling of that. So, we time jump a lot, there's a lot of exposition, exactly, a lot of themes that we had to catch people up on. So that was a little daunting to make sure that yes, it was expository and informing the audience what they needed to know to understand, but also keeping it moving and entertaining and not just feeling like an encyclopedia, if you will.
One thing that stood out to me when I watched it was that it’s mainly built around scenes in which Lex is having one-on-one conversations with someone like Eve and Lena, often manipulating them. What was it like to work with Jon on those scenes?
I mean, that was the dream. Working with Jon Cryer, I felt so spoiled rotten that he was the primary actor I was getting to work with, and the cast surrounding him too, because we get to see Eve Teschmacher and Lillian Luthor [Brenda Strong] make [their returns]. All these characters that kind of surround his orbit, they're all so deft when it comes to those kinds of scenes where it's really wordy and talkative. He's an evil genius and manipulative, so I had to really keep track of who he was manipulating when and for what reason [Laughs] to make sure that each scene was really clear where it fit into his master plans and where it was taking us, and how it affected the super friends. But working with him, he's just so smart and far more experienced than I as an actor. Honestly, I felt bad. I didn't feel like I really needed to give him that much direction. It was more just playing, which I loved, and that's part of the reason I love being an actor — when you get to really just bite into the words and what's on the page and really play, and there's no wrong answer within the arc you're telling.
The photos from the episode revealed that Kara and Lena finally share a scene together, which they haven’t done since the 100th episode. What can we expect from their interaction?
I don't know how much I can say about how Lena and Kara interact, but they do and it's the first time we've seen them interact in a while. I think people will be excited to see the scenes between Kara and Lena, and that Lena does play a big part, obviously, because this episode revolves around her brother. There's quite a bit of Lena Luthor in there.
Of course. David Ramsey, as well has been really helpful. These shows are so specifically involved as actors already, the schedules are grueling, we’re there so much and we all get to know these so well. we spent a lot of time with each other on a crossover, so I did get quite a bit of advice from David of course. He gave me book recommendations and just every day we would kind of talk, especially when he was directing. I got to watch him and he has such a great fun, positive directing vibe about him. I didn't get to talk to Katie Cassidy much about it, but everyone was very supportive and excited and everyone has great ideas.
How did you feel your experience as an actor influenced your directing approach?
Well, I think, just innately, we approach the script a certain way just without even thinking about it. Thinking about tonally what emotions are there or what is driving a character, our objectives and our goals. But more than that, just for this show specifically, I feel like it's become a second skin and I've spent so much time with the characters, not just the ones I play. So it’s almost a little unfair because since day one, I've just seen how each character's arc has progressed and changed, and grown. So that really informed my approach to it all. And really we all just want to tell good stories, and that was my main focus the whole time.
Supergirl airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on The CW.