Melissa Benoist Shares the Secrets of Her ‘Supergirl’ Directorial Debut

Supergirl - Melissa Benoist directing
Kailey Schwerman/The CW

It’s official: There is nothing Melissa Benoist can’t do. She acts, she sings, she flies… and now she directs.

The Supergirl star planted her feet firmly on the ground and behind the camera to helm the May 3 episode, “Deus Lex Machina,” a clever, smartly paced, and emotional hour in which we get to see exactly why the world thinks Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) is a hero by retracing his underhanded antics since the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Along the way, there is a SuperCorp situation that tears at the heartstrings, a deception of murderous proportions, and the return of a martian we really hoped would stick around longer.

Here, the endlessly sunny (and possibly superhuman) Benoist — who is expecting her first child with husband Chris Wood [Mon-El] — opens up about the terror of making her directorial debut, the joy of working with her on-set family and how she is spending her time now that production has wrapped on the season.

Hey Melissa!  There’s so many things we need to congratulate you on. First, the wedding, then the baby, and now your directorial debut. What a great year!

Melissa Benoist: [Laughs] A lot is happening.

And honestly, I feel like you got one of the last good ones. That guy, Chris Wood, wow. I talked to him maybe last year for [his mental health initiative] I Don’t Mind and yeah…

He’s a really good egg. Yeah, he’s got an amazing heart. [Laughs]

And how are you feeling? You’re pretty far along by now, right?

I’m getting there. Yeah. I feel good. It’s a weird time to be pregnant for sure. But I’m hanging in and I’m not the only one, I’m not alone, so that’s comforting to know.

Supergirl - Melissa Benoist directing

Katie Yu/The CW

So with this directorial thing, when did you start working on this episode?

It was a bit after the crossover. I started working on this directly after the Christmas hiatus, after the holidays. So in January, I got my script, I started prepping, and then we kind of rolled right into it.

Had you done the Warner Bros. director program like Katie Cassidy and Caity Lotz?

Yeah, I didn’t get to do the Warner Brothers one, but I got to do the DGA course, which I thoroughly enjoyed and really learned a lot from. And then I had shadowed one of our resident directors, our producing-director, Jesse Warn. And then obviously, just knowing that I was going to this, day in, day out, I was really paying a lot more attention than I normally would on set to everyone that directed before me this season.

Was this something that you’d wanted to do for a while?

You know what, I actually wanted to do it in Season 4 and I couldn’t because I ended up going to New York to do Beautiful on Broadway. So that kind of got in the way because I wasn’t able to take the course and I wasn’t able to shadow. So we postponed it until Season 5 … It’s been a long time coming!

Supergirl - Melissa Benoist directing David Harewood

Katie Yu/The CW

And this episode lets you do everything. You get to have the great action stuff, there’s personal stuff and dramatic moments… you even get to use flashbacks and incorporate the past to fill in some blanks.  What did you think when you got this script?

Aside from feeling sheer terror? [Laughs] I was very, very scared by it and very intimidated. It was also simultaneously really exciting and thrilling to read. I think some of our best episodes on Supergirl are when we get to see Lex. We’ve done this once before in Season 4 with Red Daughter, where we caught up with Lex and what he’s been doing. It’s really like he’s the hero of the episode, so I was so excited that I got one of those. And that I got to work with Jon Cryer so closely. It’s a huge episode. We go all over the world. We are in outer space. There’s action, there’s tons of emotion… unspoken and spoken.

There’s an amazing scene between you and Katie McGrath that is painful to watch. The tension between Kara and Lena… you want these two to work it out, but where they stand right now, they can’t. I was like “Oh my God, this is heartbreaking.”

Yeah. On top of everything that’s going on with Lex and every which way that he’s manipulating people, I did feel like I got this scene that was the crux of this battlefield these two women have been on this entire Season 5. It was like the balancing of the teeter-totter, that one singular moment, wasn’t it?

I don’t want either of them to be wrong, because I can see Lena’s side, we’ve all been hurt like that. But then I can also see Kara’s side and I definitely see Supergirl’s side… if you’re going to act like a villain, you’re a villain!

Yeah, I know! [Laughs]

Supergirl - Melissa Benoist directing Jon Cryer

Kailey Schwerman/The CW

How was it directing Cryer?

A dream. I could not have even imagined that my first experience of directing an episode of television was going to be working so closely with Jon Cryer, who I adore to begin with just working with him as an actor on the show. He is someone who has so much more experience than me in this business, he so knowledgeable and such a smart, intuitive actor. He does his work. He loves playing this character. I felt spoiled. I really did.

How difficult was it to edit the episode? It must have been impossible to pick between two or three takes with him.

Yeah, that was very difficult and even while we were shooting, I knew it was going to be. He plays and every take is different and when he finds the pocket of where he wants to be, he’s so [focused]. He also takes direction. He is intelligent enough to really internalize anything anyone says to him and even though it was daunting to give him direction, it was so fun because he was like a lump of clay. He was so great about it. But it did make editing very difficult and I have to say the moments that we chose were for very specific reasons… he just knocked it out of the park.

Paul Wesley just directed last week’s Batwoman and we were talking about the idea of actors getting to direct actors. That must be heaven for the cast because you have that shorthand.

Yes. Paul and I were directing at the same time in Vancouver, so I saw him when he was directing that episode. I actually tend to find myself as an actor gravitating towards the directors who are also actors or were actors before. Those are typically the ones that I find myself working the best with and understanding their direction. And yes, it’s because you know how the work is approached from the other side. And I hope that everyone felt that way.

It’s a great episode. It’s got all the heart that Supergirl has always had. It’s got the adventure. It’s so cool to be watching it and thinking, “Oh, this is actually through the eyes of Supergirl.”

And that was really important to me to convey. I’m so lucky that I’ve had this experience and that for five years now, which a big chunk of my life, it’s been so meaningful to me. It’s almost like a second skin to me now, these characters. And because this episode doesn’t really focus on the characters that I play, I didn’t want to lose the sense that it was an episode of Supergirl. It just was a different hero for this episode. And I still wanted that tone.

Supergirl - Melissa Benoist directing

Katie Yu/The CW

You also got to direct a scene in the apartment with Chyler [Leigh, Alex] and whenever you guys are on the couch, that is honestly the beating heart of the show.

It feels that way to us, too.

And Chyler has always been your biggest fan, so was just cheering you on from the side?

Everyone was so supportive. I feel so fortunate because it’s not always true that casts get along as well as ours does or as close with their crew as we are. It really is a big happy family. It is a very idyllic place and I feel really fortunate in that respect. I felt support from all sides.

Chris directed you and Carlos Valdes (Cisco, The Flash) in a short, right?

Yes. That was a year previously, but it went to the HollyShorts Film Festival this year.

So is that next for you? A short film?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I definitely want to keep directing, whether it’s on Supergirl or somewhere else. I really, really enjoyed it and was so fulfilled by it creatively.

Ok so how many hyphenates do we have now? We have actress-singer-director-mother-wife-and-advocate. I hope this lockdown is your chance to take a pause!

Yes, that is happening. I’m watching a lot of TV and hanging out with my dog…kind of what we’re all trying to do. Oh, and I’m cooking a lot. Do you know Milk Bar in Los Angeles? Christina Tosi [the owner and chef] has an amazing website full of recipes, so I’m kind of baking my way through her desserts. [Laughs]

Supergirl, Sundays, 9/8c, The CW