‘Supergirl’: Helen Slater Says This Hasn’t Changed for Melissa Benoist, But This Has

Helen Slater was the first actor to play Supergirl in a movie in 1984. 31 years later, Melissa Benoist played the modern day Supergirl on The CW. Benoist’s show is now in its fifth season and Slater plays her Earth mom. Having been in Supergirl for 35 years now, Slater has a unique perspective on how the superhero has evolved.

Melissa Benoist, Helen Slater and Chyler Leigh
L-R: Melissa Benoist,, Helen Slater and Chyler Leigh | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

Slater spoke at a Q&A after a 35th anniversary screening of Supergirl at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles in July. With her role on The CW series, Slater shared her observations on what’s changed and what’s still the same old thing she experienced in the ‘80s. Supergirl airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW.

Helen Slater sees Melissa Benoist do this the same way she did as Supergirl

Superman: The Movie promised, “You will believe a man can fly.” By the time a girl could fly, everyone believed it. Surprisingly, making Supergirl fly has not changed in 35 years. Melissa Benoist still has to hang on wires just like Helen Slater did.

“In fact, the special effects have not changed that much since 1982, or we were shooting in 1983,” Slater said. “Certainly the CGI, they can make Melissa Benoist now, she can pop in and out. That’s extraordinary how they can do the flying stuff but there’s still the wirework.”

Helen Slater in Supergirl
Helen Slater in Supergirl | | Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

Behind the scenes, cameras may have gotten smaller and they film a lot more on green screen stages, but some parts of filmmaking haven’t changed either.

“A friend of mine was telling me that this reminds me of this, that wirework hasn’t changed much and neither has sound,” Slater continued. “People in television probably know, like sound is still the same equipment as 30 years ago, 40 years, 50.”

On TV, Melissa Benoist just had to do it quicker

Helen Slater had months to train for Supergirl. When Melissa Benoist got the role she only had weeks. 

Melissa Benoist in Supergirl
Melissa Benoist as Supergirl vs. Red Tornado (Iddo Goldberg) | Darren Michaels//CBS via Getty Images

“I say this to everybody and I mean it with all my heart, she is one of the all time just incredibly kind, so dedicated hard working actresses,” Slater said. “She did not get the same training time. I think mine was three or four months. Hers was a much more truncated just because of the schedule but everybody on the crew loves her. She’s just got a kind word for everybody. I can’t say enough good things about her.”

Helen Slater did more than wirework to get in Supergirl shape

Helen Slater had the same trainer as Christopher Reeve to prepare her for Supergirl. The late Alf Joint trained supermen and superwomen. 

“I was maybe 118 pounds and I gained 20 pounds,” Slater said. “The way that he did that, it wasn’t just weight lifting. He had me do for almost four months of physical training, and it was trampolining and horseback riding and fencing and swimming and any kind of sporty thing that you could do, he would have me do and of course the wirework, training a lot with learning how to go up in the air into a somersault and swan dive and things like that.”

One thing has changed for Melissa Benoist’s ‘Supergirl’

As soon as Supergirl premiered it dealt with modern day feminist issues. Early episodes explored the way women are expected to express anger differently than men. Now the show can reflect the deeper sexism and abuse that’s entering the public discourse.

“There’s been so much more awareness since the #MeToo movement and all this wave of us waking up to a lot of issues that have always been going on for women,” Slater said. “I think we’re in a particular time. I have to say when I did Supergirl, that was not the number one thing in the forefront which I feel honestly a little embarrassed about.”

Helen Slater’s Supergirl did fend off some truck drivers who were trying to reach up her skirt. That was the extent of her film’s exploration of gender issues.

“Looking back on it, all these same things were still going on but it’s taken 20, 30 years and the fight continues even more than 30 years ago for this awareness of inequality, fair pay, all the things we know about,” Slater said. “For me it was more just this incredible thing of my life changed 100% and it changed for the better. It was an incredible adventure living in England for a year and just having an extraordinary wind at my back and doing this kind of part of being a superhero. That was pretty wild.”

The DC family has welcomed Helen Slater in every incarnation

Unfortunately there was no Supergirl 2 for Helen Slater. However, appearing on The CW’s series was not her first return to the DC world. She also appeared on Smallville.

Helen Slater
Helen Slater at Magic City Comic Con | Johnny Louis/FilmMagic

“Very fun to be asked to do the different parts,” Slater said. “I hope grandmother comes somewhere down the line. That’s the next one coming down. I think they’re so smart, not just publicity wise but it’s just so smart for people that love this genre and love the DC universe to see the actors showing up in the different parts. They got very smart about that. Greg Berlanti is just a super genius with just folding people in.”

Will she appear in this week’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover?

“I don’t know yet,” Slater said back in July.