Chyler Leigh talks 'Supergirl' and the importance of Alex Danvers' queerness
Supergirl has quietly become one of TV's most progressive shows. There are multiple reasons for this, including the show's inclusive approach to casting and parallels with modern immigration conversation in its alien stories. But the one that made the biggest news was Alex Danvers' coming out story.
When Chyler Leigh was first cast on the series, back when it aired on CBS, Alex Danvers was important primarily for her relationship with Supergirl herself — her sister, Kara Danvers. But upon the show's move to the CW for its second season, her story blossomed, with a coming out arc and a new relationship with a co-worker, Maggie, played by Floriana Lima.
The relationship has been a point of joy, and in Monday night's episode Alex and Maggie celebrated their first Valentine's Day.
Ahead of the episode, Leigh talked to Mic about Supergirl, Alex's coming out story, divisive responses and the importance of getting the character's queerness right. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mic: You've talked previously about all of the positive responses you've received to Alex's storyline. Have those continued to flow in, or has reaction gotten more divisive?
Chyler Leigh (CL): It's really been interesting: Because there's been so much positivity towards it, when there's a little bit more of a negative [reaction] ... it's been a challenge, in a good way. We're doing our jobs well. Not everyone is going to agree — clearly — and not everyone is going to be affected the same way.
Last season, people who were watching the show, they were watching it on CBS. We were the only show like that on the network. Being able to switch over to the CW gave us enough room to grow and explore storylines. ... That being the case, to be able to [execute] this storyline? We had a great opportunity to do it justice. Of course that's going to stir the pot.
What in particular about this story has stirred the pot?
CL: [Viewers] have been watching this show with their families, with their kids. Some of the responses we've gotten have been, "Well, we did watch with our young children, but now that this storyline has come up, we're not letting them watch anymore." What I've learned, even just for myself, is that it really creates an opportunity to open up a conversation that you might not normally have had with your kids, your friends or your family. People are getting less and less afraid of talking about it. Even if they haven't embraced it ... at least it's a conversation we're having.
I have three kids. My son, who's 13 now, he sat down with me and watched every single episode last season. He was so excited to watch everything this season, and I had to preface. I had to say, "You know, buddy, there's a different storyline now. This is what's going on." At first, he was questioning why they would do that, and it was an opportunity for me to say that this is where we are in the world. You're going to become exposed to that earlier, because people are having that conversation earlier. It allowed me to help him open up and see a bigger perspective — a bigger picture.
You can't make everyone happy, but I know we've made a heck of a lot more people happy than we have unhappy. That's what I'm focused on.
In the sixth episode of the season, which features Alex coming out to Kara, the younger sister mentions their sharing of secrets when they were both kids, but notes that the sharing was always about Kara's superhero secrets, and there was "no space" for Alex's. What do you make of that parallel between the superhero's journey and Alex's journey out of the closet?
CL: A lot of that was very thematic last season with Kara. Last season was her coming out, and this year has been Alex's. There is a part of all of us that can relate to hiding a piece of ourselves that we don't want to be judged. We don't want to be rejected, and we bury things. Sometimes, the people that we're closest to are the hardest ones to talk to.
The message that I've been getting to a lot of girls and guys who have messaged me — specifically on Twitter, which has been amazing — is just fear of, "What if I tell my mother and she's disappointed in me?" At the end of the day, you are the only person who's stuck with yourself. No matter what, you're always going to have you. So if you don't work hard enough on accepting yourself and loving yourself, then you're opening yourself up, in a way, to push those people away.
You've mentioned in previous interviews about wanting to do this story right. What's the importance of that for you?
CL: The timing. Alex is coming to this realization later in her life, in her late 20s. ... A lot of, particularly lesbian, characters on TV have always been [identified as] lesbian. They walk in and are introduced as such. Even the Maggie character, she is openly gay when she walks in. [Alex] is a girl who was introduced, and now you're seeing her development.
I'm getting thousands of messages — no exaggeration, thousands — and I'm just going, "Holy smokes!" It's incredibly humbling to me, and it's a challenge.
There was a lot of criticism of another CW show, The 100, which killed off a beloved queer female character last year. It was part of a disturbing trend of shows killing off queer women. So I'm not surprised to hear you got thousands of messages because I think there's a need for a positive story like Alex and Maggie's.
CL: That's the thing, and it's such a misnomer: Lesbian relationships can be healthy too. If you're in a queer relationship, it doesn't mean that you're going to be struggling the entire time you're together. You can be just as happy and healthy as anybody else. It does a real disservice to those who are in healthy relationships that go, "Huh. That doesn't really represent me." ... It's really important to see that it's not necessarily a struggle.
What has it been like interacting with the fans who reach out to you?
CL: When I meet fans, or when I get messages from people, my first response is: OK, how can I encourage this person despite where they're at? I've heard some really gnarly, heartbreaking stories. I've read them, and I've literally wept. That's who I am, and I can't help that. So I want to help. It's an opportunity for me to help people. I'm not trying to save the world, but I have the heart of a mom. I feel a responsibility to do it right. I'm gonna cry, but I'll try not to. I'm such a baby. But it's incredibly important to me, and hopefully to others as well.
Can you give us any inkling or preview of what fans should look forward to for the rest of the season?
CL: Life is never easy, and it has lots of twists and turns. It's all about finding the right people to be on the journey with. ... The last several episodes of this season, they're big ones. I think people are going to be really excited.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern.
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