Tonight, Supergirl is back from its mini-break, with the 14th episode titled “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. The episode was directed by the talented Lexi Alexander who is no stranger to the world of superheroes as she directed the 2008 Punisher film, Punisher: War Zone and recently directed Arrow’s 4th episode of the new season titled “Beyond Redemption”. Now she is joining the world of Kara Zor-El as the Girl of Steel faces new challenges in this week’s episode.
Heroic Hollywood was recently honored to chat with Alexander about her episode in depth, what went into it after having directed Arrow, what the show means for her as well as get a different perspective on the separation between the DC TV shows and the DC Films.
Heroic Hollywood’s Andy Behbakht: After having directed an episode of Arrow [Season 4, Episode 4 “Beyond Redemption”] last year: what were the biggest differences in directing Supergirl aside from the tone differences, with this show being a lot brighter while Arrow’s tone is darker?
Lexi Alexander: I think the biggest difference is that Arrow was in its fourth season when I came on whereas Supergirl is in its first season and they are still developing [its tone]. Where is she going, what is her fighting style like? Even in terms of her character journey and also, coming on to the show where the whole story is about a stronger woman. The show-runners who hired me knowing that I’m a former stunt-woman and martial artist champion and I think they got really excited of me shaping a lot of what her future holds. I’m usually not allowed to do that, so I think that was the biggest difference [between directing Arrow and Supergirl]. I’m not sure if I will ever be allowed to, it was just a very neat tiny coincidence that I got to come on the first season of Supergirl.
H.H.: To follow-up with that aspect, because that’s the great thing with season one of any TV show, there is a lot more room for tone change as you go along: do you feel that with your episode, this is sort of the beginning of fleshing out the overall tone of the series from not just being a bright show, but also explore its maturity?
L.A.: Yeah, I think again, as a director, I don’t make the big decisions on tone and character. That’s still up to the writers. But they are figuring out how it balances with her feminine side, for example. So when they make a decision, like her fighting could become a little bit stronger, she could become a little bit more bad-ass in the delivery of her strength. That’s where I was able to say “OK, how about this?” or “how about that?” I think they’ll continue to figure that out and develop that, and that’s the beauty about a show that has just started, but also you’ve to understand, we haven’t had a female superhero show on TV for a very long time. So they’ll continue to work on it and I think that’s really beautiful that we’re continuing to grow with this character which is really neat. Because I think a lot of teenagers, both male and female, are fans of her because she is still trying to figure stuff out.
H.H: With the action background that you have, how was it directing action scenes on Supergirl that features more special effects as opposed to on Arrow where a lot of it is grounded and on a street level?
L.A.: It was interesting: the visual effects were certainly interesting to involve with the fighting so I had to think around that. I wanted to make sure that I don’t get a fight scene or that I don’t rely on a fight scene that only goes with visual effects. Lucky for me, the show-runner gave me a lot of freedom so you will actually see her quite grounded. She’ll still use her super-powers, but I think we’ll get to a point where she doesn’t only need to rely on them, so that’s pretty neat. I love a lot about the visual effects on this show even though I have worked with it multiple times. But that was an interesting lesson for me in how visual effects have to be done on a show like Supergirl, so I picked up on a lot. I learned a lot in visual effects on this particular episode.
H.H.: I know you’ve talked a lot about how Andrew Kreisberg [Executive producer and show-runner on Supergirl and the DC CW shows] got you involved very quickly after you did Arrow. What has been your best experience in working with Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and all the people involved with those DC shows?
L.A.: I’ve never met Greg Berlanti, I only know Andrew Kreisberg and he has been a great experience for me to work with. It’s really a difference when someone hires you who also 100% believes in you. Often times in movies, I’ve been hired, but people have been doubtful or worried that I would mess it up and that’s not a good environment to work in. But when somebody hires you and hires you quickly for the second time because they believe you are a great director, it’s such a boost to your self-esteem that I think my directing itself was so much better than anything else I have done. I needed someone to believe in me, and I said this recently to someone else that interviewed me who asked if I would also do any of the other shows [The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow]. To be honest, my goal is to not direct every single superhero show in Hollywood. But I can tell you this that when Andrew calls, it will be very hard for me to say no to anything because of who he is and what he has done for my career.
H.H.: Something that I remembered from your Arrow episode was this very emotional scene, between Oliver Queen and Quentin Lance when they had their big heart-to-heart moment. Without spoiling anything, is there a similar moment in your episode of Supergirl?
L.A.: Yes! Yes there is! I can’t talk about it, but we really see Supergirl have an emotional moment and emotional speech. I can tell you that I cried on every take, she [Melissa Benoist] is such a great actress, I’m crying just thinking about it! She is so good and I don’t get why I always get these episodes where I’m supposed to have this superhero fun and action and then somehow I have that one scene where it’s super-super deep. I’m actually right now getting ready to direct an episode of Limitless and believe it or not, but this will be the first time where I have more of actions scenes than deep emotional scenes. I think this is going to be the only thing that’s just fun. But both Supergirl and Arrow surprised me by having these very deep emotional scenes in them.
H.H.: Speaking of Supergirl herself, I know you have spoken very well about Melissa Benoist, what has it been working with this cast as well as working with the great cast on Arrow been for you? What was the fondest memory you had working with these group of people?
L.A: The fondest memory overall is that every single one of them was kind to me, really kind, to the point where they send me messages, still today. Just saying how wonderful it was to work with me and how they miss me. You don’t always work with all of them all at once, you work with them more individually from scene to scene, but I have different fond memories with almost every one of them. Calista [Flockhart, who plays Cat Grant] was a big highlight because Ally McBeal was one of my favorite shows and that was a big show for me, so walking in and working with one of my own idols was big. She is so down to earth and such an acting genius and so kind, she’s just so nice! That was, for me, especially neat to work with someone that I actually was quite star-struck to meet, but of course I couldn’t show that and I didn’t show that [laughs] But deep inside, I was going “Oh my god, it’s Calista Flockhart!”
H.H.: Can you talk about getting to direct Cat Grant scenes, did you get to do any powerful and funny scenes with her, because that’s a character that is a force to be reckoned with.
L.A.: Well it’s very interesting, this is a very big ensemble cast situation, I can’t give too much away. I think and I’m sure she has episodes when her part is much bigger, but I can tell you that the couple of scenes that did have her in it was quite genius.
H.H.: Now, your episode is going to be introducing two DC Comics characters, with Italia Ricci who will eventually become the Silver Banshee, but I know Master Jailer is a big part in this episode. We’ve seen official photos of what he looks like and there are some chains involved in their fight scenes. Can you talk about how you got to bring this character to life, put your take on him and tease his part in this episode?
L.A.: Well I can only say things that other people on the show have already revealed and I remember that Andrew revealed that it’s all going to be about chains, lots of chains and that’s one of Master Jailer’s super-weapons. There’s going to be a lot of that and other than that, I don’t know how many people know of his backstory, but he believes in putting people in prison and if nobody does it, he’ll eventually do it. It’s quite interesting and he is an interesting antagonist to get to play with.
H.H.: Social Media has become a powerful tool to connect with your audience; how has that been for you, is there a particular moment that really connected with you between you and a particular fan or follower?
L.A.: Yeah that’s the great thing, I can meet all of you guys online now and this wouldn’t have happened before Twitter and stuff. I think that’s really neat and Supergirl is something very important to me for several reasons, not only because I worked on it and have friends on it. As a woman, I really want to have a female superhero on TV as well, in the lead, not just as part of an ensemble cast. It’s important to me that we get to bring her back and that she has many seasons, not just one. That’s why I like talking about the show and I try to live-tweet on Mondays because I think it takes a lot of us to participate. There’s a lot of competition out there these days, Monday night is X-Files night currently, so I’m trying to involve everybody and get everybody in front of the TV live, like actually live for that moment so it counts for the numbers. The network will still count who is actually watching it live.
H.H.: As a fan of Supergirl, what have you enjoyed the most about the show and the story they are telling with Kara and all of these characters?
L.A.: I like her relationship with Cat a lot because there is a Yoda/Mr. Miyagi thing going on that isn’t fairly obvious. It’s weird because they seem to not respect and like each other, but in reality, they are mentor/student and I think that is so uniquely written. I love the sister relationship and I really love that Hank turned into the Martian Manhunter.
H.H.: You spoke very highly of David Harewood, and I don’t know if you got to direct any scenes of him as Martian Manhunter, but did you get to see the costume while you were on set?
L.A.: No, unfortunately not, but I’m going to have to insist that if they call me back that I get a Martian Manhunter scene! [laughs]
H.H.: Now, if this is OK for me to ask, because I have heard your opinion about the DC Films not going with the same actors from the television shows like with Grant Gustin’s Flash, Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl and so on. I was wondering if you could expand your thoughts on that subject. What are your pros/cons with the shows not sharing the same universe as the films?
L.A.: I don’t like the idea of, what it feels to me, is inequality, which I’m a huge opponent of. Whether it’s in schools, countries that have money, countries that have no money, I just don’t like inequality. I don’t think it’s a progressive way that human beings should behave. In our industry, sometimes, it comes in weird little ways and one way is, you have a The Flash TV show and people work incredibly hard [on it]. The writers, the show-runners, the actors work very hard and then the same studio decides “Oh, we should also do a movie, but we get new writers, a new director and a new actor for it” and they, unlike the TV show, get a hundred million dollars more.
It may be a good idea, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea: it’s just really unfair because there are these people working very hard making miracles for the money, time and resources that they have and now you are just throwing money at a bigger version. It’s like you are telling the people in the little tiny fish boat, “Oh, we’re going to go out fishing for the same fish, but we have a yacht!” and that to me is what is so unfair. I don’t think people always understand that and who knows, maybe TV and movie business is not about unfairness, I guess. Most people would say “who cares if it’s unfair?”, but it bothers me and I think it’s a weird slap in the face of the people who work so hard to bring these shows alive.
H.H.: Following up with that, we are living in a golden age of television where the budgets, the quality and writing has become on pair with movie quality, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Flash and so many more. But yet it still feels that the movie industry isn’t truly acknowledging to that – why do you think that is the case?
L.A: Well I think they are stuck in this world where they are on the upper class flight, they are still stuck in that place, they haven’t really come to the realization that TV writers actually belong there too. So what’s even more unfair about it is that the TV people are actually better, but they still have to do 24 episodes so they only get $2-3 million to produce per episodes, if even that. Some of the TV shows that have been on for a while get like $2 million per episode. How are they going to compete with hundred million dollars produced movies? It’s probably because of their great TV shows that many people will go see the movies. I just find that so strange that the studios would even have this world exist where you basically spit these hard working people in the face. It’s true that movies are better, but they are stuck in it because when you make a movie about The Flash, it’s also a brand! A lot of people go and it will make money so you can’t really say that financially, they are stupid. We’re all going, we are all buying a ticket and we’ll be going, but maybe we should start become more picky with that, you know?
H.H.: With the success of something like Supergirl, we’re seeing the want for more female superhero shows and movies. If we just focus on TV specifically, a lot of people want more female superhero lead shows, like maybe a Birds of Prey show for example. Let’s say that you happen to get a phone call one day from Andrew Kreisberg asking if you would want to be involved with a show like that as not just a director, but a show-runner, producer and leading it? Would you want to be involved on a more frequent basis with a female DC TV show?
L.A.: Oh yes, especially when Andrew calls because I trust him so yes, I would not say no to that, to anything that he would involve me in on. He is a great person to work with. It’s more questionable if a movie studio would call me and ask “Would you want to do a Birds of Prey movie?” That I would think about and I’m not sure if I would ever say yes. But anything like that to show-run a show like that or even produce/direct, I would be there in a second.
You can follow Lexi Alexander on Twitter @LexiAlex and don’t miss her Supergirl episode which is titled “Truth, Justice and the American Way” which airs tonight at 8/7c on CBS!