Family is important to Chyler Leigh. Fittingly, it’s also really important to Alex Danvers, her character on The CW’s Supergirl. As Kara Zor-El’s adoptive sister, Alex has been the Girl of Steel’s most important connection to her family here on Earth. However, that dynamic is set to change with the long-awaited return of Jeremiah Danvers in tonight’s pivotal new episode, “Homecoming.” Played by Lois and Clark’s Dean Cain, the girls’ once presumed dead father returns to his family and the D.E.O. But while the Danvers may be thrilled, others who are close to them are a bit more suspicious.
We recently spoke to Leigh about Jeremiah’s return, as well as how she feels about Supergirl’s willingness to tackle social issues this season—including Alex’s recent coming out—and whether we’ve seen the last of Alex the action hero. (In short, no way!)
For Alex, what sort of feelings does Jeremiah’s return provoke?
From the beginning, the hope was always there that he was going to be alive. That was always something that Alex was striving for—to find out what happened, the why behind the what. When it was revealed in earlier episodes that he was alive, then it really started driving her. So when she sees him [in “Homecoming”], when he comes into the D.E.O., it’s this really great moment where she comes running in and there he is 30 feet away. It’s a moment that was over ten years in the making for her, and in it, you’re seeing the young Alex again. It’s in her eyes.
You just want to believe your dad is the best. You want to believe he’s right, and that he reflects all those wonderful, positive memories you have. She so badly wants to believe in him, but then when things start to arise that are questionable and you see that there’s something wrong with this picture, it leads to the sort of realization where you’re suddenly going, “Ohhhh…crap.”
Do you think family tends to blind these characters a bit?
Absolutely. Alex, Kara and J’onn are characters that love fiercely, and that being the case, if there’s something that happens in between them, the anger they experience is very intense. The love is very genuine. That’s just who Alex is. She’s not wishy-washy about anything. She’s in it for the long haul.
So seeing that, it creates tension between Alex and Kara when Kara steps back a little bit with the help of Mon-El, who’s really not emotionally invested in it. Mon-El is the one who says, “Let’s really put this together because if you think about all these things, something’s not adding up.”
It puts a rift between Kara and Mon-El, until she starts to see what he’s seeing. Then she steps back a little bit and when she approaches Alex about it, Alex just says no. There’s a great scene where Alex says that you’re either a part of the family or you’re not. It’s heavy. It’s a heavy episode.
We’ve seen just little bits of CADMUS so far. Do we see more of them in this episode?
Oh, you see it.
How nasty are they?
They’re pretty nasty! Alex is just hellbent on making Lillian Luthor pay because of what she’s done to Jeremiah. She’s determined to really do some damage. You get to see parts of CADMUS. You see that world.
This season, Supergirl really seems to be addressing some social issues through the guise of clever storytelling. How do you feel about that and how has it been for you as an actor? Your character is pretty much in the center of all of it.
I think that’s one thing that really sets our show apart, we do take on these social issues. It’s still in the comic book realm, but at the same time, it’s very relevant to what’s happening in the world today. There’s an episode coming up called “Exodus” and it’s really addressing the issue of immigration through the aliens on the show and how they’re not wanted on the planet. It’s very current.
Then there’s obviously the storyline with Alex and Maggie. The community and the people that we’re reaching and touching [with that storyline] is unbelievable. There’s just been such an overwhelmingly positive response towards that. I think to honestly portray that relationship in a comic book show, you’re crossing so many genres and uniting people that may not have had that commonality. But people are hearing about it and deciding to check out Supergirl to see what everyone’s talking about. I think that’s just such an incredible quality for us to have. You have the action and all of that, but then you have such depth with these characters. There’s so much heart on this show, and so much of that is driven by Kara and being as genuine and authentic as she is and what she strives for. We have something really unique, and I realize that.
One thing I’ve observed is that in season one, Kara was the inspiration at the show’s heart. Young girls in particular would just go crazy over her. But I feel like this season, a lot of those inspirational qualities have shifted to you, and it’s a different underserved audience that’s responding. How has that been for you?
It’s been a very emotional journey. It really has been. I’m learning a lot about myself as a person and an actress. Alex was so guarded last season. You really only saw her get vulnerable in those moments with Kara or J’onn. This season, for Alex to be so vulnerable and really have to come to grips with a lot of things about herself through this Maggie storyline, it was actually somewhat uncomfortable for me to even step into Alex’s shoes like that. The dialog was actually kind of hard because I wasn’t used to saying things like that as Alex. But the great thing about that is that it translated really well because Alex was also struggling to get those words out of her mouth.
It’s an amazing movement. That’s really what we created—this “Sanvers” movement has taken off. Just to be on that journey and to help as many people as we’re helping… I’ve been married for a long time and we have three kids. My time with my family is very precious, and being on a show like this with the amount of time that I spend on set, it’s hard to balance that. So I have to know that what I’m working on is worth it, and the fact that this has turned into what it is and that I can speak to people through what I’m doing and encourage people that desperately need encouragement, it’s kind of like I get to be a mom at home and I get to be a mom through this as well. That’s so fulfilling and satisfying to me, and makes me feel like what I’m doing is making a difference. I see thousands of messages on Twitter and Instagram. People are just pouring out where they’re at and just relating to it. People are saying that they never would have thought to watch a comic book show, but now they love it because of how real it is, despite all the aliens, explosions and super powers!
That’s actually another part of it that I’m really grateful for. You don’t need to have super powers to be a hero. What’s so cool about Alex is that she’s an original character. We had a lot of fun figuring out who she is and what she could do. I’m a little lady, but I can kick some ass. It showed me what I’m capable of physically. It’s pushed me in a lot of ways.
That actually segues perfectly into my last question. I’ve always really liked how much of a physical force Alex is on the show despite not being super powered. That’s one of the great things about Supergirl—the action on the show doesn’t just focus on Supergirl. Can we hope for more of that from Alex? I know lately her focus has been on her relationship with Maggie.
Yeah, I was actually a bit concerned about that. I didn’t want to lose that side of Alex, her integrity regarding how hard she works at what she does and the fact that she can genuinely kick some ass. I think that just shows her strength, not just from an emotional standpoint, but a conviction standpoint. And yeah, also a physical standpoint. I love the stunts. I do as many of them as I possibly can—or as many as they’ll let me do. I’m just not like that in real life. I’m at home being a mom, and then all of a sudden I get in my D.E.O. outfit, I get the gun on my hip, and there’s something that just brings out that confidence in me that I didn’t really know I had.
When I first got cast on the show, I was kind of like, “Really? You want me?” But then stepping into the role, I realized that I’m very deeply rooted in Alex because I get to bring to life a part of me that I normally wouldn’t, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I love what I do.
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.