For many male comic book fans, it’s been a recurring dream; ripping open your casual business attire to reveal the famous blue, red and yellow costume underneath while flying off to save the day. Maybe you heard a giant robot attacking your city or a damsel in distress, but either way, you were a hero. You were Superman. But what if instead you were the damsel and you weren’t in distress, you wanted to do the saving. Just four letters did the trick” “girl.”
Supergirl, the perpetual teenager, actually turned 50 this year having first been introduced to comic book fans as Superman’s cousin Kara in 1959 by creators Otto Binder and Al Plastino. Despite the character’s popularity in the comics, before Laura Vandervoort’s 2007 arrival on “Smallville,” fans have only met one other live-action Supergirl in the five decades since her debut: Helen Slater. This year’s anniversary of the character also coincides with the 25th anniversary of the actress’ very first film from 1984.
“When I got the part of Supergirl I was 18-years-old. I had told my mom I didn’t want to go to college right away, and so I took a year off. In a million years, I never imagined I would audition for a film like this and get the lead. It was just not even on my horizon,” said Slater reminiscing. The actress, who turns 46 this month, said that the whole experience was very surreal, likening it to “Alice In Wonderland.” “But looking back, it was just a very positive experience in terms of life experience and getting to be in the movies.”
Slater was the first to audition for the role and did her best to stand out amongst the crowd of young actresses. “I auditioned with a homemade cape and skirt,” she said. “I don’t think anybody else made a homemade costume, so I think that might have impressed them…but I can’t say for sure.” After being flown to England for a screen test, Slater won the coveted role. That moment was actually captured on film and made into a mini-documentary that can be seen on the “Supergirl” DVD.
According to Slater, preparing to portray “Supergirl” was every bit as rigorous as Christopher Reeve’s preparations for “Superman.” “I trained for around three months, eating a high protein diet, lifting weights, running, trampolining and learning how to navigate the wires to make me fly.” Although Reeve didn’t physically appear in the film as was originally intended, he does make a cameo of sorts: Supergirl’s school roommate, Lucy Lane, has a poster of Reeves as Superman hanging up on their dorm room wall.
“Supergirl” may not have become the blockbuster sensation it was anticipated to be, it still thrust Slater into the spotlight and put her on Hollywood’s map. “I personally didn’t love the fame experience, I sort of retreated from that,” she said. “I wasn’t comfortable, I wasn’t ready, but the actual acting and how people in the studio treated me, that was all wonderful.”
Slater has had a wide-range of roles since those early days of her career, but at her rare convention appearances, it’s another strong female character who gets a lot of attention. “Believe it or not, most people get a Supergirl photograph,” she said, “but most of the comments are about [‘The Legend of] Billie Jean’ and the impact it had on their lives, which I find surprising and very nice.” Slater is also known for portraying another strong female character familiar to comic fans. She voiced Talia Al Ghul in “Batman: The Animated Series.” “That was really fun. I wish I had a photograph of that, because people at conventions will ask for that occasionally.”
Slater’s most recent foray into fandom was accepting the role of Superman’s biological mother Lara on “Smallville.” “I was offered that part because of ‘Supergirl,'” she said, remarking on how she’s the latest in a line of actors from past Super-adaptations to appear on the hit show. “I thought that was such a great, great part.”
When asked if she passed on any words of wisdom to Laura Vandervoort who portrays Kara on the series, she replied, “No, I didn’t give her advice, but she was a very lovely person and very nice to talk to.” When asked if she’d be returning for any other guest-appearances the actress replied, “I would love if they brought me back. I got blown to bits at the end, but it’s a sci-fi show, so you never know.”
In addition to “Supergirl” and “Smallville,” Slater has one other Superman connection in her career, albeit somewhat more obliquely. She guest-starred in an episode of “Seinfeld,” and as any fan of the show will tell you, Jerry Seinfeld is a huge Superman fan. “My friend Jason Alexander, who plays George Costanza, he was directing that episode and he called and just said, ‘Can you come down and do this?’ I didn’t know people were gonna think anything of it, but people who are ‘Seinfeld’ fans, it’s like they know everything!”
Slater has a slew of guest appearances under her belt on shows ranging from “Supernatural” to “Eleventh Hour,” but she’s set to take on a starring role in a new television series for TeenNick written by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” writer/producer Martie Noxon. “It’s called ‘Gigantic,’ and it’s with Meryl Streep’s daughter,” said Slater. In the drama, Streep’s daughter, Grace Gummer, plays one of several children whose parents are a famous celebrity couple. “I play her mom, and it’s really well written. She’s got a great, great ear, this writer. I’m really excited!”
Speaking of daughters, Slater has one of her own who isn’t likely to be putting together a homemade cape and skirt anytime soon. In fact, she’s barely been exposed to her mother’s famous film. “I haven’t seen it with her, I think she saw it with my husband one night when I was out.”
This coming February marks yet another important milestone for Supergirl as the DC Comics series celebrates it’s 50th issue, with writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Ingle at the helm. A special Michael Turner cover will grace the oversized issue, which also includes a “day in the life” story written by Jake Black and Slater herself. “I think I read one [comic] before ‘Supergirl,’ but over the years people have given me copies and I’ve gotten more familiar with her story. I like this idea, though, that she kind of makes these mistakes as a teenager, that she keeps getting herself into trouble.”
Even with all her vast superhero experience, Slater isn’t really tapped into the current craze of comic films in Hollywood. All things considered, a “Supergirl” remake or reboot isn’t entirely out of the question in the near future. If it were to happen, Slater has some specific request about whoever the studios would choose to portray the character “I hope she would be intelligent, not too sexy, I don’t like the over-sexualized version personally, [I prefer] smart and soulful.”