Audiences first met Calista Flockhart as post-modern TV's defining career-minded, romantically-challenged female professional in the dramedy "Ally McBeal," where she contended with everything from imaginary dancing babies and hallucinatory celebrity cameos. Now, Flockhart is back in the executive suite, this time breathing life into comic book character Cat Grant, the successful, steely and frequently dismissive media mogul whose assistant happens to be a superheroine from Krypton.
Following CBS's presentation for the new "Supergirl" series at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, Flockhart joined a small group of journalists to discuss what, exactly, appealed to her about joining the latest entry into the TV incarnation of the DC Universe, and why Cat's really not as bad as perhaps the early promos have painted her.
How do you describe the show's take on Cat Grant?
Calista Flockhart: She's not a bad guy. She's uncompromising. She's hugely successful. I'm not sure that she became hugely successful by being sweet all the time. But I think at her core, I think she's good.
How do you balance the idea of her being really intelligent but not knowing that Supergirl is the one who brings her coffee in the morning?
Well, Cat might be guilty of being a bit of a narcissist, and she's very preoccupied with her business, and she has an assistant that is named Kara. That's what that relationship is at the moment, but I think as the series goes on, [I'm] hoping that we're going to discover more. I think Cat is going to become more and more aware of Kara [Care-ah] and start calling her Kara [Car-ah]. I think that there will be a relationship. I think that she'll become a bit of a mentor.
What did you like about the comic book Cat Grant, because she can be kind of fun and flamboyant, but also tragic and brave?
Yeah, she's been everything. She was an alcoholic in one of the versions, and her son dies, and she was married to a guy named Joe Morgan -- all of this was a new discovery for me. But she's a really complicated, interesting character. I don't know what we'll do in this series, but all of that is great backstory for me as an actress.
Can you talk about coming back to television almost 20 years after you first appeared in "Ally McBeal?"
It's crazy. It doesn't feel like that at all.
Do you look back fondly on that experience?
On "Ally McBeal?" Yeah, I do. It was a little bit of everything, but it was exciting and fun.
What have you learned about yourself and the business that you didn't know back then?
That is a really big question. I think I'm older, I think I'm wiser. I think my priorities have changed a lot. But I'm still really excited about being part of a new show, and I'm happy that I don't have to carry the show. I'm happy that I'm Cat Grant and not Supergirl this time around, because it just gives me a little more time. My family is very important to me, so I'm blessed that I'm just going to be here a little bit and go home to my family. But I think that it's just me. I have a different perspective.
What was important to you for possibly signing on for seven years?
Well, I like to get home for dinner. I like working in L.A., and that's pretty much it. I'm just excited about having a good script every week. Like, I love learning my lines. I'm really excited about having the opportunity to play a part that I haven't really played before, on TV, anyway. Maybe on stage I've done it. But it's just fun -- she's unpredictable. She can be really sassy and get away with it. And she's funny.
At 14, your son's at the just right age for your show and what Harrison [Ford] is doing in "Star Wars." Is he into them, or does the parents factor put up a little bit of, "Oh, that's just what they do?"
I'll admit that he's not a huge "Star Wars" -- he wasn't one of those kids that loved "Star Wars." But he is very excited about seeing the new "Star Wars" now, now that he's a bit older. So we'll see. And he is going to be a huge "Supergirl" fan... He has not seen it yet, but he will. I said that it's good for mothers and daughters to bond with. I love that. But I also think that it will be good for boys, too. I think they'll enjoy the show a lot as well.
What does it mean to be a part of this great, long legacy of bringing Superman and the related characters to life in film and television?
It's, like, super cool. I think it's really fun. I love anything that's kind of ironic and funny and interesting. It's kind of a legacy. I didn't know anything about Supergirl or, quite frankly, Superman -- it was never my thing. So I've just learned so much about the world, and I really like it.
Who did you look up to as a girl, as far as strong females?
Real people. Everyone says "My mom, my grandmother," but that's true. And this is going to sound really, maybe crazy, but the first person who's coming into my mind is Laverne from "Laverne & Shirley." [Laughs] You know, Laverne and Shirley, they were really funny, independent, weird, crazy girls living together, kind of non-traditional. I remember loving that show, loving those actors.
Had you ever seen the 1984 "Supergirl" movie?
There's no Cat Grant in it --
Well, then it was awful and boring. Just kidding!