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This story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
After a rough start, it has taken three decades for Supergirl to fly again. The DC Comics superheroine first took cinematic flight in 1984’s Supergirl, starring a then-unknown Helen Slater. Krypton’s favorite flying teenager is now back in the CBS series starring Melissa Benoist that premiered as the second-biggest new series of the fall.
Though it has developed a small fangirl following over the years, the $35 million TriStar release got mostly negative reviews. (THR said it “promises more than it delivers” and complained that the catastrophes the heroine averts “are small potatoes” — like stopping an out-of-control bulldozer.) Its domestic gross was $14 million, though it did extraordinarily well in a then-burgeoning home video market. But the film aimed high, at least where casting its lead villain was concerned.
Faye Dunaway landed the role of Supergirl’s archenemy, Selena, an evil enchantress who gets ahold of a powerful object called an Omegahedron after alien bigwig Zaltar (Peter O’Toole) accidentally launches it into space. Supergirl — real name Kara Zor-El — then flies to Earth to recover the supergadget. Co-star Brenda Vaccaro describes her role of Bianca as being Dunaway’s “sidekick witch” and notes she had to keep telling the Oscar-winning actress to calm down. “She was always worried about her costume or her hair,” says Vaccaro. “I kept telling her: ‘Relax, it’s just a fun movie.’ “
Slater, now 51, plays Benoist’s foster mother on the CBS series. She remembers her Supergirl experience (which she says paid $70,000) as “being 18, just graduating from Performing Arts High School, taking a year off to see if I could land any acting jobs and getting the lead role in this huge movie. To me, that overshadows how well the film did. I went from living in obscurity with my mother in New York City to this dazzling experience. I’m grateful for what happened. It changed my life.”
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