I think besides the overwhelming joy and delight, the pervading and most exciting feeling at the end of last Monday's Supergirl premiere was shock. At the end of the pilot, we learned that Kara has an evil Aunt Astra on Supergirl who is a freaking General, her mother Alura's identical twin, and wants to rule the Earth, like, ASAP. What?!
Funny enough, it was the audience's own surprise that shocked actress Laura Benanti, who plays Astra and Alura. "I didn't expect for people to be so, like, blown away by the reveal at the end," Benanti says. "I think the fact that the Big Bad is a woman, and a woman who looks exactly like Kara's mother is a really cool element." She says that while she herself thought it was cool, that didn't necessarily mean that audiences were going to respond in the same way. Thankfully, they did! "I feel really honored to be a part of it," she says.
So, is Astra truly a villain? Anyone who claims that they want to rule over an entire planet seems evil. However, it's probably going to be more nuanced than that on Supergirl. "I think that everyone in this world, and in universes beyond," Benanti says, "believes that they are doing the right thing. You know? I think, even if we look back at history, people who've done things that we are like 'I can't even imagine someone doing something so evil' — they thought they were doing the right thing. And as you'll grow to learn, with Astra... her intentions actually are not bad. It's how she's going about executing those intentions that leaves room to be desired." She describes Astra's methods as "particularly violent and difficult for us maybe to understand as compassionate humans."
As for the white streaks in her hair that clearly mark Astra as the evil twin? "Melissa [Benoist] and I always joke that she's just a huge Bonnie Raitt fan. She's like 'I've come to Earth to punch you in the face... and also to listen to hours and hours of Bonnie Raitt.'"
Another great thing about this character is that Astra does not exist in DC comics. She is a new creation for Supergirl. This puts her in the opposite position as, say, Winslow Schott — which is a recognizable name for comic book fans, but doesn't currently resemble his character as much as, for example, Kara Zor-El or Jimmy Olson.
"No one was like wait a minute. Her hair was 3/4 of an inch longer," Benanti says. "People are so understandably attached to the characters that have already been created in the comic books, and I am happy to be a new character where I can sort of like create my own identity. I think that's very helpful." This also means that Astra will have even more opportunities to surprise the audience, which is particularly exciting if you ask me. She's a total blank slate, canon-wise. Every adaptation has to have a few wild cards to keep up the stakes and keep us guessing. Plus, if Astra's intentions really are in the right place, we may even end up rooting for her.
Images: CBS (screengrabs)