Melissa Benoist Online

Supergirl will finally take flight on CBS this fall under much scrutiny: the premiere of the trailer earned both cheers and jeers on social media. But star Melissa Benoist is ready for whatever may come: The former Glee and Whiplash actor cites Gloria Steinem and Susan Sontag among the powerful women who have inspired her in her performance and says playing Kara Zor-El has taught her that strong women don’t have to be “b-tches” as they are often portrayed on TV.

TIME spoke with the actor at her first Comic-Con about the advice her Whiplash co-star Miles Teller gave her about green screens, her “musical Tourette’s” and overcoming her issues with confrontation.

This is your first time at Comic-Con. What do you think of all the cosplay?

I actually think the costumes and the dressing up is really cool. I was a kid who would dress up for showings at movie theaters. I was Hermione a couple times for Harry Potter. I dressed up for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Star Wars—when Revenge of the Sith came out I wore an Obi Wan hood.

A lot of people, especially here at Comic-Con, have been waiting for a female superhero to return to the screen for a long time. Do you feel that pressure?

I think that comic book movies are at this place now that they’re so humongous. I think of Iron Man as the movie that kind of started this whole thing, and it’s just been too long: We’ve had some female characters who are badasses, but I think it’s just time for a female-centered heroic story.

Of course I feel pressure because of that. It feels big. I’m accountable for the message we’re trying to spread and what Supergirl does—whether she defeats a bad guy, how she defeats him, how she deals with her problems. But I think there’s this climate now where women are really speaking up and women aren’t afraid anymore. I know that this is not Gloria Steinem, but I think it’s important.

You mention Gloria Steinem. When you walk onto set and want to channel a powerful woman, who do you think about?

Her! Totally. And Susan Sontag, I’ve read a lot of her books. I love her. Anais Nin. In terms of women on television and in movies: Everyone says Meryl Streep but there’s a reason. She’s so strong and confident and independent. I grew up loving Judy Garland and Rosemary Clooney and just wanting to be the woman that affected people and made them feel something, made them feel more powerful.

You want to portray this empowered character, but when the Supergirl trailer first came out, a lot of people criticized it. They compared it to the SNL Black Widow rom-com spoof.

I expected that. I kind of knew when that skit came out, I was like, “Oh gosh. That looks familiar.” What I think is different is our show is a discovery. She’s never used her powers before. Black Widow was trained to be an assassin so putting her in that position she was in in the skit is ridiculous. But with Supergirl, we have room to grow. She doesn’t know how to be that badass quite yet. She’s learning how to be a woman.

Whenever you play a superhero you’re bound to be picked apart. Did you seek out any advice from your Whiplash co-star Miles Teller who is playing Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic Four this summer?

At the time I hadn’t booked Supergirl yet. But he had done Divergent, and he did talk to me about how difficult it was to act in front of a green screen and just like the sheer magnitude of how much money goes into these things and the special effects and how that creates a lot of pressure and how it will affect you.

So how is your first time in front of a green screen?

It’s flexing different acting muscles. I was raised in a musical theater sphere of this business, and playing a superhero in front of a green screen is a beast compared to that. You have to keep a grounded humanity even though you don’t have anything around you and you’re saying these one-liners. Finding the humanity to that is important to me, but it’s very difficult.

How do you manage that?

I try to imagine—say there’s a situation where they’re having me fly, and something is really dire and I have to go save someone and fight someone. I’m flying as if someone is mugging my mom, and I’m going to save her. I don’t know, you just have to root it in real situations.

But a musical theater background must help with that somewhat. In reality, not everyone sings everything that they feel.

True. Though I felt more normal doing that.

Are you a singing in the shower type person?

Oh, totally. Maybe it’s because I break out into song into my day-to-day life.

Do you walk onto the Supergirl set and just start singing?

All the time. There was one day where all I could think about when I was up in the wire flying was, “I got the power.” I couldn’t keep that inside. I have, like, musical Tourette’s.

They showed a preview of the pilot here. What has it been like watching yourself transform into a superhero on screen?

I usually don’t like to watch myself. I’m very critical. I don’t like looking at my face, and I’ll judge the tiniest twitch in my face. In this show, it’s different because when I’m in a suit, I don’t recognize myself. In the action fight scenes I don’t see Melissa, I don’t see her. I guess it’s easier to watch this.

What does your family think of you being Supergirl?

I think all of us think it’s funny. My mom was on set one day with my little sister, and we were up in the desert. There was fire everywhere. I was dirty and punching people. And I sat down next to my mom on a break, and she looked at me and laughed. She said, “I just never, ever pictured you doing something like this.”

If you came from this musical theater background and never pictured yourself doing action, what do you think it was about your audition that got you cast?

I’ve said this before, but it really rang true to me when it happened, [executive producer] Greg Berlanti said to me in one of my auditions, “You’re like the Annie Hall of superheroes.” I automatically felt that awkwardness and [how] weird she is. She’s just not figured herself out. She’s not comfortable in her own skin yet. I’m going through that as a woman myself. I’m 27, but I still feel like I have so much to learn about being a woman and having confidence and really using my strength and my femininity. Maybe it’s just the right place and the right time, but I’m glad it’s happening.

Is there anything that the character has taught you about being a woman?

Totally. Not to take any crap. I take no sh-t off of nobody. I’m a person that is really afraid of confrontation. I always have been. That’s slowly but surely fading in a way that’s graceful. I try to confront with grace and strength. I think part of it is when you see a lot of powerful women in movies and TV, they come across as b-tches or snarky or someone you don’t want to be friends with. I think a lot of what playing Kara has taught me is really doing it with positivity and hope and being a good influence.

People assume if a woman is powerful, she’s going to walk all over you or stab you in the back or something. It doesn’t have to be that way.


July 12, 2015BelleNo Comments

When Melissa Benoist, whose most prominent role until now has been Glee wallflower Marley Rose, stands up in front of thousands of cheering fans at Comic-Con, it will finally hit her: She’s now Supergirl.

After a rigorous audition process that spanned more than three months, Benoist was tapped as Kara Zor-El, and she has the cape and tights to prove it. “It’s impossible not to feel empowered when you put it on,” the 26-year-old Colorado native says of the costume, explaining that her first encounter with the suit came in the aftermath of an eye injury. “Simultaneously, I’m feeling all these feelings of empowerment, positivity, femininity and strength, and I have this pirate patch on. It was a little goofy.”

But it’s the quirky side of Kara that drew Benoist to the heroine. “I want to do right by women,” she says. “I want to portray someone they can relate to and look up to. I want her to be complicated and flawed.” Well, flawed and bulletproof, of course.

In Entertainment Weekly’s Comic-Con issue, viewers get a first look at a pivotal script page annotated by Supergirl executive producer Ali Adler, as well as an introduction to Benoist, which you can read in full below:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What would you say was the first moment you knew you wanted to be an actor?
I was at a very early age. My parents were always really good about letting me and my siblings decide what we wanted to do and try things out for ourselves. I just never really wanted to do anything else. I started dance class when I was 3 years old. The moment I probably knew this is what I wanted for a career path at 3 years old was we had to sing a song at the end of a ballet recital. I think we say, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and I was singing louder than anyone else. I wanted to be center stage. I think that was the moment that I realized, “I like this.”

Let’s go back to your time on Glee. How did you feel when you were told Marley wouldn’t be coming back? Was there some nervousness before you landed Whiplash?
I don’t think I ever was. Obviously, I was sad. I loved working on the show and it was such an amazing experience. There’s a part of me that has had to really embrace uncertainty and embrace the in-between. You learn how to be a better actor from those times of unemployment. I’ve always believed that. I don’t think I was nervous, I think I was more excited to see what was coming. I’ve never given myself any other choice to do anything else, so I’ve always made myself assume that something was around the corner.

What was the audition process for Supergirl like?
I never thought that I would say it, but it was even more intense than Glee. I had a pretty rigorous audition process for Glee, but this one, rightfully so, they really wanted to be sure that they found the right person for Kara. It was a long, drawn-out, three-month process. I auditioned around Halloween 2014 and then didn’t land the part until February 2015. I went through multiple screen-tests, multiple auditions with the producing team. There was a lot.

How did you feel when you first landed the role of Supergirl?
When I learned that I got the part there were a mixture of many emotions that rushed through me — elation, relief, immense joy and then, there was also a huge sense of responsibility that came immediately. I definitely thought to myself, “Oh man, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Were you a big comic book fan growing up or have you had to play catch up now that you have this role?
Strangely, I was a DC fan, not so much the comics. I loved Michael Keaton’s Batman. I grew up with those movies. One of my closest friends is a huge comic book reader and has been since he was very, very little. He really turned me onto them in college — more graphic novels than comic books. I have had to play some catch up specifically with the Supergirl books. I’ve been reading the new 52 series and more of the newly published Supergirl comics.

How did you feel the first time you put on the Supergirl costume?
The first time I put the costume on, it was a mixture of a lot of emotions. It’s impossible not to feel empowered when you put it on. You would think, “Oh, it’s silly. I’m putting on tights. I’m putting on a leotard and a skirt. There’s muscles built into the suit. There’s a cape. I’m going to feel like it’s Halloween.” But something changes internally. I feel like a different person almost. It really is an alter ego, where I feel inspired, hopeful and empowered. I tried the suit for the first time on at the costume designer’s house. I had just had an injury to my eye, so I had an eye patch on. [Laughs] So simultaneously, I’m feeling all these feelings of empowerment and positivity and femininity and strength, and I have this pirate patch on essentially. It was a little goofy. There was two things going on at once — two opposing factors of trying the suit on.

What pressure do you feel not just playing a superhero on TV, but being one of the very few female superheroes being portrayed right now?
I do think there’s a lot of pressure. I want to do right. Of course this is a broad statement, but I want to do right by women. I want to portray someone they can relate to and look up to that’s not a trite or a shallow depiction. I want her to be complicated and flawed. I guess I just want all women to feel like they could be Kara and Superwoman as well. I don’t want it to be campy. I want it to be grounded and human. That goes for anybody. It doesn’t matter what sex. It doesn’t matter if it’s women or men I inspire, I just want to inspire people in general to realize their strengths and their potential, and that you can do the things that you feel like are impossible to accomplish.

How do they make Kara relatable even though she’s an alien?
What I love about Kara is that unlike Kal-El, Superman, he came from Krypton when he was a baby, so he has not much recollection of where he comes from and his planet, but Kara was 12 or 13, she was an adolescent and grew up on Krypton, so she knows what she’s missing. When she gets to Earth, she’s not used any of her powers for years. There’s a lot of room for mistakes. She’s got a lot to learn when we meet her in the show. That’s what makes her so relatable. She has so much power that’s locked up inside of her. She is really figuring out how to break free and get to know who she is.

What has been the hardest part of playing Kara? And what has been the easiest?
The easiest part of all is the dorky stuff. All of Kara Danvers and the silly, dweeby parts of her, that comes easily to me because that’s how I feel. That’s who I am as a human being, I’m awkward and I’m weird. The hardest parts are tapping into that strength and that confidence.

You’re following in the footsteps of Helen Slater, who appears in the Supergirl pilot. What advice did she give you?
The advice I did get made me so jealous. We started talking about it and she asked me what kind of training they had me doing. At that point, I was just doing some boxing, strength training and a lot of core work. She gave me this look, and I was like, “Why, what did they have you do?” “Oh, I went horseback riding, and fencing and doing some archery and I was swimming.” She went through this whole gamut of awesome outdoor activities that I would love to do to train. Also, she’s just so kind and such a sweet, sweet woman. That’s really what I’ve learned from her. She really is a super girl. I’m so honored that I’m following in her footsteps.

Did you get any advice from Arrow’s Stephen Amell or The Flash’s Grant Gustin?
I’ve not met Stephen. Grant, I know from Glee. They’re in Vancouver, so I didn’t really get much advice, but all that I’ve gotten has been support and excitement to be a part of the Berlanti team. Just overwhelming positivity.

The bar for superhero series has been set pretty high with The Flash and Arrow. How are you dealing with that?
The bar is set so high with those shows for a reason, because it has someone like Greg Berlanti, our executive producer, and Andrew Kreisberg, who are also behind those shows with us. They are responsible for so much of the success. They’ve found a really good formula and a really good way of portraying heroes with heart. I don’t think we’re lacking any of that in our show.

The first Supergirl trailer had some mixed reactions. There were some comparisons to the Black Widow Saturday Night Live spoof, but you also have Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) pointing out why she should be Supergirl not Superwoman. Do you think Supergirl sends a message of female empowerment?
I do. Of course, I do. We don’t really take ourselves too seriously in that respect. The camp is going to be there. It’s a superhero show. But I don’t think that takes away from the female empowerment. Obviously you see Kara in her work atmosphere, it resembles the Black Widow parody, but what you don’t see is Kara kicking butt. There’s so much more in the pilot that I think people are really going to be surprised by. Also, it’s a girl. Supergirl, that whole discussion, it’s a girl figuring out how to become a woman. [The SNL spoof] came out and all of us thought it was so hilarious. I don’t think any of us expected people to compare them or put them side-by-side.

Everyone looks up to superheroes. How much do you think this role is going to change your life?
I have no idea. I know it will. I love my privacy and I love anonymity. I know some of that’s going to be going away. But honestly, it’s a small price to pay for the kind of influence I’m going to be able to have with this platform that I’ll be able to do such amazing things with. I think it’s much more of a positive thing. Obviously, I’m scared. That kind of attention is overwhelming. I think it would be for everyone. I’m so happy that it’s this. I’m so grateful that I get to be in this position, playing someone people will look up to. Hopefully I’ll help people escape from things they’re afraid of or be able to face the things they’re afraid of.

Has it hit you yet?
No, it’s coming in waves. I got really overwhelmed at upfronts. I’m sure Comic-Con will be an animal of its own.

Coming from Glee, we know you have a voice. So have the producers talked about having an episode where Supergirl sings?
They haven’t, but it’s kind of a running joke though because I’m not the only one on the show that does. Jeremy Jordan is an amazing singer. Mehcad Brooks is a rapper. Chyler Leigh is a singer. I think David Harewood sings as well. We’ve all joked that it would be funny. I don’t know if the producers have seriously thought about it.

What’s one thing we don’t know about you yet?
In honor of Comic-Con, a small tidbit about me is that I still am, and have been since the age of 6, a padawan learner in the Star WarsInsider fan club. And I was Obi-Wan Kenobi for three or four Halloweens in a row before the age of 10. That’s something maybe people don’t know.

Supergirl premieres Monday, Oct. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.


July 07, 2015BelleNo Comments

Learning to fly isn’t easy; Melissa Benoist knows. For her role as the preternaturally gifted title character on CBS’s forthcoming Supergirl, Benoist, 26, spent long hours training to (pretend to) do just that. “You have to hold your entire body weight up with just your abs, sometimes while suspended 30 feet in the air,” she says. Training meant lots of planks and exercises that “work the muscles you really don’t want to work.” But it all paid off. “I am now the only human who knows how to fly,” she jokes. Even without superpowers, Benoist has already proven her talent on the small screen as Marley Rose on Glee, as well as on the big screen in indie darling Whiplash. After performing in the community theater circuit throughout her childhood and teenage years in Colorado, Benoist moved to New York to study acting at Marymount Manhattan College. “I didn’t know anyone but I just plunged right in. I thrived there even though the city kicked my ass a few times.” For instance, Benoist says she was so broke she couldn’t afford to take the subway and rode her bike instead, once getting hit by a car. Incidentally, it’s mishaps like these that she’ll be drawing on to play Supergirl. “I wanted her to be someone who is eccentric and messed up and makes a lot of mistakes,” says Benoist of her spin on the storied character. “She’s more human than alien.”


June 09, 2015BelleNo Comments
May 28, 2015BelleNo Comments

“Glee” showed us she can sing and she can dance — and now on CBS’ “Supergirl,” Melissa Benoist is going to prove to the world that she can fly, too.

“If we had not found her, I would have said ‘I don’t want to make this,’” says executive producer Greg Berlanti of Benoist, who was casting director David Rappaport’s pick for the role. Like Stephen Amell (“Arrow”) and Grant Gustin (“The Flash”) before her, he had her audition first to signal she was The One.

It worked — and Benoist landed one of the most coveted roles of pilot season. Here, she talks to Variety about the “surreal” feeling of playing a female superhero.

How do you get the role of Supergirl?

I believe I was the first girl they saw. I think the same went for Grant. Ten auditions later, three screen tests later, two and a half months later… I got the call. Greg championed me the whole time and was in my corner. Even when I didn’t think the part was mine, he was always rooting for me. That support goes a long way, especially when I’m fighting for something I want so badly. His belief in me really touched me.

Why did you want the part?

Not only because she’s a strong female and a female hero which I think is so important and will speak to so many people at this time right now in the world. I also was so drawn to her humanity, even though she is an extraterrestrial with powers. I was drawn to how flawed and complicated she is. She’s more complicated than you see in superheroes nowadays. Greg breathed that life into her from the get-go. He even said to me in one of the auditions, “She’s like the Annie Hall of superheroes” — and that sealed the deal for me. I was like, yes!

What did that mean to you?

Just that she is quirky and eccentric and intelligent and on this journey of self-discovery. She’s figuring out how to be a woman and the difficulties of that.

What it’s like working with Berlanti?

From the second I started auditioning for him, the kindness, the passion, and the intelligence just radiates off this man. He’s really an inspiration. It’s such a rough business to work in. Sometimes there are some bad eggs and people who don’t have their priorities set straight and he really does. He’s focused and driven and above all kind. It’s a dream to work for him.

How did you feel when the pilot got picked up?

Elated! I was on cloud nine. I kind of had an instinct that it would be (picked up) because we all worked so hard and Greg brings so much passion it’s really infectious. Everyone working under Greg busts their butts, so I was like, it’s going to happen. So when it did, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with it. I wish I could have really flown away and done some somersaults in the air.

Do you have any ideas where the show is going creatively?

I have a few ideas. I know generally who the big bad villain is. I know about Supergirl’s relationships. The whole team has given me a lot of freedom to create her as my own.

Do you feel any pressure?

Of course I do, but not in a negative way. I’m not necessarily a person who works well under pressure. But in this situation, I am so excited about it. I’m not going to let myself doing anything less than what I think people will want to see.

What does it feel like to play a superhero?

Not like what you would expect! There are the moments you feel like a badass and you feel empowered. You feel strong and confident. But I have to say there are moments when I step back and look at the bigger picture and I’m on the set with fire and explosions and I’m in the suit and I’ll have to do a doubletake and be like, “What am I doing?” This is hilarious and surreal and amazing.

Are you doing any of your own stunts?

A lot of them. My stunt double is amazing, Shauna Duggins. She is incredibly talented. There are some stunts that she does that I would never try. But I have been doing a lot and I want to keep doing them. Already I’ve fought a male on the show. Supergirl’s fight moves are boxing. She’s really heavy-handed. There’s some flying that involves kicking and punching mid-flight that’s kind of awesome.

What kind of training have you had to do?

Lots! The wirework for training is mostly core work. It’s mostly ab-centric — the whole area of the body that nobody wants to work out. You have to get strong. You have to carry your whole body weight when you’re up in the air.

Where do you see your career in five years?

I can only hope that I’m still doing things that inspire me as much as this does and things that I’ve been lucky enough to do so far. I never imagined myself getting a role like this. My 5-year-old self would be running up and down screaming if she knew this was going to happen.


May 18, 2015BelleNo Comments

Born and raised in Littleton, CO, 26-year-old Melissa Benoist is best known for her role as Marley-Rose on the song-and-dance TV juggernaut Glee. This week, however, her considerable charms are repurposed for the big screen in Damien Chazelle’s feature drama Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

Teller plays Andrew, an aspiring jazz drummer who burns away all distractions from his life in the relentless pursuit of musical greatness. These sacrifices come in many forms (his relationship with his father, his mental and physical well-being) but his budding romance with Benoist’s magnetic Nicole is perhaps hardest to watch him destroy. In a refreshing undoing of the conventional romantic interest trope, Chazelle sets Nicole up as Andrew’s would-be supportive girlfriend… until she reveals herself far too three-dimensional to be somebody’s plot point. It’s a sensitive part, in many ways the human center of Whiplash; Benoist’s winsome guilelessness is a crucial contrast to the spiraling perversity of Andrew and his teacher, Fletcher (Simmons).

Prior to Whiplash and Glee, Benoist appeared in Law & Order (both Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit), The Good Wife and Homeland. With several feature projects forthcoming—including a Nicholas Sparks adaption, a Mark Twain reimagining and a role alongside Al Pacino—and her sights set even higher, the actress will continue to be a welcome distraction—to audiences, if not aspiring drummers.

Kerry O’Conor, MovieMaker Magazine (MM):How did you first hear about Whiplash?

Melissa Benoist (MB): My agent sent me the script last summer. I was on hiatus from Glee and I magically had the time to do it. As soon as I read the script, I knew I wasn’t going to allow myself to not get the role. I had three auditions with Damien and they were all really positive. He’s such a creative mind that it was hard not to just jump into it and feel Nicole in my bones.

MM:Damien, Miles Teller and yourself are all very young talents. It’s cool how such a young creative team came in and swept Sundance with this great film. What was it like having this brilliant young guy in charge on set?

MB: It’s the most positive experience I’ve had to this day. Damien is brilliant and kind. He also has enough confidence that he’s not precious with his words or his writing. He wants the actors to feel the freedom to just be in the moment, to listen to each other and make the performance as raw and gritty as possible. That was something that had so much impact on me, and it made working on set just electric and exciting.

MM:One of the strongest emotional scenes in the film is toward the end, and it takes place with Andrew (Miles Teller) talking to you on the phone. How did you guys shoot that scene?

MB: Originally, Damien wanted to shoot my half of the phone call. He wanted me to come back to shoot my half of the conversation. But then they actually called me while they were on set doing something else, and I literally did it over my cell phone while I was sitting in bed at my house with my dogs.

MM:Very authentic, then?

MB: Yeah, really authentic. I love that scene, too. During the audition, Damien had me do an improv exercise where he told me, “OK, this is months after he’s broken up with you, and you see him on the subway. What happens?” That was such a fun scene to play. It’s not quite revenge, but she’s definitely getting something out of hurting him.

MM:What do you think brought so much energy to the film?

MB: I think that the script is a really powerful thing. I had never read a script like that before. I’ve been starved for scripts like that because so many of the movies that I’d love to do are obviously unattainable to me right now, but this script was just so incredible.

MM:Did you have any initial apprehensions about working with such a relatively inexperienced director?

MB: No, I was immediately on board. From meeting Damien, I just knew. He was so very clear about what his vision was, and he was so knowledgeable about the subject matter. A lot of it is autobiographical. I just trusted him automatically. There was never a doubt in my mind that he was going to succeed with this.

MM: What are some of the differences you noticed between working on an indie like Whiplash as opposed to a more mainstream project like Glee?

MB: I honestly prefer working on indie films. I prefer the people, I prefer a more intimate setting. That’s how I find the moments that I’m looking for as an actor. I had a really positive experience with this film, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for the other side of the business. I worked on a Nicholas Sparks movie this past summer that had a pretty large budget, and it’s crazy to see that in action. There’s definitely something glamorous and Old Hollywood about it. But at the same time, when fame and financial success are not on the agenda at all, that’s when the true art form emerges. I really respect that.

MM: Did you go to Sundance for any screenings of the film?

MB: I did. I’m so happy I got to be there! It was funny, I thought, “Oh, I’ll go and I’ll have time to ski, and my sister lives in Salt Lake, so she’ll drive up!” I had no time to hang out with my sister, no time to even look at the slopes; for a good reason, but still. I don’t think any of us really expected the attention that the film received. I knew people were going to like it, I knew it was going to make people think, but being there was like a whirlwind.

MM:As you’ve demonstrated, you’re also a very talented singer. How does that talent guide your career path?

MB: I don’t necessarily think of myself as a singer. I did musical theater growing up and it taught me so much about how to express myself. I had to learn how to act while I sang and that’s not an easy thing to do. It helped me learn how to feel something but show it subtly. I’m never ever going to put an album out, I don’t think of myself as a singer in that way, but I definitely think it will guide my career in the future. Hopefully, people will make more musical movies. That’s what I grew up watching. Singing is much more of a visceral thing, where you can lose yourself. But acting’s like therapy to me.

MM:What do you mean by therapy?

MB: I’m a really emotional person, like, scarily so. Acting’s always been a way for me to channel the things that I don’t necessarily know how to cope with, things I have trouble finding a place for in my day-to-day-life while still functioning as a human being [laughs].

MM:Do you have any specific career goals? Any interest in Broadway?

MB: Definitely, that’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I’d love to be in a Broadway play, I’d love to do Shakespeare on stage. I look at careers like Cate Blanchett’s and I admire them so much. I want that variety, I want to travel the world. I sound naïve, but that is something I really do think of as a goal. I want there to always be humanity driving my work. I want my personal life to inform it more than anything else does. I want to do things that I care about, that I connect to.

MM:Do you have any dream parts? Anybody whose head you’d really like to get inside of?

MB: I’d really love to do a Tennessee Williams play. Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof would be a dream role of mine.

MM:You’re in Dan Fogelman’s new film [entitled Imagine] too, aren’t you?

MB: Yeah, I was working on that simultaneously with Whiplash. It’s a tearjerker, and Al [Pacino] is amazing in it. Working with him was a surreal experience. He’d be telling me stories about he and Martin Sheen in the ’70s when they were 19 years old. Kind of insane [laughs]. But a very kind man. MM



October 14, 2014BelleNo Comments

You wouldn’t expect the stars of “Glee” to be nervous about a little song and dance.

But that’s just how series regulars Blake Jenner and Melissa Benoist feel about putting on their first show together, along with some of their co-stars and friends from the hit musical comedy. The stars will come to Modesto for “One Night Only!” at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Feb. 22. The show is a fundraiser for Jenner and Benoist’s independent film, “Billy Boy,” which is being co-produced by Modesto native and Hollywood casting director Robert Ulrich.

“Nobody is more nervous that I am. I just don’t want to suck,” said Jenner, who plays Ryder on “Glee” and wrote “Billy Boy” last summer. “Putting together our own show is stressful in a fun way. You are worried because you want everything to be perfect. I’ve never really done this before, but it’s really exciting. We want to have a good time with everyone. We want to sing songs we have always loved and wanted to sing.”

Joining Jenner and Benoist will be fellow “Glee” castmate Alex Newell, who plays Unique on the series, and “The Glee Project” alums Lindsay Pearce, a Modesto native who was the first-season runner-up and appeared in two episodes of “Glee,” and Abraham Lim, who was on the competition show’s second season. Joining them will be L.A. comedian Nathaniel Stroud and all of the past Valley’s Got Talent winners, including Shelly Bort, Stop Motion Poetry, The Sensations and Francesca Heyward. Ulrich will host the evening.

The concert will have a variety show format with a mix of singing, dancing, comedy, audience interaction and video skits. Ulrich said the musical repertoire will range from classic standards from the 1920s to modern-day chart hits.

“I think it’ll be a really, really fun, incredible, and joyous evening. ‘Glee’ and ‘The Glee Project’ are like a family. They have remained very, very close friends,” said Ulrich who cast both shows. “Whether on ‘The Glee Project’ or ‘Glee,’ to feel like I am a small, small part of the beginning of what will be huge careers for all of them, that makes my job worthwhile and meaningful for me. And I am close friends with them. It’s like seeing my family succeed. ”

Also a family affair will be the “Billy Boy” production. The indie film is being produced by Ulrich and his son, Cooper Ulrich, with Jenner and his brother, Michael Jenner. Blake Jenner won the second season of “The Glee Project” and joined “Glee” in its fourth season along with Benoist and Newell. The trio are now all regulars in the show’s fifth season and expected to remain so on the series’ final season next year.

Jenner began writing “Billy Boy” last summer while on a trip to the Philippines with Benoist. The two began dating after they met on “Glee” and recently became engaged.

“He had showed me six pages (of the script) this past summer and I just knew automatically that it was something that was from his heart,” said Benoist, who plays Marley on series. “It is really different than what we had been working on in terms of ‘Glee,’ and that was exciting. And not because I am biased, but it’s just a really great script.”

The film is a drama about a troubled young man named Billy (played by Jenner) who meets and falls in love with a waitress (played by Benoist) and then attempts to better himself and his life. They’ve gotten creative to fund the $400,000 or so needed to begin shooting.

In November they launched an online crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. The campaign exceeded its $100,000 goal in December. Ulrich said they’ve raised the amount needed to begin filming thanks to the Kickstarter and private investors, including Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa, who he said “generously gave” to the project. Funds from the Gallo Center show will go toward the production as well.

“It’s been kind of crazy and really cool to see how much support we received from fans of the show and other people who have been supportive,” Benoist said of the film project. “It’s also kind of nerve-racking. It has been a really big learning experience. This is something both of us want to do for the rest of our lives – creating original projects and putting in the work ourselves. It’s really rewarding.”


February 13, 2014BelleNo Comments

It’s impossible to ignore the natural charisma of Melissa Benoist, whose dynamic performance as Marley Rose has made her the star to watch among the divas at Glee‘s William McKinley High. Ironically, her first day on set was more like those she spent as a shy student in Denver. “It was a choir scene, and I don’t think I said a word,” she admits. “At school, when it came to being social, I had no idea how to do it.”

Fast-forward a year, and the 24-year-old has transformed into a confident leading lady, belting out showstopping performances of classics like “New York State of Mind” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Her charm is so infectious it won over the heart of costar Blake Jenner, the Danny to her Sandy, both on and off the screen.

We clicked on his first day, during a ‘Born to Hand Jive’ dance rehearsal,” Melissa gushes about her real-life romance with Jenner, who plays fellow New Directions member Ryder on the show. “I love talking about it. Blake is amazing!” Despite being all giggles at the mention of his name, she firmly asserts that this is more than just a crush. “The chemistry you see with Marley and Ryder is not acting.”

Glee creator Ryan Murphy envisioned Marley as a relatable girl next door who would face problems common to many teens. “My first week, he said Marley would struggle with an eating disorder,” she remembers. Though conquering such issues on screen is emotionally draining, she says it’s also rewarding. “I still get letters from girls telling me I’ve given them hope. It’s awesome.” She’s come a long way from her days spent watching Judy Garland films with her grandma, but she knows future success isn’t guaranteed. “It’s all extremely hard,” Melissa says of shooting up to seventeen hours at a time. “But if you work your butt off and never settle, nothing will stop you.”


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August 07, 2013BelleNo Comments

Emmy award-winning consumer tech journalist Jennifer Jolly interviews Glee cast members Kevin McHale and Melissa Benoist in the Roku Streaming Lounge at SXSW 2013!

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April 09, 2013BelleNo Comments