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Interview: Supergirl’s Katie McGrath Talked to Us About Lena (and Lex) Luthor and What’s in Store

Katie McGrath as Lena Luthor in The CW's Supergirl.

Lena Luthor has had a rough go of it lately over on The CW’s Supergirl. Her ex got shot, she had to save his life with experimental alien tech, her brother tried to kill her best friend, and said brother also left her in her in the clutches of Eve Teschmacher, her former confidant but now murderous double agent.

Then again, when your brother is Lex Luthor, that kind of drama can be expected. Lena Luthor herself, the kind and lovely Katie McGrath, took some time out to talk the The Mary Sue about Lena, Lex, and the power of a perfect three-piece suit.

The introduction of Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) to the Supergirl story has been a delightful twist in the season four arc that’s already produced two of the best episodes of the season. Lex entering the fray has been “quite intense,” according to McGrath. “At first, it was kind of daunting, to be honest, because Lex is kind of this huge, massive character … He’s this sort of massive unknown quantity when it comes to Lena.”

Lex has loomed large since Lena’s introduction, and McGrath, like fans, had a lot of expectations of what it would mean to finally see the ultimate supervillain onscreen. “To finally have scenes with him … it was kind of the weight of all the years I’d been playing her and tryng to do that justice.” In two episodes, Supergirl’s Lex has shown himself to be far more nuanced than some other incarnations—and immensely entertaining.

“They blew me away when they came to it,” McGrath said of the writing and portrayal of Lex. “When you come in to do something different, it’s such a huge job.” At first, McGrath worked with Cryer playing “sick Lex,” but further into filming, when they reached the flashback to Lex holding Lena hostage years before: “Chills went down my spine. I was completely blown away … He’s really playing this man as a complete megalomaniac.”

McGrath went on: “Every choice he’s going to make is unexpected, and that’s very exciting, and I think that’s exciting for viewers to watch.” And boy has it been exciting. Many fans were on the fence when Cryer’s casting was announced, but no more.

Lena Luthor and Lex Luthor stare each other down in The CW's Supergirl.

(image: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

“I think it’s so wonderful, having seen that episode, that he’s really put all of that to rest,” McGrath said. The performance and writing on Lex has been deliciously good. McGrath agreed, praising Cryer as “so unbelievably wonderful … He is astonishing.”

Having Lex in the picture has led to seeing new facets of Lena, and learning new aspects of her past. One such factoid that emerged was that Lena’s birth mother was Irish, like McGrath herself. “This is an illustration about how lovely and sweet our writers are,” McGrath laughed. “They do put in little things for us to make us smile.” Further than that, McGrath gushed, “This is why we’re so lucky with this job, that everybody on it cares about you as a human being.”

In the most recent episode, “House of L,” we learned that Lex, like everyone but Lena at this point, knows Supergirl is Kara Danvers. How did that happen? McGrath theorizes that Lillian Luthor told him. “He didn’t figure it out on his own because he’s no smarter than Lena is,” but will that knowledge lead to Lex outing Kara—and thus Lena losing the last person she has in her life who she thinks she can trust?

“If and when she finds out that Kara is Supergirl,” McGrath agrees, looms large over Lena right now. “I can’t tell you when it’s going to happen … but if it did, I think the results of that are utnold for what that could mean for Lena, her psyche, her emotional wellbeing, her friendships.” Unlike the recent betrayal by Eve, with her true friend Kara, “I think it’s a greater betrayal, and I think it will have more lasting results on her.

Speaking of Eve, next Sunday’s episode is literally “All About Eve.” From the moment we heard her name seasons ago, viewers knew that Miss Teschmacher was more than she appeared, and McGrath is right there with us: “I’m so unbelievably thrilled that they have done that now.”

Eve was a ticking time bomb that finally went off in a way McGrath described as “chillingly badass. I think it’s such a testament to Andrea that she could still play her as a bad guy with such charm and innocence.” She couldn’t spoil it all, but teased that in the next episode, “You get to see more of how Eve got to where she is … in typical Supergirl fashion, it’s not just as easy as this cut and dry, cheap bad. There’s always an explanation.”

Eve Tessmacher and Lex Luthor talk on The CW's Supergirl.

(image: Katie Yu/The CW)

It’s alway about the complexity of characters on Supergirl, and this season, it’s been about the complexity of family, too, with the testing of Alex’s bond with Kara, as well as the different dynamics between the Luthors and their special Kryptonian friends. McGrath feels that makes the character more relatable: “We all have families, and no one’s family is perfect … to be able to see the people that you admire, that you believe are heroes and are heroes, to be vulnerable, and to be fallible and make mistakes.”

“I think it makes for very compelling viewing, and I think it makes everybody more human. I think frailty is something very interesting to watch.” The same complexity exists in Lena’s relationship with James going forward: “Giving him the Harunel was a last ditch attempt to save his life and we don’t quite know what the result of that decision will be.” James dealing with the ramifications of the decision Lena made will also ultimately be difficult for Lena.

Lena knows how to prepare herself for hard days, even so, and some of that preparation comes down to the gorgeous fashion McGrath gets to sport (sometimes in places where a cocktail dress isn’t appropriate, but we’re not complaining). No Lena outfit has made as big an impression lately as the plum three-piece suit she wore to work with her brother: “I think, when a woman wants to feel elegant and powerful but in control, a very beautiful, tailored three-piece suit goes a long way to making you feel that … and I think that was part of what was going on there with Lena.”

Lena Luthor wearing a purple suit in The CW's Supergirl.

(image: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

McGrath actually brought the idea of the suit to the costumers, inspired by photos of Cate Blanchett in suits that were “sill feminine but totally in control.” Indeed, Lex may have his “Lexo suit,” but Lena has perfect couture, and I think we all know which one is better.

Supergirl airs Sundays at 8:00 PM on The CW.

(featured image: Bettina Strauss/The CW)

Jessica Mason is a writer and lawyer living in Portland, Oregon passionate about corgis, fandom, and awesome girls. Follow her on Twitter at @FangirlingJess.

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