Supergirl's Katie McGrath Talks Becoming "Dangerous Lena" In the Wake of Lex's Betrayal

Plus, get an exclusive first look at the Sunday, March 31 episode of the CW show

By Lauren Piester Mar 29, 2019 7:43 PMTags

There is a whole lot going on with Lena Luthor on Supergirl right now.

We just found out that her known supervillain brother Lex, who she's been helping, is behind pretty much everything going on with the whole show at the moment, and her assistant has been working for him the entire time, and her ex-boyfriend just nearly died until she saved him with her unstable superpower-giving serum, and last we saw her, she was unconscious at her own desk after having just been betrayed by multiple people. There's a lot going on, and none of it is very good for Lena, though it is some pretty good acting fodder for Katie McGrath.

In the clip above, exclusive to E! News, Alex and the DEO team find Lena unconscious but alive, and Alex reads a bit of the letter, which is basically Lex saying sorry not sorry for everything he did.

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"I wish I could say it wasn't personal, planting a spy, stealing your research, but it was. What'd you expect? You betrayed me first," the letter reads. If you pause the clip, you can see that it goes on and on about all the things Lena did (rejected him, testified against him, being ashamed of his "brilliant legacy," etc etc), but also gives away Lex's plans with Eve…which leads right into Sunday's episode, "All About Eve."

"I think the letter, at first, will pose more questions than it actually answers," McGrath told E! News over the phone. "That's kind of why the driving force of the next episode and the next few episodes is Lena and Alex and Supergirl trying to figure out how to catch Lex and what he's been up to, and hopefully in figuring out what he's been up to, it's going to help them catch Lex."

For once, Supergirl, Alex, and Lena will have a "common enemy and a common goal," McGrath says, which allows Lena and Supergirl to "put aside these petty differences that have been sort of plaguing their relationship for a season and a half," because ultimately, they really do want the same thing.

"They both believe in the greater good and helping humanity," McGrath says. "They just come at it from two completely different sides, like the left wing and the right wing, but they ultimately both want the same thing and the search for Eve and this need to catch Lex sort of unites them and you see them all working together, but at the same time in doing that, Lena is still dealing with the secret that she helped Lex, and she has to carry that through as well."

In the clip above, Lena seems like she's about to admit to Alex what she did, but doesn't quite get there.

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Lena definitely feels some guilt, but she's also been betrayed, and McGrath says we won't see her "totally deal with it."

"I think she can't. I think if she starts to unpick it, she'll unravel completely, so what you get instead is it pushing Lena to be extremely focused on catching Lex and catching Eve and a focused Lena Luthor is a very dangerous thing. With her single-minded pursuit, you should be very wary, and I think that's what they've done is rather than her sitting around and unpicking straight away all the stuff that's happened, it's just lit a fire under her to go fix it, because she feels so responsible. But not only does she feel responsible, but she can't tell anybody truly 100% why she is responsible, because she would have to admit that she was helping Lex."

Lena's awkward, messed up sibling relationship with Lex is something that has been talked about ever since we met Lena, but only really explored in the past few episodes, as Jon Cryer made his debut as the iconic supervillain. McGrath says she felt a lot of responsibility in actually acting it out.

"See this is it, it's been such a driving part of Lena's character for as long as I've played her. It's been talked about, it's been reasons why she's done something, it's been reasons why she's not done something. This has been the sort of all-prevalent overriding character in her life, and then finally to have him on the scene and to work with him and interact with him, you kinda just don't want to f—k up. It's just such a responsibility to this relationship because so much comes from it for Lena. For me, that if I got it wrong, it was going to do a disservice to the character that the writers, the producers, and I had sort of made together. It was a lot. You want to get it right."

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Jon Cryer seemed like an unexpected choice for the character at first, since most people know him from his comedic roles, but McGrath was just as surprised and impressed as the rest of the world when she saw Cryer's performance.

"You have this idea of Jon Cryer as a wonderful comedic actor, and there is always this huge comedic element to supervillains. They can be played very broadly, they can be played for laughs, and in my head, I think I just kind of thought that was the way that they were going with the casting, and he came in and played it so completely the other way. He played this very nuanced, very calm, very gentle character, and then when he has his moments of supervillain and malevolence and evil, it's so shocking, and you're completely taken aback."

That surprise element to the Supergirl version of Lex makes for what McGrath thinks is the best version of Lex we've ever seen. (And Michael Rosenbaum, who played the character on Smallville for 10 years, also approved of the performance.)

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Having an actual Lex, rather than just an imagined guy in jail, did change the way McGrath looks at her character, because now that hugely important relationship is a lot more real.

"You have a face to it, and then you don't have an imaginary relationship in your mind. Now you can see it, and now anytime I think of it, because obviously Lena references her brother all the time, I'm going to be referencing, in my head, that relationship we've created. It makes it easier, because it's a real, tangible thing, but now also the weight of that relationship is very real for her, rather than being something sort of bizarrely imaginary."

With Lex becoming very real, Lena's focus on catching and defeating him becomes more real, and as McGrath said, focused Lena is a dangerous Lena. She can't, however, say if that dangerous Lena is on a path similar to her brother's.

"It's funny. Everybody expects her to be a certain thing because she's a Luthor, but this show never gives you what you expect. It turns everything on its head. It gives you something different. Tessmacher is such an amazing example of that. The Tessmacher in the comics is very closely allied with Lex, but we spent two years thinking oh no, they haven't given us that, and then when it finally does happen, you're so completely shocked, and it's unexpected."

Over the next few episodes, McGrath says, we'll come to understand Eve's full involvement in Lex's plans and betrayal of Lena, but "like anything, it's not going to be what you expect."

"So I will say that the Lena you get in the show is not going to be what you've expected, and a focused Lena is a very dangerous thing, but that doesn't necessarily mean what you think it might mean. Or it could!"

The same unexpected nature goes for Lena's relationship with Supergirl, and obviously also Kara. While there are certainly parallels between the Supergirl/Lena relationship and the Superman/Lex relationship, Lena says it's been evolved into "something that you haven't seen before."

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"I think that's why people have taken it to heart, because in us making it our own, I think people have been taking it for themselves. Yes, it's similar to what you've seen before, but only in its infancy. I think where it is now, it's become something individual and it's become something that is just theirs, and it's just the show's, and it's just the fans', which I think is what makes it compelling and what's made it so popular as a relationship, that it just exists now as its own thing."

That relationship still has a major hurdle (or a few major hurdles) to get over as Lena still has no idea that Kara and Supergirl are the same person. For a long time, Lena was the only main character who didn't know, but now McGrath is feeling a little less of that pressure.

"I feel pretty good this year because Lena may not know, but Alex has lost her memory and if Alex doesn't know that Supergirl is her sister, then I think it's OK that Lena doesn't know," she says. "When that happened, I was like, this is amazing, it's no longer all on my shoulders. Her own sister still can't tell, so I'm fine now. I'm like walking in and feeling great now, now that I'm not the only one who doesn't know."

That said, the fact that Kara has been Supergirl all along is something that could emotionally destroy Lena, and now there's one inconvenient person who knows the truth.

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"See, this is the thing. You don't have just one person with a loaded gun behind Lena's head. The bullet is the knowledge that Kara is Supergirl, and before, it was Lillian who had that, but now you have Lex, who's even more of an unknown quantity, and he's holding that information, and it's almost the information that will completely destroy Lena. He could pull the trigger anytime, and that's an amazing dramatic point to have in a show of at any time, if that trigger's pulled, what that would mean not only for Lena, but what that would mean for Kara and Supergirl. So it's this sort of extra added switch to a bomb that could go off at any time."

The common goal of finding and catching Lex helps bridge Lena's relationship with Kara and her relationship with Supergirl, McGrath says.

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"That kind of unifies them…so you get a more friendly relationship with Lena and Supergirl then you had for a season and a half, and then at the same time, the betrayal of Eve has had the result that I think Lena becomes a whole lot closer to the people that she does trust, and the main person she trusts is Kara, so ironically what that has done is it has brought her closer and more trusting to Kara, which from a viewer's point of view, because you know that Kara has been keeping a secret from her, is so bittersweet to watch because you see Lena start to rely on her even more, but at the same time you're going, oh god, but only if you knew. So it's just an amazing, dramatic quality and this extra sort of delicious ingredient to this whole storyline."

Lena's other closest cohort has been James, though she broke up with him while helping Lex. Then, James was dying, and she was forced to use her serum to save his life, a decision she made out of desperation and that he had no say in.


"Even though she couldn't be with him, she undoubtedly loves him, but in making that decision, she had no idea what the longterm effects of that decision would be. And the hard part is she doesn't really have to deal with them. James does," McGrath says, explaining that there's definitely some guilt there. "So she's made this choice for him and then she has to watch him deal with the results of that choice, and I think that was very hard for her, because she is responsible for it, and she can't do anything. All she can do is watch somebody that she loves go through…some pretty wacky side effects."

So like we said, Lena Luthor's got a lot on her plate right now, including the eventual return of Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong). She couldn't say whether or not there will be scenes featuring all three Luthors together, but if there are, McGrath is a little worried.

"I don't know if I could like, hold my own in a scene with Jon Cryer and Brenda Strong. I think I would just like, melt into a puddle of Katie on the floor and just be like, I don't know what I'm doing, you guys just talk and I'll watch over in the corner."

Something tells us that's not exactly how it would go, but we'd watch it either way.

Supergirl airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on The CW.

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