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Performers Of The Month - October Winner: Outstanding Actress - Chyler Leigh

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Before a show even begins the casting process, they have a basic idea of who each character is. As they start to see performers for each part, they have a basic understanding of the qualities they need the performer to possess in order to bring the character to life. Casting is a critical part of any television show and can make or break the success of a show. If the casting team can find the right group of performers to work together, magic can be created. Putting the right people in the right roles is of the utmost importance, but sometimes the right person can also change the narrative of the character. More often than not, once writers get familiar with the acting style of a particular performer, they will start writing towards that performer’s strengths. Essentially, writers and performers can elevate each other when they forge a trusting artistic union. And the right performer can open the writers to a whole world of possibilities they never imagined. That’s what happened with Supergirl when they were lucky enough to secure Chyler Leigh as part of their cast. Not only does she have extraordinary chemistry with her co-stars, but she has a vast acting range. The show truly hit the jackpot when she was cast because these writers were gifted with the type of performer that most shows can only dream to have access to. They spent the first season introducing Alex, who, unlike most of her counterparts, is an original character and required a little more time to establish. By doing a slow build on the character they got to really test out just how far they could push Leigh. It is usually evident when the writers have reached the peak capability of a performer, yet these writers have yet to find where her maximum reach is. That’s quite impressive because they have thrown some extremely heavy scenes at her for which she has delivered on without so much as a single falter in her performance. It is this unprecedented range that gave the writers the freedom to launch Leigh into one of their most socially meaningful storylines to date as they guide Alex through a realistically complex coming out journey. Even as they take Alex down this path of self-discovery, the writers still haven’t pushed this gifted actress to her max despite some very valiant attempts. These are just a few of the reasons that it isn’t even remotely surprising that Chyler Leigh won the title of the most outstanding actress of October, primarily for the episodes Welcome To Earth (2x3) and Survivors (2x4). She more than deserves this fan-given title for the extraordinary work she has been doing as Alex Danvers on Supergirl.

It’s no big secret that the first half of this year wasn’t good to LGBT characters with a large percentage of them ending up dead, usually in pointless and sometimes completely meaningless ways. By early spring, there was finally some change in the dark trend that had befallen this group of characters. As summer came around, the rumblings began that one of the characters in Greg Berlanti’s massive portfolio of CW superhero shows was going to be coming out. The creative team tried their best to guard the secret of exactly which character it would be, but in this digital age that was easier said than done. When they cast Floriana Lima as the comic-book canon lesbian character Maggie Sawyer on Supergirl, the potential suspects list shrunk drastically. Before the season even premiered, most began to believe that Alex would be the character tackling this emotional journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Throughout her career, Leigh has been tasked with many powerful storylines, handling each of them with such grace and dignity that she built a reputation as a go-to actress for storylines that need that little extra bit of special emotional edge that she possesses. Knowing that this storyline was likely falling into her skilled hands set a lot of fans at ease because she’s the sort of actress that everyone knows will elevate a story like this beyond anything anyone can imagine. More importantly, she’s the kind of actress that will fight for a storyline she’s involved with to be done right out of respect for the audience.

Even with all that in mind, the big unknown factor was the newly cast Lima; while Leigh has exceptional chemistry with her other co-stars, there is never a guarantee that two performers will be able to capture the elusive organic bond that viewers define as chemistry. Typically, fans judge the viability of a couple based off of their very first interaction. There has to be something instantly tangible in that initial scene otherwise the performers will constantly be playing catch-up trying to force the audience to accept chemistry that they themselves are struggling with. In these instances, like on Supergirl, when a new performer is being brought in to portray one-half of a newly forming couple, the mass majority of the responsibility for selling the instant connection falls to the performer who is the established series regular. That performer is the one the audience feels comfortable with and they need to convey to the audience why they need to accept this new person being thrust upon them. When Alex first meets Maggie, it’s in a less than ideal situation with the two characters butting heads, which put Leigh in a really tricky position. She had to get the audience to accept Maggie even though the character wasn’t yet sold on her. It was this very difficult moment that required acting precision where the audience could see Alex’s intrigue while not making their first encounter seem unrealistically friendly. Not many people can explain exactly how Leigh pulled it off because the odds were stacked against her given the nature of the scene, but she instantly made the audience feel Alex’s primal pull towards Maggie making them quickly invest in this new character. These two actresses made sure that the chemistry between their characters was undeniable, together they formed an immediate union that will allow them to take their characters on a long beautiful journey. While Lima did a phenomenal job immediately conveying Maggie’s personality, it was Leigh’s portrayal of Alex’s curious annoyance over this brash detective that initially made the audience perk up and pay attention. Someone got through Alex’s tough exterior and flustered her, which is an anomaly in and of itself for this character who is always in charge of every situation. In that one brief scene, the stage was set, the tone was established, and the journey for this fledgling couple began.

It is nearly impossible to talk about the two episodes Leigh won for in October without talking about Lima. A significant amount of the time Alex was on the screen in those episodes was spent with Maggie. This is seen a lot in television when two characters are being set on a trajectory towards a relationship. If a show does a new relationship right, they’ll allow not only the characters to get comfortable with each other but the performers as well. If the predicted chemistry takes hold and the storyline is able to successfully move forward, then these two performers will be spending a significant amount of time together. It’s only fair to allow them to grow together as they unite their characters onscreen. This gets into the first bar scene which firmly set in motion the forward momentum of this future couple. Prior to this, the characters got to have a few brief interactions, which were all great, but this one made the intentions of this storyline very clear. Through this scene, Leigh was gifted with the opportunity to start to shed some of Alex’s guarded walls and delve into some of the emotions that she normally keeps bottled up. It was one of the very early signs that Maggie had successfully squeezed through a chink in Alex’s emotional armor. Without even knowing her, Alex seemed at ease with Maggie. While Alex has an alien sister, an alien boss, and a long history of alien interactions, she doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable around anyone but Kara, Clark, and J’onn. To her, all other aliens are a potential threat, despite her having three shining examples to counter the theory that most aliens are bad. One can’t really blame her for that reaction given the number of times she’s been beaten, attacked, and nearly killed by aliens - and that’s just during the time the series has been on. The bar scene served to start changing the narrative for Alex as a whole and gave Leigh more freedom to start to open up Alex, a freedom she seemed to gladly embrace.

Maggie is meant to be someone that will help Alex not only through her coming out, but to also help her get a new perspective about the world they live in. This is a storyline that is going to force Leigh to be incredibly vulnerable in her performance in order to properly portray Alex’s journey. The first example of that came through in this bar scene. Once Alex realized she was surrounded by aliens, she immediately tensed up and her instincts kicked in, making her go for her weapon. Of course, Maggie knew they weren’t in a dangerous situation and immediately acted to help calm her. In a brilliant show of acting prowess, Leigh took her body from incredibly tense and on edge to a slightly more relaxed posture the moment Lima touched her. Looking at it from the perspective of the characters, it showed that at even this early stage of their getting to know each other, Maggie had a calming effect on Alex. Leigh allowed Alex to express a very primal reaction to this single touch. Up until this point, Alex had been on high alert around Maggie, but this moment was symbolic of one of the last of Alex’s protective walls crumbling as Maggie moved to secure a coveted place in Alex’s innermost circle of trust. Even with that in mind, Alex was still trying to make sense of Maggie and why this woman was getting to her. As soon as Maggie made mention of the waitress being her ex, something clicked for Alex. She obviously didn’t fully understand it yet, but the split second of shock replaced by a soft smile showed the moment when the wheels in Alex’s head started to turn. It was also the moment when Leigh really began to relax her posture and allowed the audience to see just how much chemistry she has with her new co-star. The longer the characters talked, the more Alex relaxed, giving birth to the start of the trust building between the characters. Lima can’t be dismissed for the work she did throughout all of these episodes, but Leigh was the conduit for the audience into this relationship, so she garnered most of the attention and rightfully so, since, for the moment, this storyline is all about her character. She is just lucky enough to have an actress like Lima standing side-by-side with her through this journey. I’m sure Leigh will get the opportunity to return the favor of unyielding support as the writers begin to delve more into Maggie’s story throughout the season.

Most performers on television have a mixture of scenes where they work opposite others and yet still also have solo scenes to show off who their character is as an individual. By design, that’s just not really who Alex Danvers is. This is a character that, up until now, got her identity from those around her. Nearly all the stuff Leigh does is opposite others forcing her to try and define who Alex is without the luxury of anything tangible to display as a uniquely Alex thing. At this point, they hadn't even shown off her elusive apartment yet. This all makes defining her individuality a tough task, but through inspired acting choices, she is able to express some of her individual quirks; this is especially important this season where Alex is starting to explore what makes her special. Welcome To Earth was about that - Alex’s first baby steps into questioning who she really is. While she is a tough woman, a fierce protector, and an incredible big sister, she is also very vulnerable, guarded, and uneasy around the rest of the world. She’s spent so long trying to run for her inner truths that she’s lost sight of who she is outside of all those she surrounds herself with. Maggie is the first person to give her pause long enough to contemplate what she wants versus what the world expects from her. The emotional complexities of this storyline are incredible yet, in each scene, Leigh makes the effort to be so open in her performance that the audience can easily connect with what Alex is dealing with. She helps to simplify the experience through heartfelt expressions.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this story is despite the fact that Alex is on this journey, she’s still not lost the core traits that made her a standout character. She is still fiercely protective of those she cares about. It was evident in both Welcome To Earth and Survivors, with the former showing her newfound protectiveness of Maggie and the latter reiterating her protective instincts for her sister. Despite the vulnerable nature of this storyline, Alex Danvers is a fierce agent who will put herself on the line to protect those she cares about. This storyline didn’t start until Welcome To Earth and prior to that, the writers made a point to display the strength that makes Alex a standout agent, most notably in The Last Children Of Krypton (2x2), where she went into full on fighter mode with two big fight sequences including the epic one where she got to wear the Kryptonite fueled exoskeleton. The reason this needs to be noted is because it’s the before and after of Alex starting to fall for someone. Who she was the episode prior to meeting Maggie is who she still is after meeting her, except she’s discovering this deeply emotional place within herself that she’s kept locked away. It doesn’t make her less than she was; it is instead helping to make her more of who she always has been. Leigh is such a physical actress that to have shed that aspect of the character would have been criminal. She's got the skills to transition between vulnerable and fierce that will allow this storyline to be emotional yet empowering.

When they were in the warehouse trying to rescue Maggie in Welcome to Earth, Alex had no qualms about putting herself on the line to save her. When they were pinned down, Alex didn’t hesitate to use herself as a decoy to give Maggie a shot at escape. Even before that, for a woman she barely knew, Alex charged into the alien bar and took down Maggie’s informant without even a second thought because he had information she needed to save her new friend, and no one was going to be permitted to get in her way. The fire in her eyes during that scene was remarkable. Then, in the following episode, when Supergirl was in trouble, Alex had no trouble breaking her cover to charge in and rescue her sister from the fight ring. In fact, in the same episode, Alex fought side-by-side with Maggie in a perfectly coordinated sequence as they tried to take down a potential alien murder suspect. She held her own in the fight with no super suit or fancy weapon, only her own skills. Had they not tossed the net on her, she’d likely have laid a serious smack down on them. The moment she escaped from the net, the first instinct she had was to check on the unconscious Maggie and take a protective position over her, much as she would do with her sister during the aforementioned encounter. This is all in the script, it’s written for Leigh to do, but she’s the one that gives it dimension. She isn’t afraid to get in and tackle these intense action sequences. Not to mention, she certainly knows how to handle a gun and make it very believable.

No matter what else becomes of Alex throughout the coming weeks and months, her strength will always be a part of who she is. That is a huge compliment to the writers for choosing to portray her that way, but it is also a testament to Leigh, who has the instinctive ability to portray vulnerability and strength in a faultless union that gives vivid life to these moments. She’s giving the writers the freedom to write Alex this way by being able to handle whatever they throw at her. She is both a very physical actress and a very emotionally in-tune one, which allows the writers a virtually endless array of possibilities when it comes to growing and evolving this character. She can portray a badass warrior because she has that same quality within herself which is evident from the strong women she consistently chooses to portray. These sorts of roles come to her because she can give them depth beyond what is on the page.

Even though Alex is a fierce fighter, she is still susceptible to moments of shy awkwardness, as was evident in Survivors when Alex went to meet Maggie at the fight club. All decked out in fancy clothes, she had no idea what to expect when she showed up to meet Maggie. And when she first laid eyes on Maggie, sporting a beautiful dress, her normal, put-together persona crumbled a little. Her normal ability to articulate a situation coherently was replaced by shy glances and stumbled words. Whether she understood it or not, Alex was smitten. Leigh handled this moment of awkwardness in such a way that one couldn’t help but feel for Alex, because everyone has experienced that moment of confusion around a new crush. Then came the hand hold, and while Maggie didn’t think anything of it, Alex was stunned and momentarily dumbfounded. She’s not the kind of woman that is okay being led around, but with their fingers interlaced, she didn’t really seem to care that she was being dragged along. The power of this scene came from Leigh’s nuanced performance. She chose to allow Lima to lead the scene as Alex struggled to comprehend the conflicting thoughts surging through her brain. For a performer like her, who is usually the lead of a scene, to give power to another is a sign of a seasoned professional who knows when to lead and when to follow. Not every scene has to be about a single character, and the best performers understand that and are willing to share the spotlight with their co-stars. The scene also served the bigger purpose of showing Alex’s confusion regarding Maggie. The way Leigh continually looked down at their linked hands showed Alex’s brain trying to make sense of what was happening. It may not have been verbalized, but the looks basically declared that their interlaced fingers felt right to her but she didn’t really understand why. That’s the thing about the way Leigh acts: she can do as much with a single glance as she can some big, poignant speech. It’s all in the way she innately knows how to give meaning to every single action. Acting isn’t always about the big grand moments because the little things in between are just as important, and she has a firm understanding on how to pull off the quiet scenes with as much finesse as the big ones.

As an example, during the President’s speech in Welcome To Earth, when Maggie and Alex are on guard but still listening to the speech, she keeps stealing sly glances at Maggie. Even then, there was something about her that Alex was drawn to. A lesser performer may have just kept their focus on the speech and portrayed the moment as guarded; instead, Leigh allowed Alex to take these curious, analytical looks at this woman who stormed into her life like a whirlwind. Those glances and the nervous energy she gave to Alex in these scenes were the first stages of her journey, so Leigh had to deliver that message through nothing more than what she could do with her expressions. Another shining example came at the end of Survivors when Alex asks Maggie out to get drinks with her, only to get to witness Maggie kiss her girlfriend. The scene had that same nervous energy previously noted, but also took on a really disappointed tone which was conveyed almost entirely by simple facial changes and longing glances, mixed with a slight shift in her voice. Alex didn’t seem to understand why she was feeling the way she was, but the idea of Maggie being out with someone else seemed to actually hurt her and she didn’t know how to feel about that. Leigh’s eyes started off the interaction full of light and hope but, by the end, as Alex was watching Maggie walk away, that light had been replaced by a look of melancholy. A similar thing happened when Alex was taking care of Maggie at the DEO after she was injured. Throughout the early part of the scene, Alex tried to play things cool by focusing on the specifics of Maggie’s injuries, but the more Maggie talked, the less Alex could deny their connection. When Maggie left in order to meet her date, Alex seemed genuinely at a loss. She wanted Maggie to stay with her at the DEO, but she also doesn’t understand why - after all, she’d just met this woman. As Maggie walked away, there was this look of want in Alex’s eyes and this ever so soft huff of curiosity. Little nuanced bits of a performance, these little extra accents a performer can choose to add into a performance, are what separate the amazing from the just good.

While October was largely about Alex’s journey with Maggie beginning, she had many memorable moments with her long-time co-stars, namely Melissa Benoist (Kara Danvers/Supergirl) and David Harewood (Hank Henshaw/J’onn J’onnz). Chief amongst them the previously mentioned supercharged fight sequence from The Last Children Of Krypton and the sisterly disagreement that occurred in that same episode. Leigh has built such an amazing bond with Benoist that it would be remiss to talk about one without mentioning the other. Despite this episode airing in October, it wasn’t one that she was nominated for, yet it has to be mentioned. The way Leigh had Alex lay into Benoist’s Kara was utterly heartbreaking, and it was one of those scenes that one almost feels wrong for watching because it’s such a personal moment. Alex was desperate to not lose her sister, the person who she has essentially been basing her identity on, that she lashed out at her, and while her words were truthful they were only allowed to flow out because of fear. The strong bond between these actresses makes up the heart of the show. No matter what happens between Leigh and Lima’s characters and no matter how far in love they may fall, it is this sisterly bond that Leigh and Benoist have delicately nurtured from the start of the series that will always and forever be the core of the show. It’s why moments like this scene are important, to show that, no matter what comes between them, they will always find their way back together. For this relationship, neither actress can be given complete credit. It would not work without these two actresses having such a genuine love and respect for each other. Leigh helps elevate Benoist and vice versa. What they deliver together is one of the purest examples of unified performing and, when they work together, you can’t give one more praise than the other since they balance each other so perfectly that, when they share scenes, they both shine. That’s just how these two are together and while Leigh is an integral part of this relationship and should be given her fair share of praise for all that she has done to help build this sisterly bond, Benoist can’t be left out when talking about the Danvers sisters. The characters have such a special bond because their portrayers have taken the time and effort to build a sisterly-like relationship off screen. It’s a bond they can replicate no matter whom they share a scene with. In Survivors, where Kara threatened to pout to get information from J’onn, they tag-teamed him in a true showing of sisterly unity. Anyone who dares doubt these two are in for a rude awakening, because they are a formidable team both on and off the screen.

October saw the writers gift Leigh with scenes covering the gambit of action and drama and everything in between. There were grand fight scenes, soft tender conversations, fun nerdy banter like at the crime scene while they ignored Supergirl, even a heartbreaking sisterly disagreement, and the birth of a new friendship destined to become so much more. All of this was encompassed across a few episodes that in the long run are just a small blip in the season, yet she gave meaning to these episodes that will make them shining beacons. A lot happened in these episodes beyond her performances - she is lucky to work with an enormously talented cast - but she is what made these episodes memorable. The fact that Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) made his first appearance, Dichen Lachman (Roulette) was in an episode, that Katie McGrath gave life to Lena Luthor, that Mon-El (Chris Wood) made his big entrance onto Earth, and Cadmus became a relevant enemy will all be memorable points, but when this season is over, these October episodes will firstly be remembered for the magical performances that Leigh delivered. She will be what viewers contemplate when they think about these episodes because of how much raw truthful emotion she poured into her work while never once letting her character’s strength come into question. Even when Alex was vulnerable or letting Maggie lead her around by the hand, her inner strength was never once diminished or lessened by those moments. She would immediately rebound in some grand epic way and remind everyone that you can be smitten but still be badass while you long for someone. Both the character and actress have incredibly strong morals that will allow this story to have a very meaningful impact on a lot of people.

While Chyler Leigh is a truly extraordinary actress, she is also an extraordinary human being who has a strong desire to help make the world a better place. As such, she created and co-founded with her husband an organization called Charity Pulse, whose intent is to help foster positive change in the world. Everyday celebrities are in the public eye and some choose to abuse their celebrity status, while others use their influence for good. Leigh is a prime example of how much good can be accomplished when one chooses to fight to make a difference. Take a moment to check out her organization and do your part to help her and her team at Charity Pulse to create a better future.

The sheer number of noteworthy performances she delivered in October was quite astounding. Both within the episodes she won for and outside of them, the entire month allowed her to show off just how deserving she was of this win. While this article is only meant to cover her October performances, it would be a disservice to not take a quick moment to acknowledge Leigh for the extraordinary work she has done so far in November. She definitely deserved to win for October and her work in November is just as powerful. The raw emotion in the coming out scenes to both Maggie and Kara were breathtaking and the entirety of Changing (2x6) was a tour de force. What this skilled actress does is consistently impressive and she always delivers very thoughtful performances worthy of recognition. Because of how many great performances she delivered in October, there wasn’t time to mention them all in this single article. Please feel free to use the comments section to talk about all the scenes that this article couldn’t.

Chyler Leigh was your fan pick as the most Outstanding Actress of October 2016. Hit the comments below to tell others why you think she earned this title and what you most enjoyed about her October performances.

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize Chyler’s work and to honor her performance in October on Supergirl. Shipper-related bashing will not be tolerated in the comments, even from Chyler's fans. Honor the performer and her performance. Have fun and be kind to one another.

Note: This is a generic warning to avoid any issues in the comments section and to help keep this a fun and safe place to gush about the winners. This is geared to no fandom in particular.

Special thanks to Bradley Adams for editing this article.

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