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

A good performer can make viewers feel for their character, but a phenomenal performer can make viewers fully invest in their character. These performers make every heartbreak, triumph, and major life event for their character something that the audience can’t help but watch with baited breath. That is what performing is all about, making the audience feel like your character is their friend, a person they care about and root for no matter the barriers that person is confronted with.

Then there are those elite performers, those who take great risks, those who are also the ones most likely to actively seek out engagement with the audience, caring about their work long after their work day has ended. The impact of these performers is heightened even more when they are tasked with playing a character in some underrepresented group. Supergirl’s Chyler Leigh is the epitome of such a performer. She didn’t sign up to play an LGBT character, but jumped at the opportunity to represent this often-underrepresented group, by taking on Alex Danvers’ journey of self-discovery with dignity and an unparalleled level of pride. It is clearly evident why she has won the title of the most outstanding actress of November. This phenomenally gifted actress has garnered back-to-back wins in October and now November, because of her powerhouse work and dedication to her audience.

November was a big month for Leigh as she took Alex on an emotionally charged journey from coming out, to heartbreak, to finally “getting the girl,” as her sister told her to, in the span of just four episodes. This was a storyline with high stakes because this is something that so many people have personally experienced yet it’s something that more often than not television gets wrong. Thankfully, Supergirl managed to figure out how to tell this story without following the usual path of high drama of threats and rejection. They told a compelling story while showing the positive side to coming out, a side where those that truly love a person rally around them without question or judgment. It is a powerful storyline that is breaking down barriers thanks to the skilled hands of performers like Chyler Leigh which the writers entrusted this storyline too. Alex’s feelings for other women has been with her for a very long time. However, Alex, being the selfless character she is, has buried these feelings deeply within herself to devote herself to protecting her sister.

It took meeting Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima) to discover the courage to figure out who she is and embrace her true self. Leigh has been steadfast in her performance, particularly in episodes 2x5, 2x6, 2x7, and 2x8 from the lighter moments, to the emotional moments, to the romantic moments, never once faltering in her dedication to make Alex’s journey as real and truthful as possible. Even those who have never experienced what Alex is can’t help but want the very best for the character. She has made Alex feel like a real person that those watching want to protect and shield.

Alex’s journey throughout the November episodes took a very organic path starting with her coming out to Maggie in Crossfire (2x5) which saw Alex finally confront long-suppressed feelings. Leigh made very deliberate acting choices throughout this arc that provided for big payoffs as the storyline progressed. Every time Alex was around Maggie, Leigh infused her with a nervous energy that she doesn’t express around anyone else. Glances she gave Maggie and the moments of shyness were reserved specifically for Maggie because there isn’t a chance she’d allow anyone else to see her like that in a semi-vulnerable state.

Leigh has mastered the art of quick tonal changes within a scene allowing her to be conveying one emotion one second then immediately click over to another the next, using a whole arsenal of acting tools at her disposal that she transitions through as naturally as most people breathe. Her transitions are always flawless making scenes always feel very natural, like making her body language defensive after Maggie’s suggestion that Alex was gay.

In standard conversations people stumble and ramble and even just struggle to find the right words to express something. Performers, like Leigh, know how to utilize those basic conversational goofs to add an extra level of realism to a moment. Alex finding Maggie at the bar to confess that she may indeed be gay wasn’t an easy thing for Alex to admit. With deep breaths and calculated pauses to show Alex trying to compose her thoughts, struggling to find the words, Leigh deliberately stumbled through her lines. The camera was pushed in tight on both Leigh and Lima’s faces giving each actress very little room to work. Their faces were the focal point of the scene with Leigh carrying the weight, she had to rely on her facial expressions and perfectly timed line delivery to fully express what Alex was experiencing.

Despite Maggie’s gentle nudges, Alex wasn’t quite ready to actually say that she was gay. She still needed more time before she could get to the point where she could fully verbalize the full extent of everything she was experiencing. As the scene drew to an end, Leigh masterfully showed Alex was clearly uncomfortable at being open and vulnerable, choosing to make an abrupt exit. The way Leigh’s voice bogged down with emotion throughout showed the full impact this realization was having on Alex.

While that emotional revelation was a huge step for Alex, her biggest emotional moments occurred in Changing (2x6) where Leigh took Alex on a rollercoaster ride of emotions ranging from fear of rejection, to extreme joy, to earth shattering heartbreak. This was perhaps the most pivotal episode throughout this entire arc. The writers threw a lot at her in Changing and Leigh accepted the challenge, delivering one stunning performance after another. This episode gave her some of the most significant character building moments to date. In doing so she gave television one of its most memorable coming out episodes. This is how a coming out story should be done and Leigh did the writers and the fans proud.

The events of this episode set a very high bar for all other shows to try and beat. Alex’s coming out wasn’t met by negativity or even condemnation as happens in real-life in many families, but instead by unfaltering love and support. The standout scenes of this episode involved one of the best acting partnerships on television, Chyler Leigh and Melissa Benoist. This was an intensely emotional episode which saw Leigh having to lean heavy on her regular scene partner, and real life friend, Benoist. In any given scene that they share one of them may have a more prominent presence than the other, but they are always in it together. Leigh regularly supports Benoist through heavy emotional scenes and in this episode Benoist returned that in spades.

The standout scenes of this episode belong to them. Alex’s big coming out moments to Kara (Melissa Benoist) where Alex initially misinterpreted her sister’s reaction and then later in Kara’s apartment where Kara apologizes to her sister and finally gets Alex to understand that she unconditionally loves and supports her resonate with the Danvers sister’s relationship that has been the emotional core of the show from the beginning. That led to the big bold gesture where Alex tried to win over Maggie resulting in a rejection that sent Alex into an emotional tailspin. Most shows would have just stuck each of those points in individual episodes and dragged it all out, but other shows don’t have a performer like Leigh who could handle the intensity of this episode

Both in the scene at Kara’s apartment and the ending one at Alex’s apartment, Leigh had to be very emotional in order to convey the enormity of everything that is weighing down Alex. Keeping this secret for so long made this whole process all that more intense for her because of the massive emotional barriers she had spent years erecting.

As the barriers came down, and she allowed herself to embrace these feelings her entire world began to change. In and of itself that is a hefty thing to deal with, but on top of it she was also dealing with her growing feelings for Maggie. As Maggie pointed out, Alex was in a very heightened state when she decided to pursue her with that kiss. Leigh smartly played the ebbs and flows of the emotions of this episode so that by this point the audience knew that the rejection was going to devastate her. That’s exactly what happened when Alex broke down in Kara’s arms. Leigh flawlessly captured the moment when Alex lost all ability to suppress her emotional reaction to Maggie’s rejection. Her heart was shattered in a million pieces and that was clearly evident on Leigh’s face and in her voice as choked, emotional sobs overtook her. In this moment, Leigh was about as vulnerable as a performer can be yet she didn’t hold anything back as she allowed the sobs to consume her. This scene was a moment of such deep emotional release that it was almost hard to watch because this wasn’t just an intimate moment for the character, but for Leigh as well and Benoist was there supporting her in every way possible, as a sister, acting partner and as a real-life friend.

Scenes like this are taxing on performers, account for the fact that she likely had to do repeated takes for camera coverage and one can’t help but be in awe of Leigh’s stamina to keep up this level of deep flowing emotions long enough to deliver this phenomenally poignant and important scene.

Alex’s emotional catharsis at the end of 2x6, served as build-up for The Darkest Place (2x7), where Alex finally started to come into her own. She seemed much more at ease regarding her own sexuality. Maggie still shakes her and gets under her skin, but she was considerably more guarded around her in this episode. Leigh is usually very connected to her scene partners, especially Benoist and Lima, but in this episode, there was a very obvious distance between Alex and Maggie which Leigh captured by delivering a very guarded performance. It was evident during the initial bar scene, but particularly obvious when Alex laid into Maggie in the parking garage. In that moment, Alex drew a line in the sand, tempering her anger and very clearly defined their new working arrangement. Alex made it clear that she planned to tolerate Maggie, but only as far as it came to them having to work together in a professional capacity. Leigh was very firm in her performance here with a strong tone to her voice and a hard-edged expression on her face. It’s no wonder that Alex left Maggie speechless given the way this scene was delivered with such firm conviction.

While this scene was hard for fans of this couple, it was important because Maggie started to realize the consequences of the way she chose to reject Alex. By the time they were forced to work together to bring down the vigilante Maggie understood there is more to Alex than she may have originally realized. If she was going to have any chance with Alex she had to extend some sort of olive branch which she did by allowing Guardian to go free.

That’s important to understand when Maggie tracks down Alex at Kara’s apartment. When Alex opened the door, she was not expecting Maggie. That surprise gave Leigh a brief moment to let the audience see the effect Maggie still has on Alex despite their earlier encounter. No matter how hard she wanted to, Alex couldn’t fully cut Maggie out. Once she stepped out into the hall with Maggie, Leigh threw up Alex’s tough as nails exterior providing Lima with an interesting challenge. Typically, in a two-person scene like this, the performers would make a very deliberate effort to be very connected and present for each other, but the subject matter forced Leigh to pull back. Thankfully, Leigh and Lima have built a strong rapport allowing the two actresses to pull off this significant scene despite the distance between their characters. As Lima delivered Maggie’s heartfelt and convincing argument, she slowly broke through to Alex, evidenced by an ever so gradual softening to Leigh’s facial expressions. She was still holding Alex in a very guarded way, but she softened enough to allow the audience to see that Maggie’s words were having an impact. When Alex turned and started to walk away, Leigh took a very deliberate pause and ever so slightly softened her posture just before she turned back to Maggie and offered a path back to their friendship. It was clear that friendship wasn’t exactly what Alex wanted, but no matter the way Maggie had hurt her she couldn’t deny the fact that she wanted Maggie in her life as much as Maggie wanted her in hers.

After the emotionally draining journey Leigh and the writers had taken Alex on, the audience believed Alex was overdue for something good to happen to her by the time Medusa (2x8) came around. There were still a few obstacles for Alex to deal with first. Namely, figuring out how to come out to her mom, which ended up not being a big deal at all. Like mothers generally do, Eliza (Helen Slater) already had a pretty good idea about the secret her daughter was trying to tell her by the way Alex had been talking about Maggie. In a simple, lovely scene between Slater and Leigh, Eliza let Alex know that she loved her and was proud of her no matter what. It was effectively the end of Alex’s coming out journey. Everyone that Alex was fearful to tell had been told and they accepted her with open hearts and love, with Alex later noting the irony that her loved ones had handled her coming out better than she had.

Alex’s conversation with Maggie later, when stitching her up, was a stark contrast to all the ones that had preceded it in the prior weeks. Alex was feeling more comfortable being her true self. Gone were all the barriers that had emerged between them. Leigh was able to be very open when working with Lima and there was a noticeably relaxed energy between them. When Alex thanked Maggie, her thoughts were very organized and linear versus the struggles she’d had in prior emotional moments between them. Leigh chose to deliver her lines with firm conviction and soft spoken words which helped highlight just how far Alex had come.

Everything that had happened made what came next feel like it was definitely earned. While Leigh had been on an intense journey with Alex, it was all leading to this moment when Maggie finally realized she couldn’t keep Alex in her life as just a friend. While Leigh deserves a lot of credit for guiding the story to this point, it was because of the beautiful harmony she shares with her co-stars that made this whole story arc have such a powerful impact. Leigh delivered performance after performance with unbelievable precision and skill that it would be easy to completely focus on her, but as she’s proven time and time again she holds her co-stars in high regard, and she'd want them recognized as her partners in this journey. This scene was the epitome of the unification of acting as Leigh organically merged her performance with Lima’s to deliver a scene that turned out to be the perfect culmination of this storyline. After weeks of having to portray the nervous energy of someone trying to come out and seeking support, it was Leigh’s turn to support Lima as her co-star had to deal with her character coming to terms with her own set of feelings.

Then came the moment fans were waiting for as Maggie overcame her own issues and moved in on Alex this time being the one to kiss her. Here’s an interesting note, Leigh knew the kiss was coming, and in that scenario a lot of performers would spoil the surprise by making some movement or action to clue in the audience to what was about to happen. Showing her striking acting skills, not only didn’t she give it away, but after the kiss began she waited several beats before reacting to the kiss to show off Alex’s complete and utter shock. When the first part of the kiss ended and Maggie went in for another, Alex didn’t return it out of shock. The moment immediately following the kiss, when Alex asked Maggie for confirmation of what the kiss meant, Leigh’s voice broke as Alex hoped beyond hope that after everything she had indeed won over the girl. She tucked her hands up under her chin as a bright smile overtook her face, Alex was on cloud nine and Leigh let the audience know it. Then Leigh threw in a little improv, as she later confirmed on Twitter, as she softly brushed Lima’s hair from her face. She felt that it served the moment and went for it giving the whole moment an extra added element of realism. That second kiss was much deeper and deliberate as both actresses came together to conclude Alex and Leigh’s long journey and give it the closure it rightfully deserved.

This part of Alex’s story arc came to a beautiful end, but it’s only the beginning for Alex and Maggie. Thankfully Leigh and Lima were perfectly cast to work together with impeccable chemistry and an ease that isn’t nearly as common as many may think. Leigh is sure to encounter a lot of major milestone moments for Alex when the series returns in January, but fans can rest assured that she’ll tackle those moments with as much dignity, pride, and immense skill as she did everything that occurred in October and November.

Since she won for her performances throughout the entire month of November a lot of great moments got left out of this article that just couldn’t be covered in detail. For example, Alex’s delightful growing brother/sister relationship with Winn (Jeremy Jordan), dealing with J’onn (David Harewood) and Kara’s injuries in the same episode, Kara’s kidnapping and the reappearance of her father in The Darkest Day. These all were showcases of Leigh’s impressive skills, especially her brilliant comedic timing in the drunken scenes at the now classic Danvers Family Thanksgiving scenes in Medusa. The fact that Alex ran to Kara’s fridge and stole out the bottle of whiskey was classic Alex and classic Chyler Leigh. No one can play drunk, love struck, badass, vulnerable, and all around class act person like Chyler Leigh. Please, use the comments section to discuss all of these amazing moments that there just wasn’t the time/space to cover in detail.

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

Author’s Note: Given Leigh’s affinity for her fans I reached out to her to see if she wanted to say anything regarding these back-to-back wins. She replied with incredible enthusiasm at the chance to deliver a message to all of her fans. Because of the holidays and her busy schedule her message wasn’t ready to go into the article prior to this initial publishing. However, she has made it clear to me that she does definitely want to directly address this win as well as some other things regarding this incredible storyline she's been gifted. As soon as her statement is ready I will do an update to this article. Be sure to follow me on Twitter where I’ll post updates regarding when to expect her message. Until then, know that she is aware of this honor her fans bestowed upon her and is very grateful for it, but I’ll let her tell all of you more in her own words, so watch for the update to this article in the coming weeks.

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize Chyler’s work and to honor her performance in November 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 Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.