Director Lexi Alexander: I get 'obsessive' when directing superhero projects
Directing a superhero project, whether a TV show or movie, presents rare challenges. Not only does the director have to be a skilled story teller, but it’s equally important to deliver the action in a believable way while staying true to the character’s mythology. This is where Lexi Alexander comes in.
The 41-year-old Alexander is unique in that she’s probably the only Oscar-nominated director who was also a world champion martial artist. The German-born Alexander has been behind the camera for the 2008 movie Punisher: War Zone, and in more recent days, episodes of both Supergirl and Arrow (“I’m booked for another superhero show, but I’m not allowed to say,” she noted).
Alexander spoke with HitFix on a variety of topics about directing the genre, including the background work she does, how she leverages her martial arts experience and what she’d like to see from superhero shows going forward.
Here’s what she had to say:
How much do you know about the universe before you direct a show like Arrow or Supergirl?
With Supergirl, I kind of grew up with it and…it’s also such a well-known story. So I didn’t have to completely read up on Supergirl because I obviously watched the episodes that happened before the episode I was directing. Arrow I had to read everything. I knew nothing about Arrow.
What do you make sure to keep in mind before you begin on a superhero project?
For me, when I go on a project…one thing I really am very obsessive about is I have to get into the essence of this character and the mythology. For Punisher, for example, it’s all about revenge. He kills. He would never think twice about killing. You really have to get that and understand that…For Supergirl, it’s really kind of the total opposite. Her struggle is really “How can I be as much of a human as possible and as much of a young woman and still be this superhero fixing the world?”
Is there a particular tone that you try to achieve?
I’m trying to match what the creators have established…On the TV shows, the keeper of the tone is really the showrunner. They have to have it figured out before the show starts and they’re in charge. [This is] unlike the movie where I’m in charge of that.
On Arrow…that’s a show that’s in its fourth season, so they’ve created the world. They’ve created the tone and you don’t want to mess with that unless somebody actually gives you exact instructions. On a show like that you can maybe try to add something to the look, try to add as much as you can but stay in the world they’ve created.
[On Supergirl] the writers and the showrunner are still…establishing it [the mythology] and still trying to figure out what works best. Even though I did episode 14 of the first season, they really wanted some elements that I can bring to the table because they specifically asked me…They asked me, “Let’s see what you think. How should she fight? What do you think you can come up with if you can take her somewhere else?” I don’t know if that will ever happen to me again unless I direct a pilot for a superhero. But that was really neat.
Do you draw on your martial arts background when directing a superhero project?
On Supergirl the showrunner…asked me, “What do you want to do? Change it to the way you want to have it.” So I came up with quite a bit of stuff…it was to take her to a more grounded version of fighting that doesn’t only rely on her superpower.
What would you like to see in future superhero projects?
I thought Jessica Jones, although a Marvel character, kind of showed what else we can do with these superheroes…Jessica Jones managed to tell the story of rape and consent and men not understanding the word “no.”…But Jessica Jones managed to get everyone, including young men, to watch a show about consent. I find that to be amazing.
What do you think of the proliferation of superhero projects?
I think we’re going to get more…I hope that we branch out into some of the lesser-known publishers…I think there is something very, very tempting and profitable about this whole comic book thing and I don’t think we’re stopping at all. I think TV will get much heavier.
Who’s your favorite comic book character?
Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel. She’s a brown girl. She’s a Muslim girl. I think that’s something we don’t often see. And being a half-Arab German, [I] can really relate.
Who’s your least favorite comic book character?
Oh God, this probably will get me haters, but the one I could never quite relate to was Hulk.