Long Island native Helen Slater joins Eternal Con
With Wonder Woman crashing the superhero boys’ club and other female-led genre movies on the horizon, comic book fans are finally getting an eyeful of women with extraordinary abilities and origin stories just as compelling as their male counterparts.
And at the upcoming Eternal Con at Nassau Coliseum on July 1 and 2, hero worshipers will get a chance to meet the original Supergirl, Helen Slater—the first on-screen adaptation of the female fighter for truth, justice and the American way.
“A silver lining of attending these cons is that it made me appreciate what it meant to be a superhero,” said Slater. “When I was acting as Supergirl at 18 or 19-years-old, I wasn’t aware of the impact these movies would have.”
Born in Bethpage with time spent in Massapequa and Great Neck, Slater donned the cape to play Superman’s cousin in 1984’s Supergirl. Her first big-screen role, Supergirl saw Slater acting opposite heavyweight film talents including Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow and Peter O’Toole. For the young Slater barely out of New York City’s High School of Performing Arts, it was a masterclass in the art of acting.
“Looking back, it was very daunting. But the performing arts school was intense and I felt like it trained me for that moment,” she said, adding that her and O’Toole would workshop Shakespeare during rehearsals. “That was a real mentorship. He loved theater and acting. But they were all so kind to me. I never felt like they were these big powerhouses that I couldn’t approach.”
Recently, Slater’s career came full circle when she took the role of Eliza Danvers, Supergirl’s stepmother on the CW series Supergirl, with Melissa Benoist in the starring role. Slater said that when she first caught a glimpse of Benoist in full costume, she had to stop and take a breath.
“I really did have a sensory whiff of my younger self from 30 years ago. It was very memorable and a moving moment,” she said. “Melissa [Benoist] is such a kind, sweet and talented woman. I feel so lucky to have been asked to join the show and the writers are giving me such lovely things to do with the character.”
Slater has worked steadily in a wide range of roles since 1984’s Supergirl, including star-turns in Ruthless People alongside Bette Midler, The Secret Of My Success with Michael J. Fox, City Slickers with Billy Crystal and a long list of television roles. But of all the parts she has played, Slater said she hears the most praise from fans for her titular role in 1985’s The Legend Of Billie Jean.
In the film, Slater plays a modern day Joan of Arc—complete with symbolically short hair—as she fights against subjugation and the amoral bombast of male authority figures. Complete with a soundtrack that includes Pat Benatar’s call-to-action “Invincible,” it is a snapshot of the 1980s, but with empowerment themes that put it ahead of its time.
“There weren’t a ton of strong female roles when Billie Jean came out, and the way her strength and sexuality were portrayed was not usual at the time,” she said, adding that the film didn’t achieve its following until after it started airing on television. “She was a super strong chick leading these underdog, ragtag, disenfranchised kids. She fought for justice when she couldn’t get it through regular channels and I think that resonates with people.”
With her roles as Supergirl and Billie Jean, as well as Talia al Ghul in the 1990’s Batman: The Animated Series and stints on DC Superhero Girls, Slater is no stranger to inspiring young women with her characters—but what she would really like to see is women of her generation getting the same focus on empowerment.
“It’s really only recently occurring to me that a lot of my roles have had a positive impact,” she said. “I would love to do it for my generation of women. I don’t feel like there’s enough of that for women over 40 or 50. I’ve worked steadily over the years, so I don’t feel it deep in my bones, but work does become harder to come by and you do feel more invisible. I would love for that next big character to be for this generation of women.”
And with the success of Wonder Woman, its star Gal Gadot and its director Patty Jenkins, Slater said it feels as though she is living through a mini-awakening in terms of opportunities for women in the film industry.
“It’s remarkable that I wasn’t more aware of the shortcomings in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. Now, people are outraged and I almost feel a little embarrassed that we weren’t more on top of that early on,” she said. “It was just accepted that men were directors and that women only liked romantic comedies. But no, look. There are real powerhouse women out there.”
When Slater returns to Long Island for Eternal Con, she will be joined by Brianna Hildebrand, who played Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool; Lee Meriwether, Catwoman from the 1960s Batman; WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley; Paul Blake, Greedo in the original Star Wars; Edward James Olmos of Battlestar Galactica; and more.
Though she does return to Long Island from time to time, mainly for its beaches, Slater said she is excited to be back on her home turf.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the fans,” she said. “I feel so grateful to be a part of this scene and to be invited.”