She appeared in the title role in the 1984 film Supergirl. In the following years she starred in several very successful comedy-drama films such as Ruthless People, The Secret of My Success, and City Slickers. Since then she has found regular work as an actress in various film, television, and stage projects, including guest appearances on the series Smallville.
In the 2000s she recorded three albums, on which she sings her own compositions and plays the piano. Helen Slater was born in Bethpage, New York, the daughter of Alice Joan (née Citrin), a lawyer and nuclear disarmament peace activist based in New York City, and Gerald Slater, a television executive; the two divorced in 1974. She has a brother, David, who is a lawyer in New York City. Her family is Jewish. Slater attended Great Neck South High School and then transferred to the High School of Performing Arts, which she graduated from in 1982.
She made her acting debut in the ABC Afterschool Special Amy and the Angel, aired in 1982, alongside James Earl Jones, Meg Ryan, and Matthew Modine. This was also the only film she appeared in as a brunette. In 1984, she was cast as the title character, versus Faye Dunaway as Selena, in the film Supergirl, released in 1984. The film, directed by Jeannot Szwarc, received mixed reviews, and was not a box office success. In her next film, she was cast alongside Christian Slater and Yeardley Smith as Billie Jean Davy, a folk hero that styles herself as a modern day Joan of Arc, in the film The Legend of Billie Jean. Next she appeared in two high profile comedies, Ruthless People and The Secret of My Success. More high-profile roles followed when she appeared in the cult classic independent comedy Sticky Fingers with longtime friend Melanie Mayron and the steamy A House in the Hills with Michael Madsen. She has also voiced Talia in the highly acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.
She became a spokeswoman for Preference by L'Oréal in both television and print ads. Since the late 1980s, she has worked in television and film. She made a brief guest appearance on "Seinfeld" as a love interest of Jerry Seinfeld, who in reality is a huge fan of the Superman universe. More recently, Slater was seen in a recurring role as Clark Kent's biological mother, Lara, on the Superman-themed TV series Smallville. She will reprise the role in the tenth season of the show.
In 2009, she guest starred in an episode of The CW horror series Supernatural. Slater co-founded the New York theater group, The Naked Angels, with Gina Gershon. Her stage credits include appearances in Grease, and Shakespeare and Friends. Off-Broadway, she starred in Responsible Parties and Almost Romance. She also attended classes at both N.Y.U. and U.C.L.A., to broaden her acting abilities.
Slater has stated that she pursued musical efforts even before doing movies. In the 1989 movie Happy Together, she sang a medley of Broadway songs as well other songs. In the 1994 movie Lassie, she also sang. For the soundtrack of the film Nowhere In Sight, she contributed the song The Detour.
In 2003, she released a CD, One of These Days, consisting of her original songs. Notably, the tracks were real-time recordings with Slater singing and playing piano, plus six other musicians total; no multitracking, editing, or dubbing were employed. In 2005, she released a second CD, Crossword, using the same recording approach as the first CD. Both albums were produced by Phil Swann. In 2008 Cortes Alexander recorded Slater's "Any Day Now" and "Love'll Come & Do Just That" on his album Swell. Her third album, "Shine", was released in late 2010.
Slater wrote a day in the life of Supergirl tale which appeared in the 50th issue of the Supergirl comic. She married award-winning editor Robert Watzke. Their daughter, Hannah Nika, was born August 28, 1995.