The Smallville cast can’t stop talking about Michael Rosenbaum. While the actor who brought Lex Luthor to the small screen was not in attendance at New York Comic-Con’s Smallville cast reunion, much of the panel’s anecdotes, jokes, and plugs were about him. Moderated by Walt Disney World entertainer Cameron Matthews, the panel welcomed John Glover (Lionel Kent), Erica Durance (Lois Lane), Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang), as well as Clark Kent himself, Tom Welling — who hosts a Smallville rewatch podcast “Talk Ville” with Rosenbaum. “Michael’s an idiot,” he said, “so it’s a lot of fun.”
Looking back at the series, which ran for 10 seasons and over 200 episodes on The CW, it’s impressive that the show kept its character-based storytelling and stuck to its “no flights, no tights” policy for so long. Twenty years later, audiences expect superhero shows to get to the suit, the crossover event, and reveal the big bad immediately. As Welling said to the other cast members on stage with regards to the phrase “no flights, no tights” which he had written into his contract, firmly believing that “we wouldn’t have lasted 10 years if we’d put the suit on in season 1.”
It gave them the freedom to slow down, be a drama series, and not “be beholden” (Welling’s words) to any particular comic book arc. Even a character like Glover’s, who could so easily be a campy villain, was humanized in the series. (The actor said the highest compliment was when people stopped him on the street and asked if he was supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy.)
Refusing to take that easy route “made the show focus on what it was supposed to focus on,” added Durance, who owned up to being the nerd on set and was well aware that Lois wasn’t supposed to come in at this point in Clark’s life per the mythology. (Meanwhile Welling admitted later that while he knew who Lois Lane was, he didn’t realize Lana Lang was a comic book character until later in the show’s run.) Durance’s high energy was such a change of pace, in fact, that the writers started giving her incomplete and run-off sentences in the script to reflect the way that she talks. Welling remembered her asking him about it and saying “Why are they doing this? I can screw up these lines all by myself.”
The overall tone was jokey and jovial, with Kreuk and Durance ribbing Welling and Glover ribbing all three. One running bit was that Welling was responsible for casting the show, when in reality he — ironically, as an actor playing Superman — wasn’t always aware of the power he had on set. “I didn’t wanna cast Rosenbaum,” Welling joked, citing “his attitude” as the reason. “I just didn’t know that we would click.” Durance said he’s the only person she ever swore at on set. “In fairness it’s not him,” she said.
“It’s kind of him,” joked Kreuk. “It’s kind of him. He pushes.”
One thing Welling (lovingly) pushed was pranks. Welling reflected on messing with Rosenbaum on a few occasions in later seasons when he was a producer and director on the series. When Lex Luther has to give a speech as president of the United States in season 7, episode 18, they wrote a two-page long speech for Rosenbaum to recite that they knew wouldn’t make the episode, and didn’t tell him until he was on set that there wasn’t a teleprompter. “Didn’t someone put him in a green screen suit too?” asked Kreuk, and Welling sheepishly rose his hand and explain they had him dance around like smoke in a skin-tight suit.
However, the temperature in the room turned thoughtful when a fan asked about working with Christopher Reeve and Welling told a story about shooting with the late Superman actor in his last on-screen appearance before his death in 2004.
“Me and Greg Beeman, who was the showrunner at the time, flew up to New York,” said Welling. “We had one day of shooting. Chris was only supposed to be there for about three hours and I think he stayed like six and a half [...] The idea was we’d shoot all of his coverage, he was gonna leave, and then I was gonna shoot all of my stuff with someone else. But he wanted to stay with me, and it got to the point where his nurse said to him ‘I’m gonna call the police,’ and he’s like, ‘On who?’ and she’s like ‘On you. You’re done. You can’t be here.’ He really just wanted to be there and I think it turned out great. I didn’t know what to expect, but one thing he did not want you to feel was sorry for him.”
Ultimately that dedication was something the whole cast can identify with, and one they think makes the show hold up, even with no tights or flights, all these years later. “Family,” said Glover. “It’s about family. It draws everybody in. We all have families, and this was a special one because there was a very special boy.”
“I think it’s about the weirdness that makes you special,” Kreuk echoed. “Everybody has that desire, that thing that makes them kind of odd or different is the thing that actually sets them apart. It’s an aspirational kind of dream.” It’s comforting to see stories where those values prevail when the world or a person’s personal life is difficult. For Welling, it’s about the simple concept of identity that makes superhero stories like Smallville relatable to everyone no matter who they are: “Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?”