SMALLVILLE Star Michael Rosenbaum On Being Considered The Definitive Lex Luthor (Exclusive)

It's not every day you get to sit down with Clark Kent & Lex Luthor, so when we caught up with the Smallville stars, we asked what it means to be the longest-tenured versions of these iconic characters.

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To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Smallville and the impending release of The Complete Series Blu-ray box set, we caught up with stars Tom Welling (Clark Kent/Superman) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) to discuss the show's lasting impact on DC TV, which, since the show's 2011 finale, has spawned an entire new universe of stories while doing their best to honor what's come before.

With a photo of Welling alongside fellow Men of Steel Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) and Tyler Hoechlin (Superman & Lois) going viral on the interwebs not too long ago, it's fair to wonder whether the Smallville veterans have been able to form any sort of connection with their successors, or, at the very least, been able to offer any advice on how to navigate Vancouver.

While Welling jokingly admits that no one's reached out to him, both he and Rosenbaum had extremely kind words to say about Jon Cryer, who is the current Lex Luthor on Supergirl. Welling also reflected on working with him on the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover event in 2019. 

TOM: Well, no one’s asked me anything. *laughs* No one’s reached out.

MICHAEL: Jon Cryer has been just extraordinary, I mean he posts that he thinks I was the best Lex Luthor and I am just in awe and honored and it’s really sweet.

TOM: When I did the thing, it was like the meta-verse?

MICHAEL: Oh, the multiverse!

TOM: And I walk up to him, to Jon Cryer, and he goes, “I’m Lex Luthor,” and I say, “You’re not Lex.” That was such an easy line, you know what I mean? Because to me, this is the guy. *points to Michael* It was so easy to look at somebody, like if you were like “My name is Tony” and I’d be like, “Nah, you’re not Tony.” *shaking his head* So, this is my Lex. *pointing to Michael* There may have, I mean Gene Hackman was great and whatnot, but Jon Cryer, God love him, I hope he was here when I’m talking about this, but he’s not Lex. Not to me, not to my Clark.

MICHAEL: Not to his Clark, yeah. And Jon does a fantastic job and it’s just when you’re working with someone so well together and so long together, that’s always, he’ll always be my Clark, I’ll always be the Lex and that’s the chemistry we have on- and off-screen.

While Welling and Rosenbaum will likely forever remain the longest-tenured Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, it should come as no surprise that most - including Welling himself - still consider the late great Christopher Reeve to be the definitive version of Superman. However, in Rosenbaum's case, you'd be hard-pressed to find many fans that don't consider his portrayal of Lex Luthor to be the best live-action interpretation of the iconic DC villain. 

Rosenbaum recounted his initial audition and provided a little insight on his approach to the role, what he understood about the character, and why he believes this Lex has resonated with so many over the years. 

MICHAEL: First of all, I was nervous as hell, I thought everybody, all these fans are going to hate me and I’m not going to do well, do this character right, do it justice and we weren’t really around social media then, so it was great that I didn’t have to have the internet to go through, and go, “Oh, you’re messing it up! You really suck!” I didn’t have to deal with all that, but I sort of approached it as whatever anybody else did, that’s what they did, let’s be real, let’s be grounded, learn your lines, hit your mark, trust the writing, trust the direction, trust the creating and then I got lucky, I just stuck to my guns where I’m not going to be too evil. I’ve learned a lot of things to be deep and I have -

TOM: It was a story before the story

MICHAEL: Story before the story, before he becomes Superman, before I become evil Lex Luthor that everybody knows, I had a long way of sort of develop my character and we had backstory and I think it was the most detailed character.

TOM: The idea that we had multiple episodes over the course of all these seasons, you get into the actual character, where the films don’t allow that, the film is more about plot, getting it done.

MICHAEL: Evil Lex!

TOM: Television does allow you to delve into character and it’s something that’s lacking in the films now, but that’s not the film’s fault, it’s just—

MICHAEL: It is.

TOM: Okay. *laughs*

MICHAEL: I think that the character development in any movie, any TV show, any project, whether it’s a play, if you can see where the character is coming from, and understand his upbringing, something that makes you feel for a character, that goes a long way and I think that a lot of movies, not saying superhero movies, but we don’t care about people and you need to care. We had a long time to develop that, but I think backstory is huge and character development is huge.

TOM: We also had time to work together, all of us, we ended up caring about each other and that feeds into the character development.

MICHAEL: Yeah.

TOM: Like there’s Kristen, or Erica, or you or John Glover, we care about these people and we care about the characters. In a film, you see somebody, maybe you see them in four scenes in the movie, you don’t even have time to know their last name or if they had kids or not, but on a TV show, you get to know people and that transcends. 

Despite logging over 200 hours as Kal-El, Welling has remained adamant that he only ever played Clark Kent, not Superman, but it seems like his stance could finally be softening thanks in no small part to two very special fans: his young sons Thompson and Rocklin, who are eventually going to grow up and realize their dad played one of the greatest superheroes of them all.

As for how he's going to handle it when that day inevitably comes, with a big smile on his face, he tells us: 

TOM: Well, I’m just going to say I played Clark Kent.

MICHAEL: *laughs and imitates Tom* I wasn’t Superman, kids.

TOM: I wasn’t Superman, I was Clark Kent. That’s how I’m going to lead and I’m sure they’re going to be like, “No, no” But yeah…

MICHAEL: It’s going to be a lot of fun for you watching them.

TOM: It’s going to be a lot of fun for them and it’s going to be fun for me because, at the time when we were doing Smallville, I didn’t necessarily enjoy that aspect and now that I have kids and I see that they’re gonna, I see them watching things and I’m like, Man, when they figure this out, it’s going to be— 

MICHAEL: Exciting!

TOM: Hopefully, exciting. 

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think it’s going to be great.

TOM: Or they’re just going to be like, “Eh, I don’t know” But, we’ll see. 

MICHAEL: I try to let my dog watch the show but there’s not a lot of input. *Tom laughs* I don’t have any children, so what’re you going to do.

TOM: My sons are going to be like, “You were Lex Luthor?” *laughs* 

MICHAEL: Sometimes my friends will come up to me, like years later, and be like, like Chris was like, “Dude, you were the best Lex Luthor.” And I’m like, “Why didn’t you tell me this while I was working on it?!” And he goes, “I just always really loved your performance.” I think friends are weird about stuff or like opening up and I was just, “Dude, that means so much to me!” Definitely when your peers and family like something you do, it’s good.

TOM: Well, you know, as a writer, like you write something and then like somebody’s like, “Dude, I just read that shit, that was awesome!” And you’re like, “Thank you!” And then they wait a while and you’re like, “Well why didn’t you tell me that a little while ago?”

MICHAEL: Instant gratification! We are actors, we are artists! We need that! 

TOM: It’s the same thing! *laughs*

SMALLVILLE: THE COMPLETE SERIES Blu-ray box set arrives in stores tomorrow!

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