As fans anxiously await Thursday’s start of the 35th annual Superman Celebration, the Metropolis Planet takes a look back at John Glover, Cassidy Freeman, John Rockwell and Gerrard Christopher’s 2012 visit to Metropolis.
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When it came to the question-and-answer session for John Rockwell and Gerrard Christopher, some thinking caps had to be used.
“These were some of the best questions I’ve been asked anywhere,” Christopher said at the session’s end. “There were a number of questions you guys asked that I’d never thought of before.”
While the 2012 Superman Celebration was Christopher’s second time to Metropolis, it was Rockwell’s first-ever convention related to his super background. However, it wasn’t their first time to meet. “We go way back,” Christopher said, even before he was cast as Superboy.
Christopher portrayed the title character on seasons two through four of the 1988-92 The Adventures of Superboy series. He later added writer and producer duties. For Christopher, the ride as Superboy ended with his just flying short of becoming Superman. Superboy was a No. 10 show when it was taken off to clear the airwaves for Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which starred Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher with 2013 Superman Celebration guest Tracy Scoggins as Cat Grant from 1993-94.
Rockwell’s adventures as Superboy were cut off even shorter. The actor was working at ZIV Studio in 1961 when he heard they were looking for a Superboy portrayer. “When you’re an actor, you try to get every job you can,” he said. He went to the producer’s office, who was playing a game of gin rummy, and said. “’By the way, I have the winner and also, I can fly.’ They laughed,” he recalled. “I took the winner on and beat him. I knew I had the job right then.” While the pilot was filmed, it never saw the light of day due to legal issues with sponsors since The Adventures of Superman was on television at the same time. “The episodes were ready to go. They told me I was going to be working a lot. That’s show business,” he said.
Rockwell did walk away with some great memories. “I had a lot of fun on the set. They had me on a trampoline when I had to go off camera. I used to do a lot of tumbling so I said I’d do my own stunts,” he said.
Another memory was Superboy’s dog, Krypto. “When we shot the pilot, they asked about a dog I’d teach to jump off the building 20 feet high and I’d catch him, and he was going to be in the show. I was training the dog to do almost everything. There’s a picture in the book of the dog walking on his hind legs and it says ‘Superdog outshines Superboy.’”
Christopher didn’t even know The Adventures of Superboy series was on the air when his agent told him to audition. He met with producer Ilya Salkind, a 2010 Superman Celebration guest, and “he wanted to hire me right away. He didn’t let on. He flew me down to Florida and made me do the most bogus screen test — they didn’t make it look like I had competition but I was too stupid to know what was going on,” Christopher recalled.
A little while later, Christopher was back in Salkind’s office, wearing his Superboy costume in preparation for filming a scene. “He looked me in the eye and he says, ‘I don’t want to make you feel too nervous but you know the show before was really tanking and unless the ratings go up really good, you’re out of a job. . . . But I don’t want you to feel pressure or anything. And by the way, the other 120 on the show, they’ll be out of work, too.’ So I said, ‘No problem, no problem.’ He was a character, good guy.”
Christopher studied writing in college and soon after getting the role began writing scripts for Superboy. Three of them were used. He also co-produced one season before producing another.
“This was in the ‘80s when personal computers first came out,” he said. “I had a Compaq and would sit in costume on the side waiting to say lines and write another show. When I wasn’t working, which was pretty rare, they’d have me go inside and do a casting session of the guest stars, picking out some costumes. I was involved in all the creative aspects of the show and it was fun.
One thing that was fun — but sometimes wasn’t — was flying.
“If you were afraid of heights, this was not the job for you,” Christopher said. “Flying was one of the hardest things to do and one of the most fun things to do. When you see me flying and the background is moving, they do it green screen and they project that against it. That was a very uncomfortable experience — I had to wear a harness with little tiny wires coming out the side and stay flat for 30 minutes at time. The other flying I did was really fun — they’d set up a construction crane and if I had to do a scene where I’m punching somebody out and I have to fly away, they’d pick me up, I’d do my punch up scene, they’d cut, I’d get on the flying suit and on my cue — bend myself at the knees — they’d pull me up and I’d let go and go to the roof of a building or something. This stuff was fun.”
Christopher recalled a shot in Florida where he was attached to a crane with steel wires. He was 1000 feet up, attached with steel wires on a crane that was on a bridge over a big lake.
“There was thunder all over. They’d swing me out so I’m a couple hundred feet — my safety officer is paying no attention — they swing me and I almost hit power lines. I’m going ‘Thunder, lighting, power lines — get me down, get me down!’ It really wasn’t the flying that scared me that time, these guys didn’t do the job well,” he said. “But most of the time, flying outside was fun.”
While neither of their characters were established in the original Superman comic books, there’s no denying that John Glover’s Lionel Luthor and Cassidy Freemna’s Tess Mercer had an impact on Smallville’s storyline.
For the character of Tess, that impact was so great she was written into the comic book series last year. Freeman got her first look at herself in ink during an autograph session at the 2012 Superman Celebration.
“It was very freeing,” Glover said of not being an established Superman universe character. “I could do anything, if I wanted.”
“I think it made her more human — she could change her mind more often,” Freeman said of Tess. “I feel like characters in any comics or books that are written, specifically in the genre, are either light or dark and they sorta have to follow that storyline, whereas Tess can go all over the map. She couldn’t stay that (person) the whole time, she had to change. I was excited for her.”
Freeman joined the Smallville cast in September 2008, portraying Lex Luthor’s efficient successor who takes over LuthorCorp when Lex disappears as acting CEO. Freeman appeared in 64 episodes of Smallville from 2008 until the show ended in May 2011 in a character transition from Clark Kent’s nemesis turned confidant.
Glover appeared in 145 episodes of Smallville playing Lionel Luthor from 2001-11, creator of LuthorCorp and father of Lex Luthor. Glover grew up watching The Adventures of Superman. He performed in plays with Christopher Reeve.
“It was amazing to see how spiritual he had gotten about work and life. It was quite an eye-opening experience,” Glover said of the difference between the time he worked with Reeve, who also appeared in two episodes of Smallville.
“I never saw myself as evil,” Glover said of Lionel. “I tried to look at it as Lex, my son, wasn’t as strong as I needed him to be to carry on the line, so I was trying to give him tests to make him stronger. The one attempt they made to right Lionel as a good person was when I was in prison and they tried to write me good and it was one of those storylines they dropped because it wasn’t working. It was better when they wrote me bad and I found ways to trick them into being good — keep the writers confused, confusion’s good if you just give in to it.”
But when it came to playing Clark Kent in a body switching episode, “it was very hard for me to be pure. I kept wanting to do things all the time. Tom (Welling) did a great job as me. They kept telling me, ‘No, Tom doesn’t really do anything.’ He doesn’t have to, that’s why he was so wonderful as Clark Kent. There was this still, wonderful thing (he had), and I’m a propacholic, looking for things to do,” he said. “There were always things the writers came up with that were inventive and wonderful for us all to do.
“What was so interesting to see about Tom is how he basically was so savvy — he’d been directing and producing — that his mind had shifted from this kind of rookie that didn’t know what was going on to this incredibly knowledgeable man that’ll end up being a producer/director,” Glover later observed of Welling’s growth during the series.
Among Glover’s favorite episodes was where Lionel rescued Martha Kent. “That was fun to do. I don’t know if I watched it though. Was it any good when it was on?” he said.
Glover said the only input he gave for his character was that Lex should kill Lionel when the time came. “I don’t know if they were already planning that,” he said. “He pushed me out the window. He killed me.”
By the series’ end, Tess turned out to be the daughter of Lionel and the half-sister of Lex, portrayed by 2013 Superman Celebration guest Michael Rosenbaum. Freeman first met Rosenbaum during the shooting of the series finale. “I don’t think I got the same amount pranksterism that maybe dear old Dad (Glover) did, but I think I also tried to get him a couple of times because I heard how much of a prankster he was.”
“What he does by those kind of jokes and having fun, it makes his performance very alive and wonderful,” Glover observed of Rosenbaum. “And working with him because of that sense of humor that he’s got and that devilish sense, he’s a terrific actor to work with. We had a great time playing together. I miss him.”
Although they were only together on four episodes of Smallville’s Season 10, the camaraderie between Glover and Freeman was evident as soon as they sat down on the Metro Tent stage for Saturday’s Q&A session in 2012. They proclaimed the event as the Luthor Celebration.
Freeman is now on A&E’s Longmire, which just began its second season after premiering just before the 2012 Celebration. Glover had just finished a run on Broadway — a revival of Death of a Salesman — before coming to the Celebration.
Freeman said her favorite Tess storylines were in Season 8 when the history between Tess and Oliver Queen (2009 Superman Celebration Justin Hartley) was explained and Season 10’s Little Lex. “I loved being able to be sort of motherly and I think that instinct in her brought out more of her redemption and more of her humanity,” she said. “And I loved playing with all those little actors. I just wanted to squeeze their faces.”
Freeman did many of her own stunts. “She was amazing, she was like a stunt woman herself. She was so athletic,” Glover observed. “Some of these things are dangerous and when you’re about to see a stunt happen, you can feel the tension on the set.” Freeman said flying to land on a shattering table was about the only thing she used a double for. “The scenes were I was slapped and flew across the room, that was me,” she said. “We had great stunt coordinators. And greater stunt doubles; they were like, ‘Just throw a mattress down there to catch me.’”
Glover was asked to be a part of Smallville a couple of days before shooting the pilot was to begin. “My agent called me, saying it as two days work, Friday and Monday, and they might have you back. They had me back for seven episodes that first season because I was doing a lot of theater. The next year, the offered me a contact for six seasons.”
Freeman had booked a pilot for The CW with Hartley, which didn’t get picked up. She was offered an audition for Smallville. “I really thought I bombed because I’m a pretty happy and smiley and laughy kind of person. They were like, ‘This is for a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate people in situations.’ No way I’m getting that part. And I got it. The year prior I auditioned for Supergirl. I think they chose a better Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort, a 2010 Celebration guest) and I was happy to play Tess.”