Friday, May 13, 2011

The Wizards of "Smallville" Part 1

So I'm not sure if you kids know this, but back in the day the comics industry used to have this thing called Wizard Magazine. Back in the day (if you define "the day" as "five to eight years ago"), it was where all four of us CKTers got our start. All things being what they are, Wizard Editorial was often an insanely fun place to work – one of the chief reasons being that if you could claim any special love or knowledge of a piece of comics nerdery, it became your beat.

And thus it was for Ben and I with "Smallville."

During our years on the mag, the two of us each found occasion to speak with folks who worked on the show including original show runners Miles Gough and Al Millar, current head honchos Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders and a metric ton of acting talent from the big stars like Tom Welling and Justin Hartley to crazy guest stars like Dean Cain and Phil Morris. Also some wrestlers.

As part of "Smallville Week" here on the blog, we've dipped into our Wizard archives – because it's not like they're kept anywhere else but on our hard drives – to share some of the best moments from our "Smallville" work from over the years. Dig it.

OK, so this first one isn't an interview, but when I saw this "Who's Gonna Die in the 100th Episode?" prediction poll by Ben in Wizard #173, I got a pretty solid chuckle out of it. Then, while searching his own files, Ben sent me the same exact piece all on his lonesome. An alternate title for the graphic was "SMALLVILLE-AGE OF THE DAMNED." That was hilarious to me.

Like most Wizard polls, there's a 134% probability that the this whole thing was made up in 12 minutes at lunch. So forgive Ben for picking way off on who took the bullet. (Real Answer is hidden below the image because I wonder if Rickey knows this and want him to guess in the comments).

It was Pa Kent, Rickey. Bo Duke had to go for Clark to become Superman. He HAD to.

This article on superhero TV pilots from Wizard #175 came during a time at the mag when we were working a lot of TV content into the magazine (along with a lot of comics stuff was the era of the one-page feature). It was also the first time I wrote anything related to "Smallville" – covering failed Aquaman pilot "Mercy Reef" whose shirtless star we'll hear more from later – or anything on eventual NBC one-season juggernaut "Heroes" (though I covered a LOT of fucking "Heroes" stuff later, man).

Most importantly, this story always reminds me of the day the Wizard staff had an extra long lunch in the upstairs conference room to watch "Mercy Reef" back-to-back with the CBS pilot adaptation of the Luna Brothers' "Ultra." I'm not sure if we made it to the end of "Ultra" without giving up. The reason I'm not sure is because I fell asleep during it.

This is the last scan from a magazine I have, and while taking about this one with Ben, he related how the Season 6 Preview with Al Gough was the first of many instances of one of us speaking to a producer on the show and asking the "will it go another season?" to receive a "We hope so...har har" in reply. I never would've thought that "Smallville" would have actually outlasted the magazine, but there you have it.

Later that year, we ran a few more "Smallville" pieces. One was an interview with Aquaman-turned-Green Arrow Justin Hartley where Mel Caylo's opening question was just a reminder that Hartley was not the first choice for the lead in "Mercy Reef" (you show him, Mel!). The other was an interview Ben did with Kelly Souders that I happened to have a full transcript of. Here's some highlights!

Ben: How is the tone of this season of “Smallville” different from past years?

Souders: This year, everybody has grown up. These characters started out as 14-year old freshmen in high school and now they’ve grown up, but when you grow up in Smallville, you grow up a lot faster. Your world gets a little more twisted than the average person [laughs]. [This season] is really about our kids becoming adults and adjusting to the not so normal world around them.

Ben: How do you think the introduction of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow to the show has contributed to that tone?

Souders: [Green Arrow] has been a blast to write. He will definitely be making appearances [for the rest of the season]. It’s the beginning of Clark being introduced into the superhero world. He’s been isolated on this farm most of his life, not realizing he isn’t the only one out there who is trying to help the world and save people. That introduction into the superhero world becomes a big part of the future for us.

Ben: Would you ever be interested in a Green Arrow solo project?

Souders: That would of course be a dream, because he is such a fun character to write [laughs].

Ben: Has Lex reached the point where he is beyond redemption?

Souders: What’s wonderful about Lex’s character is that he is always on the fence of redemption. Every episode you are constantly looking at him wondering whether this is the moment where he turns evil for the rest of his life or is this the moment where the good hearts of the people around him save him from the dark side?

Ben: Will we be seeing more stunt casting for Phantom Zone criminals as we saw with WWE wrestler Batista and Bow Wow early in the season?

Souders: It’s always fun to stunt cast roles and I think that people in general enjoy it. Whenever we think of a character, if there’s a really great bit of fun celebrity we can pair with it, we try to do that, but sometimes it doesn’t quite work out. We have our dream list we’re always going after. It’s always fun to give nods to other Superman projects, so we always look for ways to tie those in. Dean Cain [who played Clark/Superman on “Lois and Clark”] is definitely somebody who would be fun to cast. It’s all about finding the right person at the right time.

Ben wrote a while ago about his interview with series star Tom Welling and how sick he was, but even without hearing the whole tale there, the transcript below reads pretty funny. That's what sells magazines, kid. Personality! (Also: This interview is from before the one above, so the bits from the show you already know go in reverse!)

Ben: Before we start, I need to warn you, I’ve been really sick all day, so if I duck out for thirty seconds, that’s why.

Welling: Uh, ok, that’s not good [laughs].

Ben: Over on ‘Smallville,’ how has Clark’s attitude about his powers changed going into season five?

Welling: In past seasons, Clark has fought his destiny, but in season five he’s come upon information that has kind of humbled him and made him more accepting of that destiny. Of course he won’t always be that way. I think it’s the constant struggle that keeps the character interesting and makes him interesting for me to play. But we will see more of an evolution towards the character we know Clark will become. We will see that even more with Lex [Michael Rosenbaum] moving towards the Lex Luthor we all know and love to hate.

Ben: Are we going to see the Fortress of Solitude?

Welling: Oh yeah, you see it right in the first episode and it looks really good. It’s based on the one from the [Christopher Reeve] film, so a lot of people will recognize it.

Ben: How do you feel about James Marsters joining the show as Brainiac?

Welling: From what I understand, Brainiac is the ultimate villain. There is some interesting interaction between him and Lex in the beginning. In his alter ego as Professor Fine, he becomes a mentor to Clark, so that will be an interesting relationship. By the third or fourth episode, you’ll find out that the character is not who he appears to be, and it was a big surprise for me reading the script. I’m looking forward to working with James. He’s excited to be on the show and we’re excited to have him.

Ben: What’s your take on brining Aquaman onto the show?

Welling: The most interesting thing for me is that his love interest, Erica Durance [Lois Lane] is terrified of water in real life. It’s pretty ironic that her character falls in love with a guy who can’t survive out of water [laughs]. There are a few sequences that are going to involve Aquaman and Lois being completely underwater and that should [pauses] make for an interesting few days of shooting. I’m looking forward to it [laughs].

Ben: Is bringing in characters from the comics something you like?

Welling: I enjoy it, I like getting a glimpse of these characters before they become who we know them to be. I still have my fingers crossed for a young Bruce Wayne. I pester them about it all the time.

Ben: Do you see ‘Smallville’ coming to an end anytime soon?

Welling: I would like to see the show continue as long as we maintain the integrity of what we set out to do, and that is to show Clark Kent before he becomes Superman, learning about where he’s from and these abilities he has. Once things become easy for Clark, that’s when we’re done.

Ben: Well, that’s all I have, anything you’d like to add?

Welling: Just that I hope you feel better.

Ben: Aww…this interview has made me feel better already.

Welling: Oh man, now I’m going to throw up [laughs].

Speaking of Ben being sick, I recall when I did an interview with Justin Hartley for the Wizard website, Ben being out sick for the day and specifically e-mailing me from bed to tell me this one made him lose his shit a little. See if you can tell which exchange did it:

Kiel: Let’s talk a bit about the “Justice” episode of the show. Over the years on “Smallville” it’s been so much fun to see the Flash or Aquaman or all these different characters and obviously you taking a big part this season. What was it like to get together in the costumes saying, ‘Oh s---! We’re the Justice League now!’?

Hartley: Well you know what, it was a crackup. Believe me it was like…I mean, one costume is goofier than the next, and at that point I had had mine like three months or something by the time that happened, right? So, I was already used to and people were used to me walking around in that thing. I remember when I first got my costume everybody would just stare. Because you’re not used to seeing that, right? That costume’s pretty in your face – leather everywhere. Everyone kind of stared. And then after about a couple of weeks, people walked by and not even notice it. So, by the time those other guys showed up, and they were in their costumes I was already comfortable and didn’t really care. And nobody else cared either. They had already seen me for, like I said, three months.

Those guys came out and it was pretty funny. We were definitely ribbing each other a little bit about the costumes. And when I played Aquaman in the ["Mercy Reef”] pilot, I didn’t have to wear that, that spandex Speedo thing that our show’s Aquaman had to wear. So, I got off pretty easy with the pilot and just having to wear board shorts. He had the whole…[Laughs] I’m sure you’ve seen the picture of it. He came out, balls hanging out and everything, and I felt bad for him. But he’s a big guy, so if anyone’s going to wear spandex it’s got to be him I guess, right?

Kiel: There’s a great slo-mo, kind of ”Reservoir Dogs” shot of you guys from the show and I kind of felt bad for Kyle Gallner who standing next to all you tall, ripped guys looks so small.

Hartley: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. But the thing about it is, I think that fits the character pretty well. Because he’s like speedy, right? So Kyle kind of looks like he’s built for speed. And I think it’s good for him too, to look a little bit different. And he’s younger, and it’s good for us because if you get everyone looking the same, then people start to get bored really quickly. So, I think it was great casting.

And you know, obviously he had done that show before. That one episode, I don’t what it was called. “Run?” The episode “Run” was like a year or two ago. I wasn’t around the show when he was first was doing that episode, but when he showed up to do this one, everyone was like, “Oh, my God! It’s like this guy’s grown twice as much.” So apparently as small as he looks to you, he’s twice as big as when he first started the show. Good for him. And Tom’s like, what 6’4” or something? I’m just a shade under him and then everyone else is pretty big.

Kiel: Did Tom play big brother and introduce everybody to one another?

Hartley: No, not at all. Here’s an interesting thing. When everybody kind of showed up, Tom was directing “Hydro.” So he was kind of knee deep in that stuff anyway. He was busy. So he really didn’t have time for that. And you know, we’re all grown men. We’re all adults. I know some of the people on that show are playing 15 and 16 or whatever, but everyone’s an adult and it’s like when you’re going to an adult thing and you don’t need anybody to introduce you to people or anything. So we all kind of showed up and did our job. But we did crack up a lot – maybe a little more than we should have, but it was a good time. It was a lot of fun. When you’re standing around wearing that kind of s---, what are you supposed to do? You’re supposed to be serious all the time? You’ve got to have some way to vent. You know what I mean?

Kiel: How is it dealing with all the special effects? Is it a longer process for that with so many superheroes running around?

Hartley: They’ve got that stuff down so well, the special effects team, and they’ve got it down so well that that’s actually not the thing that slows us down. The things that were slowing us down were…well, there was one scene in the barn, and you’ll see it, I think it’s the very last scene of the episode. And when you watch it, keep this in mind. There were 38 or 40 camera set-ups for that scene.

It took one entire 14-hour day – if memory serves – one 14-hour day, and then I think we came back and did another 3 or 4 hours in the same exact scene. The scene’s like four pages, five pages, something like that. And of course, it was this big 2-page speech that I had. I think I said that damn thing 150 times. Probably more than that. I probably said that speech 200 times, and people were like, “We got it. Shut up.” By the time we got done with that scene everybody else kind of knew my whole speech.

Kiel: My editor just e-mailed me a press release about some animated wireless episodes about Green Arrow. Are you involved in this? I don’t see your name here.

Hartley: You know what? I was actually going to ask you guys while I was on the phone with you. I was going to ask you if you knew anything about that because my wife and I were watching the episode…you know unfortunately I’ve been in Vancouver so much I never get to see this show as it airs. I always have to watch a VHS or a DVD or whatever. I actually got a chance to see the show, and we sat down and watched it, and after the show there was this big thing that said, “Smallville’s Green Arrow.” And it had my face, and it had the Green Arrow, and it had the comic book version. I mean, I have no idea what the hell any of that is. But I wish I could help you out. That’s so funny because I actually I was going to ask you. Doing what you do, I thought maybe you would know. My wife even said, “When he calls today, ask him if he knows anything about that.” We don’t know.

Kiel: They just sent this thing. I guess it’s an animated 6-episode little thing where it’s apparently taking your character from his prep school days up until he’s introduced in the show, but doing a younger Green Arrow animated thing to give a little background.

Hartley: And it’s going to be an online thing, or what? I have no idea.

Kiel: I think it’s a thing where you can text in and it will send it to you. So if you have a mobile phone that plays video.

Hartley: Oh!

Kiel: You can get it on your phone and watch it on the subway or whatever.

Hartley: Oh, I see. Well, that sounds cool. All right. When I don’t know about things like that it usually means I’m not going to get a paycheck. [Laughs] Crazy.

We'll have up some more interviews from the Wizard days and beyond later on in "Smallville Week."