Friday, May 20, 2011

The Wizards of "Smallville" Part 2

When we last checked in on the history of Ben and I's tenure at Wizard – well, at least our tenure as "Smallville" reporters for Wizard...the rest of it would involve many stories about a Chinese Buffet and the only office in the place with a door and Atomic Twinkies and surly comments from Mike Cotton and a soundtrack by Posion/Phish – we'd gone over a big list of the big names from the just-wrapped Superman series that we interviewed back then.

But there's so much more weird stuff.

As we were ending our run on the magazine, there was this brief flowering of TV coverage on the Wizard website that everyone got involved in whether they wanted to or not. Group recaps of everything from "Lost" to "Battlestar Galactica" were common and done in the style of Wizard's then-popular "Thursday Morning Quarterback" column. Unsurprisingly, our beat was "Smallville" where I think we made it through eight episodes of Season 7 for "TVQB" with the help of Dave Paggi, ToyFare's Adam Tracey and InQuest's Brent Fishbaugh. By no stretch of the imagination was Season 7 part of the show's glory years, and I remember how trying to keep up with "Smallvile" during its transformation into crazy superhero drama finally broke me from the series after watching it since the pilot.

BUT! We also did a considerable amount of interviews with the show's many random guest stars and stunt cast folks around that time, and they were always the most memorable and fun experiences of covering the show. Check out some of the highlights (and lowlights?) of that era below.

Dean Cain

Ben wrote about his experience talking to the Superman of the '90s here. Their chat below turned out to be pretty fun, but I tells ya, it's got to be a little tough to play Superman and then try to do something else. If you play Superman in a failed TV pilot, you're still going to have people calling you on the phone in 20 years and going, "So...what was it like in those underpants?" No wonder it breaks some men.

Ben: What can you say about your role on “Smallville”?

Cain: I play a character named Curtis Knox, who is a very special sort of fellow. He’s [in Smallville] for a very particular reason and has a very specific agenda that becomes clear as the episode progresses, but it deals with the meteor infected and a cure he has found for them. I’m working for Lex Luthor, so, of course, my path will cross with Clark Kent.

Ben: Is this a one-time appearance or could you be back later on?

Cain: I never give away that kind of info. [Laughs] I will say that I have only shot one episode, but it’s kind of hard to kill this character—let’s just leave it at that.

Ben: What was it like working with this cast?

Cain: It was great! These guys have been doing this for so long, seven years, that they’ve got it down to a science. It’s a real nice situation up [in Vancouver where they shoot]. I hadn’t watched a lot of the episodes [before being cast], so it took me a minute to adjust because they’re moving at mach-10, but once you figure out the tone, you get it, and then it was quite fun. I reminded me of the hours I used to pull on “Lois & Clark” and also that I don’t have to do that anymore. [Laughs]

Ben: Now when you were announced as being a guest star for this season, fan reaction was tremendously positive—how did that make you feel?

Cain: If people are excited that I’m on the show, I’m happy. That’s very cool. I dig that. I am part of the Superman mythos and I’m glad. I’m proud to have played that role and proud to be associated with that. Once Christopher Reeve appeared [on “Smallville”], that really cleared the way for everybody, because to me he is the original Superman. I know there were other guys before him, but he is my original Superman.

Ben: Did you find yourself comparing it to “Lois & Clark” or are the shows too different?

Cain: I think it’s apples and oranges. [“Smallville”] is really nothing like what we did. “Lois & Clark” was a more family friendly show—this is a little bit darker. This is more for teenagers. At one point I’m cutting out a live woman’s kidney! We were a show where the younger kids could watch and it was a cuter version. It’s a whole different take on that world because you’ve got all these meteor infected kids, you’ve got Clark Kent and Lex Luthor knowing each other in Smallville and all that sort of stuff going on.

Ben: Did you and Tom Welling, who plays Clark, spend a lot of time together on set?

Cain: We had a few days of head-to-head work, so to speak.

Ben: Even though he’s been playing the character for seven years now, did he pick your brain at all? Did you offer any advice?

Cain: [Laughs] He did not pick my brain about the character because his character is totally different [than my Clark Kent was]. We did commiserate over some of the real life situations like the hours you have to work. It was really interesting to be in a scene where somebody was moving at super speed and that person was not me.

Ben: Is this the first time you’ve ever interacted with another member of this fraternity of guys who have played Superman or Clark Kent?

Cain: It certainly was. It’s funny. It’s fun. He’s a big dude. Tom’s big! I mean I’m six foot, 200 pounds, but he’s got to be six foot three, 240. He’s big, man. That kid is definitely taller than me and definitely bigger.

Ben: Did he give you a hard time about the fact that he doesn’t have to wear tights?

Cain: No. I don’t think he even wants to touch that! I think he’s pretty happy he doesn’t have to wear tights. Let me tell you, there were times I was hanging in those tights 40 feet off the ground and saying out loud, “I went to Princeton for this?” [Laughs]

Ben: Now “Lois & Clark” has been off the air for 10 years…

Cain: [Gasp then laughter]

Ben: I looked it up! Anyways, a decade later, how big a part of your life is your time on that show and having played Superman?

Cain: People are aware that I played the character, though it changes with each generation. Some of the younger kids wouldn’t know me. They’d know Brandon Routh or Tom. It varies. Some people know me from “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” or from a movie, but I think that people still recognize me [as Superman] is fantastic. It’s a character that never really goes away, that you’re always associated with, which I like and don’t mind in the least. It certainly has been the defining role of my career thus far. I’m just on the other side of 40, and luckily I’m an actor, not an athlete, so I’ve got a lot still left to do. I’ll always be associated with Superman, which I’m very happy about, but I do hope it’s not the highpoint of my career.

Ben: Where do you ultimately see your place in the sprawling Superman mythos and legacy?

Cain: I don’t know. I’m way too close to be able to look back and say, “ok, this is where I fit in.” The biggest of the bunch is Christopher Reeve, and I think he’s the one who really did it. I’m somebody else who did it and maybe brought it back out and changed things a bit, but I think he’s the guy, and I don’t think that’s me being modest, it’s just me being honest Hopefully I fit in somewhere up there. I enjoyed what I got to do, I had a lot of fun, but it’s for other people to decide, I guess.

I don't know if I buy that "Tom doesn't want to wear the tights" bit, but I may be projecting.

Aaron Ashmore

Then again, being known for playing Superman might be a bit easier than being known for playing more minor league comic heroes like the Brothers Ashmore have done. Aaron Asmore, who played what we now call "fake out Jimmy Olsen" in Season 7, had earned Ben and I's nerd respect for appearing in a pretty solid run of "Veronica Mars" episodes, and his brother Sean "Iceman" Ashmore (AKA "Marvel Comics' Tom Brennan") also had a run as a villain in "Smallville's" early seasons. But Aaron went even further in the eyes of the Wizard "Smallville QB" team when he gave Dave Paggi and I one of our signature phrases. Read on for the full story.

Kiel: So Aaron, I’m going to possibly make a huge reporter’s mistake by starting with the question you always get about being a twin in Hollywood. But even for you and your brother Sean, it’s pretty crazy that you’ve both gotten a chance to play comic book icons, so I was wondering how often you have people asking you what it’s like to be Iceman or conversly asking Sean what it’s like to be Jimmy Olson?

Ashmore: [Laughs] It doesn’t happen all that much in interviews because most of the time people have done their research beforehand. But on a day to day basis it does happen on the street or even at an audition you’ll bump into somebody who says, ‘Hey! I really like you in the show!’ or ‘I really liked you in that flick!’ And you have to go, ‘No, that was actually my brother.’ But that’s something that happens on a day to day basis, and if we’re both going to be in the business that’s just part of it.

Kiel: Another connection you two share is actually ‘Smallville’ because Sean played a villain in a few episodes of the early seasons before you got the full-time gig.

Ashmore: Totally. When he did the show years ago, he told me how cool it was and how cool everyone was. When I told him I was going to be on the show, he was freaking out saying, ‘Oh, man! I wonder if the same director’s are going to be there! And the cast is great!’ All that. He had nothing but good things to say even before he knew that I was going to go back. He was ecstatic for me.

Kiel: What’s it like being Jimmy Olson? A lot of times you’ll play a part on a show that a lot of people watch, but even my grandmother knows who Jimmy Olson is.

Ashmore: [Laughs] It’s really cool. For example, one of the great things about it is that I went to the DVD party for ‘Superman Returns,’ and they had four incarnations of Jimmy Olson there. That really puts things into perspective on how long it’s been and what a popular character that is. It’s an honor, and I feel really lucky to be playing a part that so many people have enjoyed. People really connect to his character, and he’s more of an everyman than a lot of the characters in the comic book world. A lot of people feel like it could be them in this really cool universe. It’s easy to relate to.

Kiel: I have to admit that I’ve stolen one of your Jimmy lines in the office here. About a month back at the end of an episode, Jimmy goes up to Clark and puts out a fist saying, ‘Ring that bell!’ Ever since I can’t stop doing it to [Wizard Price Guide Assistant David Paggi].

Ashmore: [Laughs] That’s a funny story because we were just doing a rehersal and running through lines, and that wasn’t in the script. I just put my fist out and said it. I thought, ‘That’s so stupid. I don’t know where that came from.’ And Tom [Welling] started laughing and said, ‘God! You have to keep that in! That’s perfect. It’s SO Jimmy.’ [Laughs] I thought it was way over the top, but I’m glad Tom wanted to keep it because when I watched it back I knew it fit the character well. So keep saying that. Spread it around, and people can catch on.

Kiel: One of the things about Jimmy Olson as a character is obviously that he’s a photographer. On the set, you’re dealing with camera props a lot, but are you much of a photog yourself?

Ashmore: I’m not a huge photographer, but I thought -- when I got done with high school I took a junior college photgraphy class and thought, ‘Maybe this is something that I’d be interested in.’ And I actually enjoy taking pictures, but it turns out I’m not very good at it. [Laughs] I don’t have the eye for the photography, but luckily for doing it on TV I’ve had a little bit of training so it looks like I know what I’m doing. Thank goodness they don’t show any of the shots I’m taking though. You wouldn’t be too impressed with my composition.

Kiel: So after doing a cult comic book show like ‘Smallville’ and another cult show in ‘Veronica Mars’ are there any other shows of this kiind you’d like to have a go at or a role you want to sink your teeth into?

Ashmore: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I had a so much fun on ‘Veronica Mars’ and I LOVED the character of Troy. If they ever wanted me to come back, that’s one of the shows I know is great and I’m a big fan of, so I’d totally be willing to get back in that. As far as other shows, I’m also a huge fan of ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ and that shoots up in Vancouver as well. So I’m always saying to my agents, ‘Guys, I’m up there. I don’t know if there’s anything for my age group, but I’ll take any little part on that show.’ I really do dig sci fi stuff, and there’s something about ‘Battlestar’ that’s so cool.

Phil Morris

Holy shit, you guys. Jackie Chiles played the Martian Manhunter on "Smallville." You have no idea how excited that got me during a ROUGH work time. My enthusiasm was instantaneous. Bodacious. Contagious. Outrageous!

It didn't hurt that actor Phil Morris, who portrayed the iconic "Seinfeld" supporting player before stepping into the Oreo-dunking shoes of J'onn J'onzz, was one of the nicest folks I've had the pleasure of talking to and a huge comic fan to boot. To this day he's the only Hollywood type who I've ever spoken to who just had the publicity people forward me his home number to call "whenever I had a minute."

Kiel: The obvious first question for anyone doing a show like ‘Smallville’ for us has got to be how into this stuff are you?

Morris: Well, let me tell you this right now, buddy boy. I’ll let you know. Give you in the inside scoop. I’m looking at my wall unit that has between 15 and 20,000 issues. Let me just take a walk on the wild said and pull out...Daredevil #25 with Gene Colan, Vinnie’s the Leap Frog issue. [Laughs] Yeah man, are you kidding me? I am as freak as they come. I have every single issue of Silver Surfer #1 to 18. I had to buy them twice because I sold them once. I have Fantastic Four #4 through 100. I am all over this like a rash.

Kiel: Solid. So coming in to this, are you a Marvel guy playing on a DC show?

Morris: Here’s my theory. I think if you’re a real comic guy, you either loved DC or you loved Marvel. You might have respected one or the other, but there was one you were tied to. And if you didn’t have one you were tied to, you weren’t a real comic guy. I was a Marvel guy growing up, and the reason was because those were the first books I got. My first was an Iron Man/Captain America Tales of Suspense that I got in a Cleveland drugstore with my grandma in 1968. And then, of course with T’Challa the Black Panther, Luke Cage and the Falcon Marvel just did social commentary a little better other than the Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lanterns. So Marvel was my house, but I always loved DC and Batman and Superman in particular.

Kiel: One of the things Martian Manhunter is know for visually is his gigantic forehead. Did you have to get into the big prosthetics for the gig?

Morris: Honestly, I think it would be ridiculous to give him that form in a television show. In a comic, on a monthly basis or in the Justice League team, it’s a lot more palatable to see him in his original guise. But I think to use that form in a television show is just going to turn viewers off for one, and it’s going to make it a little unappealing for Kal El to deal with...especially in an episode like this one, which takes place in his mind. If I show up as an alien in his mind, he’s not going to buy it. He’s going to think it’s a construct of his own.

And I think the creators were very smart in using an African American male for many reasons. For my own personal reasons...well there’s really only two aliens in the Justice League: Superman and Martian Manhunter. Everyone else is human. Certainly Wonder Woman’s an Amazon, but she comes from earth. So they’re really two men who understand being alone on the planet. African Americans, especially males, have the sense of what it’s like to be alone on the planet, especially in America. So I just dug deep and used a lot of my inner workings to make him real and relate him to Kal El.

Kiel: So far this season, they’ve really focused on Clark being removed from everybody he meets and his humanity. Coming in to meet John Jones for the first time, is John trying to make him feel included in some way.

Morris: Yes. Without giving it away, I have a great scene with him that speaks to that. The platform I use is, ‘You’ve been trying to assimilate for so long. When are you going to realize that you’re undercutting your own uniqueness? Why be somebody else? And why would you want to be human when their situation is not attractive? They’re not very compassionate.’ It’s interesting. Martian Manhunter is a very humane character, albeit a martian. So he relates to Kal El in that way and in the way that they’re not very different. He’s the last of his kind. I’m the last of my kind. I’ve been on this planet a long time trying to deal with these humans and their foibles, and they’re just a little less than me. And I’m sure he understands the truth of what my words are saying.

Kiel: The teaser for the character included the in-reference of him eating Oreo’s. Did you have to mow down on those things in the episode? Are you sick of Oreo’s?

Morris: [Laughs] No. We kind of throw the homage to the Oreo cookies in a scene, but in the scene where the cookie’s involved it’s very difficult to eat it at the same time as you’re speaking. So I just kind of hold it and gesture with it, but I don’t really consume it. I didn’t get sick of the. I love them. I would eat them wholeheartedly. I was thinking about going to eat it, and then he comes, but it just seemed false. I just look at it, admire it a bit and then we start speaking.

Kiel: Being someone who does have martial arts training, are you doing any stunt work or special effects stuff for this episode?

Morris: In this episode, it’s minimal if only because a lot of it does take place in the construct of his mind. Our powers are non-existent there. Only when he comes out of it and you see me as me, which is kind of cool. I wear this really long, cobalt blue leather coat that harkens back to the cobalt blue cape that he wears and a red shirt and black pants. It’s vaguely reminiscent of what John Jones wears in the book with the Justice League, but it’s contemporary -- kind of like an intergalactic Shaft. [Laughs] But I do get a chance to do one of the things I’ve always wanted to do on the screen which is fly. I didn’t do it, but it was a post production trick. That’s why I think they’re going to have him back. [Kal El] and I fighting is going to be just awesome. [Laughs] You know what I mean? I can’t wait!

Kiel: Beyond Martian Manhunter, as a comic fan and a Marvel guy who would be your top character to portray?

Morris: I am perfectly suited for the Black Panther. I’m 6”1’ and a half. I’m 185 pounds. I’ve been teaching martial arts for ten or 15 years. I’ve been practicing this style for 20. I’ve been studying my whole like. I cross social boundaries easily. I grew up in Beverly Hills and understand the highs and the lows of the social strata. I just think that T’Challa would be a wonderful character to play.

And I love John Jones. I would love to see him as a lynchpin in whatever expansion of the show they may think of. I don’t know that there is one, but I just think that John Jones has a great compassion to him. I would like to explore that. So John Jones right now is my man. [Laughs]

But I think the Black Panther certainly would be the guy for me. Luke Cage is a little too stout and Ving Rhaimish. It would be good for me to do the Black Panther because I’m not famous yet. I’m a well known actor, but I wouldn’t get in the way of people attaching T’Challa’s identity to me as an actor as opposed to, say a Denzel [Washington] doing it. Then you’re watching Denzel playing the Black Panther. You’re watching Wesley [Snipes] play the Black Panther. If I play the Black Panther, I don’t think I’d get in the way of the character’s message.

Kiel: Considering all the different shows you’ve taken part in and how John Jones is a kind of pop culture icon, you’ve already had the chance to create an icon of your own with Jackie Chiles on ‘Seinfeld.’ I must see an episode you did as him once every other week on TV.

Morris: It’s a great character, and I’m actually going to Utah to be a keynote speaker at the Jackie Chiles Society, which is their law society on campus. [Laughs] It’s the number one club at the University of Utah. It’s over 200 members strong, and they have Jackie Chiles as their head. They have a guy who ghost writes a column based on all of my rants. I’ve always been fully entrenched in popular culture. My father was in the original ‘Mission Impossible.’ I did ‘The Love Boat’ with Robert Urich. I’ve been all around this thing, so John Jones is right in swing with what I’ve done in my career.

Kane & Ashley

At some point between the last time i had any idea what wrestling was all about (I think it was just before "No Holds Barred" came out) and 2007, I guess wrestlers started going by one name or something? Anyway, that's about all the info I had going in when I had to interview a "WWE Diva" whose name is simply "Ashley."

The only reason I spoke to that woman – an experience that was hyped up more by the WWE-assigned PR guy than anything I'd done at Wizard before or since - was because Ben was out on the day it was supposed to go down (Wizard World LA trip?). Luckily for Benny, the WWE episode of "Smallville" was the only time we were offered and accepted two interviews for one episode of the show, so he got to speak to a very large, scary-looking man called Kane. Check out a bit of both below!

Ben: How did this opportunity to appear on “Smallville” come about?

Kane: WWE approached me after they had been contacted by “Smallville” to see if I would play this part. That was pretty much it from my end. They described the character I play, Titan, and that was attractive to me because it reminded me a lot of me. [Fellow WWE wrestler] Batista did a “Smallville” episode awhile back, so [WWE] has a bit of a relationship with them.

Ben: So who is Titan?

Kane: He’s from the Phantom Zone. He’s basically an intergalactic cage fighter and he has a bony spike that grows out of his hand.

Ben: How does Titan fare against Clark Kent?

Kane: Titan holds his own. Actually, Titan takes Clark Kent to the limit. From what they were telling me, he beats Clark Kent up like nobody ever has before. I’d say Titan had a good showing for himself.

Ben: How do you think Tom Welling, who plays Clark, would do in WWE?

Kane: Well, I’ll tell you, during one of our fight scenes, Tom punched me right in the face by accident. Nothing happened, we kept on going. He knew he hit me and apologized, but I told him not to worry about it because I get hit a lot harder than that. I thought it was funny because he gave me a pretty decent shot. I don’t think Tom should try getting in a WWE ring. [Laughs]

Ben: Now last time we spoke, you told me your favorite comic book character was Thor—who wins, Thor against Superman?

Kane: I’ve never been a big Superman fan, and the reason was because nobody could take him unless you get Kryptonite involved. I think Thor could give Superman a heck of a fight, but I don’t think he could do it in the end; I think Superman would take him. Thor’s a little limited; he doesn’t have heat vision and all the things Superman has.

Ben: He does have that hammer…

Kane: He does have the hammer. One of the best Thor stories I ever read was Thor versus The Hulk. This was when Thor still turned into Donald Blake if he lost the hammer, and what happened was at the end of the fight he lost the hammer, and Thor knew if he turned back into Donald Blake, Hulk was going to crush him like a bug, so Thor had to pull out a technical submission move and put The Hulk out. Thor might be a better fighter than Superman, like Titan is, and I wouldn’t count him out, but Thor just doesn’t have the powers that Superman does.

Kiel: You’re on tonight’s episode of “Smallville”…

Ashley: That’s right! How cool is that? I’m so stoked about it. I’ve been a fan of comic books because my brother collected them as we were growing up. He’s a few years younger than me, and he actually had one of the first copies of Superman ever and has it encased in glass and all that. [Laughs] He and my parents are big fans of “Smallville,” and they were super thrilled to find out I was going to be appearing on the show.

Kiel: So are you a foe or a friend to Clark Kent coming into this?

Ashley: Well, you’ll have to watch the show to see how it’s played out, but I can tell you that I have a fight scene with Lois Lane.

Kiel: It’s funny because we were talking to Kane the other day because he’s doing the show as well, but he said he had a fight scene where Tom Welling accidentally punched him. But he felt bad because he didn’t want to tell Tom that it didn’t actually hurt.

Ashley: That’s hilarious. It reminds me of a story. I just shot the cover of Playboy that came out a couple of days ago, and while I was on the set – on the cover I’m sitting on the arm of this big, steel chair. The photographer’s assistant – this big heavy set guy – had to sit on the other end of the chair to hold it steady. He was obviously out of frame, but there was one time where we were shooting and he had to do something, but I didn’t realize he’d gotten up. I went flying. The chair kicked over, and I’m trying to be all sexy and cool and everything until I go “Ahhhhh!” and make this huge bump. Everybody from Playboy was like, “Oh my God! We’ve got to take her to the hospital!” It was this big huge deal, but the photographers and the video from WWE were laughing with me because it’s OK. [Laughs] “She’s kind of used to it. It’ll be all right.”

That's all I've got for "Smallville" and Wizard, though there's one piece of text left from our years there I leave in Ben's hands if he wants to share it. Otherwise, we'll have the final "Sayonara, Smallville" up later today, and then it's back to comics


Ben Morse said...

Ring that bell!

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