As Smallville marks a full 20 years since its premiere, Tom Welling says that he now is in a “much happier” place when it comes to his relationship with the superhero origin series.
Having struggled back in the day with his responsibility as the lead of the popular WB-turned-CW series (and the demands put on him), “As time goes on, I am enjoying Smallville more,” Welling shared in a new TVLine Q&A pegged to this Tuesday’s release of Smallville: The Complete Series on Blu-ray for the first time ever. “I wish I could go back [to my 2001 self] and just say, ‘Take a beat, and appreciate this.’”
In the interview below, Welling also revisits the not-so-super limitations Smallville contended with at the time, reflects on how the series set an example for the eventual Arrowverse, and he has a thing or two to say about how TVLine’s “Best CW Show Ever” tournament played out.
TVLINE | I don’t know if you’ve heard, but TVLine recently conducted a bracket tournament to determine “The Best CW Show Ever”….
I didn’t get the invite.
TVLINE | Readers chose 32 shows to send into a bracket tournament, and Smallville beat One Tree Hill to get into the Final Four—
TVLINE | In the Final Four, Supernatural beat Arrow, and Smallville beat Vampire Diaries.
TVLINE | The final was then Supernatural against Smallville. There was lots of drama, lots of voting, and…. Supernatural won, 77 percent to 23 percent.
Yeah, I can kind of…. Unfortunately, I can kind of see that. Is it because it lasted longer?
TVLINE | Could be. You guys had a good run, though — 10 years versus 15.
Yeah. I mean, we were more watchable. [Laughs] No, I love those guys, they’re buddies of mine. I like the way that [tournament] trickled down, though. It made a lot of sense. Especially with, like, [Smallville against] One Tree Hill and Vampire Diaries? Like, come on.
Smallville Takes Flight: An Oral History
TVLINE | When Supernatural rolled around, did you get a sense that it was going to have some legs?
You know what, I did — probably more than I did about Smallville, to be honest. Because with Smallville, I was in it. I was trying to tread water every minute, every day, trying to keep it going. Nobody tells you that you’re going to be successful, even when you are successful. No one tells you that you’re going to be there for a long period of time, but knowing Jared [Padalecki] and Jensen [Ackles] and then watching Supernatural, from the outset I could see where the two of them made that show. And there was a point in that show where they started separating, and I was like, “You guys, the show is you guys together.” Like, that’s what it is.
It was obviously a different show than Smallville, but you’re right, when I saw Supernatural, I was like, this show’s going to work. I could never look at Smallville that way, only because maybe I didn’t want to let myself feel that way, perhaps. I didn’t want to, like, get comfortable.
TVLINE | Isn’t the apocryphal tale that [then-WBTV chief] Peter Roth told you very early on that Smallville would run 10 years?
I think that might be a rumor. I know that we had a producer named Joe Davola, who was on the pilot, and the pilot wasn’t perfect. Like, a lot of things went wrong and we had to reshoot a lot of things, and thank God for Warner Brothers supporting it the way it did and spending the money to make it work. But I remember Joe saying that. He’s a very New York kind of guy, so I’ll keep the foul language out of it, but he was like, “If this effin’ show goes 10 effin’ years, I’ll get a Superman effin’ tattoo on my shoulder.” And, well, he did.
TVLINE | What’s your perspective these days on Smallville‘s role in paving the way for the Arrowverse?
I mean, I don’t think we’re exactly responsible. I think we were a very good example, perhaps, of what could happen.
TVLINE | As the saying goes, do you think Smallville walked so that the Arrowverse could one day run?
I hadn’t heard that saying, but that sounds right. I mean, one of the things that they did differently than us is they went into their costume right away. Smallville didn’t, and that was on purpose, especially on my part. Sometimes I meet fans who are like, “Why didn’t you do it?” Well, I don’t think we’d have lasted 10 years if Clark put the suit on in Episode 3, as they did try to do. This is a show about a kid in high school and the human side of him trying to figure out who he was going to be, and I think that gave us legs.
Now, to Arrow: A lot of our crew members, and our cinematographers, helped with that — and [director] Glen Winter, especially, who’s gone on to be a genius. So, we’re not “responsible” for them, but I think we were a good example of what you can do. I also think technology got to a point where [Smallville] could do these visual effects on television that you literally couldn’t do a year earlier. It was a perfect storm.
TVLINE | Knowing full well just how much jockeying was done back in the day — “You can’t do this,” “You can’t use that character” — does it blow your mind that we now have, like, Superman, The Flash and [Titans‘] Batman on TV the same time as they are in movies?
Yes. And that’s a very good question, because we weren’t even allowed to use the Superman theme song [until the series finale]. There was a big separation between movie and television, especially in the DC universe. Like, any time we wanted to do anything, we had to ask the DC people if we could, and they always had bigger plans for the movie stuff. Now, 20 years after Smallville started, this “multiverse” generational thing… it’s very confusing to me, to be honest.
I wish it would’ve been different for us. Some people ask me, “What would you have done different?” And I don’t know if I would’ve done anything different, other than I wish I would’ve pushed for Bruce Wayne to somehow cross through Smallville. Like, I really wish Clark could’ve gone into Lex’s mansion, in his office, and Lex is like, “Clark, how’d you get in? This is my friend, Bruce Wayne….” Just something quick. But that’s the only thing that I think we missed, because — going back to your question — the multiverse things probably would’ve allowed us that now, but not then. We were not allowed to touch Batman. That’s why he’s not in Smallville.
My buddy Rob [Pattinson] is doing [The] Batman right now, and he’s got a great thing planned. I think it’s cool that they’re open-minded now in that regard, that whether it’s the Joker, or with the Batman, it’s all going to be cool. Now the biggest question is: Who’s going to be the next Superman? Because that’s a tough character to crack these days. So, we’ll see.
TVLINE | I’ve always wanted to ask: When Smallville‘s Clark put on a Superman T-shirt with the duster over it, were you kind of groaning? Were you like, “Guys… you’re cheating”?
Yes. I mean, all I can say is yes! They were exactly cheating. The best part about that character [as The Blur] is he had a lot of phone calls over cell phones, on rooftops, which I enjoy because you have to really listen when you’re talking to someone over the phone, in a scene like that. And it’s also quicker, to be honest, even though you have to film the other person. So, there was a bit of isolation that the character felt, but you hit the nail on the head. It was cheating. It was like when Lex had to play Zod [in Season 6]. Like, that’s cheating. But what else are you going to do? For a show that’s going to last 10 years, come on. You had to cheat.
TVLINE | You and I haven’t really spoken about the finale since it aired. So… what all did you wear? Just a Superman shirt underneath a button-down?
TVLINE | Period. End of story.
It was literally a shirt, and I don’t recall if there were even sleeves. [Laughs] Not to even make this funny, but it was all about just popping open that shirt. So, it wasn’t, like, a crop-top or whatnot, but it was basically a T-shirt and it was only for that instant. Like, we measured it so that when I hit a certain mark and open up my shirt, there was only going to be so many frames of film as I pass the camera. And that was on purpose, because the idea was that we wanted Clark to ascend to Superman — that people know he’s out there but we can’t go with him, at least not on this show. So, it was all by design, but that’s a very good question. It was basically a version of a T-shirt.
TVLINE | And the long-distance shots of Superman pushing a planet or whatever in the finale, that wasn’t you.
No, I can’t actually do that. That wasn’t me.
TVLINE | What’s the wildest rumor you’ve heard over the years since Smallville ended, about something that you were supposedly doing? I saw a couple weeks ago that you are “supposed” to be in the upcoming Flash movie.
Yeah. [Laughs] I think one of the things that I’ve been hearing more recently, now that we’re doing all these interviews, is people who talk about how Michael Rosenbaum “left” the show, or how Kristin Kreuk “left” the show…. It was never like that. Like, nobody ever quit. People were written off because their storylines reached a point where they needed to go away, but nobody wanted to leave the show. Some of the rumors I hear about people wanting to quit, those bother me a bit, only because I feel like there’s a family element to what we had.
TVLINE | And as far as things that are true — you and Rosenbaum are working on something?
We’re actually working on two things. One is an animated series that [is set] after Smallville, and we’re going to try to get all the actors to voice their characters, as much as we can — the John Glovers, the Annette O’Tooles and everybody else, and we’re working with [Smallville creators] Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar]. We already have an artist mocking up animation for what it’s going to look like. Also, Rosenbaum wrote a series about two actors who used to be on a TV show together — it’s more of a comedy — and it would be the two of us.
TVLINE | I am probably required to ask you, anniversary and all: Do you have a favorite Smallville episode? What’s your go-to answer?
OK, so, I’ve had to develop this answer over the years. My go-to answer is the pilot, because every time Clark says, “I’m Clark Kent, and you’re in Smallville,” I remember doing it and being like, “This is f–king awesome. This is like a James Bond moment.” Also, it’s a wonderful pilot, and after you watch it you just want to see more.
So, that’s my go-to , but my fan-favorite in my own mind is “Transference,” where Clark and Lionel switch bodies. That was such a challenge for me, acting-wise, because John Glover is, like, probably one of the best actors I’ll ever work with in my life, and I had to play his character. It was just a beautiful challenge.
TVLINE | Is there any foul-up, bleep or blunder — any kind of mistake — that actually made it to air?
There was an episode — I forget the name of it — where all of the girls became witches, and somehow Clark gets some version of drunk, takes off his shirt and starts dancing in the loft. And I just… it was ridiculous, it looks ridiculous. I mean, Clark was supposed to be ridiculous, so I guess I fulfilled the character, and I don’t know what I would’ve done differently, but I just think it’s ridiculous. So, that’s a blunder, I think!
Welling at DC FanDome 2021
TVLINE | And my last question: What advice would you give the Tom Welling who is about to shoot that pilot, twenty-some years ago?
Oh, my God….
TVLINE | Like, if Barry Allen showed up and raced you back in time to whatever year it was, spring 2001.
You know what I didn’t do? As time goes on, I am enjoying Smallville more. I can tell you that I did not enjoy it at all [at the time], and that’s nobody’s fault other than my own. I wish I could go back and just say, like, “Take a beat, and appreciate this.” With any job, you go in there, you get it done, and it’s done and everybody’s like, “That’s great.” And you’re like, “Yeah, well it sucked doing it.”
TVLINE | It’s like what Lee Majors once told me about being the “the” in a TV show. If you’re The Six Million Dollar Man, if you’re The Fall Guy, if you’re “Smallville,” it’s weighs on that actor a lot.
It does. And by the way, if Barry Allen picked me up and took me back to talk to myself, I would not have listened to myself. [Laughs] Like, “Hey, cut! Tom, come over here. Tom from 20 years in the future wants to talk to you.” I’d have been like, “What the f–k? Get out of here, you weirdo.”
But I will say that this 20th anniversary thing, and the Blu-ray that we’re doing, is fun for me. It’s more fun [doing press] than it was before, probably because it makes people so happy. People watched Smallville with their dads and their moms, and people have grown up, so it’s just really cool. I’m enjoying it more now than I ever have.
TVLINE | I can hear it in your voice, too. Having interviewed you over the years, I notice a difference, so, that’s great, man.
I’m much happier these days. I’m much happier these days.
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