On Friday at 11:30AM, the American SciFi classics track brought Smallville cast members Sam Witwer, Laura Vandervoort, and Tom Welling together with a crowd of their fans in Hyatt Centennial ballrooms II-III to reminisce about the show, which debuted on October 26, 2001. The panel was also streamed on the Main Events Channel and was called “Smallville: The Super-Reunion Friday Edition.”
Moderator Michael Bailey started the panel by asking the actors for their most off-the-wall memories. For Witwer, a vivid memory was the time he almost died shooting an episode. His appendix burst, but he thought he had food poisoning. Because he kept lying down between takes, he had a blood test. The test results showed toxins from a burst appendix, so he went to the emergency room and underwent surgery. He was out of work for a week and a half. When he returned, he asked to shoot a hospital scene first, only to realize doing so required him to sit up on a gurney, straining the muscles around his incision.
Vandervoort described passing out in the flying harness on one occasion and waking up on the ground. Welling explained that the way the harness passes between the actors’ legs can cut off blood circulation. The show coped by periodically setting the actors on the ground. He knew the warning signs from experience, but Vandervoort did not. On another occasion, Welling’s stunt man took a bad fall because the decelerator, a cable that was supposed to stop him short of the ground, failed.
Bailey wanted to know whether there were times the cast had trouble getting through the material because they were laughing so hard. Welling said work days started about 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning and ran for fourteen hours. Friday’s work day ended on Saturday morning. Then the actors sometimes had to do second unit work for another eight hours. He and Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor, were once shooting a graveyard scene, started laughing, and couldn’t stop. Witwer said by the time they worked twenty-three hours straight, everything was funny.
Laughter disrupted filming of an episode that involved Rosenbaum playing the Kryptonian villain Zod as well as Lex. He was supposed to fly into the shot, land, and say, “Kneel before Zod.” But the wind kept turning him in the air. When the crew finally managed to give him a smooth transit and landing, he looked at Welling, who burst out laughing, and lost his own composure before he could deliver his line. The landing was on tape, so they had to start again from the line.
Vandervoort cracked up shooting a scene in the Kent barn loft with Welling because he wasn’t wearing pants, only boxers, socks, and sandals. Welling insisted he was actually wearing shorts and admitted he often didn’t wear full wardrobe when shooting in the loft because it was hot and he sweats easily, something Clark Kent isn’t supposed to do.
Witwer noted that loft set was actually under an elevated train track, forcing the actors to either stop, starting over again after the train passed, or pause and then resume.
The cast spoke highly of Welling as a director. He shared that he’d been advised that he would want to do more takes of everyone else but should ignore that instinct, taking more of himself. During the first episode he directed, he failed to do that, but then he saw the need. His castmates understood when he explained it.
Vandervoort said actors generally make good directors because they know what actors need and how to speak to them. Witwer and Welling discussed the importance of actors changing their responses in repeat takes because repetition can lock into a pattern an actor has trouble breaking. Sometimes a change by the other actor in the scene is the only thing that breaks that pattern. As an example, they cited Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang) turning her back on Allison Mack (Chloe Sullivan) after several takes of a scene in which Chloe was apologizing to Lana. Just that change triggered a change in Mack’s delivery and raised the level of the exchange.
Discussing ad libs, Witwer said his formative experience was Battlestar Galactica, where the practice was to shoot a scene as written and then do it however the actors wanted. When he tried that on Smallville, he was nicely advised to do that less. Welling added that the priorities for actors are to be on time, to know their lines, and to not get into arguments on the set. Doing that, he said, leaves room for creative disagreements.
Both Witwer and Vandervoort credited the upbeat environment on the Smallville set to Welling. When he demurred, they insisted the prevailing attitude on a set trickles down from the lead. Welling said he was inspired by Amy Brenneman of Judging Amy and the collaborative tone she set. While some actors only want to come in, do their bits and be done, he much prefers having the other actors there to help. He also credited John Schneider (Jonathan Kent) and Annette O’Toole (Martha Kent) for setting a good tone on the set.
An audience member asked what made Smallville different from other Superman shows. Welling cited its focus on Clark Kent figuring out his life. He actually had a clause in his contract saying he would not wear the famous suit. When he did wear it at the end of the last episode, that required a contract change. The absence of the suit kept the focus on Clark. Vandervoort agreed, mentioning that the show was about the gestation of the various characters. For Kara, that was coming to earth and looking for her cousin. Witwer also mentioned Clark as the foundation for all the heroics. An actor playing Superman has to have a certain warmth, which he said Welling has.
Welling said playing Clark in the Arrowverse multiverse crossover wasn’t initially a welcome idea. When he read the script, however, he thought the treatment they had given Clark and Lois Lane was too good to pass up. He did his best to play Clark as reminiscent of John Schneider’s Jonathan Kent.
The actors expressed admiration for John Glover, who played Lionel Luthor. Welling said he brought so much more than was on the page in each of his scenes. Describing Glover as “electrifying,” Welling added, “You better have your game on when you work with him.”
Vandervoort expressed a desire to spend more time behind the camera, but she was also grateful for the effect her Kara had on young girls she met at conventions.
Even though the actors rarely see each other, the camaraderie among them and their pleasure in recalling the series clearly came through. Smallville has been off the air for about a decade, but the memories of both actors and fans are clearly going strong as it approaches its twentieth anniversary.