Jon Cryer has been involved with the DC universe for a long time. Firstly he played Lenny Luthor in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, then he voiced Felix Faust in the Justice League Action animated series. Now, he is continuing that legacy by now playing Lex Luthor in the CW Show Supergirl. I loved his portrayal of Lex, and it is really clear where the inspiration of that portrayal came from. This is a great touch for comic book fans, and isn’t always the case when it comes to casting. I was lucky enough to get the chance to catch up with Jon to talk about his casting, the character, Superman IV and the future for Lex Luthor.
You have been involved with the DC Universe for quite some time now, from Superman IV, to voicing Felix Faust in the Justice League Action Shorts, and now playing Lex Luthor in Supergirl. Is it safe to say you are a fan of the superhero genre?
Oh yes. I was a avid comic book collector as a kid. I was hugely into Marvel comics and didn’t really discover DC comics until my favorite artist Jack Kirby, started drawing titles for them. As an adult I got into DC Comics even more when Frank Miller changed the game with Dark Knight.
You previously played Lenny Luthor (Lex’s Nephew) in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. That film didn’t get as much of a positive response as the other Superman films. Did that push you in any way to take the role as Lex Luthor?
Definitely. I’ve always been very disappointed that Superman IV wasn’t as good as the rest of the Christopher Reeve films that I had fallen in love with as a kid. Doing this Lex Luthor was a way to finally get it right.
How did you get the role? Did you have to audition or were you approached?
It was all a little cryptic. I got an email from Bill Prady (executive producer of the Big Bang Theory) saying that rumors were flying that someone was going to ask me to play a character that rhymes with Schmex Schmuthor. I then got a call from an old friend of mine from summer camp (swear to god) who told me that the producers of Supergirl we’re trying to get in touch with me. That’s when I put it together. Then Jessica Queller, (Executive Producer of Supergirl) called me and asked if it was something I’d be interested in.
When you were first announced as Lex, people had a LOT to say about it, both positive and negative. How do you take the praise and sometimes criticism?
I understand the controversy. I would not have been the first person I thought of when casting this role either. I come at these things from the perspective of a fan as well, because I am one. But at the same time I thought that the fans would get a kick out of this version of Lex. About a week into production, I was having a conversation with Eric Carrasco, one of the producing writers and we realized that we had the opportunity to make the most comics-accurate version of Lex in live action. I’ve been incredibly jazzed about that possibility ever since.
How did it feel to go from playing Lex’s Nephew, to the man himself?
Sidekicks are fun because you don’t have to do the heavy lifting. But now I’m in the mood for heavy lifting.
In some of your previous roles – Alan Harper and Lenny Luthor in particular, you tend to play slightly awkward characters who sometimes get overlooked. What is it like to play such a confident, sociopathic and vindictive character now?
I have to change my whole physicality to be Lex. After playing Alan Harper for 12 years, you kind of need to reset. Lex is a great way to wipe the slate clean.
Did you do much research to get inspiration for the character when you played him? How did you prepare for the role of Lex Luthor?
I read and reread some of the great Lex runs and graphic novels. Red Son was a big influence. Also Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, All-Star Superman and Superman: Birthright. I re-watched some episodes of Smallville. Great writing on that show, and I think Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex is far and away the most nuanced and empathetic version of the character.
In other representations of the character we have seen before in both TV, Film and Comics… Lex is very much a one way character. I mean that in the fact we know what he is like, and we know that his intentions are or will be terrible. With your representation of Lex it seems that there are so many different sides and layers to Lex. You’re almost lead down the path of actually believing him, until he snaps again. Did you get much input on how you wanted your Lex Luthor to be, or was it very much written in stone by the writers/casting team of Supergirl?
I felt like my job was to perform the writers vision of Lex. Although I certainly tried to make strong choices, I was really just trying to bring out the great stuff that was already in the script. This Lex is sociopathic and manipulative in ways that live action Lex Luthor’s of the past have not been allowed to be. The cruelty is the point with him, and that gives me a lot to play with.
Did you previously watch the Supergirl series? What was it like working with Melissa and the rest of the cast?
I’d seen the pilot, and loved it. And I love how they’ve added more characters and grown the relationships. The cast is a blast, its often awkward to guest on a show because the regulars are often very insular, but not this bunch. Incredibly friendly and seemingly excited about having new blood on the show.
Are there any fun/funny stories that you can tell us that happened on set?
Melissa asked me what it was like doing flying work back on Superman IV, and I casually mentioned that I’d been told that in order to keep the harness from painfully pinching, I should shave my butt. Of course, Melissa nearly spit up her beverage at this revelation. I assured her the suggestion had come from the most experienced stunt coordinator on the film and that I’d complied with the suggestion. Yet another near spit-take from Melissa. She assured me that due to advances in harness technology, butt-shaving was no longer necessary. I countered that chances are, she wouldn’t be informed of this suggestion due to the fact that her butt was probably less hirsute than mine. Well, I think we all hope that it is. At any rate, she convinced me to try our my flying work for the show unshaven and good news, it all went fine. Now she has me thinking that the stunt coordinator was just pranking me back 1986.
Your introduction within the series launches a new and very famous Superman story arc – Red Daughter (otherwise known in comics as Red Son). Were you familiar with it before?
Yes, I was a big fan of Red Son. And I felt like the writers did a great job of teasing the character throughout the season. That I got to be a part of the payoff to that was very cool.
In the series there are some CLEAR nods to the original Superman films, especially “MISS TESSMACHER!”. How important was it to you to pay tribute to such iconic moments?
Love that stuff. I took pains to honor Hackman’s screech. And when I actually performed it you could kind of feel a wave of excitement going through all of us because we were so happy to be bringing these characters and moments back this way. I think we all have such enormous fan affection for the material that I’m hoping the audiences will connect with as well.
You are the first Lex Luthor on screen to wear the Lex Luthor Warsuit. How does it feel to be the first to have worn it? How did you feel when you first tried it on?
It’s an honor. Sadly, I don’t get to physically wear it because its almost entirely a (very expensive) digital asset. But I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to physically hint at its presence even though its not actually there. And I LOVE that Lex finally gets to play with that power. It’s always been one of my favorite parts of the character in the comics.
Did you keep any of the props used during filming?
There’s a very important invitation in the season finale that Katie McGrath snagged for me and I treasure it. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the invitation is to.
Were you always a fan of Superman?
Yep, from as far back as reruns of the old black and white series on television. And I nearly had a heart attack when Superman had that great crossover with Spider-Man back in the day. That was an event!
Are you a fan of the other Superman series, films and comic books? Do you stay up to date with what’s going on in the world of Superman?
The last Superman comic I read before doing the show was the American Alien run, which I really enjoyed. It felt like such a personal version of the myth.
Who is or has been your favourite representation Superman and why?
Gonna have to go with Christopher Reeve. Mostly because I loved his Clark Kent, and I think that he, ironically, was the most vulnerable man of steel.
You’ve previously worked with Superman royalty – Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and the other greats, what was it like working with them?
They were both lovely. Chris was exactly as you’d imagine him, warm, gregarious and smart, and totally at ease with playing an icon. Gene was a little surprising, he had a reputation for being somewhat cranky, but I never saw that. We hung out and kibbitzed about his career, he lent me his old school brick-sized cell phone when the phone in my London flat would not function, we got along famously. Except when I corrected his pronunciation of “nuclear.”
Now so far, your run as Lex was originally supposed to spread across three episodes. But it seems that has already been expanded, as you have been confirmed for the S5 finale cleverly titled “The Quest For Peace”. Other than that, can we expect to see more of your Lex Luthor in the show or perhaps another show?
I can tell you there’s talk of it. But often the devil is in the details with that kind of thing. None of my agents or managers have been contacted about it. I’ve also been informed that big changes are coming to the whole Arrowverse and I don’t know exactly how Lex would fit into it. If fans want to see more of him, they should let the CW know.
Thank you Jon, for taking the time to do this interview with me! You heard the man, if you want to see more of his Lex Luthor – I certainly do… let the CW know!