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When it comes to the role of Superman (and Clark Kent), a few different actors have stepped into the iconic red tights and cape over the years. But long before Tyler Hoechlin (Teen Wolf) was portraying the last son of Krypton on Superman and Lois on The CW, Tom Welling (Lucifer) spent 10 years playing a pre-Superman Clark Kent on Smallville.
However, this was long before the Arrowverse even existed, so when Warner Bros. announced they'd be making Superman Returns, no one was sure if Welling himself might be reprising his role for the big screen — albeit long before the TV version of the character would go on to take up that title. But there was one person who thought Welling was fit for the part: none other than Superman actor himself, Christopher Reeve, who'd guest-starred on two different episodes of the series, acting opposite Welling in both of them as Dr. Virgil Swann.
"I remember in the end he [said] to me, 'I'm really glad they chose you to be the next Superman,'" recalls Welling in The Hollywood Reporter's oral history of Smallville. "I was like, 'Well, they didn’t.' That’s when Brandon [Routh] had gotten the role [in the 2006 film Superman Returns]. And he said, 'Well they should have.' I get chills thinking about that. It was so cool to feel like he had put the sword on my shoulders and knighted me somehow."
Reeve's first episode was in Season 2's "Rosetta," and it saw Dr. Swann tell Clark more about his Kryptonian heritage. Those scenes required Welling to fly down to New York as Reeve himself could not travel up to Vancouver, where the series was shot. "I was like a kid in a candy store," says Welling of his experience filming that first episode. "Meeting him was really great. He was only supposed to be there for a couple hours. He ended up staying for like six or eight hours until his nurses were like, 'We’re going to unplug the lights, you guys. He’s got to go.'"
Welling goes on to add, "If you watch that episode, he is so commanding given his situation. He can’t move yet he is so compelling. All that added to Clark’s emotion about what was happening."
According to series co-creator Alfred Gough (Wednesday) despite Reeve having been booked to only shoot half a day, he'd insisted on doing his scenes as long as was needed, so that they would get the scene right. Eventually, Reeve shot for eight or nine hours for that episode.
"We said, 'Well Chris, we only have you for this amount of time.' He said, 'You have me as long as you want. I’m here, I’m doing this,'" says Gough, also noting that Reeves wanted a more dynamic, organic blocking for the scene so that his exchange with Welling would feel natural and dynamic. "The fee he got for the guest star role went to his foundation as a donation, and then he wanted this PSA with Tom. So we did that. And he was amazing. We were able to use the Superman theme, which was also great. That was a very big moment for the show."
All 10 seasons of Smallville are currently available to stream on Hulu.