GERARD CHRISTOPHER INTERVEW
SUPERBOY - YEARS BEFORE SMALLVILLE!
Over a decade before "Smallville" arrived on the WB, Ilya Salkind-executive producer of the Christopher Reeve Superman feature films - brought Superboy to the small screen. The syndicated show, called Superboy (and later The Adventures of Superboy) premiered in October 1988 and starred John Haymes Newton (Clark Kent), Stacy Haiduk (Lana Lang), and Scott Wells (Lex Luthor. The second season began the cast changes, most notably Gerard Christopher as Clark, and Sherman Howard as the new Lex. (Haiduk remained as Lana). Eventually, Christopher also served as producer and occasional screenwriter.
In Superboy, Clark and Lana were older than their Smallville counterparts. They had already graduated from high school and were attending Shuster University (an obvious reference to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster). By the third season, Clark and Lana had graduated from Shuster and were working at the Bureau of Extranormal Matters, which investigated strange phenomena. Lest the reader groan at this tired cliche, remember that this aired three years before the premiere of The X-Files (and all of its numerous subsequent imitators).
The series is fondly remembered especially by fans of the comic s because it generally remained true to the spirit of those comics. And while the constraints of working within a syndication budget (plus half-hour length of the show) are obvious, the episodes rarely failed to deliver solid entertainment, and Christopher and Haiduk were particularly good in their roles. (See Spectrum for coverage of Haiduk in Brimstone, a series that also featured John Glover - Smallville's Loinel Luthor!).
Johnny Loyd caught up with Christopher during an appearance in Dallas just over three years (!) ago. We've been wanting to publish this interview ever since, but for one reason or another it either didn't work well with the other articles in a given issue, or it did but we didn't have time to prepare it for publication. This issue's coverage of Smallville makes the Christopher interview a perfect complementary feature, so we were determined to get it finished.
Our thanks to Gerard Christopher for talking with us (a long time ago)!. The interview was conducted in July 1999 by Johnny Loyd and transcribed and edited (in November 2002) by Craig Miller. For more information about Christopher, including the Superboy series, check out his Website at http://www.gerardchristopher.com/ . The site also sells photos, Superboy videos, and even autographed copies of the Superboy comic with Christopher and Haiduk on the cover (pictured here on the next page).
Loyd: How did you get started acting?
Gerard Christopher: I was originally a model in New York, and I started doing commercials - I've done seventytwo commercials. From that I got interested in television and features, and I started studying acting. I moved out to California, got an agent, and the whole thing started happening. I did my first TV pilot about a month after I got my agent. It was called Welcome to Paradise. It was shot in New Zealand. It was a CBS pilot that went on the air as a TV movie.
JL: You took over the role of Superboy from John Haymes Newton, who played the part during the first season. What was that like?
GC: It was hard. Stacy [Haiduk] had been datig him, so that meant her boyfriend wasn't there. And she also got along very well with the head stuntman, who I didn't get along with. I think he was upset they'd fired John.
The ratings of the show were very bad, which was just icing on the cake. It was number thirty-eight in syndication. The first thing they told me when they hired me was that if I didn't bring the ratings up, I was fired! Eventually the ratings went up to number ten, and the rest is history. We were on for three years.
JL: What was it like working with Stacy?
GC: Stacy's a really good actress, a really natural actress. She's very nice. I have some funny stories to tell you, but I really can't tell them for print! We had a good working relationship.
JL: Sherman Howard played Lex Luthor and wrote many of the episodes, especially ones with Luthor in them. Did he have any problems taking over from the actor who played Luthor in the first season?
GC: Oh no, not at all. Everybody just liked him so much; he was so good. He's a very talented actor. He added so much to the show and made it so much easier for me to do my work.
JL: Is it true that you couldn't say the name "Superman" in the show?
GC: Yeah. Ilya Salkind, the producer of the show, didn't have the rights to Superman; they only gave him the rights to Superboy.
JL: After Superboy was over, and Lois and Clark was starting up, did you audition for the role?
GC: I did. I'll tell you a funny story. I read once for the casting director. She brought me back to read for the producers and all the people at Warner Brothers. So I was in the room with the executive producers, the casting director, the whole shebang. I read; they loved me. The producer jumped up at the end, got hysterical, and said, "We've found him! This is our guy! Who are you?" He picked up my picture from the table, flipped it over and looked at my resume, saw that I had done The Adventures of Superboy, and he threw my picture on the table and said, "You've done this already!" And I went from the guy who was going to get the job to being out of a job in fifteen seconds because he didn't like that I had done it before. I think the guy was really a jerk, and I think it was a dumb move, considering that by the end of Superboy, I became Superman. It was called "Rites of Passage."
JL: A lot of people have wondered whether Lana Lang really did know that Clark was Superboy.
GC: She's not supposed to know, but she's trying to find out. She has her suspicions.
JL: If you had gotten the Lois and Clark role, after a couple of seasons they could have brought in Lana as the ex-girlfriend and set up a scenario where she knew but Lois Lane didn't.
GC: That would have been great!
JL: Do people recognize you in public all the time?
GC: When I dress in blue it happens more often! [Laughter] Though my hair's shorter now. A lot of people recognize me, but they can't remember from where. Most people recognize me from Superboy, but I've done other things, including some soap operas.
JL: And you were in an episode of Silk Stalkings. I think you got killed in that one.
GC: I did. And they almost killed me shooting it, because they ran me over with a production vehicle! As they were shooting it I was running away from Rob Estes. They had a camera at the front and the back of the truck. The truck was behind me, and the person driving wasn't really paying attention. He sped up and ran me over! It was pretty nasty. Other than that, it was a great experience.
JL: During the writing of Superboy, was much research done on the history of the characters in the comics?
GC: Constantly. Constantly. That's what most people say about our show - it was very true to the comics. The reason for that is because DC Comics was intimately involved in the production of the show, and they made sure that all of our shows had their approval, and that they were cohesive in terms of the storylines that had already been set forth in the comic books.
JL: It was ironic, though, that the show came out about the same time that DC was re-writting their history to say that there had never been a Superboy.
GC: DC tends to do whatever they can at that moment to get people reading.
JL: Though the Superboy show was based more on the Superman movies, right?
GC: It's gotta'be, because it is his story. If you look at the beginning of the first Superman movie, when Clark is young, that's my story. It's the same character; it's the same person, just younger.
JL: For example, in the movies and in your show, Clark's parents died, whereas in the comics nowadays, as in Lois and Clark, they're still alive. Was there any talk of bringing Krypto, Superboy's dog, into the show?
GC: Yes, there was. We thought it would be a lot of fun, but working with an animal would cause a lot of problems and slow down production. I would have loved it. Nobody's ever asked me that. That's a really good question.
JL: Have you done any directing?
GC: I got a directing contract from Viacom during the last season of the show. It wasn't to direct my show, because they thought that was a little too much for me to do. It was to direct a show in Canada, but it didn't work out - it's kind of complicated. But I did get to write Superboy episodes the last two seasons, and I did get to produce the show the last season, which was fun.
JL: What misconceptions do people have about the show?
GC: A lot of people who haven't seen it don't know that it was a really good show. I'm not saying this because I was in it - it was an excellent show because of all the peole that were involved. It was a great team effort - really good writers, the people that built the sets and built the props - everything was really good. It was such a good, good show for the money. When you think that Lois and Clark was made for about four to five times what our shows was made for, I don't see the difference. I don't think our show got the credit it was due. I don't think most people realized how popular it was - number ten in syndication - because it wasn't a big network show. It was generally on smaller stations throughout the country. I think they may have dropped the ball in terms of promoting the show. Stations kept moving us around. And when our ratings were very high, at number ten, stations started moving us to Saturdays, thinking it was just a kids show, which was a major mistake. I don't know who did their demographics, but I'll tell you where my fan mail was coming from - something like seventy percent was from people over forty.
JL: I think the flying sequences on Superboy were even better than what ended up in Lois and Clark.
GC: You would have thought that they would get things better and better over time, but they wanted to go their own way and start from scratch instead of building on what we had done. I don't think they hired the same people that we used. We had the same people that flew Christopher Reeve in the Superman movies. The show flew these guys in from England.
JL: Do you have a favorite episode of Superboy?
GC: That's hard to say. "Roads Not Taken" [a two-parter] were two of the best. One of my personal favorites was "Body Swap" because I got to be a bad guy. If people would like to know more, they can go to my Website at http://www.gerardchristopher.com/ . I have an interview posted there in the "Superboy" Section.
JL: Thanks for talking with us.