Interview with John Haymes Newton, by Edward Gross. Comics Scene Magazine #6, 1989.
John Haymes Newton BOY OF STEEL
"I feel that with a 50-year-old dynasty behind me, I have a responsibility when I put on this costume and play this character," explains actor John Haymes Newton, better known as TV's Superboy. "Superman was one of the the helpful diversions during the Depression and World War II, and I think that everyone has had their own helpful diversions. There was Elvis in the '50s, and the Beatles during the '60s. Entertainment has always flourished during hard times, and Superman has been one of the things that have helped to carry our country. It's an American icon we're extremely proud of. That's why I would never do anything to damage the character."
Newton's flight as the Kryptonian continues. Superboy has been renewed for the remainder of the season. "Generally, I'm pleased with the first 13 shows," he says. "We're still learning some of the special effects, and so far, they haven't been the best. Most of the flying mattes and the blue screen shots are a little frustrating because we know we can do them better. We're getting more money for the next 13 and stronger writers. It's getting there, but like anything, it's a learning process, and the only way tolearn is to experience. The ratings keep going up and up. Superboy's as close to being a hit show as it can be."
Even before Superboy began production, the cast and crew were faced with two distinct concerns: continuity within the Superman universe, and Newton's approach to the dual roles of Superboy and Clark Kent.
"As you know," says Newton, "Superman has been written for 51 years and there were continuity problems. Many people have come in and straightened it out and said, 'This happened, but that didn't.' We've also done a little bit of that on the show. The Superboy comics had Clark being 13 or 14 and we're doing Superboy at 19 and attending Shuster College with Lana Lang and T.J. White. Essentially, we're setting the format for how Superman got to be the way he was. This is before the Fortress of Solitutde, so I don't really understand everything, but my powers are surfacing as I need them. It's just like an infant who reacts when he touches something that's hot. If one of my super powers is needed, it surfaces and I learn how to use it to the best of my abilities. I'm also learning how to set up the differences between Clark and Superboy. I'm going away from the bumbling and nerdy side of Clark. He's more of a real guy with real feelings, and he hasn't developed the nerdy facade, which could get very boring on a long-running series. People saw that in four films, and I don't think they want to see it again."
However, that doesn't mean that the behind-the-scenes pressure to follow that version of Clark kent has lessened.
"DC started getting surveys from kids who were saying that Clark was supposed to be nerdy, because they were so used to the films, and they wanted me to play nerdy. I said, 'Well, then you're going to have to fire me, because I'm not going to do what Chris Reeve did in the films.' I just wouldn't do it because that's not Superboy, that's Chris Reeve's Superman," Newton elaborates.
"I wanted Superboy to be a real human being that people could get pulled into watching. I had to find other ways of establishing the two characters as far as my acting when approaching the part. Clark is definitely more real. He likes to have fun with his friends, he likes to goof around, but he can't really lower his guard all the way and be himself in front of them, or have a normal relationship with girls. It's important for Clark to keep one foot on the ground and one in the air, and this is to keep him separate from a society that would otherwise treat him like a circus freak."
"With Superboy, the comic's writers got ridiculous and it became super power of the week. It got to the point in the films, too, where he was invulnerable to everything. I wanted to make him more vulnerable in many ways and at the same time come up with a balance of powers he can use."
Proof of this comes from watching any number of spisodes, where the Boy of Steel struggles to lift heavy objects.
"Fifteen tons is a lot of weight, even if you're 10 times stronger than a human being," Newton notes. "To have someone pretend that they can lift it with hteir finger is, to me, spitting at the audience, and that bothered me. I went back to the Fleischer cartoons. They're the most incredible cartoons I've ever seen. I noticed that ine ver single instance, Superman would have to struggle there, and it wasn't this attitude of 'Watch this, as I lift up this train with one hand.' It was fascination to me. It was like a smaller conflict within the bigger conflict, and I felt it was very necessary."
Newton also found it necessary to follow acting as a career, beginning at age four when he started re-enacting the Apollo space missions. He landed additional "stage" work in elementary school and high school.
"I was always the class clown," he confesses. "I was always drawn to the idea of making people laugh, and the need to perform, but I didn't really think about it as a career until I was a senior in high school. Neighbors and friends kept telling me that I should move to New York and follow my dreams. I guess I was there about three years before I was signed on to do the series."
Helping Newton to "become" Superboy is his longtime interest in Eastern philosophy, as well as the martial arts. Thant and the fact that at one time he served as a bodyguard for celebrities.
"It helped a lot," Newton enthuses. " I try to implant a great deal of Eastern philosophy into the character and westernize it. Because I can't meditate on the show, I try to bring some of that peace and clam to Superboy, and that awareness of power, without alllowing the ego to enter the picture. He doesn't have that sense of power-ego, because he's learning about himself. As far as Chris Reeve was concerned, Superman was the real person and Clark Kent was the acting role. In other words, the actor was playing someone acting a part, so he was always acting. I like to feel that Clark is the real character, and Superboy is a product of the costume and what happens when someone is aware of his powers, abilities and that sense of knowledge."
While discussing his beliefs, Newton admits that he trusts in a variety of things which middle America doesn't readily accept, and he only reluctantly shares his views on these subjects, to further explain why he feels it's appropriate that he is protraying this visitor from another star. "I really should sit down and decide what I do and don't want to tell people, because most of the audiences is middle-of-the-road America, and I would hate to blow the reality for them by painting a picture of me as someone who believes in all this weird stuff that doesn't coincide with everyone else's point-of-view, so I don't want to get off on that tangent," he says sincerely. "But experiences I've had during meditation have helped me with a show, given me a sense of that character and a sense of coming from another planet or area. There are times when I really do feel out of place here though not in a bad way. Just slightly...apart."
Signed to a four-year contract, Newton reveals that after the resulting 104 episodes, he'll be hanging up his cape forever.
"One hundred and four episodes will definitely be enough," he musus, "and that's where I'll draw the line, because I'll be moving on no matter how much money they offer me. Then again, I can't say what the future holds, but now I don't intend on staying beyond that."
Considering the future of Superboy, the actor provides some tantalizing hints to what viewers will see during the balance of the first season.
"We're going to be doing a lot of science fiction," Newton promises, "which will be interesting. There have been some boring scripts compared to what we could do--for instance, there's one episode ("The Fixer") about fixing the points of a basketball game--but it's a balance."
He points to the 13th episode, "The Alien Factor," scripted by DC writer/editors Mike Carlin and Andy Helfer, as proof of changes in the air.
"An alien comes down to Earth in the form of a gas, and he has a trophy collection in his ship of all the great warriors throughout history. Now, he wants to add Superboy to that collection, so he takes the form of a samurai warrior and I have to fight it out with him. It's a very exciting episode, although I was slightly disappointed because I wanted to utilize my martial arts skills against him but DC wanted it to be more of a John Wayne-fisticuffs style of fighting. I tried to phrase it any way I could, but they were pretty adamant on what they wanted. I can't really blame them, but I hope we'll get it in a future episode. I guess they have their reasons. I think DC got a little paranoid after the Superman movies became a situation where they didn't have enough control, which I agree with. The first and second films were solid, but then they started getting weird, and I think DC has a fear of that. They're trying to protect their characters."
"The strengths of the first 13 episodes were the guest stars, the villainy and the acting," he reflects. "I don't think the actors were playing it too campy. They're playing it very real. The weaknesses were that the special FX can be improved upon, which is happening, and some of the scripts could have been better. We're getting in new writers and directors with fresher ideas, so that should be nice, too. There are many things I would like to put into the show which we don't have time to do in 22 minutes, although we're learning how to do it without making it look like we're just throwing in all of these elements. Sometimes, when your best friends are kidnapped and they're dying, and it's up to you to save their lives, you don't have time for humor or to develop another character line."
"As I said, the second [group of 13 episodes] is definitely going in more of a science-fiction direction, although the scripts haven't solidified yet. We're also hoping to get more into the character's lore, and there has been talk of using Red Kryponite, which could be really interesting. The only problem with that is that the average viewer doesn't know that there are many forms of Kryponite, so they might not believe it. In any case, we'll have to wait and see what happens. Talk is cheap, but I do know that these are going to be more powerful and stronger 13 episodes of Superboy."