Dean Cain Interview: Superman vs. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

By June 24, 2012
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For four years, Dean Cain played the Man of Steel at the start of his superhero career in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Influenced heavily by comic book writer/artist John Byrne’s The Man of Steel comic book mini-series, the program depicted Clark Kent as the true character and Superman as the front he put on, initially a lonely young man except for his adoptive parents’ continuous encouragement. At Wizard World Philadelphia, Dean and I discussed Lois & Clark and his other work in front of a WW Philly audience.

Travis: Who were your heroes growing up?

Dean: I enjoyed comics when I was a kid but I wasn’t a comic geek. I didn’t have tons and tons of comic books and things. It seems strange now, but back in 1976 when I was 10 years old, Bruce Jenner won the Olympic decathlon. He was a big hero of mine then, and I wanted to be a decathlete. It was mostly athletes that I really identified with, and I ended up being a professional football player, so it was something that was really close to me. But I was teased for being into Superman when I was a kid, so it was kind of apropos.

Travis: A number of people who have played heroes have told me sports heroes are very important to them. Do you think that figures into the heroics of the part or into being physically fit? How does that affect your role?

Dean: I love team sports. Individual sports are more difficult, really, but it’s more solitary and I like the aspect of teamwork. When you end up playing a sport like football or something like that, you’re in battle. You’re in battle, heroic things happen, so you understand sort of that psychology, if you will. When your back’s against the wall, somebody’s gotta step up. You know what that feeling is, you know you’re gonna do something more than even you think is capable, and it happens so. That sports aspect certainly translates to superheroes.

Travis: When you were trying out for this part, was it just any other audition or did you really get to wanting it?

Dean: [Laughs] When I first went for this role… The auditioning process is interesting and it’s changed over time, but I went in and I was the first actor they had seen. I came in and it was a room with three or four people in it. I was very comfortable – I don’t know why. Sometimes you get really nervous and uncomfortable in these auditions, but I was very comfortable with the material. I had read it the night before, and I said, “You know, I might have a different take on it than anybody else.” The producer guy was Robert Butler. He was responsible for creating shows like Hill Street Blues, and he’s a really well known director and producer who’s a show starter – anything he starts tends to go to series. I said, “I got a little different take on this.” He said, “Let’s just see what you got,” so I read the stuff and he said, “Thank you very much!” I said, “Okay, thanks. Bye,” and that was it. You normally hear something within a day or two or even that week. I heard nothing, so I figured that’s another one that’s just gone.

It was maybe three weeks later, I was at a party with friends and people I didn’t know, and this one girl who’s in casting goes, “Hey, you know they’re really high on you for that Superman thing.” I was like, “What? That was three weeks ago. That’s already over.” “No they’re really high on you. They really liked what you did. You were the first person that came in, but they really liked you.” Then it started in earnest after that. They started bringing in six or seven different guys and six or seven different girls, then they started bringing in name actors. I remember coming in on that audition and there were all these guys that I recognized, and I was like, “Uh-oh. Oh well.” Bummed. It was a good shot when I had it. Then they kept whittling down and whittling down, it came down to the network audition, and it was myself and some guy named Kevin Sorbo…

[Audience laughter]

…and about four Lois Lanes. No, there were three Lois Lanes that day. And they paired us up and had us go audition and do different things. I had never been to a network audition before and it’s a lot of pressure, but I thought I did pretty well. There were three scenes to learn, and I did the two scenes that I had to do and figured, “Okay, I got it. I’m good.” Then they wanted to see the third scene, and I was like, “Uh-oh. I messed something up.” I didn’t know what was going on. Did the third scene and waited and then I got a call the next morning. They had to tell me in a short period of time because there were other shows that I had a chance to do as well. I got it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Travis: Was it a fun show to work on? Because some shows look fun but are actually very grueling.

Dean: It was terrible. [Laughter] No, working on the show was fantastic. It was extremely grueling, though. It really was. We shot five days a week, nine and half months a year. It would be an 18-hour day from the time I left to the time I got back. Sleep pattern was completely mixed up because we’d start very early on Monday morning, and then we’d finish very, very early on Saturday morning, when the night ran out. All your night work was toward the end of the week and exterior daytime work was at the beginning part of the week, so you’d lose a day of sleep, basically, throughout the whole thing because you had to flip it around on the weekend: going to bed at 7:30 in the morning versus getting up at 5:00. So it was just daunting physically.

But it was so fun. The show was great. My co-stars were fantastic. The crew was amazing because as hard as we worked, the crew was there before and after, and people don’t really keep that in mind when we start talking about the hours that we work – and they’re terrible. They work really hard. But, you know, they can get out for a doctor’s appointment. We couldn’t. “Oh, we’re gonna have a different DP today because he’s got to get his teeth worked on.” “Well, my teeth hurt. Let him play Superman.”

Travis: They couldn’t get a different Superman for the day.

Dean: Yeah, so that didn’t happen very often. It was great, but I would say it was grueling. In fact, that’s how we ended the show. We got picked up for a fifth season. It sort of ended on a cliffhanger, the fourth season.

Travis: Yeah, whose baby was that? {Trivia: Lois and Clark found a baby who mysteriously appeared in their apartment at the end of the final episode.}

Dean: [Laughs with crowd] I don’t know!

I had been writing a few of the episodes and had talked story with them, and this was my hope: We would have this baby situation and I think what was – at least in my mind – they were going to have this baby be there and we would start to raise this child and we would find it wasn’t ours. We’d grow attached to it. It’s not ours, so we find out whose it is and it would have to go back to whomever it was, and I’m sure that would break her heart and my heart.

What I was excited about was, okay, after all that heartbreak, we decide to have a child. What are the rules? I mean, I don’t know. It was a really fun time for us or it was going to be because how do you create this pairing? What happens chemically? I don’t know. He’s from Krypton, you know, so she could have been pregnant for three episodes and then had a child. Who knows what the time frame would have been? And then how soon would that kid grow up or go into adolescence? It could have been another three episodes. There’s no time frame! So we could have made a lot of rules and it could have been a lot of fun. And then we could have spun it off into Smallville. [Laughter] We could have continued at the same time, I could have had producing credit on that, and it would have been great. [Laughter]

Travis: And you did appear on that show.

Dean: Of course, yeah. I did appear on Smallville in season 97. [Laughter] Those guys ran forever! Tom Welling has grey hair! I’m kidding. He doesn’t. He’s a big, tall guy and he’s a good dude. He’s great. He’s just bigger than me.[Laughter] Well, Christopher Reeve set the tone. In fact, he set the tone for me as Superman as well. I modeled my Superman character after Christopher Reeve. I thought he played that role fantastically, and as Clark Kent as well. I just didn’t particularly love Clark Kent being the mealy mouthed kind of guy. I liked the George Reeves version where he was more of a substantial guy. I was happy that I got to sort of pair those two in my portrayal of the character.

Tom Welling had a whole different experience. They reinvented it, and it was great. But when Christopher Reeve was on the show, he set the tone, and pretty much anybody who had anything to do with the Superman lore should have been on the show, I think. I was happy and honored to do it. Teri went on and did it as well. She did, right? Yes. Yes. I heard she was going to, but I never saw the episode.

[Audience members explain to Dean that Teri played Lois Lane’s dead mother on Smallville.]

Dean: Oh, it was a videotape? So she probably shot it in Los Angeles and sent it out there. Teri, Teri, Teri.

[Laughter]

Travis: But you have stayed busy-busy since then too.

Dean: One of the things they say is, “You know this is going to be hard for you to play other roles and get other things,” but I’ve done like a hundred movies since. Not all of them great, I’ll be honest, but that’s part of the deal. I’ve always been a person who believes that work begets work, and I [believe in] taking on roles of different sizes and different size films. I’m a worker. “Why would you do that role in that film?” Because I’m an actor and I act. So I’ve done a lot of movies I’m very proud of, some of them– Actually, I’m proud of everything I get in. Some of them haven’t been as good as others [Laughs] but I never felt pigeon-holed having played the role, and it’s certainly far enough away now that a new generation of kids come in and they’ve never seen Lois & Clark. They’ve only heard that I played Superman. In fact, in Out of Time, when I got to play the bad guy opposite Denzel Washington, the director had heard that I had played Superman but had never met me before and never saw the show. He said, “Yeah, bring in the guy who played in the NFL. He might be able to stand up against Denzel.” So he brought me in like that – which is great – and fortunately I could.

Travis: How long did you do Ripley’s Believe It Or Not?

Dean: Ripley’s Believe It or Not lasted four seasons. We did 88 hour-long episodes and then we syndicated that, cut it into half hour episodes so about 170 half-hour episodes. Now I produced that. My company made that show so I was able to control that a lot better than the Lois & Clark schedule. The Lois & Clark schedule worked out to eight days a show, we’d shoot about eighteen hours a day, and it was grueling. Ripley’s Believe It or Not, for me, was eight days a year. [Laughter] Yeah, it was four pairs of two days, and I chose what days those were – which was also great. It was a ten-hour day and then a seven-hour day. Then a ten-hour day and a seven-hour day. I did that four times a year and got paid a lot more for that than I ever got for Lois & Clark. Honest to goodness truth. And still is ‘cause Warner Brothers hides their money very well and you can quote me on that.

[Laughter]

Travis: What’s the most exciting thing you’ve got going on right now?

Dean: The most exciting thing for me, outside of my career, is my son. I’m a single father to a boy who’s going to be twelve in about two weeks, and that is the greatest thing in the world for me. Career-wise, I’m insanely busy now. For the last twelve years, I had to balance being there, being a parent, and working. There’s times when I’ve missed things because I’ve had to work. That’s been the most difficult part. My son’s getting older now, so I’m able to work more. Now suddenly I’m doing a lot more stuff. I have a show on Fox. I shot it in one day, not a big time commitment, called The Choice which is a dating show. Not really a dating show – it’s a competition show. It’s mindless, fun summer entertainment. That was a lot of fun. There are some other projects I have with Fox as well that were in development so that was part of admission. They said, “And you’re gonna do this show,” and I said okay. How bad can it really be? It wasn’t bad. Actually, I went on a date with a pretty girl, so it worked out.

This month, there’s a show for Hallmark called Operation: Cupcake, which is a very cute Hallmark movie. Kristy Swanson, who’s here, plays my wife in it. I’ll tell you what, she played Buffy, and that was great. This girl is such a fantastic co-star. Even days when she didn’t have to work, she cooked and brought stuff for the crew. I didn’t even try to compete that by the way. I was like, “Okay, Kristy takes the crown. I’ll just be here and hang out with you guys. We’ll cheer for Kristy because she was clearly the greatest thing ever.” The movie turned out real well. It’s a very cute family film.

At this point, we went to audience questions. I’ll share those on another day. If you’d like to see the unedited, un-cleaned-up Q&A, check out this video which the Gorgeous Geeks posted.

What would you have asked Dean if you’d been in my place that day?

George Reeve, Christopher Reeves, Dean Cain, and Tom Welling are the actors best known so far for playing Kal-El, a.k.a. Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superman. What other actors do you think would be right for the role?

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Superherologist

GeekNation friend Travis Langley is the author of the best-selling book Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.