On The WB’s “Smallville” – which returns Thursday with its first original episode since mid-February – 6-footer Michael Rosenbaum plays cool and stylish Lex Luthor, a tycoon destined to be the nemesis of young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) when he eventually becomes Superman.
In real life, Rosenbaum hasn’t always been cool – or tall.
“I was 5-2 when I graduated high school,” Rosenbaum says. “I grew 9 or 10 inches in college. That’s probably why I have back problems, right? I’m an unnatural human being with an unnatural childhood. We were Jews from New York who moved to Indiana.”
Being short wasn’t Rosenbaum’s only problem, as he discovered while shopping for tennis-racket strings in an Indiana sporting-goods store.
â€˜Those are green’
“I said, “Ooh, Dad, I want the yellow ones.’ He said, “Where?’ I said, “Right there, Dad. I want the yellow ones.’ Everybody goes, “Those are green.’
“That’s how I knew I was colorblind. It wasn’t such a bad thing, but people will pick on you. They can’t believe you’d be colorblind. They say, “Oh, come on, what color’s this?’ It’s like saying to a guy in a wheelchair, “Come on, get up.”‘
Along with being short and colorblind, Rosenbaum had no social life.
“My parents were really strict,” he says. “I never went to a high-school dance. I never went to prom. I babysat my brother on Friday and Saturday nights, didn’t go out. My parents were out gallivanting, and I’d be sitting there.
“I’d be watching “Saturday Night Live,’ and they’d come home, and I’d do the show for them. I’d do every character, Church Lady, everything. So not only would they party every night, they’d come home and have a show for themselves. And they wouldn’t even pay me.”
But rather than brooding over his childhood misfortunes, Rosenbaum decided to put them down on paper, with a little inspiration from Carrie Fisher, whose daughter is a “Smallville” fan.
“I started going to her parties and meeting her friends,” he recalls. “She’s a very eccentric woman. Anyway, I read “Postcards From the Edge,’ and I thought to myself, “Hey, her life was pretty screwed up, and she profited from it.’
“I thought, “I remember my childhood like it was a movie.’ People don’t understand when I tell them these stories. I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller, I guess.”
Putting it on paper
So Rosenbaum started to write short autobiographical sketches and showed them to Fisher. “She goes, “It’s pretty funny, Michael. You might want to do something with that.”‘
During a flight, Rosenbaum showed the sketches to “Smallville” executive producer Greg Beeman.
“He’s bellowing with laughter,” he says. “I thought we were going to be kicked off the plane. He’s like, “This is a TV show.’ Next thing we know, we get together, and in five sessions – mostly laughing, eating and talking about ridiculous things – we have a script.”
Last fall, Fox gave a script commitment to “Welcome to Paradise,” Rosenbaum’s fictionalized account of his Indiana childhood. While it’s not on track for fall, it remains in development at Fox Television Studios. But Rosenbaum has already benefited from the experience.
He says, “Greg goes, “Rosenbaum’s too cheap for therapy. This is his therapy.’ I’m blessed. I really am. I love writing. I try to do everything. That’s my problem. I do a lot of things, but not always great. I like to play guitar; I like to write; I like to act. I want to direct. I’m doing documentaries now. I’m editing them.”
Welling is directing a “Smallville” episode this season, and Rosenbaum is planning to do the same (especially since the show seems a lock to make the transition to the new CW Network).
“They said I could do one next year,” he says. “I figure, “Why not?”‘
Along with writing, Rosenbaum has picked up the odd acting gig, including a guest shot on FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” He’s also supportive of Welling’s outside work.
To be, or not to be subliminal
“One my one day off in Vancouver, on a rainy, foggy day – no pun intended – I went and saw “The Fog.’ When Tom was in the shower scene, I called him. I go, “Tom, I’m halfway through your movie, dude. You look so hot in the shower.’ It was hilarious.
“I’m very supportive. And Tom saw me in â€˜Sorority Boys’ four times.”
Meanwhile, on “Smallville,” it looks as if Clark’s on-again/off-again squeeze, college coed Lana (Kristin Kreuk), might now be drawn to older-man Lex. In a December episode called “Lexmas,” Lex dreamed that he and Lana were married with children.
“That’s heating up,” Rosenbaum says, “and who knows what’s going to happen? By the way, it was a dream, and sometimes you have a dream, and certain people come into your dream. I said to one of my closest friends, “I had a dream that we (made love) last night.’ She’s like, “Yuck.’ I’m like, “Hey, it was a dream. I didn’t want to dream it.”‘
Asked if maybe he secretly did, Rosenbaum says, “That’s what she said. On that note, maybe the dream with Lana, maybe it was subliminal, maybe it wasn’t.”