Michael Rosenbaum had played Alexander “Lex” Luthor on The WB/The CW television series Smallville from 2001 to 2008, his version of the character had become so iconic that when Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was being developed, many fans cried out to have him reprise his role, even though it was going to be a separate continuity from the series.
By the time the series entered its 7th season, Michael Rosenbaum had already made plans to leave since he had already fulfilled his 6 year contract and stayed on for an extra season. Because of his departure by the end of season 7, writers were left with finding ways to explain his absence and hope he eventually returned. Luckily he did return for the series finale, but in between that time many fans wondered why he left to begin with.
In a recent interview with Empire Online about his TV Land series Impastor he finally discussed what happened with Smallville that had him leave for three seasons.
ON SPEAKING WITH WB PRESIDENT PETER ROTH ON LEAVING
I remember sitting with Peter Roth, the president of Warner Brothers … I’ve never really told this story. Everybody has an ego and I think everybody likes to get their way. Peter took me to dinner, because he tried to get me to do two more seasons of Smallville. I was very polite and respectful. I said, “Peter, my grandma thinks I’m funny and I’ve always wanted to do comedy, and I started out in comedy, and I was doing tons of comedy, and then I was catapulted into this role that I love and it’s been great, but I was contracted for six years to play Lex Luthor, I did seven, and I’m just ready to move on and I’m just ready to take a new step.” He looked at me and says, “You know, Julianna Margulies, she turned down millions of dollars to stay with ER and look where she is now.” It wasn’t two or three years later where she just made a fortune with The Good Wife and all of that, and her career just took off. I said, “I’m going to bank on my talent. I’m just going to take a chance on me. I think I’ve done this long enough, I did this character for seven years and I just don’t feel like shaving my head for two more years.” I came back for the finale, but at the time I just wanted to take a chance.
ON GREG BEEMAN’S INFLUENCE ON HIS DECISION
The transition was what I thought it would be. I remember Greg Beeman, who directed License to Drive, The Wonder Years and a lot of Smallville episodes, said, “You realize, dude, you’re the only person in the cast that looks different. Once you grow your hair out, you won’t look like you.” I hadn’t thought of that. I called my agent and said, “Hey, set up general meetings with everybody. They need to see me with hair.” We started doing that and then I was cast on Breaking In. Then I directed my first feature [2014’s Back In The Day] with Morena Baccarin, Nick Swardson, and Harland Williams. I couldn’t have done more … Again, I think you really have to know your ability and you have to know who you are. It wasn’t ego, it wasn’t, “I’m not doing Smallville because I’m too good for it.” It was more, “Hey, I’ve got more to offer.” Look, luck is a commodity of preparation and opportunity and I feel like I’m always prepared when that moment comes. I think it comes down to just believing in yourself.
ON WHAT MADE HIM EVENTUALLY RETURN FOR THE SERIES FINALE
Here’s the thing: I didn’t watch the last three seasons, because I wasn’t in it. Call me egotistical, call me whatever, but that’s the reason I didn’t watch the show. I was working and getting my shit together. But I finally called them up and said, “Hey, look, it’s the last episode ever. I’ll do it, you’ve got me for one day next week.” When I got there I was, like, “What’s happened since I left?” I had no idea what was going on. There were moments where I just didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I liked my scenes with Tom Welling, but I felt like the show was, for me, done when I left in season seven. Then I sort of did it for the fans and did it for me for closure and to say, “Hey, I did come back.” I did do it, and that’s ultimately why.
HOW HE FEELS NOW AS IT’S THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF SMALLVILLE PREMIERE
Holy shit. You just made me feel really old, but I’m proud of it. I have fans all over the world because of that show and I love them. I go to Australia, I go to England…people just embrace it. You can’t be luckier as an actor or as a human being to feel that sort of accomplishment, and if that’s all I did — if I was just Lex Luthor — it would be enough. It really would be enough to go back home to New Berg, Indiana, where there are, like, 3,000 people in the town and where I wasn’t supposed to do anything. To say you were this iconic, legendary character for seven years. I would’ve mowed my lawn with a smile on my face.
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