Not long after Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders joined the “Smallville” writing staff in the show’s second season, they began noticing an unexpected participant in their weekly video meetings with the Vancouver production staff.
Series lead Tom Welling turned up one day unannounced and, afterward, just kept coming back for more.
“We’d be in our windowless room in Los Angeles, look up and notice Tom sitting in the back of the production office in Vancouver,” says Souders, who now, with Peterson, acts as the series’ producer and showrunner. “It’d be like a wardrobe meeting, something he didn’t need to attend. And after that, he was there all the time, no matter what the meeting was about. His interest was piqued.”
Welling has played Clark Kent on “Smallville” for 200 episodes, surviving a network merger, a move to Metropolis and numerous threats from a revolving carousel of villains. During his decade on the show, Welling has done no other TV work and acted in just three movies — the two “Cheaper by the Dozen” comedies and the 2005 remake of John Carpenter’s “The Fog.”
Instead, Welling has devoted his time and energy to behind-the-scenes aspects of “Smallville,” directing episodes and, since season nine, serving as an exec producer.
“The most rewarding aspect of my time on the show has been the opportunity to learn about and experience storytelling,” the interview-shy Welling says. “The opportunity to direct has provided valuable insight into the process.”
Says Souders: “It sounds odd, but Tom has a great gut. He understands story. He has directed some big episodes for us, but even when he’s not directing, we’ll often get a phone call from him, either discussing his character or the general concept of an episode. As the season goes along, we sit down with him every quarter and discuss what’s coming up, just so that, in his mind, he’s able to start prepping for what’s going on down the road.”
“He loves the prep work,” adds Peterson.
So much so that, in addition to his acting, producing and occasional directing duties on “Smallville,” Welling is also an exec producer on the CW cheerleading dramedy “Hellcats,” currently in its first full season. Welling helped develop the show through his shingle, Tom Welling Prods., and sold it to Warner Bros. Television, the home of “Smallville.”
What Welling is sacrificing, apart from sleep, isn’t clear.
“I want to do it all — act, produce and direct,” Welling told fans at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego.
Observes Souders: “When you’re wearing a lot of different hats, it’s hard to keep every aspect of what you’re doing fresh. It’s really easy to think about one thing — producing, directing, acting — and worry about that. But to keep everything in mind at the same time is a real skill set, and Tom has it.”
There’s also the physicality of the role, Peterson adds, saying Welling always has been willing to do whatever’s needed in terms of stunt work.
“You put Tom in the mud, water, flames, harnesses, freezing rain,” Peterson says, laughing as he ticking off the list of elements. “He’s an absolute trooper to be the single lead of a show where, for 200 episodes, he has done all this gritty stuff.”
From Welling, you get the sense of determination and duty, but also an appreciation that he has been able to do it for the past decade.
“Season 10 is a great number,” Welling told reporters at the summer TCA tour in Beverly Hills. “I wouldn’t have even known what that number meant in season one. (Warner Bros. TV president) Peter Roth told us that this show would go 10 seasons, so he had the vision. Ten is a great number. I will miss everything about being on ‘Smallville.’ “