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Jon Cryer Breaks Down Playing ‘Sociopath’ Lex Luthor on ‘Supergirl’

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” the Mar. 17 episode of “Supergirl.”

After seasons of build-up, Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) made his “Supergirl” debut in the fourth season episode entitled “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Initially, the supervillain positioned himself as a sick man, eager to help his half-sister, Lena (Katie McGrath), work on a cure that could heal himself and the recently-shot James (Mehcad Brooks). Although he expressed frustration that Lena wasn’t willing to test human subjects, Lex seemed pleased to be working with his sibling during his temporary medical break from prison. But, naturally, Lex playing nice couldn’t last for long.

“Lex is a sociopath, but he does have a link he can’t break with her,” Cryer said. “And also, to some degree, he gets she has an incredible gift as an intellect and a scientist. His narcissism kicks in, and he can find that to love about her: ‘She’s like me.’ He understands she’s a formidable person, and his really twisted family history does come into play.”

When the power went out at the hospital as James was mid-lifesaving surgery, Lena administered the drug to her friend — which instantly healed him. However, the Luthor-branded generators’ failure to turn on made Lena realize Lex had sabotaged the system to force her hand.

Lex confirmed her suspicions, and revealed his extra layer of double-crossing: Lena’s associates were working for him, he was behind James getting shot, and he had received an injection of the drug after James survived.

Fully healed, Lex had his half-sister drugged and left behind as he dramatically fought his way past the security guards who were protecting the compound — complete with lasers shooting from the walkway and mines in the ground.

When it comes to those more theatrical elements of playing a villain, Cryer said he is “still getting my sea legs.” The actor took the role before seeing the script and knowing just how far this version of Lex would go. Instead, co-showrunner Jessica Queller gave him the “bare bones” details about what would be in store for his three-episode arc at the time. “Definitely the smaller stuff was what drew me to [the show],” he said.

Playing Lex’s deception of Lena was “was, interestingly, tricky,” he continued. “She knows he’s a sociopath. If he was suddenly the nicest guy in the world, you wouldn’t believe it. He has to let her see some of how awful he is in order to let her believe it. It was very tricky to gauge [the right level to play].”

Added Queller: “What I find riveting about [Cryer’s] performance is you never know [what you’ll see from Lex]. He turns on a dime. You think you’ve got it, and then all of a suddenly there’s another color. It’s scheme upon scheme upon scheme. His performance is so surprising.”

With the facade now gone, the series will dive into what Lex has been up to over the past few years in the flashback-heavy March 24 episode, “The House of L.”

“We get to see…how he’s intersected with our cast, unbeknownst to our characters,” co-showrunner Robert Rovner said. “One of our big storylines we’ve been teasing out is Red Daughter. [That backstory] involves Lex Luthor.”

The final moments of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” found Lex face-to-face with Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). Though Lex infamously has issues with Clark/Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) — who will not be returning to face off with his foe this season — Cryer noted his character isn’t exactly thrilled with Supergirl, either.

“He includes her among the alien hordes that are destroying Earth,” he said. “To some degree…I do believe if humanity was faced with super-powered aliens, it would be deeply threatening. I don’t see he’s completely wrong— except the sociopath part…But that’s also part of his intellect and narcissism. We are threatened by this, what do we do about it? These are the steps. And in the bigger picture, if it kills millions of people, there will be plenty more millions. We’ve got billions.”

Supergirl and Lex have an epic fight in the opening moments of the next episode, and although Cryer joked it was “too short,” the longtime Superman fan acknowledged he geeked out a bit during filming.

“We did one of the shots where Melissa lands on the roof [of the Daily Planet], and she has the Beyonce fan blowing her hair, and I got chills,” he recalled. “It’s so beautifully done.”

Lex also will return for the show’s Season 4 finale, which will be called “The Quest for Peace,” in homage to Cryer’s role as Lenny Luthor in “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” But beyond that, his future with the show is still up in the air.

“We love Jon Cryer and we love Lex Luthor, so if given the opportunity [we’d have him back],” Rovner said. 

“Supergirl” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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