When Supergirl’s famous cousin heeds the call to save National City, he’s dressed in the drab ensemble of a mild-mannered reporter, still reeling from an especially angry “Caesar’s ghost!”-filled phone call.
One dash into an alley and, faster than you can say “lickety-split” (a thing this klutzy, uncool Clark Kent actually says), he’s zooming through blue skies with that iconic “S” on his chest and—gasp—a smile on his face?
Monday’s premiere of Supergirl—now airing in its new, rightful home on the CW—doubled as Tyler Hoechlin’s much-anticipated debut as the DC television universe’s Man of Steel. For a certain set of Superman fans, it was also a homecoming of sorts: a welcome chance to see the world’s most famous superhero rendered in live-action as a kind, compassionate figure again, rather than a destructive godlike one.
As the 29-year-old Teen Wolf alum puts it, this Superman is a hero “who is aware of all the evil that’s in the world but still chooses to see the good in everyone.” The charming result is a version of Kal-el both faithful to the show’s tone—sweet-natured, quippy, and optimistic—and a winking throwback, with glints of Christopher Reeve’s endearing cheesiness and classic Action Comics heroism.
In times like these, that’s exactly the kind of hero we need. The House of El’s “S” still carries power, after all—and the capacity to inspire hope.
Hoechlin talked to The Daily Beast about how he became the 11th man to don Superman’s suit, what it’s like to fly, and whether we’ll see him suit up to help Supergirl again this season.
Were you a Superman fan before this? Do you have a favorite live-action take on the character?
Absolutely. I mean I didn’t, like, read all the comics when I was younger. I started acting when I was really young and was also playing baseball really competitively, so I was kind of splitting my attention between those two things. But I’ve always been a fan of the character and this genre for sure. The one that I grew up with and knew the best was Dean Cain on Lois & Clark. I remember sitting at home with my mom and dad and brothers and watching it. I loved the dynamic of the two characters, with Clark existing and then on the side he’s this person that no one is aware of.
This Superman feels almost like a Christopher Reeve throwback: He smiles, he’s got his catchphrases, he’s klutzy as Clark Kent, and he’s very much a benevolent force for good.
Yeah, you know, as an actor you always enjoy exploring characters who are either tortured or conflicted. But this was kind of a chance to just have some fun. I really enjoyed just going back to that idea of being this guy who is aware of all the evil that’s in the world but still chooses to see the good in everyone and deal with the bad when it comes up. [Filming took place] around the time when there had been a lot of attacks and it was such a negative thing when you watched the news. So it was nice to see what they had done with the show in the first season and what Melissa does as Kara and Supergirl, and how they operate in such an optimistic and hopeful place. It was fun to jump in and join that.
There was a feeling last year, especially after Batman v Superman, that we’d missed an opportunity to see the character realized onscreen as a symbol of that hope and optimism. Is that something you and [executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg] wanted to bring back and emphasize with your version?
Yeah, but again, it’s always fun to explore those other sides of it as well. I personally can’t compare and never do compare characters, especially when it’s the same character existing in different stories. They exist in their world and this one exists in his own, so they lend themselves to the story they’re telling.
But it’s definitely something that we talked about—the character as a whole and that things like that that are a part of him. I was lucky enough to meet some of the writers and artists of some of the actual comics and they gave me a few to read, so I looked through those. So it was just a lot of research about what people thought Superman was, and hearing different takes on him and finding where it all fit in with the one we were trying to create. We did also talk about some of the struggles that he would have. In this episode, those character traits come through a little bit stronger. Everybody goes through conflict and struggle, so that makes him relatable.
I imagine there’s a bit of pressure that also comes with taking on such an iconic role?
You know, actually, it’s the weirdest thing with this job. It was one of those times where I just felt very comfortable going into it, I think because Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and I had such a great meeting when we talked about the character. Really, we had one meeting and then after that I got the offer [for the role] in a phone call. I think the confidence that I felt in them, and agreeing with some of the things we had talked about, that made me feel very confident going into the whole thing. We knew what we wanted to do.
And I think there’s a great thing that happens when you artistically commit to something that you actually believe in. The whole idea of people not responding to it in a positive way, personally for me, it kind of goes away. At the end of the day, if it’s something you’re committed to and you believe in it, if people don’t enjoy it, well then they don’t enjoy it. It’s completely up to them. They absolutely have the right to choose to completely hate it. (Laugh) But it’s better than going in and trying to do something that you hope people will like, that you maybe don’t actually fully believe in, because then if people don’t receive it, well, you kind of beat yourself up for not being honest about something in the first place.
You also get to wear a brand-new version of the most widely recognized superhero suit in the world. What was it like walking onto set wearing it? Is there a particular feeling it gives you?
It’s interesting when you’re wearing it for the first time and you walk on set and there’ll be an older member of the crew and they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s Superman!” It is so weird because I’ve worked on things in the past where you create and cultivate a new fanbase and they’re learning about these characters as you’re discovering them. But with this, it may be my first day in the suit but people have been in love with this character for over 80 years so there’s an instant recognition. People would come up to me like, “I had to shake Superman’s hand.” And it’s weird because to me, the episode hasn’t even aired yet. But it’s an ongoing thing with this character. That’s been a very unique experience.
And you get to fly in the premiere!
It’s crazy. It’s been so funny to see some of the clips after people came in and did the graphics and actually made it look very cool, ‘cause you don’t look quite as cool when you’re just hovering above the ground with these giant fans blowing on you. (Laugh) But it’s definitely a fun experience and something you don’t get to do every day.
An interesting dynamic to see played out in live-action is Superman as a supporting character for once. You get that all the time in the comics and the animated universe but rarely if ever in live-action.
Honestly, it kind of fit in with how I saw Superman in general. This is not his origin story. This is something he’s been doing for quite a while now—he’s very comfortable in it. There’s an ease and he’s not as eager. I relate it to sports in a way, where if you play a game long enough at a high enough level, the game kind of slows down. So things that maybe used to seem like a big deal, now you recognize what they are. You’ve been there before, you’ve done it, so you relax a little bit more.
For this, I think [Superman] just recognizes right away that he’s there to help Kara and that naturally felt like it lended itself to a supporting role. He’s not there for attention; he doesn’t want accolades from anyone. He does what he hopes anyone else would do if they were him, which is be there to do everything that they can and to be a force of good.
It’s still Kara’s show, after all. It’s also fun watching him step into a totally female-driven universe, with Lena Luthor, Supergirl, and Cat Grant running the show.
Yeah, and with Superman, it’s almost such a natural thing. Like, of course they would be in those positions. They’re very strong and intellectual and grounded women. Why would they not be there? I almost don’t think it’s something that even clicks with him. He so naturally expects that that would be the situation.
What kind of divide did you decide you wanted between the two sides of his persona, Clark and Superman?
He’s been doing it for such a long time that it’s almost like a fun game at this point for him. I think you do see that when he’s Clark, there are very different versions of Clark. There is Clark in public, when he’s around a bunch of people who don’t know him or who only know him as Clark Kent, and I think he allows it to go beyond what his natural self is. Then there’s also Clark when he’s around people who know that he is Superman and you see that even then, he is not exactly [acting like] Superman. I feel like he recognizes what Superman is as a symbol and the responsibility that comes with that. If he’s having a moment of doubt, he probably wouldn’t want to show that ‘cause he’s the one that people are supposed to look to.
But when he’s around Kara and Jimmy Olsen, that’s kind of your truest version of who he is, ‘cause he’s not hiding the fact that he’s Superman but he’s also not playing up to it—and he’s also not having to play up the “Clark Kent” persona so that you’d never suspect him. That’s where I feel like he really lives, and then the other two are when he lets those two sides of his personality run about.
You’re in the second episode of this season, but should we expect to see Superman pop up again later?
I don’t know! I really don’t know. I’m as in the dark as anybody. It’ll be really fun to see where else he can pop up and what else he can help with. I’m sure the writers are either coming up with some things or going, “And we’re never gonna talk to him again.” (Laugh) But for now I’m excited for people to see these two episodes. I’ve enjoyed the experience and we’ll see where it goes.