Growing up, Jerry O'Connell adored the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. He watched them all, but his favorite remains the 1978 Richard Donner original. The actor had an opportunity to play a role in a live-action setting screen testing for Superman Returns (2006) before the part went to Brandon Routh. O'Connell's first exposure to voiceover work in the realm of Warner Bros animation for DC was for The Batman television series in 2007 as Nightwing. The alter ego of Dick Grayson was Batman's original Robin before growing up and going on his own. In 2010, he provided the voice of DC's Captain Marvel (aka Shazam!) in DC's Shorts Collection. Five years later, he landed the role of Superman in Justice League: Throne of Atlantis reprising the role six more times culminating in Warner Bros last DC Animated Movie Universe film Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. I spoke to O'Connell about his evolution as Superman over the past six years.
Jerry O'Connell's Methodical Approach to Superman for Justice League
"It's been such a fun journey as an actor how many levels the Warner Bros animation team allowed me to play," O'Connell said. "They just give me a lot to play with, and it's why people like it so much. Every movie is a fresh take not only on Superman but every character." As a fan of the Man of Steel, he admitted taking every opportunity to see Superman films in theaters and IMAX, when possible. The actor is open when it comes to fan feedback with every performance going into the next Justice League-related project. "My first research is that I go to Reddit, Twitter, social media platforms, and [other] fan platforms," O'Connell said. "I get notes on how I did in the previous film. They interact a little, but not too much. I don't want to open the floodgates. The fanbase can be a little intense for me, but I try to get feedback. The fans know Superman way more than I do. I'll be done, and they'll still be in charge. I try to get as much fan feedback as possible."
Despite remaining humble, O'Connell points out how his hard work paid off touting his success on The Death of Superman (2018). "I'm pretty sure [the film] is 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes," he said. "If I got 98 while in high school, I wouldn't be acting. I'd be designing software and launching rockets into space." While voicing Superman, he also had the opportunity to tap more into his comedic side playing Ray Palmer/The Atom in the animated series Justice League Action. "There's a little more comedy when it comes to playing the Atom," O'Connell said. "There's a little less leading man stuff. When you're a leading man, you have to tough it up a bit. You have to playthings. I can be a little looser with Atom. He's not been around since 1938 that everyone has a distinct idea of who the Atom is. There are a lot fewer comments on Twitter when I play Atom than when I play Superman. I have to be a little more aware when I play Superman." Ironically, Routh ended up also playing the live-action version of The Atom in the CW's DC's Legends of Tomorrow.
An Inspiring Rivalry
O'Connell's Justice League co-star Jason O'Mara was able to pull double duty as Batman for Warner Bros Animation and The Patriot on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. After meeting with him at a Comic-Con, O'Connell playfully ignited his rivalry with O'Mara like Superman and Batman. "I saw how well-built he is," he said. "We all met at LA Comic-Con. I immediately started hitting the gym. I really haven't been in good shape as I am right now. I don't think I would be able to physically play a superhero. Now…well nobody's working out now, because of the quarantine. Now I have a gym membership, and I drink protein shakes and try to make sure that Jason O'Mara isn't as muscular as I am. Unfortunately, he's slightly more muscular than I am…very slight amount. I don't think I can take him in a fight, but I would put up a good fight. I admit he would ultimately win, but he wouldn't come away unscathed."
Among O'Connell's other upcoming projects, he'll star in Ballbuster and The F**k-It List slated for 2020 releases. He'll be shooting Summer Gold opposite Justin Long and the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. With productions suspended and Americans practice social distancing and self-isolation, a fan reminded him of a Sliders episode focusing on a pandemic. "Our second episode of Sliders was called 'Fever,'" he recalled. "Twitter reminded me about this about a world where there was a pandemic. Professor Arturo (John Rhys Davies) found a cure for it. You found out I was patient zero, and I was wanted." Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is available now on digital download and DVD, Blu-Ray™, Blu-Ray™ Steelbook, & Blu-Ray™ Minifig from May 18.