Two and a half decades ago Clancy Brown first brought voice to the follicly challenged villain Lex Luthor, now Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and DC are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series with a fully remastered Blu-ray box set. Following the smash success of Batman: The Animated Series, producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett gave us brilliantly written animated tales of the Man of Steel that set the standards for storytelling, art direction, and acting performances. Brown's portrayal gave Luthor a cool, sophisticated mood that made viewers feel like he was always up to something, which he was, and introduced a new concept for 'The Power Suit'. Take a look at your VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray shelf right now and it's a sure bet that Brown is up there multiple times. Whether it's Starship Troopers, Sponge Bob, Venture Brothers, Shawshank Redemption, Buckaroo Bonzai, or so many more, his face and voice are very familiar to you. While enjoying a Paris vacation Brown patiently answers Bleeding Cool's questions about his inspiration for his Lex, Why he hates Superman, and what keeps him interested in the villainous foe.
We're going to talk about the 25 year anniversary of 'Superman: The Animated Series' where you play Lex Luther. At the time there weren't a lot of voice actors that had played him. We had Jason Beck in the 'New Adventures of Superman', Michael Bell and Stan Jones on 'Super Friends'. 25 years ago. What were you tapping into or who did you base your performance on?
Clancy Brown: Mine was definitely Stan Jones and then Michael Bell. I guess I didn't realize Michael Bell had done it, he's a friend. Stan Jones was kind of the big voice that I remember. And it was mostly the look with the voice. That's what I recall. I wasn't really thinking about Gene Hackman. I'm not as good an actor as Gene Hackman. I was new to voiceover and I really wanted to do the discipline of voiceover. Then (Superman: TAS) happened along, they were casting outside the box, trying to get some non-voiceover actors to act. I was a non-voiceover actor and happy to do it, and now they've completely sucked me in and taken over my brain, the Voiceover world.
You said that you're not as good an actor as Gene Hackman, but you are as tied to this character as much as he is now, and you inspire other people's performances based on what you did on 'Superman: TAS'. What do you think draws you to this character?
CB: What kept me so interested in the character was the writing The writing of the show was so good. The writing of that whole era of Superman animation was just so terrific from Superman: The Animated Series, to Batman (The Animated Series), through to Justice League Unlimited, the writing was just so good. If it had been dumb, it would have been easier not to be invested in and not to care what kind of a job you did. But when the writing is as good as that, it's going to have to up your game. You have people like Andrea (Romano) riding herd on you, then you walk into a room and there's Malcolm McDowell (Metallo), Efram Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred), Mark Hamill (Joker), and Olivia Hussey (Talia Al Ghul). It's just kind of a Hall of Fame, so you kind of had to take it seriously. You had to be on your game when you walked in the door, but it's easy to do that when the writing is as good as it is. That's what really, I think, attracted everybody.
Lex is the most dangerously intelligent man on the planet. So why does he hate Superman so much?
CB: It's a different answer from now than it was back then. You know, in the first episode, he tried to convince Superman to join him. I think there's something missing in Lex, something that drives him. Something has occurred that has caused him to make those compromises. I also think he thinks that he's the solution to all the problems somehow. This alien shows up from another planet, who just follows the straight and narrow path and doesn't have any time for any compromise or nuance or anything about that is either good or bad. He does, but not the way Lex thinks about it. It's an interesting character, Lex Luthor, over the years he started out just as a crime boss, and now he becomes like Mark Zuckerberg, or whatever for Facebook, he's become CEO. This subtle, manipulator of capitalism. The king of peak capitalism.
Do you have a favorite Lex moment from any of those shows?
CB: There's a few that stick out in my mind, one of which is the first moment when Lex is trying to recruit Superman. Where he thinks he can recruit him as Superman is floating outside is his office and Lex makes his pitch for them to join forces. That's when he realizes he can't touch this guy, which is maybe that's why he hates him so much. You can't control him. But, there are lots of them. 'The Great Brain Robbery' from Justice League Unlimited. That was a lot of fun to do with Michael Rosenbaum.
I realize it's a bit of a stretch, but do you think there's any comparison between Mr. Krabs and Lex Luther?
CB: Oh, interesting. Mr. Krabs is a different sort of manifestation of capitalism. He's the adorable small businessman. I don't think Mr. Krabs wants to take over the world. That's Plankton. Plankton wants to take over the world. So Lex Luthor is more Plankton than he is Mr. Krabs. All Krabs cares about is making money, from a penny to $20 to $50. As long as he has more money in his pocket, he's fine, but he has no ambition to take over the world. I don't think Lex cares that much about money.
Superman: The Animated Series the fully remastered Blu-ray box set, which includes several hours of bonus features, is currently available for purchase.