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Interview : Tom Welling

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Caffeinated Clint
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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

Tom Welling was a mere unknown a few short years ago, until a TV series called “Smallville” turned the young would-be actor into one of Hollywood’s most popular young stars. Now a part of the ensemble of the new Steve Martin family comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen”, in which he plays the family’s eldest son, Welling talks movies, stardom and of course, the future of “Smallville”.

How/why this Cheaper by the Dozen?
When I first got this script it was sent to me in a package of four or five, and I was discussing the projects with my agent. He was saying, ‘This person is involved with this and this person is involved with this.’ (Cheaper by the Dozen) was about the third script in the pile and my agent said, ‘Steve Martin is playing the father in this one.’ And for me this script really went to the top. The top three reasons I decided to do this film were, one, Steve Martin, two, Steve Martin and three, Steve Martin. That was the number one draw for me. Then, after reading the script, I really liked this character, Charlie. I liked what he went through, what he had to go through, and I felt I understood where he was coming from. And I just wanted to be a part of it. It was the kind of story I wanted to be a part of.

Did you look back to your own adolescence?
I only had to look back about 10 years. So it wasn’t too hard.

How big is your family?
I have a family of six, four kids.

Can you relate to Charlie, so far as siblings?
I don’t know if it’s going to show up in the film, but we went back and re-shot a scene where Charlie on the phone with his girlfriend and someone keeps picking up the phone. ‘I’m on the phone. I’m on the phone.’ They hang up. I continue my conversation and someone else would get on the phone. I went through that growing up. My mother would pick up the phone, and she wouldn’t even see if anyone was on the line. She’d dial all the numbers before she ever put the phone to her ear. It would like, ‘Ma…’ You’d wait. ‘Mom.’ And she’d say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’

Are you surprised at how successful you’ve become?
I think the success of Smallville has a lot to do with a number of factors. We’ve got a great cast. We’ve got a great storyline. We’ve got stories to do every week. So it’s a community effort there. As far as Cheaper By the Dozen goes, that’s going to be successful for those same reason. We’ve got a lot of people involved who are good at what they do, and they come to set ready to create something beautiful.

You and Hilary Duff are the teen idols of the group. Did you guys get teased by the kids?
Hilary did. Hilary did. I remember that a lot of the little boys liked to tease Hilary. They all knew who she was. They were all familiar with what they’d done. They weren’t so sure, the little ones, who I was when I got there. They found out along the way, but by that time they’d already met me. They were just like, ‘So, what are you doing on TV?’ Kids are very honest. They’re brutally honest that way.

Did she give you tips?
Did she give me some tips? No. No. I tried to help her out. We did a scene where I drive a car into a parking spot and she mentioned that ‘I have to go to driver’s ed next week.’ I said, ‘Oh, check this out,’ and I showed her how to keep your foot on the brake while you floored the gas, got the RPMs up and sort of peeled out a little bit. I saw her later and she said, ‘You know, I tried that, but it doesn’t work in my Mercedes.’ I said, ‘Well, the Nova that I showed you in, there’s a little difference.’

Hilary said you made her laugh a lot.
As you can tell, Hilary is a very good actress and she’s a very good liar. We just had a lot of fun, everybody there. I think it comes across in the film. Everybody was just there to have fun. Unlike a lot of families — where you’re old enough and everyone’s separated and you look back and go, ‘Wait a minute. We actually had some fun at that time in our lives.’ — we were all just laughing and having a good time.

Did the, reality of working with Steve Martin match the dream?
Absolutely. I grew up watching him. He was always my favourite guy ever on Saturday Night Live. Getting to work with him and meeting him on a personal level and on a work level, he just fulfilled every expectation I had and even more. He’s just a great, wonderful human being. He’s a lot of fun, very caring and very supportive.

Did he give you any bits of advice?
One piece of advice that he told me was that, "In this business there is no secret knowledge. Anyone who has made it has made it for different reasons. Some of them have no reasons whatsoever. You just have to follow your heart and do what you think is right.’ It was Steve, Bonnie and I. They’d taken me out to dinner for my birthday. We were up in Northern California and we were all lonely, so we went out to dinner. So I was just kind of sitting back like a fly on the wall and listening to the two of them talk about some of the choices that they’d made in what they’d done. It was very interesting.

How important was it to do something other than Smallville, to show people another aspect of what you can do?
It was very important, even apart from a professional standpoint. I wanted to do something different, in a different medium, something that would allow me to be a little more free. A lot of times on Smallville the way we shoot the show is we’ll shoot the master, then we’ll go in and do some medium range shots and then, if you’ve ever seen Smallville, they love to go right into these real smackers right here, these real big close-ups. What that does, is you don’t have a lot of movement at that point. Now, on this film I knew that there we could move around, that there’d be a little bit more room, a little more space, a little more space to create, and a lot more leeway. That was very enticing to me.

How do you deal with chaos in your own life?
I have so much chaos in my life it’s become normal, with being on the (Smallville) set. I’m there nine months out of the year and I work nearly every day. You become used to it, but a lot of is you have to just relax and calm down and take a deep breath and try to see how you can make things work rather than complain about how they’re wrong. That’s what I try to do.

Did working with kids make you want to have kids?
I worked with six other kids, but I don’t think that it accelerated any rush to have children. But I look forward to having a family sometime in the future, to having a couple of kids.

What interested you more in Cheaper by the Dozen, the humour or the heart?
Well, my character isn’t funny. I’m about the only one in the film who isn’t funny. For me, it was more about the heart. Everybody else is coming from an angle of excitement. The kids are excited because they’re getting toys. Dad’s getting a new job. Mom’s got a new book. My character is the only one who sits back and says, ‘Wait a minute, I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.’ So he’s really the one working from more of a heart point of view, or an internal point of view, and a lot of the other characters are working from an external influence point of view. So yes, the heart was very important.

Are you as much a realist as Charlie?
At times, at times. I’m maybe not as much (of a realist). I think I maybe cut myself a little more slack than this character does. He’s pretty hard on himself and the people around him. Of course, he’s in a pretty serious position.

What are you making of fame?
Fame? What is fame. I’m not sure what fame is. Fame may be attention. I guess that’s all it really is, attention. I’m separated from a lot of it, seeing how I’m up in Vancouver and I’m shooting all the time. It’s something that’s out of my control. It’s something I appreciate and that I respect, but it’s not necessarily something that I concentrate on or try to maintain.

Why is Smallville so popular and how hard is it to maintain its quality and popularity in a TV landscape where shows are falling hard in the ratings?

Well, I think that one thing is it’s a really good show. It is a good show. It’s got a lot of elements. It actually has elements that Cheaper by the Dozen has, and that is that people of different ages cam watch it and enjoy it for different reasons. I think that a lot of things become successful for that reason. Basically, what we’re looking at is if you can get a lot of different people to like one thing it will be successful. That’s the common thread between the two.

How much has Clark developed over the seasons?
At the beginning of the show Clark didn’t even talk. He was kind of a geek. Now, somehow, without any sort of obvious transition, he’s this guy who’s cool and hangs out with everybody. I’m not sure how that happened, but it did. Clark is a bit more street-smart than he was at the beginning of the season. He’s probably wrestling more with his emotions now, rather than just being thrown off by them or being confused by them. I think he’s getting a better grasp of what they are, but then trying to work through them and figure out who he is.

We’ve heard you tipped for Superman film. Possibility?
Before that film could ever be brought to me on an actual level there are just too many things that probably wouldn’t allow it to happen. One is the shooting schedule I have on Smallville.

Are you a part of the L.A. party scene?
I’m never here. I’m never here. I’m here for the night. I flew in this morning. That’s not where my interests lie?

Where do you call home?
To the IRS? It’s funny. Right now I reside in Vancouver about nine months out of the year. Last summer I was working on the film and then I spent some time with my family out east. Basically the answer would be that I reside in Vancouver.

Would you ever want to live on a farm like Clark?
Sure. Sure. Who wouldn’t want to have the apartment in the city and the house out on a farm? Everybody wants some space. Someone brought up fame earlier, and I think there’s almost a sense with a lot of attention coming in, that you almost need an escape route. We all want some space. We all want some time on our own, and a lot of the time that means going outside of the hustle and bustle.

Are you a football player?
Now? I’m an actor. I’m kidding. My father played quite a bit and he didn’t want me to play growing up. I played soccer, baseball and basketball. I used to play football in the backyard with my brother and his friends, but never on a team level.

Did acting come as a surprise to your parents?
That was as much a surprise to them as it was to me. I didn’t grow up with the intention of becoming an actor. It wasn’t until three, four or five years ago that it ever really became something I thought I could even do. I’d always grown up watching movies and wanting to be that guy. I wanted to be Tom Cruise. Actually, I didn’t want to be Tom Cruise. I wanted to be Maverick (from Top Gun). I didn’t know that was Tom Cruise being an actor. The sense of adventure was very alluring to me, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I was talking to some people who said, ‘We can maybe put you in a position where it could become a possibility. We can introduce you to some people.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s try it.’ And I loved it right from the start. I was living in New York. I was doing modeling at the time. It was a good thing that this happened, because I was not very good at (modeling).

Why were you not good at modeling?
To me, it’s not a very expressive job. It’s really based solely on what’s the outside. I didn’t find that it was fulfilling at all. I find acting to be much more fulfilling. You can be much more expressive and you can show a lot more of who you are. At the end of the day I feel like I’ve created something.

How do you deal with distances and not being around people you love?
Cell phones help. E-mail helps. You just try to stay in touch. You make your best effort to see people when you can. Your expectations of people change and their expectations of you have to change as well. You can’t go from seeing your buddy every week to moving to Canada and not seeing him for three months and still expect the same things from each other. You have to adjust.

How hard on Smallville is it to play the same character week after week
I have to believe that for any actor to take what he’s doing on a day to day basis and be able to do something different, especially with that same character, it’s great. It’s fascinating. It’s a great release and it’s something we look forward to. For me it’s become the norm. It’s normal for me to wake up, go to set, be there for 12 or 14 hours and then go home. That’s my life. And going back to the question just before, you adjust.

Do you have a strategy for subsequent work?
We don’t have any specific strategy to find the anti-Clark. We’re looking at everything right now. It was great to be on the set with Bonnie and Steve, who are, in my mind, probably two of the greatest comedic minds around. They’re just brilliant. And they have two different ways to even go about comedy. Comedy is definitely something I’ d be interested in, as well as dramas and action. I’m just looking at everything right now.

Talk about working with Chris Reeve on Smallville
It was great. I’ll be going back (to NYC to shoot another episode with Reeve) for sure.

Did Chris share any insights into his days as Superman?
It was funny. He watches Smallville and he was amazed at how we can do what we do on a day to day basis and even get them out in a week, with some of the special effects and visual effects. He was explaining how, when he did the first Superman, even up to a year after the actual production stopped he was still working, and how they really pushed the special effects and the visual effects forward with that film. So that was the big thing that he was amazed at. He had a little joke that he didn’t want to talk with me too much about Superman because I’m not supposed to know about him yet, because I’m only Clark Kent. That was his jokes.

Will we see flying on the show?
A lot of people are looking forward to that. I’m not, but I base that on the character. I believe that Clark flying around, Clark putting on the suit in Smallville would go against what we’re trying to do, and that is show a teenager with these abilities who is trying to fit and trying to be normal. I think that if he puts on the suit and he starts flying around, one, we’ve now changed the dynamic of the show, and, two, it would be too easy. One of the things that we try to do on Smallville is we try not to make it too easy for Clark to use his abilities. Other people can’t find out about them. He has to make sure that he’s very conscientious about covering his tracks and making sure nobody finds out about him.

What’s coming up on the show?
Lex Luthor is crazy. He’s in an insane asylum. Lana’s got a new sort of boyfriend, sort of freak-boy who I’m probably going to have to get rid of sooner or later. And Chloe and Clark start putting the pieces of their friendship back together.

Will he get the girl (Lana)?
It’s one of those things where, if he gets the girl, it’s over. That’s where the tension comes from. It’s a hard question to answer. As much as Clark wants to be with Lana he almost can never have her. That’s the curse that he has. This is the thing: Lana is probably the one person in the world who would accept him for who he is. She just would. Yet, Clark doesn’t want to take that chance. He’s not so sure. That adds the tension.

What is the most surprising thing to you about success?
The most surprising thing is that there are a lot of people who are interested in what I have to say about thing and about my opinions on things. That’s probably the biggest thing.

You’re married, right?
Yes I’m married.

Where’s the ring?
No comment. It’s not a bad thing. I just don’t have it with me today.

Do you want to graduate on screen, stop doing teen and high school roles?
Well, they’re doing a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof right now in New York. I really thought I had a shot at Big Daddy. They just didn’t see it. There is the idea that at some point you have to grow up, you have to leave the teen medium. That’s either something you do on purpose or that you fall into, but it’s a tricky situation. Maybe you can play older, but once you do that it’s more difficult to go back. So why, right now, push back away all these roles that are in this age range that you fit into? You have to at least consider them, because there are some good roles. Once you’re 40 you can’t play those roles, so you might as well keep your options open.

So you watch yourself? Are you good at it?
I watch dailies of Smallville. But I don’t watch it so much to see if my hair is OK or if my makeup is all right. I watch it to see what the director is doing, to see what the shot is. Sometimes I’ll just trust that it’s going to be a great shot and sometimes it’s not, so I use it as a learning tool.

How did you meet your wife?
We met about five years ago. We were both in New York at about the same time. We got married last September, not this past one.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN OPENS ON XMAS DAY.

– PAUL FISCHER

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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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