Smallville, a New Superman for a New Century: Rolling Stone's 2002 Feature

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Bleary-eyed, welling shuffles into Morrissey's, an Irish-type bar in down-town Vancouver, and plops himself into an overstuffed chair, takes a deep breath, sighs, swipes at his mop of chestnut hair and says, "I'm hanging in there." Yawning, he stretches his legs out and grins good-naturedly. He's a tall fellow, with huge size-fourteen feet, and limpid green-grape eyes, and cheeks that seem to have a permanent apple-red flush on them. In other words, at the age of twenty-four, he's great-looking and totally WB, which undoubtedly explains why the network splashed photos of him, naked from the chest up, on billboards all over Los Angeles before the show's premiere.

He orders a BLT and an iced tea and gives an account of his early years growing up in Wisconsin, Delaware and Michigan, where he played a lot of sports (baseball, basketball and soccer) and did no better than "fair" in high school. After graduating, he had no idea what he was going to do with his life. He didn't want to go to college, so he got a job as a construction worker, lived at home (until retiring, his father was an executive for General Motors) and basically just hung out. "I was just going with the flow," he says. In that spirit, one spring day he and ten pals hopped on a plane and flew to Nantucket for a vacation.

Cocking his head at the memory, Welling says, "We were at this bar, and these people scouting for an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog shoot walked up to me. I learned they worked for photographer Bruce Weber, who is huge, so I thought, 'OK, maybe you need to take this more seriously.' So I went home for a week, then went right to Lake George, New York, to do the shoot, made a couple thousand dollars, and then I moved to Manhattan and became a model."

He modeled in New York and Europe for the next two years, didn't feel especially at home in the modeling world, and in 2000 decided to move to Los Angeles to become an actor. He had no real acting experience, planned on taking no acting classes and gave himself one year to make something of himself. It took only five months for him to land his first big gig, a three-episode run on CBS' Judging Amy, as Amy's boy toy, which led to three more episodes of the show. Shortly thereafter, Smallville's producers rang him up.

At first, he turned them down, figuring the show would be dopey and lame. They called again. He turned them down again. After auditioning several hundred other young men for the part, they called once more, and this time Welling relented. He read the script and liked what he read. "It was focused more on Clark trying to be a human, rather than a superhero," he says. He auditioned — and the executives were bowled over. Says Miles Millar, one of Smallville's five executive producers, "He had innocence and earnestness and sincerity and a strength about him. He embodied everything that we wanted."

So that's how he got to where he is to-day, essentially on the wings of serendipity. As he likes to say, "It blows your mind, almost to the point where you're like, 'Nah, it's not — no, no, it can't be.'" And after saying that, he just sits there, happily munching on his BLT. Finally he says, "You know, one of the things about going from modeling to acting is it's so much more fulfilling. With modeling, you get your picture taken, which is great, good for you, you know? But in acting, you're able to reach in and show a little bit more of yourself."

That may be. But what he prefers to show off-camera isn't that much. In fact, he seems pretty low-key, even shy. "Tom and I get along very well," says Kristin Kreuk, "but he is very closed off with people." Or perhaps he's just wary.

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"I have a very special woman in my life, yes."

He sips his iced tea. Then he says, "We have been together for three years." And then, later on, he says, "But, you know, we kind of keep that stuff between us."

"Do you."

"Yeah." He leans forward. "I don't mean to be rude, but I'm trying to respect her privacy. And mine. I mean, literally, I've been asked what the names of my dogs are, and I haven't told, just because, you know, let's talk about the show."

"OK, fair enough. What are your vices?"

"Well, I can't have my fingernails clipped or filed," he says deftly. "I just don't like it. So when they get long, I'll bite them and spit them out."

Over time, however, he loosens up a little. Pretty soon he's able to reveal that he's both a huge Christopher Walken fan and an equally great admirer of Bob Saget ("He's rude, he's crude, he's funny!"). Regarding his nose, he will blow it in the shower but only picks it "recreationally." His favorite cuss word is "Damn!" One of his favorite phrases is "There you go!" Yesterday, he had the song "Somebody's Baby" stuck in his head. Also yesterday, he nearly cried after his dog Cook, a pug, ate himself sick and had to go under the vet's knife.

"Is Clark Kent a virgin?" he muses. "We haven't gone there yet. But I hope we touch on that at some point!"

He himself lost his virginity at the age of seventeen, and he has no intention of guessing whether Kreuk, who recently turned nineteen, still has hers or not. "I have no idea," he says loftily, "but I'll tell you this much: She's a unique soul." If he's in the mood, he'll also tell you this: The kind of girls he tends to attract are "none lately, but I've had experiences with wholesome and not so wholesome."

All of which is good to know about the guy who is playing one of the greatest, most enduring of all iconic figures. It rounds him out, makes him human, somewhat more than what Annette O'Toole, who plays his mom on the show, says of him, that "he's simple and pure, both as an actor and a person, and just a very kindhearted soul." But it's time for him to leave. He's exhausted from all his fourteen-hour days. Before he goes, he wants to say one more thing. He says, "There's many more shades of Tom Welling than just Clark Kent."

Well, yes. Who could argue with that now?

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