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

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Sorry it smells like bitter ass in here," says Michael Rosenbaum, 29, hopping into an SUV filled with his moldy old hockey gear. He fires up the vehicle and bumps through potholes into a dark night, bald pate gleaming. "Yeah, Lex Luthor, pretty wild," he goes on. "I'm not sure what it means, though. Like back in college, I remember watching the Superman movies. You never go, 'Hey, Lex Luthor! I'd like to play that guy!' And then one day, someone's like, 'Hey, you want to be Lex Luthor?' I'm like, 'I don't know. Do I?' I mean, dude, man, Gene Hackman — how do you top that? He's a genius. I'm just working, man."

That noted, he slaps a home-burned CD into the player, sings a few lines from an old song ("You're so vain, you probably ..."), extols the musical talents of David Soul ("Remember him? Hutch? Love his singing!") and starts talking. And unlike Welling, when Rosenbaum starts talking, he doesn't stop. The best thing to do is just sit back and let him take you on a ride.

He says, "I said to one of my friends, 'This Smallville is good. You know why? Because of the perks! Fly free to Vegas for a radio interview, then party for three days.' I mean, really, in a lot of ways that's what it's all about, isn't it?"

He says, "Nope, no girlfriend at the moment. Yeah, Tom's got one. Poor bastard. I mean, she's great. But you know what? This is probably the time to not have a girlfriend, if you know what I mean. Because twenty years from now, he'll be like 'Don't you remember me? I was Superman!' And they'll be like, 'I don't give a shit. You looked a hell of a lot better then.'"

He says, "Sometimes the ass needs a shaving. It's gotta glisten. No one likes hairy asses. You see a hairy ass on film and you're like, 'The guy could have used some Nair.'"

He says, "I haven't had that much sex without the hair. I'm on Sunset, in a car with my friend Dave, and these two girls are in a jeep next to us. I look over and go, 'Heyyy.' Just a friendly smile, nothing too much. One girl says to the other, 'Like, is that bald guy talking to me?' It was awful."

Finally, slowing down to pull into a parking lot, he says, "I think I lost a filter a long time ago. My mind's always working. I'm always trying to think of something. I wish I could learn to relax. Sometimes it eats away at you. But I guess I'm very insatiable in that regard."

When Rosenbaum first read for the Lex Luthor role, the producers didn't think he was quite right. But three months later, they asked to see him again. "This is a pretty savvy guy," recalls executive producer Mike Tollin. "He walks into the room with that swagger of his, sits down and says, 'OK, obviously you guys aren't finding what you're looking for. So what is it?'" Says Al Gough, another of the show's executive producers, "What we wanted was somebody like a young Michael Keaton who has energy and a charisma and humor but also a certain amount of danger, and who'd be willing to shave his head. When Michael came in like that, we knew we had him."

Unlike most of the other Smallville kids, Rosenbaum has been around in the acting world. He's had roles in movies (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Urban Legend, the upcoming Sorority Boys) and appeared on several short-lived TV shows.

Growing up in Newburgh, Indiana, however, Rosenbaum remembers that he was little more than "a geek" — the undersize, overloud kid who wore cardigans and turtlenecks and who at the age of fifteen didn't want to hit the showers with the other guys because, he says, "there's nothing going on down there, no pubes, no hair at all; and I'm looking at my friends, going, 'God, how I wish I had their hair on my body!'" Then he went to Western Kentucky University, where he roomed with one of the coolest, most popular guys around, which, in turn, made him cool and popular; acted in numerous plays; graduated and moved to New York; acted in several more plays (including a run of Dracula "way the fuck off-Broad-way"); earned money as a hard-driving telemarketing phone wrangler; got some commercial voice-over work ("Trojan condoms — get real"); smoked a bit of weed ("Always in moderation, always; no Dionysus"); shaved his balls one time; and got a gig performing skits on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.

"You know what?" he says later inside a Vancouver restaurant, huddled over a nice ribeye steak. "It's all about confidence. No matter what anybody tells you, that's what it's all about." He leans forward. "Here's what I like about Kristin. As far on the opposite side of her as I am in terms of personality, she respects that. Because she knows that's who I am. And that's important." He chews his steak, waggles his fork in the air and says, "You know, most girls Kristin's age don't like bald guys. But I'd be interested to know who she would rather go out with, Clark Kent or Lex Luthor. She'll probably say Clark. But ask her. I want to know. But don't say that I want to know." He thinks about this, then starts talking about his late grandma, and how much he loved her, and how she once smoked some of his dope — "She must have smoked half the joint in one hit!" — and afterward ate a whole pizza. And on he goes, of course, great, very insatiable fellow that he is.

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