On a visit to the Smallville set in Burnaby, British Columbia, last month, there was little indication that the 10-year-old series was in the last days of production. Though the final hour of the show (airing May 13) had already been filmed a few weeks earlier, it was business as usual for the cast and crew as they still had to shoot a couple of earlier episodes. But there was one clue that Clark Kent's long-awaited transformation into Superman was approaching. As series star Tom Welling filmed a scene in the Phantom Zone with Justin Hartley (aka Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow), the camera zoomed in on Welling's chiseled face, revealing a well-placed wisp of hair forming what looked a lot like pop culture's most iconic spit curl. (The episode, directed by Hartley, airs April 29. New episodes return tonight at 8/7c on The CW.) A few hours later, wearing a royal blue t-shirt, black jeans and black boots, a relaxed Welling took a break from filming to talk to TV Guide Magazine about his decade-long odyssey as the man who would be Super.
TV Guide Magazine: You've already filmed the series finale and you have just a couple more weeks left. What's going through your mind so close to the end?
Welling: I find myself pretty excited to, in a sense, graduate. Every summer for the last 10 years, just after July 4th, I've come back here. And this year, I won't. I am anticipating that around that time is when I'm probably going to start more reflection. Because we are so busy now there isn't much time to think about that. So I'm looking forward to a reflective July.
TV Guide Magazine: What were you thinking as you filmed the very last scene?
Welling: I wasn't thinking that it was the last scene, because as much as it's the end of Smallville, it's the birth of this next phase in this character's life, which is pretty exciting. I've said this like a broken record, this show, to me, has always been about Clark Kent — it hasn't been about Superman. And it was very important at the end that we make sure that we wrap up the Clark Kent story. I hope that people have enjoyed the story that we've told.
TV Guide Magazine: The show has so many fans, with so many expectations for how it should end. What kind of pressure have you guys been feeling to satisfy them?
Welling: What's a unit of measurement that goes beyond tons? I don't know what it would be, but it's been huge. You talk about an elephant on your chest, this is more like a 747! You feel obligated, you feel inspired, you feel scared, you feel a range of emotions. We got into planning the finale almost a year ahead of time and everything still went right up to the last second. We were still tweaking things on set, trying to make it better. It's tremendous the amount of weight that goes into what we're feeling.
TV Guide Magazine: When you signed on to this show, how long did you think it would last?
Welling: I had no way of even conceptualizing or guessing. As successful as we were, every year there's been that wait, wait, wait to see if we were going to get picked up. You're really going scene by scene, episode by episode, year by year, trying to stay in the moment and do the best job you can and hope that people respond to it.
TV Guide Magazine: The show has undergone many cast changes over the years, and maintained a loyal fanbase. What's been the key to Smallville's ongoing success?
Welling: One perspective that I subscribe to is the idea that the evolution of this show has matched the journey of Clark Kent. Each time that a character is taken away from our story, that was another step that Clark had to make to grow up. At the beginning [series creators] Al [Gough] and Miles [Millar] did a really good job of figuring out where to start with this character. There have been a lot of other shows to come out where the characters are almost too evolved that they don't really have anywhere to go. Clark had a lot to learn and it's taken him 10 years to learn it. Losing his parents, Lex, Lana — these are all big moments that have thrust him further down the road to becoming who we all think he's going to be.
TV Guide Magazine: As characters have left the show, Lois Lane's role in Clark's life increased. It's worked well because you and Erica Durance have great chemistry. What has it been like working with her?
Welling: It's great. She's a fantastic partner. We have a lot of fun when we work — I think that's what comes through. We've sort of developed this really crazy idea that our characters would actually enjoy each other. The fact that he's an idiot, that's what she embraces about him. I've been amazed at how long the writers have been able to keep that relationship going without it actually coming together.
TV Guide Magazine: With 22 episodes a year over 10 seasons has it been a challenge to stick to the "no flights, no tights" rule?
Welling: I don't know if this is going to come across the wrong way, but, no. Early on, with the concept of the show, it was never an option. There's been times when people wanted us to do it, but it's never been what the show is going to be. Some will say that after Season 7 we've actually become Superman, or some people refer to it as Metropolis. Sure, you can call it whatever you want. But to me, it just wasn't what this show was about. It's oddly that simple for me.
TV Guide Magazine: Michael Rosenbaum finally agreed to return one last time as Lex Luthor. What was it like working with him again?
Tom Welling: It was fun. [laughs] It was a lot of fun. It was like he'd never left, but it was also like he'd been gone forever. But he stepped right back into it. Michael is extremely hilarious, he has this really unique ability to entertain and to be a completely opposite version of Lex until they roll the camera and then he goes right into it. I don't think he lost a beat, and it was one of the highlights of the season to spend the day with him.
TV Guide Magazine: How involved were you in the negotiations to get him to come back?
Welling: Oh, are you kidding me? I did everything I could. I texted him, I called him, we went to dinner. I'm just really happy that they were able to find a way for him to come back. I think it's so great for the show and the fans.
TV Guide Magazine: What's next for you?
Welling: Stay tuned. I have been a part of Hellcats and they're just wrapping up their first season and we hope that they come back next year. They've got a really solid all-star group over there as well. So I'd like to continue on that path, as well as get into feature films.
TV Guide Magazine: Any chance you might guest star on Hellcats if it gets a second season?
Welling: Well, you know, being unemployed, that might sound like a good offer. [laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Are you looking for pilots right now?
Welling: No. I don't think I'm looking for pilots, but at the same time, I'm an actor first and whatever the story is, whatever the project is that I found most appealing and that will have me, that's what I'll follow. It could be series, it could be films, it could be directing, producing, developing.