He wasn't in last week's "Justice" episode, but tonight TV veteran Phil Morris (Mission: Impossible) drops in on Smallville as J'onn J'onzz (pronounced "John Jones"), a familiar face from the world of DC Comics. Like Kal-El, J'onn is from a different planet — Mars — hence his other handle, the Martian Manhunter. Given that J'onn is a shape-shifter, many actors could have been hired to play the part, but Smallville scored by casting Morris, who brings a mature and guiding presence (something that Clark has needed since losing his dad) as well as a solid knowledge of the comic-book world.
TVGuide.com: Wouldn't it have been appropriate for you to be in last week's "Justice" episode, which featured Green Arrow, Aquaman, Cyborg and Impulse?
Morris: All those characters in the "Justice" episode are very young, and they'd been on the show before, so the audience already knows them. They don't know me yet, so I think it was smart of the show to keep J'onn separate. I'm a more mature presence, which will help ground the show. It's ironic that J'onn is a Martian, because he's the most humane and compassionate man of all the DC characters — at least to me.
TVGuide.com: It sounds like you've done your research.
Morris: I have 20,000 [comic books]. I'm a fan.
TVGuide.com: Me, too.
Morris: Are you a Marvel or a DC guy?
Morris: You can't be! It's impossible!
TVGuide.com: OK, if I have to pick one — and since we're talking about Smallville — I'll go with DC.
Morris: I was a Marvel guy. You know why? The Black Panther [Marvel's African costumed hero, who debuted in 1966]. That was my image. That was me. John Stewart [DC's Green Lantern] and even [Marvel's] the Falcon didn't come on until later. Marvel had my heart, culturally. DC had me in terms of its social responsibility with the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. I know the universes intimately well.
TVGuide.com: Does that kind of knowledge help you when you go into an audition?
Morris: On this one it did! I knew who he was. Also, I played Vandal Savage on the Justice League. I knew Carl Lumbly (Alias) voiced Martian Manhunter on the cartoon and that Phil LeMarr voiced Green Lantern, so I know that universe, too. I honor it. This has been a dream come true for me. I love working as the Martian Manhunter. I love that I have superpowers and that I can fly. In the DC Universe, I'm second in power only to Superman.
TVGuide.com: This season Clark has been examining how he's going to use his powers globally. What role does J'onn play in guiding him?
Morris: I'm Jiminy Cricket. My job on the show, as far as I can see, is to help Clark understand that he's weakening himself by trying to be less than who he truly is. Other people can tell him that, but I've walked the walk. I'm a shape-shifter. I have assimilated in this African-American guise, and my inner working says African-Americans know exactly what it's like to be on the outside looking in.
TVGuide.com: So they don't put the green makeup on you?
Morris: No. I am me. I have a long leather [blue] coat, a black shirt and jeans.
TVGuide.com: Was that you in the Martian Manhunter tease earlier in the season?
Morris: No, that was before I was hired. They used a double in the episode where [J'onn] flies off.
TVGuide.com: Will J'onn J'onzz's "jonesing" for Oreo cookies be addressed?
Yes. [Laughs] You'll see, you'll see.... It's hard to eat them in the scene, but it's there. [Editor's note: Just look at the photo, above right.]
TVGuide.com: Do you know why the popular Justice League Unlimited series was canceled?
I don't. Traditionally, those shows don't last that long. Animation is a finite business. We just did New Frontier [based on the DC comic by Darwyn Cooke], which is a 90-minute [animated] show. I do the voice of King Faraday, who [has scenes with] J'onn J'onzz, who I get to play on Smallville.
TVGuide.com: You've got to get a J'onn J'onzz figure.
Morris: I'm going to. I'm very excited. I think this is going to be wonderful. I think the fans are going to love it. It contradicts nothing in terms of the [DC] universe. We take it to places that I was not familiar with, but I'm not unhappy with it. I think it lends to [the place] where the show needs to go.
TVGuide.com: A continuity gap from comics to screen is never good.
Morris: I was telling Whitney Ransick, our director, to keep me grounded. I know J'onn J'onzz, and he's not prone to hyperbole. He's just real. He speaks to you like I'm speaking to you.
TVGuide.com: Are you just on the one episode for now?
Morris: No, I'll be doing [multiple shows]. Hopefully, I'll be doing a ton of them, but definitely more than one.
TVGuide.com: What was it like doing the Mission: Impossible TV remake in 1988, since your dad [the late Greg Morris] starred on the original?
Morris: Not many people saw it, but it was an amazing experience. My father inspired me to follow my dream. He played a very intelligent, mainstream, no BS guy.
TVGuide.com: You got to work with your dad when he guest-starred on your Mission: Impossible?
Yes, and that was a true honor. I've had some amazing experiences in this business, and this is now another one of them. I just hope it continues.
If you love your superheroes, the new TV Guide offers four — count 'em, four — different covers, each featuring cast members from Heroes. 'Nuff said.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.