At the end of "Lexmas," Smallville's last fresh episode, Lex Luthor having seen a semi-idyllic (and also semi-tragic) possible future flash before his eyes vows to use any means possible to win election to the Kansas state senate against his opponent, Jonathan Kent. The moment was chilling, and not because of all of the prop snow. TV Guide went to Michael Rosenbaum for the scoop on the WB drama's brand-new episode, "Fanatic" (airing tonight at 8 pm/ET), and Lex's descent into total villainy.
TV Guide: There has been some debate over what Lex's end-of-"Lexmas" declaration of war against Jonathan is really about. Care to shed some light on his decision to fight dirty?
Michael Rosenbaum: I have to let your imagination fly with that one [because] I can't leak such information! [But] I think he feels that if you have enough money and enough power, you can pretty much control anyone. It's bad enough when in real life it's not working out for you, but even when you dream...?! [Laughs]
TV Guide: Of course, a small cadre of fans want to think his dream was really about Lex-Lana....
Rosenbaum: Well, that's good. I've got to keep them thinking! I like to make things a little ambiguous. Sometimes people just come into your dream and you're like, "Wow, that was bizarre" and then you don't tell them about your dream because they'll think you actually have a crush on them. I like to think that Lex had a dream, a good dream, and it just so happened he had this beautiful woman with him and it just so happened to be Lana. But I know that their relationship is definitely heating up. It's a fun dynamic because Lana is a pretty girl and I guess she has always looked up to Lex but never really trusted him. We'll see what happens there, but it should be fun.
TV Guide: Lex already has money and power. Why the need to be senator? Is it for the free postage?
Rosenbaum: I don't want to use the analogy of George Bush, but it almost seems that when you hold an office, you tend to have more power. In his last line [in "Lexmas"], Lex says he wants it all. If he gets to make all the big decisions and doesn't have to look up to anyone, he has the freedom to do more of what he wants.
TV Guide: Lex's decision could make him more like his father than he wants to be. Or does he want to be?
Rosenbaum: They always say that as a kid, you're a product of your environment, and Lex had been fighting that forever. The last person he wants to become is his father, but I think he's slowly accepting the fact that regardless of how much he tries to run, there's always going to be that part of him that resembles his father.
TV Guide: In "Fanatic" Lex's followers become quite avid. Is this a first hint at his megalomaniac leanings?
Rosenbaum: You could definitely say that. It's amazing what these people will do for Lex. One supporter, Samantha, is so devoted that she shaves her head to impress Lex. I'm all about the Sinead O'Connor look, but shaving your head to impress someone? [Laughs] That's a bit much.
TV Guide: But when you watch the James Bond films, you wonder where the bad guys get all these loyal minions. Maybe this is a recruiting process of sorts for Lex?
Rosenbaum: Yeah, I think that's what's happening. Right now I call it "a large cult following." When you're young, there are those groups who walk around wearing the Goth [clothes] and listening to The Cult and The Clash and The Church. They're people who apparently enjoy the dark side. Maybe sometimes it's fun to like the bad guy.
TV Guide: It's been great to see Smallville steer away from "high-school angst" and delve into the Superman mythology. Was that change welcomed by the cast as well?
Rosenbaum: It's been a treat, absolutely. What's amazing is it's the fifth season and now people come up to me all the time. People have really come back for Season 5 because, yeah, we're out of high school or, they're out of high school. Lex was never in high school but still had to deal with, "So, Clark, are you going to the prom with Lana? What's your problem, Clark? Tux doesn't fit?" Now it's the real world. The story is starting to really evolve and get closer to the mythology and those characters.
TV Guide: When I spoke to series creator Al Gough before the season premiere, he was looking forward to the Michael Rosenbaum-James Marsters (Professor Fine/Brainiac) dynamic. How did you like it?
Rosenbaum: You know, I didn't get to work with James that much [during Marsters' early-season arc], but when I do, it's amazing, it's electric. People don't know this, but it's very difficult to be a guest star. Imagining coming onto the set of a show that's already successful, where the crew is like a family and everybody works together....
TV Guide: You're "the transfer student from Belgium."
Rosenbaum: That's exactly what it is. So I always try to make the guest star comfortable and say, "Hey, it's OK to mess up." But James, he's been around the block. In our first scene, I'm just kind of having fun, being the dark and brooding Lex Luthor, but as I start doing my lines, I'm like, "Holy s---, this guy knows his stuff inside out." I looked at him and thought, "Oh, you came to play today!" both of us found each other trying to amp it up. We had lunch a couple of weeks later and James looks at me and says, "Man, I was a little nervous." I was like, "What are you talking about? You were so confident!" He said, "No, honestly, I was a little nervous working with you." Me?! I'm the biggest goofball in the world. It was like two football teams trying to show how strong and tough they are and afterwards going, "Hey let's go get a spritzer!" It was hilarious. I can't wait to see what they have in store for us [during the second half of the season].
TV Guide: When is Marsters returning to Smallville? Sooner rather than later?
Rosenbaum: Well, we have about 10 episodes left in this season, so I would think things are going to heat up in the last five or six. We'll see what happens. They don't tell us; people don't understand that.
TV Guide: Will "Fanatic" offer more clues as to the death of a major character that's coming up in the 100th episode on Jan. 26?
Rosenbaum: It definitely brings us close to that episode [in terms of] situation, character and plot development. This whole thing is building.... Something's going to happen.
TV Guide: We hear the death is at the hands of someone surprising.
Rosenbaum: Well, you'll just have to keep watching!
TV Guide: Of course, Lex lives on thank Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey.
Rosenbaum: It's looking like I might live. I don't know.
TV Guide: Outside of Smallville, what else do you have going on?
Rosenbaum: Greg Beeman, who is an executive producer of Smallville and actually directed the 100th episode, and I are working on a TV show. I wrote all these autobiographical shorts based on my childhood, and Greg loved them, so we wrote a script in like five days. It just flew onto paper. It's based loosely on actual events that happened to me as a 13-year-old. Fox bought it and we're hoping to shoot the pilot early next year.
TV Guide: Chris Rock's UPN series is coming to mind. Is this "Everybody Hates Michael"?
Rosenbaum: No, it's definitely not like that. This is not trying to put as many jokes as you can on a page. It's a little edgier.
TV Guide: Whoa, your childhood was edgier than Chris Rock's?!
Rosenbaum: You know how in The Wonder Years, Kevin went up and threw a little rock at Winnie's window? This is like throwing a rock through it and then standing there for an extra few minutes when you shouldn't. This is s--- that really happens.
TV Guide: How does one even begin to cast himself?
Rosenbaum: I don't know, it's going to be tough! I'm going to have to go out there and search for that kid who loves to karaoke and is an avid bowler and has a full-size arcade game in their house and plays flag football....
TV Guide: It's important to remind readers here that Michael Rosenbaum had hair as a teen.
Rosenbaum: Yes. I had really long hair that I cut myself. That's kind of embarrassing to admit, but...