Welling outgrowing `Smallville'

January 01, 2004|By Ron Dicker | Ron Dicker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Tom Welling, who plays a teen-age Clark Kent on the WB series Smallville, says he's interested in comedy. So when he finally gets to appear in his first movie, what does he do?

He plays straight man to 13 other actors, including comic veteran Steve Martin and adolescent heartthrob Hilary Duff.

"I'm the only one who's not funny," Welling says of Cheaper by the Dozen, a slapstick family film that opened Christmas Day.

It doesn't take Superboy's X-ray vision to see the irony. But further inquiry reveals that Welling is indeed serious about making people laugh. Incidentally, he doesn't need to. He's way too good-looking. But let's indulge the lad.

Welling, 25, says he examined Jerry Seinfeld's recent documentary about searching for jokes and didn't realize the comedy trade was so difficult. And he put Cheaper by the Dozen on top of a stack of scripts for three reasons: Steve Martin, Steve Martin and Steve Martin.

He has admired Martin since his appearances on Saturday Night Live. Suddenly, Welling was playing H-O-R-S-E with Martin in an empty gym between takes. Martin sneaked him into the building before Welling was about to do a dramatic scene involving a close-up. Welling thought it was some actor's device, but Martin was just having fun.

"For me, all the expectations, all the ideas and dreams that I had of Steve Martin and who he is, he lived up to them and surpassed them," Welling says.

And that was before Welling knew Martin wrote books, too. Now Welling has autographed copies.

As for Welling's part in the film, he says he liked the idea that his Charlie acts more like an observer. When his dad (Martin), a small-time football coach, decides to uproot Charlie and his 11 brothers and sisters from their Midwestern berg to take over the team at Big U, Charlie becomes the moral chorus. He sees the festering unhappiness and tells Dad he's being selfish.

Welling plays eight years younger in the film and on Smallville, but he already is an old industry pro. He worries about where his next paycheck will come from.

"It goes even further, that before you even take a role, you wonder if that role, if you take it, will hurt you for the next role," he says.

He's safe for now. He has an adoring fan base, and the show, despite its different take on Superman's youth, appeals to purists as well, Welling says. The Smallville lad is a teen-ager who realizes he is different but just wants to fit in. The powers come slowly. Welling's blossoming crime fighter does not fly and does not wear tights.

"Once Clark puts on a suit, he's accepting the identity of Superman," Welling says. "Clark is by no means ready for that. Once he flies, it all becomes too easy."

Welling shrugs off talk of playing Superman in a much-hyped screen revival. Part of the problem is his schedule, which keeps the New York-born, L.A.-based Welling in Vancouver nine months a year. The time away also insulates him from the growing pressures of celebrity.

"I relate it to being in a submarine," he says. "You go down in a sub with the crew for a week; there's limited communication with the outside world. It's wet and it's rainy because it's Vancouver. Then you pop up on Friday, maybe 10:30 at night, and you get shore leave."

Welling last year married Jamie White - they met when both were modeling. He does not discuss his personal life. But if you're on the street, and a Tom Welling trivia contest should break out, you could win by declaring the few morsels he offers. He likes reading Robert Ludlum spy books, has been listening to the soundtrack of The Insider, and his favorite movie is Mutiny on the Bounty - the Brando one.

He will, however, serve up dish on Smallville: Clark develops a new power this season, Lex gets a little nuttier and Lana meets a new boy "who I probably have to kill sooner or later," Welling says.

Welling praises the show's collaboration, but the man of steel isn't shy about repelling ideas that he thinks are less than super. He employed a veto when the writers had the character Pete threaten to reveal Clark's secret. Welling felt the behavior was inconsistent with Pete's.

"It has gotten to the point where no one knows these characters better than the people playing them, even the writers," he says.

For a guy wanting to explore comedy, Welling can be one serious fellow.

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