Thousands of people next week will descend upon San Diego Convention Center for San Diego Comic Con, the largest comics convention in North America, hoping to attend panels, screenings, signings and other events featuring their favorite actors and actresses. It's a big promo fest for the studios and publishers, but it also offers fans an opportunity to hear from the people who are bringing the comic book characters to life on screen.
In anticipation of Comic Con, International Business Times spoke to Mark Edlitz, author of a recent book of interviews with actors who have had roles in superhero movies, TV shows and musicals, which reads like an all-star Comic Con panel comprised of legends. Through his interviews, Edlitz found that playing a superhero or the like did affect the actors significantly, not just in terms of their careers but also in their personal lives. For some actors, like Nicholas Hammond, who played Spider-Man in the 1977 series, the roles increased their sense of morality and social consciousness.
Many of the actors and actresses interviewed in the book played big name superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and various X-men, which brings more pressure to the roles. To this day, people like Adam West, Helen Slater ("Supergirl"), James Marsden (Cyclops in "X-Men") are still very much associated with these roles. It's as the good comic book says, with great power comes great responsibility.
“They did feel like they had a responsibility,” Edlitz said before borrowing something Pierce Brosnan was said out playing James Bond. “I think to a certain extent they’re all ambassadors for the character from now on, and you can’t shake that. And some of them don’t want to.”
Even though playing heroes was the dream of a lifetime for many, it also had some drawbacks. Several interviewees told Edlitz about how challenging it was to wear heavy suits and film in the hot California sun and other inhospitable climates.
International Business Times: What made you want to write this book?
Mark Edlitz: Whenever I went into a bookstore or comic book shop, I would look for this book. And I kept on looking for it, and I didn’t find it. And, so I thought, “I guess I’ll be the guy who writes it.”
So, I reached out to actors and actresses who I thought would be able to give a diverse range of opinions and a diverse range of experiences, having been connected to superhero shows and movies. You name a superhero, male or female, I probably reached out to them. And not everyone I reached out to said yes. I was very grateful that I had 40 interviews in the book. There are areas I wish I'd had the opportunity to explore.
I wanted the interviews to serve many different functions: I wanted to have them answer questions in a more candid way than if their project was just out. If the thing is just coming out in the movie theater, you give one type of answer; if you have a little distance from it, you’re able to talk a little bit more freely and with a little more context, not just about the project but how it impacted your life.
IBTimes: The interviews seem to span a long period of time. When did you start working on the book?
Edlitz: The whole writing of the book took about 10 years, and that includes having the idea and starting to reach out to people and, once the manuscript is done, turning it into a book. My first interview, if I recall, was with Lou Ferrigno [the Hulk]. That was very scary for several reasons: one, I wanted to start off the book on a good note, and two, his on-screen persona is fierce, but he was very gentle with me. Some of my last ones were with Dean Cain, [who played] Superman [on “Lois & Clark”], and Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor [on “Smallville”].
IBTimes: What were some of the common themes that emerged from the interviews?
Edlitz: I was trying to figure out what impact playing a superhero has, not necessarily on their career but on their lives. How does it change a person?
John Wesley Shipp (CBS' "The Flash"), who played the Flash in the '90s and is now the dad on the new show [CW's "The Flash], told a story about how he’d wear this very heavy costume. He’d go into his trailer, take it off, and he could almost squeeze the sweat out of the costume. He would talk about how wearing the costume does change you a little bit. He felt much more powerful while wearing it and a little bit depleted while not wearing it. I thought that was so interesting because when people wear a Superman T-shirt, [they do it] to have a little of that juice, a little of that power and energy. And I wanted to know if the actors felt that too, and often they did.
It’s interesting to find the intersection between the character and the person. You know, "Sean Connery is James Bond" is how they used to advertise [the Bond movies]. And you want to believe that. We don’t want to think that they're just actors and it’s just another day at the office. We want to believe there’s something special and more to that.
IBTimes: Why do you think we want to believe there’s something special to these roles?
Edlitz: I think part of us must need that. We must need to feel like we’re taken care of. That we’ll be saved, that someone with good judgement—not just powerful people, but powerful people who don’t abuse their power. Powerful people who care about us and want to see the best for us will protect us and lift us up.
IBTimes: What differences did you find between male actors and female actors who had played superheroes?
Edlitz: It can be trickier to be a woman in the superhero world because there’s a lot of traps that you could fall into, that the filmmakers could fall into in portraying strong, powerful, capable women. And that comes to body issues, it comes to gender issues, it comes to issues of feminism and identity. The women were all aware about the pitfalls of depicting strong women. Helen Slater, who was excellent in a film [1984’s “Supergirl”] that wasn’t excellent, but she was aware of how a girl comes of age and becomes a woman, and what’s the practicality of that outfit—fighting crime when your midriff is showing and you're in a miniskirt. On some level, it's absurd, but she recognizes the importance of having these women that we can look up to.
IBTimes: Superheroes have become such a big part of the pop-culture landscape. Why do you think that is?
Edlitz: One, when you have media in control of so many arms and so many divisions, it’s a great way to take up many platforms from movies to TV shows to comic books to your publishing division. There’s just that on a practical level.
Also, and Stan Lee says this, we’re now technologically superior that we can effectively show these stories in a way that we couldn’t. Then, there’s also, these are troubling times to live through. Although there are some great things that have recently happened, we are going through very troubling times. And, on a certain level, it’s just escapism. Some of these heroes were born out of these tumultuous times, so it’s interesting that they are finding popularity again during these tumultuous times.
IBTimes: Marvel and DC have mapped out their film slates through the end of the decade. How do you feel about the current superhero boom? Are you worried about the genre growing stale?
Edlitz: I hope that gives me 20 more people that I can talk to for the next book [laughs]. They should be making those movies. The abundance of superhero films shouldn’t stop other people from making non-superhero film. That’s my hope: Make as many superhero films as you possibly can, but at the same time, don’t not make other ones.
It’s tricky because when I saw Superman in the movie theatres as a kid, I was also watching “The Verdict.” I saw other [movies]. It was not just in isolation. What made them interesting was that it was contrasting Superman and The Verdict. It’s the contrast that there’s a whole palette of movies out there and this is just one beautiful rose that rises up.
What is so attractive to people [about these movies], and Joe Quesada [Marvel's Chief Creative Officer] and I talked about this a little bit, is that they’re sort of like soap operas. You will get tired of people fighting, but people will come back for the soap opera element … It’s not what the Big Bad does, it’s the character moments that will keep these things going.