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Tuesday, May 21, 2002
SAM JONES III TALKS SMALLVILLE
By Rob Allstetter/The Comics Continuum
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Sam Jones III is No. 1 with a lot of fans of Smallville.
Jones -- who plays Pete Ross, the high school buddy of Clark Kent -- is one of the breakout stars from the breakout WB show.
Smallville is the first regular television series for Jones, 19, a Boston native. But it comes after two impressive movie performances.
"He's a phenomenal young actor," says David Goyer, the Blade film writer who directed Jones in ZigZag.
The Continuum caught up with Jones during a break in filming of the series on a snowy day in Vancouver to talk about all aspects of Smallville.
Following is a part one of an edited transcription of the interview:
The Continuum: How did Smallville come about for you?
Jones: I came about to L.A. maybe two-and-a-half years ago. I've been pretty blessed. I started off pretty quickly. I came out and didn't have much money. I got a headshot because a girl that I knew just got some black-and-white film and put it in her camera and we took pictures like that. Everybody was telling me to start out with a smaller agency, but my dreams were much bigger, so I asked them, "So which agency shouldn't I sent my photos to?" and then I sent them to all of those agencies. I got with Abrams and my agent told me I should get on shows like NYPD Blue and all the one-hour good shows.
And the first gig I got was on NYPD Blue. I did a few commercials and it kept going from there. I did Pensacola: Wings of Gold, Pacific Blue, Judging Amy, I reoccurred C.S.I. It was going good for me that first year.
The second year, I did more guest-starring, but then I got a movie called Snipes. Snipes was my first movie, but I was the lead in it. It was an independent movie had a lot of big stars in it like the rapper Nellie.
All my parts kept getting bigger. I had the title role in that film and I had all these big stars around me. All I had done was some guest-stars and the next thing you know I was the lead in a movie. So I was thinking, "It's gotta be downhill from here."
But then I did a movie called ZigZag. That movie I had the title role again, I played a 15-year-old autistic kid named ZigZag. It was David Goyer's first time directing, so it was his baby. It was real cool because he wrote Blade and he wrote Blade II.
It had Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Natasha Lyonne and Elizabeth Pena and Miguel Nunez. So everybody was known, except for me, and I was the lead again, so that was a really great experience because everybody had a lot of experience and it was like a great acting class.
David Goyer, he wrote comic books, and he's a writer who was directing. Writers, their vision is so cool, so it's kind of cool to get directed by him because he has that writer's vision.
The same week I had booked that, I had booked another movie that had gotten pushed back. And I didn't really want to do that movie because it just wasn't in the vision for me. I had turned down the movie that I was supposed to do after ZigZag and the casting director from that movie told Michael Tollin, who was one of the producers of our show, about me because they were looking for the kid. They were taking into people into The WB and they couldn't find anybody and they had to keep starting over. They heard about me through this casting director and that's just total grace because I turned his movie down, and they're trying to find a kid for the TV show, and the person who I turned down said, "There's this kid, he's great, Sam Jones III. He turned us down, but maybe he'll do your show."
When I first heard about it, I knew it was a Superman show. And the way my agent first described the character was kinda nerdy. And you know, us guys, we like to think we're kind of cool, you know. So, I'm like, "A nerdy character?" But then I read it and I was blown away by it.
Prior to wrapping ZigZag, I went before Mike Tollison and all the producers and casting director on a Saturday. So I wrapped ZigZag on a Thursday, that Friday and the weekend I took to myself and then on Monday, I booked Smallville. And on the same Thursday that week, I was in Vancouver shooting the pilot. So that was a pretty busy year. And then we found out we got picked up for 13. And that's basically my road to Smallville.
The Continuum: What's your take on Pete?
Jones: Me, personally, I love this character. First of all, a lot of young black actors don't get the opportunity that I'm having. There's a lot of stereotypical parts out there. And Pete, in the comic book, was white, so first and foremost, I'm just totally honored to play this part because it shows that The WB cast this part color blind. They just went with who they felt the best actor was for the part, which is an honor for me.
I like this character because he's kinda quirky and he's kinda intelligent and you never really know what he's going to say. And I think the relationship between Clark and Pete is a good one, really genuine. Tom Welling, when I first met him, he had on a Boston hat and I'm from Boston, so we kind of kicked it off right then.
I'm a newcomer. He's a newcomer. So no one came into this show with egos, and Tom and me just really clicked. He's one of my best friends on my show. We have a fun, cool cast. John and Annette, the parents on the show, they're like real parents to us. John talks to me, sees what I'm doing with my money and sees what's going on. Annette bought me a Christmas present, and I thought that was really nice.
Pete's definitely a life-changing role for me. My two movies were independent and they're not out yet. To be on a show that's not all stereotypical black comedy is an honor to me. I saw Will Smith in Wild, Wild West. And Jim West was a white character, and he did that. And I watched that at home and I thought that was cool for a black guy to play a white character or even visa versa, for white guys to play black characters. It just shows that the world is really evolving and we're moving forward.
Anything that has to do with Superman usually goes down in history, so I feel pretty cool to be able to, at this age, play Pete Ross. I think it's a great character. He's really fun. I don't work too many times a week, but when I do, it's just the best. People say it's snowing and raining in Vancouver, and it's great back in L.A., but I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't give up Pete Ross for the world.
The Continuum: Have you had a chance to sense reaction to the show?
Jones: My first time going back to the states at all was going back to Boston for Christmas. And it was cool because people knew who I was, and it was good to have that good response.
The critics are really good on the show, and the fans really like the show. The first week we played, we were kind of nervous, and we came to work the next day, and we found out we were the highest-rated WB premiere in WB history. And we were like, "In history? What the heck? This is craziness."
Up here, you can't really feel the response, which is kinda cool because we're staying the same people we are than when we first came up here. We're on Wednesday nights on Global now and you can start to feel it a little bit more. Maybe some people stare at you a little bit more, but other than that, it's been fine.
The Continuum: Have you been able to gauge reaction on the Internet?
Jones: At the beginning I was nervous because I would read the Internet and the hardcore Superman fans were like, "Pete Ross is supposed to be white," from like some places in the United States where they still might be kind of racist and they were saying he had to be white and this, that and the other. At first, it made me kind of sad, but up here I just kind of came to work and I didn't get involved in that. It was never about the acting. It was never about the character. It was about why wasn't he white. They didn't care if Denzel Washington and Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr. were playing Pete Ross. They just wanted him to be white.
But then as the show progressed, you see the change, you see the evolution to where people really like the character. Everyone likes my character, it seems, and the girls think I'm quirky and cool and cute. That seems to be the general consensus: everyone thinks I'm cute and nice.
I like him because he's just a nice, fun guy. The guys that I see on the street, they're always cool to me, and everybody seems to like my character. Everybody seems to like all the characters. At first, I thought all the guys were going to like Lana and all the girls were going to like Clark, but some of the girls like me, a lot of the girls think Lex is so sexy and a lot of the guys like Chloe. It's really cool that our show is going good and we've got a tight bond in our cast.
The Continuum: It seems like the show is appealing on a lot of levels. It's a family show, it's got science fiction and it's got Superman.
Jones: That's so cool. I've never been a science-fiction guy, but now when I'm in the book stores, I'm always in the science-fiction section, flipping through to see if we're in any of those magazines. So the science-fiction crowd seems to like it.
And if you're not into science fiction, our show is not to science fiction as, say, Star Trek. It's a family show, too. The cool thing, too, it's a generation gap bonder. My little sister had no clue who Superman was. You hear the myth of Superman, but she didn't know what he looked like with the cape and the flying and all of that stuff. So, for a lot of younger kids, Tom is their Superman.
And older parents relate to it. So it's something that the whole family and all age groups can come together and watch - all races and ethnicities - so it's really great to be on this show.
The Continuum: Do you have a favorite episode?
Jones: "Craving" is my favorite. I like that one a lot. It was fun. I don't have a lot of big stunts, but when the girl jumped on me, it was cool. And I love to act, so whenever I'm in it a lot, like "Craving," I love it.
Also, I liked "Hourglass," the way it was shot and written. That whole dream sequence when you went inside the old lady's head and how she could tell the future. And then, at the end, when the blood stuff was coming off Lex and you couldn't tell if he was good or evil, that was kind of freaky.
What's cool is our cast members are fans of the show, too. Sometimes Tom gets up early, and we're over at his house because he has digital cable, and you should see us, because we go crazy. Some people ask me, "Why do you go so crazy? You know what's going to happen." I go, "Yeah, but it looks so much cooler."
The Continuum: You said you weren't into science-fiction, but were you ever into comics? Did you ever read Superman comics?
Jones: I had a huge box of them one time from my uncle because he was really into and he collected so many comic books. I bet you they're worth something now. I looked over them a little bit, but I was never really into comics.
I was more into sports, but I had seen the Superman movies. My little brother is more into comic books and cartoons and stuff like that. He's the one who loves Spider-Man. When he was younger, he thought he was Spider-Man!
But I like Superman. I had the pajamas, the ones where you could Velcro the cape to yourself. And sometimes we'd play Superman and I'd tie the towel around my neck and go running around the house.
It's funny because now that I'm on the show, I get those sci-fi magazines. So after I read the articles about our show, I look at what's going on with the other shows and it's a whole cool thing. If you're not into it, you don't even know those magazines exist. But if you are into it, it's a whole other world.
The Continuum: How much background do you have on Pete Ross?
Jones: It's funny when you get on a show like this, how you start to open your eye to things. One of the extras, when we first started, would bring in his comics books and say, "See, this is you." It was cool.
Al (Gough) and Miles (Millar, executive producers) basically told us all about our characters. They did a lot of research. They did so much research on the characters that when the scripts are written, all you have to do is say your lines and you are that character.
They gave us a real back story. Like with my character, I'm the runt of the family. I had older brothers and they're all good in sports, and I'm kind of the outcast.
So Chloe and Clark and I are kind of friends because we're the outcasts. Clark's not the coolest kid in school, although he could be because he has those powers. Chloe, she's from Metropolis and she's all into the newspaper. So we're kind of outcasts and we all have our differences, and that's what makes us such good friends.
The Continuum: You know, in the comics, Pete winds up with Lana.
Jones: Yes! Which is cool, too. I found that out a while ago. I found out a lot about Pete because Al and Miles took me out to breakfast one morning and broke down the character to me. And I know that I don't like Lex because his family bought out the cream corn factory that my family used to own. Hopefully, we'll have some scenes coming up, maybe even in the next season, that will show that. That would be interesting and fun to play.
But, yeah, in the comic book, Pete winds up with Lana. And sometimes I tease Kristin (Kreuk, who plays Lana) about that.
The Continuum: It's interesting because there are things that people know will have to eventually happen to the characters.
Jones: Everyone knows that Lex is the bad guy of all times and that Clark is Superman. But you watch it on the show to see Lex helping Clark and Clark helping Lex and see that they're friends, it's kind of funny. You're like, "Whoa! They started off as friends?"
And I think Michael Rosenbaum is a great actor because you can't tell on the show if he's good or if he's evil. But you know he's going to be evil, so you look for those little evil things. And I think he plays that fine line so well. He's like, "I'm just here to help." But is he here to help or isn't he here to help?
The Continuum: And there's little hints that pay off down the line.
Jones: I think it's cool how our writers and tying in the episodes. That's what always made me watch shows that I like to watch. When they refer back, you don't want to miss an episode. With some shows, you can miss five episodes, and then when you watch the show, you're right there. You don't miss a thing.
But our show ties it together. It's like a big movie.
The Continuum: You mentioned what Michael Rosenbaum brought to Lex Luthor. Can you talk a little bit about your other cast mates?
Jones: I'm going to give you the real deal (laughs). When I first met Tom, he was in a 15-passenger van, and he was slouched down. And he was talking about his height, and I thought that this guy might have a complex because he thinks he's tall. I thought had a short-man complex because I thought he was my height, he was slouched over.
And then for kicks, I asked, "Hey, Tom, how tall are you?" Because I was waiting for him to say 5-7 and I could start laughing. He's like, "6-2 or 6-3." And I was like, "What?" And then I looked over and I saw these long, long legs. And I was like, "Whoa, man!" and we started laughing and that broke the ice.
The Continuum: What does he bring to the character?
Jones: Tom is sort of like that character. He's such a nice person. You can ask him for something, and he's there for you. He brings a warm humility to the role, and he's really passionate about his work. He's grown a lot as an actor, and he's really dedicated to what he does.
He's a lot of fun to work with, both on the set and off the set. He puts in a lot of time off the set to make Clark just the way he wants him. He's in every single scene and he's the first one on the set and he last one off the set, so definitely he brings the dedication, to bring the same Clark Kent every week.
The Continuum: And Kristin?
Jones: She's very sweet and very shy and very innocent. She's somebody who you don't really know what she's thinking because she's always shy and quiet and to herself. Once she warms up to you and she talks to you, you find out a lot about her.
She's intelligent. She's always reading books. She's so quiet - just like that character. But you can tell that there's inner strength about her - just like that character.
She's one of those people that when the fans meet her, she won't let them down. There's a lot of beautiful people who are on television, you meet them, and they're snobby. She's are far from a diva as there can be.
The Continuum: Allison Mack (Chloe)?
Jones: She's always the first one to welcome guest stars to the show. She's so energetic. If you're ever having a down day, hearing her energy is so great. And I think she brings a lot of that to the character.
The Continuum: John Schneider (Jonathan)?
Jones: I like him a lot. He's a Christian and I'm a Christian. In this industry, you go through a lot of things. It's life-changing. One day you're a normal kid and the next day you're making a lot of money and people know who you are.
John is like a big brother I never had. He listens and he's there for and he's genuine. He's a star. He was in Dukes of Hazzard and that is so cool. I used to watch that all the time, every episode.
I'm very glad he's on this show. If I have any problems, I can confide in him and I know he'll lead me in the right direction. One day he took me out for breakfast. And we just talked. And I told him a lot of personal things about me and he told me a lot of personal things about him. He knows me now, and I have to give him the real deal.
The Continuum: Annette O'Toole (Martha)?
Jones: If Annette is on the set, I have a good day. Because when she sees me, she goes "Sammmmm!" and always gives me a hug. When you see Annette, you know she's never just going to go, "Oh, hi Sam, how's it going?" She's going to give you a genuine hug and she lets you know that you belong.
She's a big star, too. She was Lana in the Superman movie. She's such a strong actress. For Clark's mom, she's just perfect. She has this inner strength and inner beauty.
The Continuum: Eric Johnson (Whitney)?
Jones: It's unfortunate because I see things on the Internet where people want Whitney to be killed off or whatever. Eric's one of the nicest guys.
He's an actor, and it's too bad people don't really know him. If his character does the even slightest thing to Clark and you see, "Why is Lana with him?" and all that all over the Internet, so obviously he's doing a great job if he's getting a response like that.
(Look for more from Jones soon here in The Continuum).
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