Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Special Report: "Smallville" 100th Episode Issue

Navigating his career flight path

Welling willing and able to tackle everyman roles

As TV's Clark Kent, Tom Welling can dodge bullets, but can he dodge the typecasting that has dogged nearly every other actor who has played the Man of Steel?

"It's hard to escape the cape," Christopher Reeve once said. But Welling, who's appeared this year in "The Fog" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" and had a recurring role in "Judging Amy" in 2001, is in a unique position. Since he's been playing Clark Kent this whole time, he's never actually worn the suit.

"I technically haven't played Superman yet," he says. "Once you put on the Superman costume, it's such a strong, iconic image, people have trouble seeing you any other way."

"In the series, once he's Superman, it's game over," says "Smallville" co-creator Michael Gough.

Although there was chatter early on about his taking on the bigscreen role of Superman (which ultimately went to newcomer Brandon Routh), there were too many conflicts, scheduling and otherwise for Welling to be cast, says Gough.

"I think if he had ever been offered the movie, it would have killed the series," admits Gough. "I don't think Warner Bros. would have done that on a corporate level. It's not like 'The X-Files,' where you can see the movie and then come back and watch the series. It certainly was never an option for us and I don't really believe it was ever an option for Warner Bros."

Welling, 28, is coy when discussing the negotiations that took place. If he's disappointed at not being the new Superman, he won't say.

"It's such an odd thing to talk about. There were so many issues that would have had to have been dealt with -- scheduling, the future of the show -- for it to have happened."

A sixth season hasn't been officially announced yet, but he does admit, "They're preparing for it. We're at a good place right now. We still have some issues to work out with the characters."

"It's hard being a TV actor and working around the schedule," says co-creator Miles Millar of Welling, who's committed to "Smallville" 10 months out of the year. "He's chosen (his film projects) pretty well."

"I did 'The Fog' in a fog," Welling laughs. "They shot for a month before I got there and it was shot at night and really fast. For 'Cheaper by the Dozen 2,' I was only available for 10 days, so they could have just cast someone else in the role, so I'm very grateful they didn't. My schedule was just so ridiculous."

So far, Welling's flair for comedy has been a fairly well-kept secret, says Gough.

"He could be a terrific romantic comedy lead. You see it sometimes when he and Lois have scenes together, that sort of Cary Grant quality that's very light and funny. But you never see it in Clark Kent because he's just too earnest." Welling, a former model who graduated from high school in Michigan, is philosophical about the current status of his extracurricular career. "You have to pay your dues and be patient. And I've got a pretty good day job here."

Date in print: Fri., Jan. 25, 2006

(c) 2006 Reed Business Information (c) 2006 Variety, Inc.