James Denton is best known as the man of copper piping on Wisteria Lane, but he takes on a new role as the Man of Steel in the DC home-video release “All-Star Superman.” The “Desperate Housewives” star is joined by Anthony LaPaglia (Lex Luthor), Christina Hendricks (Lois Lane) and Ed Asner (Perry White) on the two-disc home-video release, which hits shelves Feb. 22. Denton approached the role with a healthy respect for the actors who had come before him, as he told our Jevon Phillips in this Q&A.
JP: So, were you into comics as a kid?
JD: As a kid, I was. I was never a collector, but I saved them. Then, as my parents moved their house as so often happens, everything got dispersed and lost. But I’ve learned that there’s a whole world out there that most people, unless you’re in it, don’t know about and aren’t aware of. Kyle MacLaughlin, who voiced Superman in one of the earlier DVDs, was telling me about how educational it is to do this job and meet those guys that are in that world. It’s really fascinating and it’s kind of addictive. Both of us agreed that I don’t have time for another hobby, but I’ve got to admit that I’m a comic guy. After doing this and meeting people, you really get how it can be addictive!
JP: When you did buy and did read, what were your favorite comics?
JD: I used to buy Superman — I was a Superman guy not a Batman guy — and Spider-Man. I also bought some Rawhide Kid. I was into western comics — Outlaw Kid and Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid. I don’t even know how long they made those. Course I grew up in the South, I’m a redneck, so I gravitated toward the Western comics.
JP: So … Superman?
JD: Of course to me, as much as I hate to admit it, when somebody mentions Superman, the image that pops into my head is of George Reeves standing there with his hands on his hips in black and white with a cape flapping behind him. I’m definitely from the old school.
JP: So for you he’s the most memorable Man of Steel?
JD: Obviously the Christopher Reeve movies are so great and they’re more modern, but still for me, it was George Reeves on TV. I guess he was so human, and not all rocked up — he was such a human and normal-seeming guy, and when you’re a little kid, [that sort of thing] sticks with you.
JP: Did that nostalgia influence you when you accepted the role?
JD: I was just honored to be asked. It was a little bit daunting. Most of us [as actors] don’t have stage fright per se, but I was kind of scared of taking this on. It’s so iconic and there’s so many people waiting for this to come out and the book was so good. People love Superman and are very protective. So, while I was very honored to be asked, I didn’t ask what they were paying me [and] I jumped at the chance to do it. I realized as I was driving to the studio that I was really trepidatious.
JP: Describe the story.
JD: It’s really complicated. In the beginning there’s a journey to the sun that Lex Luthor sabotages and Superman is oversaturated with radiation that degenerates his cells. That’s what ends up killing him, and that made it tricky for me because there’s all of these emotional scenes. He says goodbye to Ma Kent, tells Lois that he’s dying, confronts Lex about changing his ways — and yet you have to resist being emotional.
JP: So how’d you approach him?
JD: One of the great things that I read about Superman came from Grant Morrison when he said that the bumbling Clark Kent was a facade, and that Superman is also facade. That the real Clark Kent, the guy that was raised by Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville, was very strong, very confident and knew how to drive a tractor — that guy was the real guy. And that helped me ’cause I thought ‘If this feels a little monotone or controlled, that’s OK, because Superman is not the real Clark Kent either.’
JP: Did you get to interact with the other voice actors?
JD: No, we did it completely separate. Anthony [LaPaglia] and Christina Hendricks and Francis Conroy … we kind of had to get in there when we could get in there. It’s hard to do more than one at a time, and it’s pretty monotonous for the other people [if we had all been there simultaneously] … which is a shame because I would’ve loved to have been in there with Anthony because his voice is so great.
JP: What did you think about the process of doing voicework in general?
JD: I’d never voiced an animated character. It was really just about trusting Andrea Romano, who is a genius. She does so many of these. If she says through the glass that I’ve got it, I just trust her and move on. It’s so weird, like when you first heard your voice on an answering machine. I first heard me and I was like ‘Man, what happened to Superman? He’s such a wimp!’ I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that it was still my voice.
I know that part of the reason [executive producer] Bruce Timm chose me was because this was a very different Superman. You don’t need the booming, intimidating voice, thank God, because we’re playing with Superman being very mortal and very human and dying. It was tough for me to listen to. Especially with Anthony LaPaglia as Lex because his voice … he’s fantastic. And he’s so big and Lex is huge, and then you hear Superman and it’s me and you’re like ‘Oh God, Lex is gonna kill him!’
JP: Switching gears, “Desperate Housewives” … if one of the women had super powers of some sort, who would it be and what would her powers be?
JD: [laughs] Nicollette Sheridan’s character Edie would have X-ray vision. She would be the one peeking through everyone’s walls to see who was sleeping with whom so that she could find her next victim!
— Jevon Phillips
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