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Smallville Vets Flash Back to the Pilot: Who Was Nervous? Who Found the Experience Daunting?

Prior to Smallville resuming its final season on April 15, The CW this Friday will rebroadcast the series’ 2001 pilot, which presents a teenage Clark Kent largely unaware of his legendary destiny. To mark the occasion, I wanted to share a few excerpts from a series of interviews I conducted on behalf of CBS Watch! Magazine, for a Smallville oral history featured in the upcoming May issue.

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Fitting given the pilot’s encore airing, it was barely 10 years ago that production began on that seminal outing — a nearly month-long Vancouver shoot directed by David Nutter (Roswell, The X-Files). Of course prior to that, a while was spent culling the right cast – and some of that time was spent coaxing one Tom Welling into auditioning for what at that point was a project veiled in some secrecy.

“They weren’t forthcoming at all as to what the nature of the show was going to be, and they weren’t releasing a script,” Welling tells me. “At that time, I was given some advice that it could be a warning sign — that the project wasn’t completed.”

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Fortunately for those who would become fans of the show, Nutter stepped in to soothe Welling’s concerns. “[He said] it was going to be about Clark Kent before he became Superman, and I found that to be a lot more interesting [than an Superman series],” Welling says. Still, to assume such an iconic role “was a fantastic opportunity, but at the same time daunting,” Welling admits.

Nutter smoothed out any bumps during the shoot as well, working as he was with such a predominantly young cast. As Kristin Kreuk (Lana Lang) remembers, “I was 18, just out of high school, and as I had so little experience in the business… I was a slightly nervous. [But I] felt very comfortable with David Nutter, and am so grateful for his kindness though the process.”

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Though Allison Mack (Chloe Sullivan) was also but 18 at the time, she had 14 years in the biz under her belt as she hit the Vancouver set. As such, her expectations were in check. “I had already done four pilots that failed and two shows that had been on for a season,” Mack shares, “so I was jaded. Like, ‘This is lovely, but… we’ll see.’ It wasn’t until David Nutter put together a screening of the pilot on a big screen on the Warner Bros. lot that I was like, ‘Ohhhh…. This is different than anything I’ve seen before.'”

Of course, the man you most want to impress is your studio chief, and no decade gone by can temper Warner Bros. TV president Peter Roth’s enthusiasm over taking that first trip to Smallville. “That pilot was magic for us,” Roth recalls fondly. “I remember watching it in my office, almost weeping because I was so excited.”

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Are you excited to rewatch the Smallville pilot this Friday at 8/7c on The WB The CW?

Again, the above is a small excerpt from the oral history of Smallville I compiled for CBS Watch! For much more from Welling, Mack, Kreuk and other series vets — including very interesting casting anecdotes, frank talk about the show’s tricky transitions, tributes to the fans, and teases for the May 13 series finale (Did someone say “goosebumps”?) — watch for the May issue of CBS Watch!, which is sold at Barnes & Noble and Hudson News, and available for free subscription at CBSwatchmagazine.com.