It was big news when the CW announced that Lex Luthor, longtime scourge of DC Comics universe, was finally going to make an appearance on Supergirl, but with the news that Luthor was going to be played by Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer came a considerable amount of skepticism. Could the man who infamously played the comic-relief character of Lenny Luthor in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace really pull off the requisite evil needed for a proper portrayal of Lenny’s uncle Lex?
The uncertainty dissipated slightly with the release of the first promotional images of Cryer as Luthor, which found him looking disconcertingly Hannibal Lecter–esque, and when the trailer for Sunday’s episode hit the internet, you could almost feel the seismic shift in opinion. (Okay, maybe not seismic. But there was definitely an uptick in the number of “Well, he’s already better than Jesse Eisenberg!” reactions.)
In advance of his Supergirl debut, Cryer spoke to Vulture about finding his inner Luthor, working with the show’s cast, and his dream choice to play this generation’s Lenny Luthor. He also talked about the major milestone he recently accomplished on Twitter, why he felt an increased need to get political, and whether or not he’d ever return to the world of sitcoms.
You look suitably menacing in the Supergirl promo. Anyone skeptical about your casting as Lex Luthor should be given pause, right?
I was one of those skeptical people! [Laughs.] To this day, I’m not 100 percent sure why they asked me. But I’ve really loved the scripts so far, and I get what they’re doing. This Lex is a lot closer to the comics than Gene Hackman’s was. This guy is a sociopath, so it’s actually a darker play, and I think they were trying to find somebody who could find a twinkle in the eye of that. Which is hard! And I have to say, it only took me a few minutes before I was 100 percent comfortable and was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m exactly the guy for this.”
I’m sure your first thought was, “Another Luthor?”
Yes, well, there’s been, like, seven of ’em, if you go back to the serials.
Actually, I meant that this isn’t your first time playing a member of the Luthor family.
Ah! That’s true. [Laughs.] I was talking to one of the producers, and it was like, “Oh, we should have a Lenny Luthor on the show! But who would play him?” And then the producer looked at me and said, “Pete Davidson.” And I said, “You’re right! He could absolutely play Lenny Luthor!”
You’ve talked about being a comic-book geek, but did you do any additional reading ahead of playing this iteration of Luthor?
Yeah, DC did send me a bunch of the seminal Luthor graphic novels and a book of the whole history of Luthor as a character, but they sent it up to me two days after I’d already started shooting. [Laughs.] I was, like, “Guys, this is a little late!” But I was already familiar with him, since I was a comic geek since I was 8 years old. Although I was mostly into Marvel stuff as a kid. It actually wasn’t until the DC renaissance with guys like Frank Miller that really brought me around to DC. Also, Jack Kirby moved over to DC for a while toward the end of his career, and that helped get me interested as well.
But, of course, the bigger thing for me was to be able to somehow make up for Superman IV! [Laughs.] Superman IV was a really difficult experience for me. It’s fun to laugh about a movie that’s become a “so bad it’s good” movie, and it’s fun to do a panel at Comic-Con or listen to the How Did This Get Made? episode about it — which, by the way, is hilarious. Doing it, though, was actually a painful experience, because I really wanted to make something great and it fell apart completely. You don’t get into this business because you want to make stuff that’s so bad it’s good. Well, perhaps Tommy Wiseau. [Laughs.]
Not to prolong your agony, but for those who aren’t well-versed in the backstory of Superman IV, you obviously didn’t anticipate that the film you’d signed on to make would turn into the film that was released.
At what point did you realize there was a problem?
When they cut a full week from the very middle of the schedule. They said, “You know that huge sequence where Nuclear Man’s gonna attack the whole town and Superman’s gonna fight him? Yeah, we cut that whole sequence.” [Laughs.] It was just gone. I was, like, “Oh! Oh, okay …”
To recap, Superman IV was supposed to reboot the whole franchise. Superman I and II had been huge hits, but then Superman III, unfortunately, was considered a dud. So when they got the whole cast back together to do IV and had this great story actually written by Christopher Reeve, everybody was incredibly excited. But the producers were two guys [Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus] famous for producing low-budget movies and cutting all kinds of corners, and they ran out of money halfway into the shoot. You could just tell that the props were getting cheesier, and if it was a question of “Do we do this right or do we make our day and send everybody home?” we would just make our day and send everybody home! It was a big learning experience for me, you know, because you get into these things full of hope, but you’ve still got to show up and do it.
At the very least, I’ve gotten the impression that Christopher Reeve was everything that you would’ve wanted him to be.
Yeah, he was so lovely. If you’re looking for dirt, I got none, unfortunately! [Laughs.] He was lovely to me. What struck me about him is that he had a gut-level comfort with the fact that he was portraying an iconic character. He obviously went on as an actor and did all kinds of other things, but he got that, for kids, there was always going to have to be a little bit of Superman in him. That he was comfortable with that was pretty amazing.
In regards to your own iconic character, to play a part like Lex Luthor, presumably you had to excise any and all Duckie from Pretty in Pink.
Oh, yeah. There is no Duckie here. If you believe there is any Duckie in him, then I’ve screwed it up.
Which presumably was exciting for you, since it’s not like you’ve really gotten a lot of chances to do that.
It’s absolutely wonderful to wipe the slate clean and be a whole new person. There’s no Alan [from Two and a Half Men], there’s no Duckie. We’re starting from ground zero with this guy, and it’s interesting because you’re just employing a whole different set of instincts and a whole different physicality. And this cast, they were just so happy to have a character that causes just havoc. [Laughs.] Also, I’m just amazed because these guys just work their asses off with zero complaint for very long hours, and they’re clearly having fun at the same time. Part of it is because it’s a very dog-friendly set. Everybody brings their dogs in, and it just cheers everybody up. I can’t explain it, but it works!
When you’re playing a sociopath, you probably need to lighten things up once in a while.
Well, yeah! But I’m all sweetness and light when I’m not in sociopathic mode. Honestly, it’s the most cathartic thing. You just feel cleansed every day when you go home. You’re tired because it’s work. But it’s very satisfying to be a sociopath!
As much as I want to say, “Speaking of sociopaths,” and then segue into talking about Donald Trump, that just seems too easy.
If you’re looking for a segue, now’s the time to jump on it!
Well, for all of the tweeting you do about The Donald, it was actually someone else who helped you hit a major Twitter first recently. You got blocked, right?
Yes, blocked for the first time! The first time as far as I know, anyway. But, yes, Jerry Falwell Jr., ladies and gentlemen! I got blocked because … well, let me phrase this carefully, because I don’t want to get sued. [Laughs.] I got blocked because I was supportive of him and his wife having a threesome with the pool boy. I’ve got his back! I’m trying to help! And this is how he thanks me? [Laughs.] Hey, Jerry, I’m just very sex-positive.
So you have a vocal political presence on Twitter, I think it’s fair to say.
I do, and I wish I didn’t have to. I really do. I did it with a lot of trepidation, but I feel like, at this point, if you’re an American, you have to speak up. Nothing would make me happier than to just be a doofus on Twitter and have fun with my comedian friends and make jokes about people. I would love to do that, sincerely. But somebody’s got to retweet articles about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. [Laughs.] And that’s gonna have to be me, ladies and gentlemen!
And you’re still keeping busy in the podcast business.
Oh, yes, I’m still doing Undisclosed. Lex is making that very difficult, time-wise, but we’re doing a special run about the HBO documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed. On Friday, the Maryland Court of Appeals reinstated [Syed’s] conviction, and on a very twisted decision that combines a procedural issue with what I believe to be a very wrongheaded take on the evidence. So that combination screws people over. We’re going to have four episodes on that documentary, and then we’re going to move into the next case.
I feel like we should shift to something a little bit lighter, so let me ask you this: Do you see yourself doing another sitcom, or do you think you’ve gotten it out of your system after Two and a Half Men?
I’d love to do another comedy. My company is developing comedies, so I’m certainly happy to do that. But comedy is a very delicate beast, and we’re just trying to find exactly the right thing. It doesn’t help anybody to do something half-assed.
I know you’d been working on a pilot called Dads and Daughters. Is that still a going concern?
No, actually. We developed that for CBS and they just didn’t buy it. Which is what happens. But there’s other ways to skin that cat, so we’re working on it.
Until then, I look forward to seeing your efforts as Luthor.
I hope you’re suitably impressed! Now, just a warning: The second episode is all flashbacks about what Luthor’s been up to for the last few years, so if you haven’t been watching the show, it will make no sense. [Laughs.]
In how many episodes of this season are you going to appear?
Just three. I’ve shot two, and then I’m doing the big season finale.
Which will no doubt leave viewers wondering if you’ll be back for the following season.
I have no idea! They’re about to do Crisis on Infinite Earths, which — if you’re not familiar with it — rebooted the whole DC Universe back in 1986. It’s this big, epic mini-series, so I have no idea if they’re going to need Luthor for that. And I don’t even know what the Arrowverse is going to look like after that, anyway!