In Krypton, the legendary Man of Steel’s grandfather, Seg-El, faces a life and death conflict – save his home planet or let it be destroyed in order to restore the fate of his future grandson. At the NBC Winter Press Tour, Cameron Cuffe (Seyg-El), David S. Goyer (EP), Cameron Welsh (EP), Geoff Johns (President/Chief Creative Officer, DC Entertainment) talked about what fans can look forward to, how Krypton fits into the DC Universe and the challenges in casting Superman’s grandfather.
Krypton premieres March 21st on Syfy.
What’s the longterm plan for Krypton if it connects with audiences?
David S. Goyer: Well, we do roughly have a seven, to eight-year plan, but a lot of people know that Krypton blows up and that’s what precipitated…
Geoff Johns: Everyone knows.
David S. Goyer: I didn’t want to be presumptuous. That’s what causes Superman to come to Earth. This is really an untold story, and […] time travel is involved. What that means is that the ending of our show history could be changed, and what happens in this show could be very different than the sort of backstory that most people know.
How do you deal with the canon and fitting into the DC Univesrse?
Geoff Johns: That’s been a lot of stories throughout the comic books Krypton that we’re drawing inspiration from, but the time travel element does give us unpredictability and some creative license to do stories that you don’t know and stories that could play out differently than what people might assume.
Could we see his grandson?
David S. Goyer: Potentially, yes.
Geoff Johns: The door is open for anything, yes.
Superman has always had a Midwestern feel and you guys are also from the Midwest. Are we going to have that same feeling in Krypton?
David S. Goyer: I think that’s fair. I think, for whatever reason, even if we were doing a retroactive story telling “Superman,” it would feel weird to have him show up on the coasts. He always has felt like he’s from the Heartland.
Geoff Johns: That’s probably why we wanted Adam Strange to kind of be from a grounded place like Michigan, because it gives him a little more, I guess, normalcy and the Midwestern ethic that Superman has. Adam Strange is a character that doesn’t really embody what Superman does as far as honor and justice and really know the right from wrong, but he looks up to Superman.
Cameron Welsh: In a naive world, Adam Strange gets to become a proxy for the audience in a lot of ways. He’s probably the most relatable character in that sense. He’s the fish out of water in this alien world.
The development of this project seems quite long. What were some of the issues you faced?
Geoff Johns: That’s something when you [David S. Goyer] first brought up the idea, you really talked about striving to do something totally different.
David S. Goyer: When I first brought the concept to Geoff and then on to the rest of the people at Warner Bros., I said that we deliberately built this as a serialized show. It was something that was meant to be on cable, and I said from the get go that I wanted to shoot in Europe, and we’ve got a significant visual effects budget for the show, very significant. Frankly, the postproduction period is almost double that of your average show. It just takes a long, long time. My youngest son, who is three, wasn’t born yet when we started this thing.
Geoff Johns: And now he’s a skydiver.
David S. Goyer: And now he skydives, yes.
A lot of shows shoot in Vancouver. Why did you decide against that?
David S. Goyer: Specifically, the main reason is…this will sound kind of funny, but there’s this…I think when people think of fantasy or science fiction and you think of accents, for whatever reason, that kind of Mid-Atlantic or British accent is the default accent when you’re dealing with an alien world.
Geoff Johns: Krypton in particular.
David S. Goyer: More recently, we’d seen Jor El played by somebody who wasn’t American, it just seemed appropriate, and I also know that when we were shooting, even people that are 20 on the call sheet have gone to the Royal Shakespeare Academy and things like that. There’s an incredible history of acting talent over in the U.K., and selfishly, one of my last shows I had shot in the U.K., “Da Vinci’s Demons,” so I was able to pull in some of the cast members from that are in this, and some of the crew members, et cetera.
Geoff Johns: It also has such a different look from other superhero shows out there. So many are shot in Vancouver. We wanted this to have a very different, specific look. It’s also on an alien world, so we’re not going to see cityscapes that you would normally see in other shows.
Cameron Cuffe: Belfast, in many ways, is becoming the Hollywood of Europe. So many great shows and movies are shot over there. There’s such a great pool of talent both cast and crewwise. It’s been a real joy filming there.
For Cameron, do you feel any pressure playing Superman’s grandfather?
Cameron Cuffe: I am a fan. I’ve always loved Superman. We were all sort of saying we can’t really remember when Superman came into our lives. He’s just always been there. As far as the pressure playing the role, it’s a good thing. It’s something that keeps you grounded. I, as a fan, know exactly what is riding on this. I know what that symbol means. It’s just a joy. Yes, there’s pressure, but that’s something that keeps of grounded and keeps you humble and makes you remember how lucky you are to be working on something like this.
David S. Goyer: Although, if you remember, right before we started shooting, right before we told you, like, you’re the guy, we gave Cam the talk, and the talk is… okay. “So you’re representing the House of El. You’re representing the Superman lineage. So what that means in terms of when you’re not shooting is you really have to mind your Ps and Qs. This is a big deal. People are going to associate you with Superman. So are you prepared for that responsibility?”
Cameron Cuffe: For me, that was nothing but an honor and a privilege.
How is it doing all the blue screen work?
Cameron Cuffe: You know what the most awesome thing about this show is that we have so many incredible sets, and the vast majority of them are all practical. It’s all real. It’s all there in Belfast. As an actor for all of us in the cast, it’s such a gift. It adds something to the show. We always say that we want it to be as cinematic as it can possibly be. For us, it is. It’s like being on set of “A New Hope” or “Empire.” It’s of that caliber, we feel.
How much of a standalone project is this within the DC Universe? What are the advantages and disadvantages of that?
David S. Goyer: It’s almost entirely advantageous. It is its own thing. It’s an untold story, and it means that what we do, and because there’s a time travel element, we have a tremendous amount of free rein, and also the fact that not that much is known about Kryptonian society, even in the comic books. I think it’s all advantageous.
Cameron Welsh: I think it’s the best of both worlds. You have something that’s familiar. People know who Superman is. Most people know just the basics, and that’s really all you need, but our approach to…we’re some 200 years before Superman’s birth, so that’s all untold story. That’s all fertile ground for us to play in. It’s the best of both worlds. We have a great toy box full of all the best DC characters, and we get to use them in a playground that hasn’t been used before.
Geoff Johns: We have the freedom too. It’s like we get to do our own iteration of Doomsday untethered to anything else so we can explore Doomsday in a way that hasn’t been done, and it’s kind of more true to the comics.
David S. Goyer: Because he emerged on Krypton long before he came to Earth.
Cameron Cuffe: We have the benefit of being able to take from Man of Steel and take from the comic books and all of these amazing interpretations of these worlds and these characters that have been there before and make it into what we feel is the ultimate version of “Krypton.”
Cameron Welsh: But we’re not chained to any one specific. I think that’s the ultimate.
Given the responsibility of portraying this character, Cameron, does that keep you from going out for a pint?
Cameron Cuffe: I’m a British actor. It’s very hard to get me out of a pub.
David S. Goyer: I think he can have beers. I just think it’s important… I mean, I’ve been involved in a number of Superman related productions, and I think there’s an added responsibility and an added weight because these characters are sort of cultural ambassadors.
Cameron Cuffe: I think what David was indicating and I think is very true is that these roles and these symbols mean something very real in the world. As I said, I’m a fan. I understand how important this is, and this is more than just a gig.
Is this a dream part?
Cameron Cuffe: I started out in London in theater and indie film, and this was so far away for me. I was just content to watch it as a fan, and then when this opportunity came my way, I thought, “I’m never going to get this. There’s not a chance,” because I knew the competition would be, as it is now, so many talented actors out there.
David S. Goyer: But when he came in the room, we were like, “He’s got it.”
Cameron Cuffe: So the fact that I’m here right now and working on the show and next to David, who has done some of my favorite films, and next to Geoff, who has written some of my favorite comic books, this is dream come true for me. Genuinely.
Cameron Welsh: It’s a dream job for me, as well, but you’re right. Because this symbol means so much, there is a responsibility with it. I feel like we’re caretakers of something. We were talking earlier, we’re about to hit 1,000 issues of Action Comics. This is something that’s been around for a while. We have our moment to be caretakers, and then we want to pass it on, and hopefully pass it on in better shape than we found it.
David S. Goyer: Superman in the Legacy of Superman, when I say it’s a cultural icon, it’s also a global icon, and you’ve got people all over the world that feel like Superman’s their guy or Superman’s their person or Supergirl or all the other various super characters. My three year old’s into Superman. I have three sons, they’re all into Superman. I think it’s important to take that into consideration when we’re doing… so every… even the smallest decision is something that you really think about carefully.
Geoff Johns: I mean, the show, the S means so much to so many across the world and people wear it, people have it tattooed on them. “Krypton” explores how that S really gains its meaning, where that meaning comes from. Because we start in a place where it actually is this symbol of shame.
David S. Goyer: It’s a scarlet letter.
Geoff Johns: Yeah, literally a scarlet letter. It’s discarded. The House of El is no more. To watch this symbol build into something that we all know and love, and with the character of Adam Strange being from Earth and from our time period, going back in the past and knowing what that symbol means to us and saying the symbol will one day again mean something, that’s really… that’s the core of the show, the heart of the show.
Cameron Welsh: That’s right. For Cam’s character, to say he has been disconnected from that symbol, from the House of El, everything that it meant. So he gets to make all of those discoveries, and we sort of get to ride along with him as he does that.
Cameron Cuffe: That legacy feels very far away from him when we first meet him in the show. As you guys said, the entire show is him growing as a person to fill that symbol and the symbol growing to be what it becomes, that great symbol of hope throughout the multi verse.
David S. Goyer: We also deliberately play into, I think, when everyone sees the show, you know, of what Superman’s grandfather will be like. We also like to subvert expectations. So he’s not the most mature or heroic character when we first meet him.
Cameron Cuffe: Certainly not, certainly not. We pride ourselves on sort of delving into those more moral shades of gray, that there is no pure villain. There is no true hero. Everyone just has their emotional stakes and their journey. In fact, I know we’d want to say that some of the most heroic and interesting characters on the show come from House of Zod, which is historically a more… has villainous connotations towards it. But those characters end up being some of the most forthright.
Will we see New Genesis or Apocalypse or the Green Lantern Corps?
David S. Goyer: So the deal with this show is it’s kind of a gateway into the DC science fiction universe. Because we’re also… the Phantom Zone figures into this show, which means we can definitely go into other times and other planets eventually. So even the inclusion of Adam Strange…
Geoff Johns: That’s the first one.
David S. Goyer: … that should to tip you off that it’s not just going to be set on Krypton.
Geoff Johns: If the fans have read it in Mystery in Space, it will probably end up in our show, so the hardcore fans of any of that sci fi stuff. We were talking about the Omega Men earlier. Like, any of these characters will eventually show up in…
Why go with Adam Strange instead of a more noted time traveler like Booster Gold or the Linear Men?
Geoff Johns: Well, Adam Strange actually, because Adam Strange [is] one of the great stories. Thing about him is that his core story is that on Earth, he just kind of blends in. He’s an average man. But when he travels via this Zeta Beam to another planet like Rann, he becomes this hero. He finds the hero within him. And so that conceit and the Zeta Beam technology plays into why Adam Strange specifically is able to travel from Earth present day to the past in “Krypton.” He’s an unlikely hero. He’s the unlikely choice to shoulder this burden of trying to stop someone from the present from destroying Superman’s legacy.
David S. Goyer: The thing about Adam Strange is that he doesn’t just travel through time, but he’s also noted in the comics for having adventures on other planets, which is something that we’re interested in exploring. That being said, the show is built for everyone, and it’s designed, even if you’ve never seen a Superman movie or never read a Superman comic, we think all the hardcore fans will be really pleased, but we’re hoping to broaden the tent.
How did you first become acquainted with Superman?
Cameron Welsh: Like Cam was saying earlier, it’s one of those things where I just can’t remember a time before Superman, so I don’t really remember the first time I just knew I always seemed to have a stack of Superman comics. But I think when Superman really kind of impacted me the most was watching Christopher Reeve play Superman in the movies, in the Richard Donner films. So that was probably the first time that I really felt that magic of it all. In terms of the comics, I remember The Death of Superman being this massive event when I was a kid growing up, and it was something that everybody talked about. Doing this, we got to revisit all of that as we sort of look at Doomsday and in terms of the show. In terms of other comic books, I would say All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is the other one that really resonates with me.
Cameron Cuffe: For me, I grew up in the time of the great animated series, so my Saturday morning cartoon was “Superman,” the animated series, and “Batman.” I grew up like a lot of kids in my generation knowing, having a cursory knowledge of who these characters are. But it wasn’t until I picked up the comic books. Specifically, I remember it was Geoff’s run on Teen Titans that made me realize how deep the storytelling is. How Superboy is faced with the idea that he will one day have to grow up to be Superman. As someone who’s always been interested in telling stories, it was the emotional depth as well as the mythological scale of these characters. And specifically with Superman, for me as a kid who spent a lot of time in my imagination, it was so inspiring to see someone who is so immensely powerful, who stood for hope and justice and, no matter what, always believed in you and in the good in people, and that was something I always carried forward. Whenever I have a difficult decision to make, I always think what would Superman do, still.
Geoff Johns: The right thing.
Cameron Welsh: But that’s so cool, because, yeah, it’s not about his powers. It’s about his choices, and that’s what I think makes… is one of his defining characteristics.
Geoff Johns: It depends. It’s all specific to the movie and the comic and everything else, but, yeah, it does. I mean, you see the comics still… even for the show “Krypton,” we’re pulling things from comics that were written in the ’50s and we’re pulling things from comics that were written five years ago. So they still provide the base for everything that we’re doing in TV and film and animation.
David S. Goyer: Here’s something that’s interesting, though, that Action Comics came out in ’39, so it’s like pre TV, obviously pre video games, pre VR. And yet, this thing is still be printed on paper.
Geoff Johns: There’s a show…Cameron had just came over to DC and held Action Comics #1, and he noted the first panel, the first thing and it says in Action Comics 1 is the planet Krypton. The fact that we’re 80 years later, we’re doing this show called “Krypton,” celebrating and telling untold stories still of a character that…
David S. Goyer: Takes place before that first panel.
Geoff Johns: Of a character and a mythology that has been around for so long shows you the power of that mythology.
Why do you think we’ve never had a Krypton show before?
David S. Goyer: I don’t know. I can say, though, even when Chris Nolan and I were working on “Batman Begins,” I mean, when you’re a creator working with a really well known IP, it’s really exciting if there’s a blind spot or a section in it that hasn’t really been sketched out very much, and so there have been sort of cursory stories that took place in the ’60s on Krypton and a couple of miniseries in the sort of late ’80s, early ‘90s. I’m not entirely sure why more wasn’t done. I just know that when I came to Geoff, I saw that as a real opportunity. One of the things that I love the most about science fiction is that it can act as an allegory for what’s happening today. All the best science fiction, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451…1984 is an allegory for what’s happening now.
Geoff Johns: “Blade Runner.”
David S. Goyer: “Blade Runner.” I saw a real opportunity here.
Cameron Cuffe: I think we all feel that we have the opportunity to pay homage to the stuff that’s come before while telling completely new story. One of the things I wanted to say for so long is we ain’t making a prequel. This is a completely new story that because of the time travel and because of the characters involved can go anywhere. It’s just such a…
David S. Goyer: And will affect what’s happening today.
Geoff Johns: And does go anywhere.
Do you think the reception of one show or movie has ripples in the DC Universe?
Geoff Johns: No. I mean, look, we always strive to do quality shows, quality everything. It’s working with people like David and Cameron and Cameron that…
David S. Goyer: Cameron squared.
Geoff Johns: Yeah, Cameron squared. [E]veryone wants great reviews, but, more importantly, want people to love the show.
David S. Goyer: I will say that I think that line in turns of production value between television and movies is starting to erase. The thing about television, particularly something that’s serialized, which this show is, is you get to do things in a serialized TV show that you can’t do in film. I mean, we’ve got ten hours over the course of the first season and the story doesn’t end. So you’re taking this novelistic approach and we can do a real deep dive into the characters, and that’s something that a movie can’t do. Most movies have to finish their story in two hours.
Geoff Johns: I think that’s why people are so invested in television right now and the storytelling in television has become so sophisticated and intriguing and interesting and different, and you want to kind of continue to experience a world and explore a world. With a movie, I love movies too, but they come and you see them and they’re a great experience, but I think people are moving towards television because they spend more time with television series because of that depth of character and that depth of story.
What was it like to be a young man and given a chance to write the Superman character in a comic book?
David S. Goyer: Justice Society.
Geoff Johns: David and I wrote a comic together called Justice Society for about four or five years when I first started in comics. When you first started in comics. [In] ’99/2000, somewhere around there. So we’re old. But we did write Superman a few times in there, in that graphic novel particularly. But he was actually…for me, and I think you probably agree, he was always the easiest character to write because, like Cameron earlier said, you know, you know what Superman would do. You just know he’s going to at least try to make the right decision. Even if he doesn’t succeed, he’s going to try and do the right thing.
David S. Goyer: And he’s meant to be better than us, [to] inspire. So writing Superman has always been great. When people say, oh, isn’t he too powerful? He’s too perfect. And he’s not perfect. Like, he desperately wants to fit in with us, but he’s never going to be us. He’s saving us and protecting us as a way of saying thanks for giving me a place that I can call home. A home. He’s an immigrant.
Geoff Johns: He’s an immigrant. There’s a moment that I wrote in a book, and David actually did a version of it in Man of Steel, where Pa Kent tells him for the first time, “You know, you’re an alien.” And he’s freaked out and he runs off and Pa catches him and he says, “I don’t want to be an alien. I want to be your son.” And Jonathan Kent says, “You’ll always be my son.” I think that tells you emotionally at its core who Superman is. The fact that he can use all of this struggle he has internally and then become the hero to the world that he is inspiring to everyone, and that’s the journey for Cameron and really.
Cameron Welsh: So a rankless street hustler from Krypton has to grow into that. That’s challenging.
Geoff Johns: That’s seven years, eight years, whatever Bill McGoldrick wants.
When you were casting the role, did you have in mind the appearance of past Supermans like Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh?
David S. Goyer: We saw a lot of people. Actually, Cameron came in near the tail end of the process. I will say it may not be hard to write Superman, but it’s hard to cast somebody related to Superman. Because even though he’s his grandfather, he still has to embody all of these characteristics. There’s an ineffable quality that’s like, even though he’s his grandfather, you’re sort of casting Superman. There was just a consensus finally, finally, because we were close to filming…
Geoff Johns: It took a long time.
Cameron Cuffe: It was a long process for me too. I got my first tape for it, and I went in to meet UK casting director and the director of the pilot, Colm McCarthy. It went well and I had a good time, and then I was, of course, told that I didn’t get it. And it never really went away. It kept cropping back and cropping back.
David S. Goyer: And we brought you to America.
Cameron Cuffe: Finally, it was like, you know what. We’ve got to screen test. And I came and as it happened, here I am.
How did you feel after the screen test?
Cameron Cuffe: I had two words in my mind the entire time: Stay cool. The first person I met in that screen test was David. I’m such a huge fan of David’s work, so I sort of thought just play it cool. This is the same as any other job. Just keep your head down, do the work. I know that talking to you afterwards, I think one of the things that impressed was that I kept a level head, because there was a lot of pressure.
David S. Goyer: You were super cool. You didn’t crack.
Geoff Johns: Superman wouldn’t crack.