When one thinks of Lex Luthor, a handful of actors are more than likely to be the first to come to mind.
For most, it’s Gene Hackman, who tops many a list as the ‘Best of Lex Luthor of All Time’. Younger fans may jump to Michael Rosenbaum, who brought the Superman villain to life in Smallville. Some may even think of Jesse Eisenberg, though in his case, it’s solely because of the DCEU.
Yet, in animation, one name stands tall above the rest: Highlander star Clancy Brown, who played Lex on Superman: The Animated Series and returned for Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
His run lasted almost ten years and is a high note in the history of Superman, though, interestingly, the gig was apparently an unexpected turn for Brown at the time. However, according to the actor, he had a good reason for accepting it.
“I threw my hat into the ring because I was a new dad,” he told CBR during an interview given in recognition of Superman: The Animated Series’ 25th anniversary.
“I thought it was astounding but my agents said at the time, ‘What are you doing?! You don’t need to go into voiceover!’” he jovially recalled. “But I really wanted to go into voiceover and Warner Bros. was casting outside-of-the-box because they had cast outside-of-the-box for Batman and that was such a success that they decided to do Superman: The Animated Series.”
According to Brown, he originally went in to read for Superman, but was asked by Warner Bros. Animation Casting and Voice Director Andrea Romano to read for Lex. His reaction was a roll of the eyes, to which “she went, ‘Oh, you don’t have to read for it!’”
“I said, ‘No, I’ll read for it,” he continued. “‘I just wonder what it is about me that I’m always playing the bad guy?’”
It could have something to do with the Kurgan in Highlander shaving his head before the final battle with MacLeod but Brown still got the part and “wasn’t bummed,” he noted. I was actually quite happy to do it, but I really thought I had a shot at being Superman. [laughs] But I never did! I didn’t ever!”
Even so, Brown credited Romano with making him a better voice-over actor, asserting that “she was a big blessing for me.”
“I was basically going to school,” he said of his time working with the voice director. “She taught me how to be a voiceover actor. She’s a lot of fun and is very high-energy. Most of the direction to me was to go faster. She doesn’t waste any time. When she gets stuck, and she got stuck with me a couple of times, she’ll put it aside and come back to it. She’s not about giving a line reading and I’m not about taking one. Mostly, she’s very supportive.”
Brown also described how Romano was a good leader during the lively group reads DC’s animated projects are known for.
“At that time, it was an all group read too,” he said. “We were all in the room together and that was always fun because you had people that were new to it — TV and movie stars that had never done it before. You had old pros, whose voices you would recognize, these chameleon voices, like Corey Burton, who could do everything.”
He added, “It was a lot of fun to be in the room and Andrea was really the conductor. She would coordinate and manipulate all those guys to talk a bit differently but, mostly, she got us into a good rhythm and we’d execute.”
When it came to approaching an erudite and calculating Lex, Brown revealed it really came down to the writing of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and the rest of their team at Warner Bros. “That’s really what separates this whole iteration of Superman – the writing of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and all those guys,” he praised.
His main concentration as an actor was capturing the big, bass voice of Stanley Jones who voiced Lex on Super Friends. “Then you put the writing in and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s nuance here so let’s play that nuance!’ It was so much fun,” Brown reflected.
In the years since Brown’s time in the role, several actors have followed in his path as the voice of the Man of Steel’s archenemy.
Most recently, chrome dome was played by Zachary Quinto in the Superman: Man of Tomorrow animated film and Giancarlo Esposito in HBO Max’s adult-oriented Harley Quinn cartoon.
This year, Superman: The Animated Series was released on Blu-ray and Digital HD to mark its 25th birthday. Further, Romano is currently sharing her knowledge as a guest instructor for celebrated voice actor Steve Blum’s online classes at Blumvox Studios.
What do you make of Brown’s insight into his time as Lex Luthor? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!