This fall, Teen Wolf star Tyler Hoechlin heads to The CW’s Supergirl, suiting up in that iconic spandex-and-red-boots combo to take on the role of Superman, the cousin of Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist).
The California native, 28, was first introduced to the Man of Steel as a kid watching Dean Cain on Lois & Clark with his family, and he counts Christopher Reeve as his all-time favorite portrayal of the chiseled hero. But Supergirl will be introducing its own version of Superman, with the actor aiming to “honor the tradition of the character, without really emulating” those who came before him. EW caught up with Hoechlin during his early days of suiting up to find out how the actor is making Clark Kent his own:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about your audition process?
TYLER HOECHLIN: Honestly, it was the strangest thing — there wasn’t an audition, which I count my blessings when that happens because that is not always the case. I had a great meeting with [executive producers] Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg [in June]. I had been told that the meeting would have something to do with Supergirl, but nothing really specific. Halfway through, they brought up the idea of introducing Superman to the show and asked if I’d be interested. I said, “Yeah, absolutely. I’m obviously a fan.” We had a great talk just about the character and what we found fascinating about him. I feel like we were on the same page and had similar taste. I believe that was on a Monday. On Friday, we got a call with the offer, so it was very quick. It was very flattering, and I wish every job came about that way. It’s not always so easy.
Who was the first person you told after you were cast?
My younger brother was actually in the car with me. We were driving back from Zion National Park up in Utah and he was in the car when I got the call. We happened to be passing Las Vegas. The Warriors-Cavs [NBA Finals] game was going on, so we made a pit stop to watch the game at a sportsbook and that was my little finding out party.
What ties did you have Clark Kent growing up?
I grew up with Dean Cain on Lois & Clark. I would watch that with my folks, and that was really my strongest tie. That was my introduction to Superman really, so those are my memories, as a kid, growing up with Superman.
What comics did you read, or movies did you watch, to prepare for the role?
I read some of the Batman-Superman comics. I was lucky to meet with some of the actual artists and writers for the comics and they had given me a few to take a look at. But as far as movies go, I didn’t go back and look at any of the old ones with Christopher Reeve, George Reeves, or anybody. I didn’t want to have any temptation to imitate, or really pull from that. I had a strong sense of what I personally found interesting about Clark, and about Superman. Again, I had those conversations with Greg and Andrew in the meeting and I just feel like we were very much on the same page with that. So it was just wanting to go ahead and make it our own, and obviously honor the tradition that is the character, but without really emulating anything that somebody else has done before, so I tried to stay away from it as much as possible.
What was it like putting on the costume for the first time?
Very surreal. Very surreal. It’s one of those things where you put it on, and it’s the nicest Halloween costume you’ve ever worn. Then, once you step on set, it becomes something different because people actually start addressing you as Superman. You’re in the scenes, and people are playing along that you are Superman, so that’s when it really hits you for a second. You have to then believe that you are this person, and just really own it and roll with it. That was really the moment that it hit closest to home.
Were there any surprises about putting the suit on?
The first couple of times it definitely took longer to get into. I started to think that Superman’s greatest power was actually being able to just jump into [the suit] as quickly as he does, because it’s not quite as smooth the first couple of times you do it. [Laughs] It’s kind of like putting on a wetsuit. I’ve got it down to a little bit more of a science and I’ve introduced an old surfing trick, so if put a plastic bag over my feet and hands when I put it on, that seems to cut down a little bit of time, so that’s been helpful in the process.
How hard is it to navigate that cape?
The cape takes care of itself. It’s got some good weight to it. You’re kind of at the mercy of it, so it flows very well with the suit naturally. When they get the wind machines going, you definitely feel the weight of it. It’s pretty insane. It’s my first time wearing a cape, and it’s been a fun experience so far.
What can you tell us about this version of Clark Kent?
Obviously they’ve done such a great job establishing the tone of the show in the first season, and Melissa has been absolutely fantastic. She’s done such a great job of finding Kara, and representing those two characters, Supergirl and Kara, very distinctly in their own ways. It’s a very hopeful and optimistic show. As an actor, you always love these deep, dark, complicated, conflicted characters — there’s a challenge and that’s something to really dig into. This was something that was fun. It’s pure fun and it’s Superman as I think he was intended to be, which is just an incredible symbol of hope to kids that they can do anything, and that they can be good people, and that good people can triumph over evil. That’s just, at the core of it, what it is. Clark is the side of that that is — you know, you don’t have to be dark and brooding, and always in this state of masculine toughness. You can still just be a sweet, gentle person and have that side of you that comes out when it’s needed and called upon. So that’s where I think it sits. It sits in that very hopeful and optimistic place that Kara tends to be in, in the show.
Tell us about Kara and Clark’s dynamic. How do they relate to each other being among the last of their kind?
It’s obviously a strong bond how they are the only family, really, that they have left. I always liken it to when you go home and you have those friends from grade school or high school, there’s just a familiarity there, it’s something that you grew up in the same place, you knew the same people, you have the same favorite restaurants that you always went to. It’s such a familiarity that you don’t really have to always be in touch with those people, but if you get around them, it’s like you never left, it just picks up where it left off. That’s the dynamic with their relationship. There’s just something innately in them that bonds them together being from the same place, having left, and having to find this life on Earth. There’s an understanding there that they just know no one else has. That’s really the strongest thing that holds them together.
At Comic-Con, we heard they were going to butt heads a little bit. Can you expand on why?
I cannot expand on too much at the moment, so I will defer to the comments made at Comic-Con, but with any family — with any people that have relationships that are close — and especially dealing in heightened situations like they are, I think conflict is kind of inevitable.
What has it been like working with Melissa?
It’s been incredible. She’s so talented. I’ve known her for a couple of years through her husband, he and I did a film together [Everybody Wants Some!!]. She’s just the sweetest person. It’s so great to see someone, who’s embodying that character, be able to not disappoint when little kids come up to meet her. They just have the biggest smiles on their faces, and she’s so great with them. She’s an incredibly talented actor. It’s funny, I remember the first day, we were doing a scene, it was Clark and Kara, and even in the rehearsals, and almost through the first take, I found myself watching just how endearing she was with the character that it almost made me laugh. I had to realize that I’m working now, we’re rolling, I have to hone in on what my character would be responding to! She’s such a great actor, so it’s been an absolute blast to work with her.
We know that Clark and James Olsen are friends. Now we’re seeing the dynamic duo together, what does that dynamic look like both onscreen and off between Clark and James, as well as you and Mehcad?
Mehcad and I have had a blast. We’ve been having a ton of fun in Vancouver. We had a great time at Comic-Con. He’s such a good guy. We’ve really, really hit it off, so it’s been a lot of fun working with him. It obviously helps when you’re working, so on set it’s been very easy. It felt very familiar from the beginning. For Clark to have someone that knows everything really, and knows that he’s Superman as well — and it’s someone that he can confide in that’s obviously not Kara, and who was with him in Metropolis — it’s that familiarity that you go back, you’ve gone through things and no one else really can understand. It’s a confidence in each other in that we can really turn to each other in times of needing advice, and things like that. It’s obviously an incredibly important relationship for Clark.
Now that James has found his own life, it’s less of a sidekick situation, like we saw in the comics, and more that they respect each other as equals?
It’s hard to say what they want to do. It’s also one of those things with storylines and being new, I don’t know how much to give away quite yet. But there is definitely a mutual respect between the two of them and it’s mutually beneficial for them to have each other in their lives. It enhances just their daily lives as well as what they’re trying to accomplish.
How does Alex feel about Clark coming in, because Andrew Kreisberg has intimated that it might make her a little uneasy?
Yeah, when you’re used to a certain dynamic amongst a group and then somebody comes in to disrupt it, obviously there’s growing pains with that. It’s always a fun thing to see how just introducing one other person can change the dynamic of a group. Obviously they’re incredibly close, so if something is altered and disrupted, then there’s going to be some time to get used to that and adjust to it. Whether that’s something that Alex handles well or not so well right away is something that we’ll see in the first couple episodes.
What Superman villains may we see, or do you hope to see, on the show?
I’m going to defer to any possible photos that have been taken while shooting in Vancouver. [Editor’s note: This interview was completed before news of Metallo’s casting.] People can put a few things together, so I’ll let them do that on their own and I will defer to Mr. Berlanti and Mr. Kreisberg for that. There’s so many great ones to choose from. They’ve done a really fun job with the one’s they’ve introduced already and I think this year’s going to be even bigger and better. Judging by the ones we have coming up in the first couple episodes, I think it’ll be exciting to see the ones that surface this year.
What was it like getting to work with Lynda Carter on set?
I didn’t get to work with Lynda. She was there when I was out of town, and so unfortunately I didn’t get to meet her, but I know there was incredible anticipation from everybody that was going to be there. I know Melissa was extremely excited, so obviously that’s a very, very cool thing to have and to have her be a part of the show. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like on set. I know everyone was very excited about that happening, and so I’m looking forward to getting back and hearing some stories.
Carter’s character, the President of the United States, plans to pass an alien amnesty act. How does Clark feel about aliens stepping into the public eye since that is something that he’s struggled with previously as he was coming out as a superhero?
Anything that allows people to be more open and free, just the more we’ve allowed people to be expressive and not feel so inclined to hide or pretend, that’s always a positive thing. So I would imagine that it’d be something that he would be excited about. Progress is always a great thing, so we’ll see if and when that amnesty bill is passed and how it affects everything, but I would assume that it would be a positive thing.
As you mentioned, you were a fan of the Lois & Clark, so are you hoping to get a scene between Clark and Jeremiah Danvers so you’d get to work with Dean Cain?
Yeah, that’d be great. Absolutely. Like I said, I grew up with him, so it’s very — I can’t even find the word for it — I always say surreal, but everything on this has been that way. The idea of being able to play this character with Dean there is one of those thoughts you just try to piece it together, and you’re like, “Wait, so what exactly is happening here right now?!” I’ve heard nothing but great things about Dean, so we’ll see if and when that pops up.
Turning to the logistical stuff, how difficult is it to actually fly?
You know, it’s difficult. I wouldn’t use the word difficult, I would use the word painful after hour seven or eight. It’s a harness that’s not necessarily the most comfortable thing to wear. It really only holds you up with two straps and they go from the back part of your waist, through the legs, up to the front part of the waist, and so it’s just not the most comfortable way to be supporting your entire body weight for that amount of time. But at the end of the day, you’re flying around in a Superman costume — it’s really hard to complain. I dare not do that, just purely for the fact that I know my dad works as an emergency room doctor. If he ever heard me complain about that, I would probably be disowned, rightfully so.
Any mishaps while you’ve been up in the rig?
Not yet. No falling upside down. None of that yet, so I’ve spared myself embarrassment for the moment. So far I’m one for one, so we’ll see if Day 2 brings any problems.
How has being cast as Superman changed your daily life? Is there more dieting and working out?
Definitely changed the workout routine and the diet routine. Thankfully it was more of a putting weight on situation, so I’ve just been able to eat anything that I wanted, which has been incredible. I will say endless amounts of Chinese food with fried rice. Boneless wings have been incredible. Pizza, definitely a lot of pizza. Those have been the ones where I don’t go crazy with them, now it’s whenever wherever. If it’s there, I’m good to have a little bit, so that’s always been my favorite. That’s been one of my favorite parts of this so far, so I’m enjoying it while I can.
Honestly, the coolest experience so far was we were shooting in a park and it was a day that I had the Superman costume on. One of the PAs went and grabbed these four little kids — two little girls and two little boys, probably like 7 or 8 years old — and brought them over. Just being able to sit there, talk with them for a few minutes and to see them just light up from the costume, it’s such a great thing. I’m not one who really enjoys attention, and so for it to be all about the idea of this character that you were to them, it has nothing to with you. They, I’m sure, don’t know my name or anything about me, but to be able to be Superman to these kids for a few minutes and see them light up, that’s been the coolest thing. That’s something I hadn’t experienced before and it was great. It was really nice and informative for the character as well — for me to be able to walk away from that and realize, “That’s what he is,” like he’s supposed to make these kids feel that way, and feel like they can be anything they want to be, and they can do great things, that was actually a really incredible experience.
Had you watched Supergirl when it was on CBS, or is it something you binged once you were cast?
I definitely went back and binged once all of the meetings started coming up. I obviously wanted to get a sense of the show and the tone. Like I said, it was very fun to see it in that very hopeful and optimistic tone, a little bit of a lighter note. I got really caught up once this whole process started.
What’s been your dynamic with the rest of the cast?
Just the start at Comic-Con was an absolute blast. It was my sixth Comic-Con, which is crazy to even think. But I’ve had such a great time down there with my other cast in the past. I was unsure exactly what the group dynamic was. I hadn’t met most of them by then, and we just had an absolute ball. Everyone was so great to be around, they’re incredibly funny people, so we had a great time. On set, they work hard, long hours up there, so there’s not a ton of social time after work or anything, but when we have had some off days, it’s been great to go out and grab dinner, or grab a drink and just hang out. I’m sure, at some point, we will find some crazy thing to do up there. There’s so many incredible things around Vancouver, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we get a group trip to Whistler, or something, and really explore.
We saw the photo of Stephen Amell paying you a visit on set. Have you gotten any tips from the other superhero actors?
Not really, they’ve all been very welcoming and just kind of left me to do my thing — not in a neglectful way by any means. They’ve been a very, very warm and welcoming group. I joke that going up to Vancouver now feels like you’re back in college and everyone’s just a different major — you have your Flash majors, you have your Legends majors, you have your Arrow majors, and then you have the Supergirl majors. Everyone just goes off to their own part of campus for the day, and a bunch of us stay in the same place, so it’s a really fun community feel up there that’s been a lot of fun to have. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that feeling, probably since college.
Has there been anyone who’s given you any advice on playing Superman?
I know Dean had said something in an interview about getting in the gym. That was obviously one of the priorities, so that was taken to heart and already in the works once I knew this was even a remote possibility. Other than that, it’s just been conversations with Greg and Andrew, and just going over what we find interesting about him — whether it be Clark or Superman, and the difference between the two. It’s just been a lot of fun to take the reins and run with it.
You played a werewolf on Teen Wolf for four seasons and now you’re playing a superhero. What is it about the supernatural that you’re drawn to? Do you ever yearn to play a powerless laymen?
[Laughs] Oh my God, yeah. I mean, [with] Everybody Wants Some!!, we were just a bunch of guys in college just trying to have a good time and be idiots for a couple of days. I love drama. I don’t think that it’s the genre necessarily that draws me to them. I would never say that that’s the reason why I’ve come to any of them. For me, it’s always been the relatability factor, finding how these people can identify with everyone else, and finding empathy with people. The very human side of Clark Kent, what is it about him that anyone else could see and feel, and be like, “Oh, I know what that’s like,” and what is it about him being Superman that people can look at and relate to.
It was the same thing with Teen Wolf. I never once really categorized that character as a werewolf. It just was a part of him. What made him as a person, and whether that was loyalty, and whether that was resentment and how he deals with that, those are always the things that appeal to me most. If they happen to fall in this genre then that’s great. It’s a fun time and you can elevate the situation a lot of the times with these genres, which makes it fun to dig into, but at the end of the day, just finding relatable situations and things that people go through, that’s what excites me.
If you had to choose, at the end of the day, who is your favorite Superman?
I just have to go with Chris Reeve. I think you have to. He was so spot on with it. I feel like I would have to doubt myself if I went with anybody else.
What does it mean to you to suit up?
It’s very humbling. It’s very flattering to have even been considered for it. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and I take the responsibility of it very seriously. I understand the tradition that is with the character, so it’s just been an opportunity to carry on a tradition and hopefully represent it well. The story with the little kids, that will always, to me, now sum up what it means to me. Just to be able to do that for these kids and make them even have a moment of feeling that way, it’s so hard to even begin to express how that could happen in other ways, but it does when you have the suit on. To be able to do that is just a whole next level thing. It’s just the responsibility of what this character is, and symbolizes, and hopefully carrying that out in a positive way.
Clark is only slated to stick around for a few episodes, but are there plans to have you come back?
You know, I don’t know. I know that’s a big discussion between Warner Brothers and Berlanti, so those are all decisions left up to people that have much different jobs than I. I let them handle that and we’ll see where it goes and what happens next, but for the time being, I’ll have to wait and see.
Any chance of your Superman getting his own show?
You never know. Like I said, those are decisions of people in a much different place than I. It’s been a few years since Superman’s really been sticking around on TV for a long time, and who knows what they’ll end up doing and what they’ll want to do. There’s obviously so much going on with this Superman character in the world of DC and the films, and so who knows what they’ll want to do. But it’s fun to be doing it for what it is right now, and if something else comes out of it in the future, then that’s something they’ll let us know down the road. I’m just very excited for what the situation is at the moment.
Supergirl returns Monday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.