Star Eric Johnson fills us in about how his hero -- debuting this summer on Sci Fi -- breaks new ground for a character who's been around since the 1930s

By Annie Barrett
May 22, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Jeff Weddell

This summer, the Sci Fi Channel gears up for the Aug. 10 premiere of Flash Gordon, a live-action series based on the original 1934 comic strip. The name may be familiar from the radio serials, novels, films, and other TV series the comic has inspired — but Sci Fi’s series will go back to the very beginning of the hero’s story. Smallville‘s Eric Johnson, who stars as Flash, knows a thing or two about that. The native Canadian called in on Victoria Day (and his day off) to give EW the scoop.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much did you know about Flash Gordon before you started doing this?
ERIC JOHNSON: Zero to nothing. When I was a kid, I never got into comic books. I was too lost in my own fantasy world to be reading about others. My wife, she’s the comic book geek in our home. Like most people, I’d heard the name, but I wasn’t familiar with the mythos. I watched a variety of things — of course, the movie from 1980, and I saw some of the original serials that were done in the ’30s, and A&E actually did a biography of Flash Gordon, so they bought that online for me. Wikipedia helped. The Internet is full of information.

I heard. Thank God! Have you started hearing a personal theme song by Queen in your head?
You know, I kind of wish that every time I stepped on set, that song would play. That’d be pretty cool. It’d get annoying very quickly.

Maybe to other people. Do you have it on your iPod, at least?
[Laughs] I did download the soundtrack. I had to.

Did having a sort of fantasy/science-fiction background with Smallville help you figure out how to approach the character of Flash?
Yeah, I mean, I think there is a certain hero archetype that you see in comics and in that world. Flash Gordon very much fits into that. You know, losing his father when he’s young. Having this desire to do the right thing and fight for the little guy. What I really like about Flash is he’s such a unique comic hero in that he has no superpowers. He’s a guy caught in extraordinary circumstances. That’s what I really responded to in this. He doesn’t have a trump card he can fall back on. Through sheer willpower and determination, he has to try and succeed. He becomes like the sports hero — the quarterback on the football field. You want that guy out there.

So is he like your character Whitney from Smallville — the football player?
[Laughs] I think there is a similarity there, just a regular guy trying to do the right thing. People say, Oh, are you worried about getting stereotyped into this superhero genre?, and I say absolutely not, because I’m not playing one. I’m playing a regular guy. He’s far more Indiana Jones than he is Superman.

What about Flash in this series is a departure from the comic?
There’s definitely certain changes. It’s not like we’re portraying Flash in the 1930s. When Flash first came out, he was an internationally renowned polo player, which probably wouldn’t be appropriate now. He’s been football players, and NBA stars, and swimmers I think, so now he’s a marathon winner and just much more of a regular guy.

Really, a swimmer?
I think so, at one point, in one of those series.

You should try to hit up all of the sports! Figure skating, gymnastics, curling…
Exactly. I think they were gonna go for that — he’s an internationally renowned figure skater! No, he’s a marathon winner in his hometown, and he works on cars in his mom’s garage. He’s pretty regular.

What’s his non-superhero costume?
Jeans and a T-shirt.

Does he at least get cool boots to wear?
He’s got a pretty cool car: a ’67 convertible Firebird. That’s pretty darn cool. I’m dubbing it the Flashmobile right now.

NEXT PAGE: A peek at that ”Flashmobile”…