IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tom Welling Talks 'Draft Day' and the Legacy of 'Smallville'

Thursday, 10 April 2014 09:45 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tom Welling Talks 'Draft Day' and the Legacy of 'Smallville'

While I’ll always love Christophe Reeve, Tom Welling might just be my favorite actor to ever play Clark Kent/Superman!

Welling played the man of steel for ten seasons on the popular WB/CW series Smallville and brought the iconic character to life for a whole new generation. Since then he has appeared in several films including the Cheaper by the Dozen series, The Fog, and Parkland. He now appears opposite Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner (Man of Steel, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 3 Days to Kill) in the new football film Draft Day, which was directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Dave), and opens in theaters on April 11th. 

Draft Day revolves around Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Costner) who has the opportunity to rebuild his team at the NFL Draft when he trades for the number one pick. Now he must decide what he's willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams. Welling plays Brian Drew, the Browns quarterback who becomes concerned for his job when the team considers drafting a new QB (Josh Pence). In addition to Costner, Welling, and Pence, the movie also stars Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man), Chadwick Boseman (42), Terry Crews (The Single Moms Club), Sean Combs (Muppets Most Wanted), Rosanna Arquette (Silverado), Chi McBride (I, Robot), Kevin Dunn (Transformers), Sam Elliot (Hulk), Academy Award-nominee Frank Langella (Superman Returns), and Academy Award-winner Ellen Burnstyn (Requiem for a Dream).

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Tom Welling about his work on Draft Day, as well the legacy of Smallville. The accomplished actor discussed his new film, football, the script, getting the NFL’s approval, what he liked about his character, if he took any inspiration from Peyton Manning or other professional quarterbacks, appearing in a sports movie with Kevin Costner, what he learned from director Ivan Reitman, his favorite sports film, Smallville, forever being associated with that iconic character, and if he and Costner talked about Man of Steel

Here is what Tom Welling had to say about Draft Day and the legacy of Smallville:

IAR: To begin with, are you a football fan and what did you think of the Draft Day screenplay when you first read it?

Tom Welling: I'm sort of a casual NFL fan. I don’t have a specific team. I like watching playoff games and I can pretty much watch playoff games in any sport because the stakes are so high. I loved the script as soon as I read it. I liked what every character was going through. As simple as that is it's the truth. I just really enjoyed it. As good as the script was, and as fun as it was to shoot it, when I saw the movie at a screening I thought it was even better. The way that they kept the pace up and the relentless energy, you really feel like you're right on the edge of what's happening. That was in the script, but when I saw it in a visual sense, I thought it was fascinating.

The NFL does not often give Hollywood the rights to use their actual teams and logos in movies. When you heard that the NFL had signed off on Draft Day, did you feel like that gave the project a certain amount of legitimacy?

Welling: Yeah, and the NFL actually promoted it, I think it's the first film in history they've ever promoted. Giving production access to film at the draft last year, letting actors go to the actual facilities, put on real uniforms, and real helmets, I think those little things do legitimize it, but they also make it feel just more real. As an actor there's a lot of imagination needed, so when you're actually in the real environment, that's just one more thing that can help add to the drama because of the environment that you're working in.

Since Smallville ended, what have you been looking for in terms of characters to play when you're choosing projects and what was it about Brian Drew that really attracted you to this film?

Welling: The two projects I've worked on since Smallville were Parkland and this one. With both films I just felt like I wanted to be a part of them somehow. I just believed in what the filmmakers was trying to achieve. It also helps when the rest of the cast is spectacular. So for me it was a sense of, 'Wow, I would do this for free.' I guess it's like a team I just want to be on. Then this character in particular, I liked the fact that he had a scene with Kevin Costner, I mean that helped draw me to it. I like what he stood for. I like what he was trying to do. I like that it was in the writing. He's not a child. This guy has been there, he's been in the system a while, he's been in the life a while, and he knows it's a business. He knows what's going on. Even though he knows all that he feels like, 'If you don't want to keep me fine, then trade me, but don't make me sit here. Come on, you owe me that.' He's wrong because in this league no one owes you anything. You have to just do your job. I like that dynamic that those two characters had in that scene.

Your character reminded me of Peyton Manning and the situation that he found himself in a few years ago. Did you draw inspiration from him or any other NFL quarterbacks?

Welling: There really wasn't a point where I thought about Peyton Manning because in my mind, as a casual fan, I feel like he could probably have played for any team he wanted to. Maybe I'm misinformed, but I don't think he was begging for a job with the Broncos. I think he was more interviewing them so maybe that's why he didn't come to mind when I was looking at this character. But I talked to some guys about not how to play football, and the lifestyle football. What it's like to be on the road, the toll it takes on your family, the rehab, the recovery time and those dynamics.

You mentioned working with Kevin Costner and he certainly has a reputation for appearing in great sports movies. What was your experience like working with him?

Welling: It was great. I met him about twenty minutes before we did that scene and he was just a great partner. He made me feel comfortable. He helped create an environment in front of the camera where we could really go for it and we could explore the scene. He's just a pro. I felt like more of a fan when I met him. He's just cool, he's a pro, he knows what he's doing and he's good to work with. I can say he was a great partner and I would love to work with him again.

I know that you directed several episodes of Smallville, so what did you learn about the process of filmmaking from working with legendary director Ivan Reitman on Draft Day?

Welling: Ivan has a great way of creating an environment on set that was very warm and focused, while at the same time professional. It was cool to see someone who's accomplished so much still hold those things in a very hard regard and those are priorities for him. He's got a light touch and he trusts the actor, but he's also not afraid to let you know if your train is off the tracks a little bit and he brings you back. That's what he does, because he's a director. Those are some of the things I took away.

Does Reitman give you a lot of takes to experiment with and did you have any rehearsal time with the other actors before filming?

Welling: We didn't have any rehearsal time. We sort of blocked the scene out and we jumped right into it. I don't remember if we did a lot of takes or not. For me it was just when Ivan was happy and he felt like he had it, then we moved on to the next one.

What is your favorite sports movie? 

Welling: Caddyshack.

At this point in your career, do you want to continue making movies or would you consider returning to television if the right role and project presented itself?

Welling: Right now I'm just focusing on movies.

Finally, I have to tell you that I’m a big fan of Smallville and when I think of Clark Kent or Superman, with the exception of Christopher Reeve, you’re always the first person that comes to mind. For me, you are the definitive actor to play that role. How does it feel to have a permanent connection to that iconic character, and to now be a part of the Superman legacy?

Welling: Thank you for saying that by the way. I'm proud. I had a really great experience and I learned a lot. It created more opportunities for me to be in a movie with Kevin Costner about football. I'm proud of it and I think we did a lot of great stuff on that show.

I have to ask, when you were filming with Kevin Costner, did it ever cross your mind that he is the new Jonathan Kent? Did you two ever talk about his role in Man of Steel?

Welling: Actually it was lost on me because, to be honest, we didn't talk about it. I did a movie that involved the JFK assassination (Parkland) and we talked about that and his role in JFK. But it just didn't come up. It didn't occur to me and I don't know if it occurred to him or not. 

Draft Day opens in theaters on April 11th.

To watch our exclusive video interview with Kevin Costner about Draft Day, please click here

To read our exclusively interview with Terry Crews about Draft Day, please click here

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