EXCLUSIVE: Michael Shanks Flies High as Smallville's Hawkman!
Michael Shanks stars as Hawkman in The Smallville movie event Absolute Justice
The all-new two-hour Smallville movie event S09E11: Absolute Justice is set to air this Friday, February 5th, at 8/7 central on The CW. This eagerly anticipated episode finds Clark (Tom Welling) and Chloe (Allison Mack) investigating the death of a man named Sylvester Pemberton, aka The Star Spangled Kid. Their quest for his killer leads them to the former headquarters of the Justice Society of America, where they meet-up with Dr. Fate (Brent Stait), Hawkman (Michael Shanks), and Star Girl (Britt Irvin). Soon, Clark, John Jones (Phil Morris), Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), and Chloe are teaming up with this old crew of forgotten super heroes to defeat the villainous Icicle (Wesley Macinnes) before he can murder his next heroic victim.
We recently caught up with Michael Shanks, best known for playing Dr. Daniel Jackson on Stargate SG-1 for over a decade, to find out more about this spectacular event. And to find out what makes Hawkman tick underneath those massive wings. Here's our conversation with the legendary Mr. Shanks:
What can fans of the Justice Society Of America, and Hawkman in general, expect from this two-hour Smallville movie event?
Michael Shanks: Wow! Could you find a more general question? (Laughs) I could talk for hours about what their expectations should be. They are going to get a lot of Hawkman's backstory. There is an appearance by nearly every single member of the Justice Society. Some more than others, obviously. Fans can expect true-to-form characterizations. What Geoff Johns wrote for Hawkman, and what I intended to do with him, was stay loyal to the comic book personality of Carter Hall. There are some interesting twists and turns when it comes to Kent Nelson and Star Girl. The first hour is cool like the other side of the pillow. It sucks you in because of all the intriguing elements. Then the episode picks up with more action as it rolls along. There will certainly be some Smallville elements with Lois and Clark thrown in. In terms of the JSA, there is a lot of backstory. There is a lot of angst and pathos. There is some good resolution at the end as well. We will be seeing a few of our all-time favorite characters in action. Which is a lot of fun.
Do we find out what happened to Carter's old crew and where they all are at this current moment in time?
Michael Shanks: Yes. Yes we do.
At this point in the series, the beginning stages of the Justice League have started to crumble. Oliver has been doubting himself as a hero; Clark has been busy with the other Kryptonians. Martian Manhunter and the other heroes have gone MIA. And Chloe's been distracted by the death of Jimmy Olsen. Writer Geoff Johns described this upcoming episode as "a group of heroes that come out of retirement to give the screwed-up guys of the next generation a needed smack down'". Is that an accurate description? How does your generation of heroes help guide Clark and his team?
Michael Shanks: In terms of the smack down element? That is a broad generalization. There are some "smack down" elements in the script. We do give a slap upside the head at the end of the day. JSA's purpose is to demonstrate what was good about the things they did. How they functioned and how they interacted, and what they represented in the past. This new Justice League seems to be faltering and doubting itself. They are not sure if they should go forward. Because they're not sure what the Justice League stands for. The Justice Society gives them a beacon of light. They give an example of what to follow. I think that will continue to pervade well beyond this two-part episode. I think there is a lot of wisdom that is passed on. It's not just a flash in the pan. There will be a path for these guys to follow into the future.
Geoff Johns, who is a huge comic book writer for DC Comics, wrote this episode as well as the "Legion" episode from last season. He also created the contemporary Justice Society comic book and wrote Hawkman comics for a while as well. So no one knows this material better than him. Was he on the set? And if so, was he a helpful fountain of information on these characters for you? Was there a lot of insight he could give you toward the characters and how they behave? Or did you want to create the character for yourself completely from the script alone?
Michael Shanks: Unfortunately, Geoff wasn't on set. He just wrote it. I'm not sure what his commitments were elsewhere. I'd recently heard that he had a prior engagement and couldn't be there. He was great in that he provided a really wonderful script. We tried to stay as word-perfect as we could with it. The lines he wrote created such a rich mosaic that no one wanted to mess with it. They didn't want to pull down this whole house of cards by pulling away one single element from it. It was important that we stayed loyal to his vision. There was a very rich tapestry that we were allowed to play with. As I said in an earlier interview, the first draft read just like a graphic novel. It really did, and I was blown away by that. It was easy to visualize while I was reading it, and it was a real page-turner. Which is rare in this day and age. I was extremely invested in the details. I was hooked into what he had invested into this thing. It was all in the details. Usually, there is a lack of need to tell too much. Things could be assumed, which gave the script great depth. I was really appreciative of what he did in that regard. Obviously he carries a certain weight, especially in terms of the Justice Society. He has been a part of their rebirth in the comic book pages. When that happens, you have to shut your mouth and trust where it's all going. Geoff has done his research, and he knows where this all came from. You just try to get out of the way and follow the leader.
Did you pick up any JSA or Hawkman comics to get a feel for the movement of this character, or to get a lock on what you wanted to bring to the screen? To my knowledge, this is the first time that Hawkman has been portrayed in a live action format.
Michael Shanks: Oddly enough, No. I did look for some Hawkman comics, and I couldn't find any. We talked about looking at some other comics. When we were practicing with the Hawkman harness, it was important to bring different postures to the character. Those are inherent to comic book super heroes, especially in terms of landings. And stances. Those are very prevalent, and there are certain ones that work very well for both Smallville and the comics. There were certain aspects of that I looked at. The way Hawkman is presented in the comics is slightly different than how he is brought to the screen. I had a lot of work to do in terns of the suit. I needed to give the character as much dignity as possible. I was saddled with one hell of a task. The costume had two harnesses under the breastplate. It ended up being a sixty-pound hard leather pack with very cumbersome wings on the back of it. It was hard to walk in that. You wanted to make sure the character didn't look stupid. On top of that, you wanted to make him look heroic. I had enough on my plate just with that. I had to work very hard to get him to a good place.
Can you talk about the other JSA members that you interact with on the show? Dr. Fate and Star Girl? What is Carter's relationship like with them after all these years? And what are Dr. Fate and Star Girl like in the "Smallville" world?
Michael Shanks: Stargirl is a new character. She was not a part of the JSA. Originally. Not in this universe. She has inherited a mantel from her stepfather. She is the catalyst for going to Carter Hall and saying, "Hey, your friends are dying. You need to do something about this." At that particular point in time, Carter is living reclusively in the Brownstone mansion. He is a curator of the museum, and he has been taking care of what is left of Kent Nelson. In that sense, the relationship between Dr. Fate and Carter is the most fascinating thing about the script for me. What Geoff did with that aspect is one of my favorite parts of the show.
Are there any hidden Easter Eggs in regards to the other JSA members? Will we see any of them appear? Or will we just see references to them? Do we find out what happened to members like Wildcat, Dr. Midnight, The Sandman, The Flash and Green Lantern?
Michael Shanks: There are a ton of references for where they are all at right now. For a couple of them, it will be obvious. As far as the rest of them, they are disbanded and discouraged. They are either off being reclusive, or they have been exiled somewhere. We don't find out too much about where they are at. We do find out what happened to them. There are tons of Easter Eggs. I think there are appearances by every single member of the JSA in some fashion or another. I don't want to give too much away. It's all a real neat treat, and a real testament to the comics. This is a really great job of servicing this entire group. A lot of these characters haven't been around for a while. When I started reading comic books in the 70s, most of these guys were fading away. Rarely do you see them being treated to any modern day adaptations. You rarely even see them referenced anymore. This is a great homage to those characters. It's a great "hats off" to what they were and what they represented.
Is there any mention of Black Canary's Mother being a member of the original team?
Michael Shanks: I will say that there is a reference to her. But I am not going to give away just how that shakes down. She will be seen.
Hawkman and Green Arrow have a very famous love/hate relationship in the comics that stems from their polar opposite political views. Oliver is a liberal and Carter is extremely conservative. How does that play out in the show? Do you and Green Arrow clash? What is your relationship like and how do you get along?
Michael Shanks: That, to me, was the highlight of the show. I gravitate towards anything that has a grain of comedy to it. There was a lot of comedic potential in the relationship between Green Arrow and Hawkman. In terms of their political views? There isn't a whole lot of that. They don't sit and debate politics in this episode. There is an immediate clash. And a wonderful, continual spark throughout the entire thing. It runs the gamut from being dangerously violent to being sarcastic and caustic, to being quite friendly and congenial. At one point, the two characters confront each other in a serious manner. It's a wonderful bromance. The best part about it was getting to play with Justin Hartley, who was a real hoot on and off the set. He doesn't ever get a chance to show what a great wit he has in real life. There is enough of that in the character he is portraying to play off. It's a mix of the no-nonsense character and the yammering fool. On the side, it can make for a great Yin-Yang or Frick-Frack relationship. That is one of the highlights of the show for me. To play off of that is fun. To cross swords. Can I even say that? (Laughs) They cross swords. You get my drift. That is a whole other conversation, and I don't need to go down that road.
Hawkman had two different origins in the comics. One had him as an archeologist who discovers that he is a reincarnated Egyptian Prince. The other has him being an alien cop from a winged planet named Thanagar. Currently, the comics have made it so that both origins are correct. But if I'm right, your Hawkman is just embracing the reincarnated Egyptian Prince aspects of the origin. Will there be any references or Easter Eggs to Thanagar? Since several of the characters on the show are aliens, (Clark for one), why do you think they chose to go with this origin as apposed to the alien one?
Michael Shanks: I honestly don't know why they picked one origin over the other. From the little bit that I know about the Thanagarian Space Cop stuff, I simply don't know. The Egyptian Origin has more of a romantic implication. Especially when considering his relationship with Hawkgirl. That plays a part of the storytelling seen in this upcoming movie. I believe it's a more believable implication. I don't think they wanted him to be another alien from a different planet. Because isn't that what aliens do? They show up from a different planet and they start kicking ass. There have been stranger things to happen in the DC Universe, but the reincarnation origin brings more romanticism to the character. That is really a Geoff Johns question. Because I don't know why he went with that. Or if that's the path he is following in the new Hawkman comic. I'm not sure if that's the background he gave Carter.
It appears from the trailer for this episode that Hawkman's longtime love, Shiera Sanders, or Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman as she was also known, was once a member of the team. But she is no longer around. Do we find out what happened to her? And can you talk about Carter's state of mind revolving around that loss?
Michael Shanks: I think Shiera plays a significant part of the storyline. We will find out that something has happened to her. We won't find out specifically what that is. But we will get a sense of that, and how it shaped Carter, and how it got him to where he is at. She is a weight that he is dragging around. She is a kind of anvil that he is dragging behind him in terms of weight and guilt, and a reluctance to ever go back into that realm. Because of this, he is wearing that hairshirt of guilt over the loss of her when we first meet him. It has a lot to do with what became of the Justice Society. His relationship with Hawkgirl plays a huge part of where he is at when we first find him, and what he will have to overcome over the course of the first hour of this show.
Carter believes that he is a reincarnated Egyptian. In the comics, he also believed Shiera to be reincarnated. If she has died, does he think she has been reincarnated? And if so, does he believe that she has been reincarnated into one of the regular characters on the series? Chloe or Lois perhaps?
Michael Shanks: I don't know. We don't go down that road in this movie. There is always the potential of that if and when we see this character in the future. There is a lot to play with. At a certain point, my wife was on the set. Tom Welling made a comment to the producers that if they ever bring Hawkgirl onto the show, my wife should play her. The producers were tickled by that idea. I, of course, whispered, "Don't do it! Don't do it!"
Why didn't you want her to do it?
Michael Shanks: Because she saw the discomfort of the suit I was wearing. As soon as they said she should wear one, I said, "Don't do it!" I am a relatively strong guy compared to her. I was sitting there, picturing her wearing this contraption, and I thought, "Oh, my god!"
I thought maybe you were telling her not to do it because you wanted to hook up with one of the other actresses on the show.
Michael Shanks: Laughs Oh, yeah! That's what I will tell her. I'll make sure to tell her that when I get off the phone. No. I just didn't think she'd want to wear the outfit. The way Carter ends up, I do believe there is more room for him in the Smallville universe. Wherever it intends to go. There is quite a lot of potential for diving into his backstory. It's a great set-up, it's all about where they decide to go with the show after this. That's a question mark for when they get picked up for season ten.
With the show now in its 9th season, there have been many rumors of a possible spin-off series featuring the JLA. If that happens, it's believable that Carter would join the team as an elder statesman. Is that something you would be interested in doing and could see happening?
Michael Shanks: I think that talk is only amongst fans. When you have such a rich universe as the one found in DC Comics, and you start to open up that Pandora's box the way they have on Smallville, you discover this massive pantheon of heroes that you can delve into. The potential to go down that road is up to the CW and Warner Bros. And the producers. In terms of actual talk, and behind the scenes stuff, it is all chatter on fan boards. There is nothing to it. The producers are more concerned about doing just one thing. And that's moving forward with season ten and telling some more interesting stories. In terms of a spin-off, you have to let the chips fall where they may.
Have there been any murmurings about bringing this particular team of heroes to the big screen?
Michael Shanks: Again, in terms of looking at it from a professional sense, I am just an actor here in Vancouver. I am standing in the hallways of Warner Bros. If they want to bring me back for a movie or a spin-off, that's for them to decide. I certainly haven't heard any rumors around the actor's circle that we're all going to run off and do a Justice Society movie. They are focused on doing their TV show and finishing that off. I agree that there is a lot of potential for it. I love that. But no one has come running in here gong, "Guess what I just heard!" I think there is potential for that to happen. We'll just have to wait and see.