If you’ve been watching Supergirl this season, you know that over the past few months National City and the world at large has become a powder keg. Ben Lockwood has helped stir up anti-alien sentiment throughout all pillars of society, while the Children of Liberty continue to violently attack non-humans. Meanwhile, Manchester Black fights their fire with equally radicalized fire, killing anyone who would suppress alien rights. Lena and the D.E.O. are at work on a kryptonite-fueled formula capable of giving humans superpowers while all the way across the world, a Kasnian-grown clone of Supergirl stands ready to be unleashed. As if this isn’t enough, Brainy’s lost his Legion ring, J’onn’s becoming unhinged and James Olsen has just been shot.
So, imagine what’s likely to happen when Lex Luthor enters the scene.
The longtime Man of Steel nemesis makes his Supergirl debut in this Sunday’s episode played by actor Jon Cryer…though you may find yourself surprised at the state this new version of Lex is in. Having spent the entire series behind bars for crimes against humanity, Lex has fallen terminally ill and is furloughed in the care of his sister after he suffers from a minor stroke. Lena’s still-unfinished formula may be able to cure him, and it’s Lex’s hope that he can help get his sister across the finish line.
At least, that’s what he claims. Though we all know how trustworthy Lex Luthor typically is.
“Lex is a sociopath,” Cryer says, not mincing words. “He’s an actual sociopath, but he does have a link he can’t break with Lena. Also, to some degree, he gets that she’s got an incredible gift as an intellect and as a scientist. So, his narcissism kicks in and he can find that to love about her. He understands that she’s a formidable person, and I do think his really twisted family history does come into play.”
However, unsurprisingly, Lena is mistrustful of him. She knows what Lex is capable of and how he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. And right now, she’s the person in the way of what he wants.
“Anybody who’s lived with an entirely toxic human being in their life understands that you keep them at arm’s length,” Cryer continues. “That’s what Lena has done beautifully. ‘I get that you’re there, I get that I have to deal with you, but I’m not going to let you hurt me.’”
Of course, Lex also realizes that Lena sees him this way, and understands that getting the cure is going to depend at least a bit on her not trusting him. Lex, even if he’s dying, would never come to her with his heart on his sleeve looking to make amends.
“It was interestingly tricky,” reveals Cryer. “Lena knows that he’s a sociopath. She knows that he’s bad news. If he was suddenly the nicest guy in the world, you would never believe it. So, he has to let her see some of how awful he is in order for her to believe it. That was the trick of it.”
“What I find riveting about his performance is that you never know what you saw,” shares Executive Producer Jessica Queller. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next. It turns on a dime. You think you’ve got it, and then all of a sudden, there’s another color. There’s scheme upon scheme upon scheme. I just think his performance is so surprising.”
As longtime Superman fans know, Cryer has a history with Lex Luthor—he played Lex’s nephew, Lenny Luthor, opposite the legendary Gene Hackman in 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. However, his appreciation of the character extends long before that.
“I loved the comics as a kid, and part of the reason that I did Superman IV was because Superman: The Movie, the first one, changed my life,” he reveals. “I was about fourteen years old, and their tagline was ‘You Will Believe a Man Can Fly,’ and boy, I bought it. I totally bought it. With Superman IV, I had very high hopes, but unfortunately, it was disappointing for people and that had always sort of hurt me in a very fourteen-year-old boy way. I thought that this could be my chance to do it right.”
That history also helped him tap into the character, who will recur on Supergirl for the rest of the season. And yes, illness or not, he’s definitely a villain.
“I think it really energizes the second half of the season because his presence in the show and the story we’re telling really creates a singular villain that drives everybody’s agenda moving forward,” shares Executive Producer Robert Rovner. In fact, as Rovner teases, he may have been driving people’s agendas from the start.
“Lex Luthor’s involved in everything that’s happened this season,” he reveals.
Have no doubt, if Lex views Superman as a threat, he views all aliens as a threat—including Kara. And in perfect Lex fashion, he justifies his outlook by taking a big picture view.
“I was trying to explore his understanding of it,” explains Cryer. “I do believe if humanity was faced with super-powered aliens, it would be deeply threatening. So, I don’t see that he’s completely wrong. It’s like there’s a point at which we are threatened by this. ‘Okay, what do we do about it? These are the steps, and if, in the bigger picture, it kills millions of people, there will be plenty more. We’ve got billions of them. We’ve got plenty.”
In short, don’t expect Cryer’s Lex Luthor to really have much in common with his earlier, far-less-threatening Lenny. In fact, Supergirl’s Lex is quite possibly the most frightening live-action take on the character we’ve seen so far. But that doesn’t mean Lenny hasn’t contributed to our newest onscreen Lex. He’s there in spirit, if nothing else. The season four finale is even entitled, “The Quest for Peace.”
“When we were thinking about who could play Lex Luthor, I saw Jon’s picture and then I remembered Lenny Luthor,” reveals Rovner. “It seemed like what we really needed in Lex Luthor was a villain that you loved to hate and a brilliant actor. It felt very serendipitous at the time. [He] was really the only choice.”
As Queller puts it, “This was a huge gift to get to create our Lex, and we really wanted to have a singular Lex Luthor that paid homage to the other famous iconic Lexs. I am in awe of Mr. Cryer. I don’t think we possibly could have done better in our casting. We’re just thrilled.”
Jon Cryer makes his Lex Luthor debut on Supergirl this Sunday at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. For all of the latest Supergirl news, features and conversation, click here.