FIRST GENERATION SUPERHERO – Can Superman’s grandfather be cooler than Superman? Cameron Cuffe, who plays the former in “Krypton,” certainly makes it look that way
After running for more than a decade, the current generation of superhero films is starting to show its age. Some are hits, plenty are misses—especially on TV. Syfy’s “Krypton” is definitely a hit. And a big part of this success story is English actor Cameron Cuffe, who plays Superman’s grandfather. So, what is it like being part of a hit in what is an increasingly volatile field? We’ll let the man himself tell his tale.
DAMAN: Hi, Cameron. Awesome to have you with us. How are you doing?
Cameron Cuffe: I’m really well. Thanks for having me!
DA: It’s been quite a while since “Krypton” finished its first run. Today, what do you remember the most about the series?
CC: It’s hard to think about what I remember because it’s all still happening! Once we finished filming season one we went straight into promotion. Immediately after we were finished with promotion we were on the air. Before we even left the air we were confirmed for our second season and that’s when the work all started again. I’m gearing up to go back now! It’s a rollercoaster that has no end in sight, so it’s difficult to take a breather and look at the process retrospectively.
DA: If we could go back to the start of it all, how did you end up landing the lead role of “Krypton”
CC: It was a long journey. I was still playing supporting roles in theatre and British TV, so when I got an audition for the lead role of an epic science fiction show I was almost certain I wouldn’t get the part. I kind of felt I had nothing to lose so I did a tape and was called in to meet Colm McCarthy, who directed the pilot, and I auditioned for him. We had a great chat and I gave a solid audition, but honestly, I was just happy to be in the running. I didn’t think anything would come of it. Sure enough, I was turned down … but it never really went away. Every few weeks I was being asked for another tape. Eventually, I was working on another TV show in New York when casting asked to bring me in to screen test for Seg-El. I was whisked from a set in Brooklyn all the way to the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles where I met David Goyer—a hero of mine and the show’s creator. It was a surreal experience but I still didn’t think I’d get it. So I just told myself to have a bit of fun with it. The scene they wanted me to play was quite serious but I recognized there was a bit of humor in it, that as much as the character could be played earnest and idealistic, he could equally be played as a loveable rogue. I gave my take on the character and, despite my disbelief that my gamble paid off, a few days later I was filming the pilot in Serbia.
DA: What would you say was the biggest challenges in playing this role?
CC: “Krypton” was the biggest thing I’d ever done. I’d never been a lead before, let alone a lead in a show of this size. I was really nervous until I remembered that all I had to do was keep doing what I’d done since I was a kid. It didn’t matter that the stage was bigger. All I had to do was play and play for the love of the game. Sure, it was, and still is, a big challenge to take on but I love every minute of it. I’m surrounded by an amazing cast and crew who have taught me a huge amount. I’m endlessly grateful for this whole experience.
DA: Your character, Seg-El, did appear in a number of comic books, but he’s never been fleshed out the way it’s done in “Krypton.” So, we were wondering, how much of the Seg-El we see on the show comes from the writers and how much of him is your interpretation?
CC: I think every character is a marriage of both. It all starts with the writers, of course, lead by our incredible showrunner Cameron Welsh. Everything brilliant and bold and fascinating about “Krypton” starts with them. It’s their world and their story and it’s our responsibility to bring it to life. As far as what I brought to Seg, I think it’s fair to say that in the initial pilot script he seemed very innocent and honest, and I wanted to mix it up a little. A lot of lines that could be played really earnestly could be played sarcastically. A lot of lines that demonstrate self-seriousness can be played in a way that is self-deprecating. By the time we went from making the pilot to filming the full season, the writers had taken that ball and ran with it. It’s been a massive collaboration, and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the job. I have to thank the writers from the bottom of my heart for humoring my wild ideas.
DA: Now, TV series based on comic book franchises have been a bit hit-and-miss. “Krypton,” while lacking any mainstream heroes, manages to be well received. What do you think are the key factors behind this success?
CC: The superhero genre has been around for a while now and we’re at a point where we can start to play with the formula a bit. I think our show is a success because we’re not afraid to do things differently. We love the mythology. I think that’s clear to anyone who has watched the show. But we’re also not afraid to take it in a new direction. We love subverting expectation. But it’s not simply changing things for the sake of changing things. I think that fans recognize that we’re changing things in a way that suggests that we know and love what has come before, and we’re presenting a new spin on it. We’re asking “what if?” And that’s always an exciting question.
DA: And, of course, we were all quite excited to hear that the second season has been confirmed for next year. Is there anything you can tell us about what to expect from “Krypton” season two?
CC: One of the things that sets us apart from other superhero shows is that our show is very much about consequence. The fallout from season one will continue on into season two. The history of the multiverse has changed. This is no longer a prequel heading towards a defined end. This is an alternate universe that can go in any direction and that means our characters are constantly questioning themselves and the new future they’re creating. It’s a dangerous path they’re on … and not all of them will make it out. I can’t wait for you guys to see what we’re working on.
DA: On the flip side, what do you expect from “Krypton” season two? What do you think will the show bring to the genre this time around?
CC: That’s a great question! Firstly, I’d say we’re in completely uncharted territory in the DC multiverse, we can go in any direction. Also, since we’ve done the work of introducing the characters and the world in season one, we now get to take a much deeper dive in Season two. We’ll dig further into who these characters are, what they stand for and what drives them. These things will in turn drive the story. But at the same time, as I expect it to be character driven, I expect it to be bigger and badder than ever before. I’m training now as hard as I’ve ever trained and that tells me one thing … there’s going to be action. Lots of it.
DA: We often hear about how being in a superhero film can give an actor’s career a big boost. Is this true in your case?
CC: Absolutely. All of a sudden I’m doing things I didn’t even dream I’d do. I’m sitting on Comic-Con panels in front of thousands of people. I’m meeting some of my favorite actors, writers and artists and in many cases I’m talking about working with them. I have a bit more agency now over the direction I want my career to go in, which is wonderful. Also, when I tweet about comics now, people actually care!
DA: On a slightly related note, have you had any particularly memorable encounters with fans of the show (and of you, of course) that you can share with us?
CC: The fans have been wonderful. I think the thing I’ll remember most is at my first Comic-Con panel I was rattling off all the books that I love, name-dropping comic book arcs and graphic novels that have inspired me and influenced my characterization. There was kind of a stunned silence. People expect actors to have a casual knowledge of the comics and hopefully a respect for the importance that these stories hold to fans, but it’s not every day that you see an actor who is as big a nerd as everyone at the con. That was special to me. When I was growing up I hid the fact that I loved comic books because I got bullied and now all of a sudden there are thousands of people who want to talk about comics with me, and that means a lot. As a fan, I understand the power of fandom. We have the privilege of telling these stories because of them, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for that.
DA: In your opinion, what are the best aspects of comic books and, by extension, the movies, TV series and other media based on the medium?
CC: Comic book stories are so universal and diverse that they defy genre. Do you want a gritty detective story? Great! I recommend checking out “The Question.” Do you want to be taken on a wild space adventure? Awesome! Check out “Green Lantern.” Are you not really into superheroes and appreciate non-fiction? Brilliant! “Persepolis” is one of the best graphic novels around. This medium is for everyone. Comic books are for everyone. There is a story in this medium for you.
DA: You’ve now starred in a superhero series, had a recurring role in a period drama—“The Halcyon,” made an appearance in a sci-fi show—“Time After Time.” What would be the next genre that you’d want to try your hand at?
CC: I want to do everything there is to do. As an actor, you always want to stretch yourself. I just want to play as many roles as I can play. If I had to pick one genre, I’d say horror. Truly good horror depends on excellent filmmakers to create tension and atmosphere and I’d love to be involved in a great horror film. But then I’d want to follow that up immediately with a rom-com. I always want to switch it up. I want to play character roles, supporting roles, lead roles. Whatever it is, if the script is good and it’s a character I’m interested in playing, I’m in.
DA: In the long run, what are some of your big career goals? What are some of the major career milestones that you want to tackle next?
CC: It’s hard to say. It’s difficult to look at milestones in an acting career because I think you can only really see these things retrospectively. A tiny indie film that you do could one day be looked at as the thing that catapulted you to stardom. But when you’re doing it, you’re just doing as good a job as you can with what’s in front of you. Honestly, that’s probably a healthier way to look at it. It’s best not to go into this career expecting statues for every job you do. If that’s what you value then you’ll be deeply disappointed. As far as what I want for myself? I just want to be the best that I can be. I want to work with the best. That’s how you learn: By working with people who are better than you, who in turn make you better. I want to take it as far as possible and then further, but at the end of the day I do it because I love it. As long as I’m acting, I’ll be happy.
DA: As a general rule, what would you say does it take for an actor to make it in the industry these days?
CC: There are no rules. There is no set path. This industry is completely unique and completely unpredictable. I’ll never feel like I didn’t get lucky because that was definitely a big element of my journey. The only thing I can say for sure is that the one unifying factor in all of it is self-belief. Believe in what you have to give, because in the beginning you may be the only one who does. But if you believe hard enough for long enough, others will believe too.
DA: This might sound a bit clichéd, but what do you think is more important for an actor: raw talent or training?
CC: Did you see any of my previous answers? I’m a master of clichés. This is an excellent question and again one with no real set answer. Here’s what I’d say: Talent is an ethereal thing. It’s impossible to quantify it or explain it, you just know it when you see it. And the thing is, it’s art. It’s inherently subjective. Someone might watch “Krypton” and think I’m brilliant. Someone else might watch it and think I’m rubbish. Neither of them are right or wrong. For me, I’ve never put much stock in my talent because I know I can’t control how talented someone thinks I am. The one thing I can control is how hard I work. I spent three years at the Lir Academy in Dublin—reading, learning, watching, soaking up every bit of knowledge that I could. And now that I’m in the professional world I’m doing the same. I watch the work of actors I like, I read about their technique and their ideas, I ask for advice, I ask for help all the time. I may be talented, or I may not be, but the one sure thing is I bust my arse to do justice to my characters, and so far that’s worked out.
DA: And this might sound a bit random, but do you think that having a strong and consistent social media presence is important in your line of work?
CC: It’s becoming more important but I don’t sweat it too much. If I get turned away from a role purely because I didn’t have enough Instagram followers then it’s probably not a production I wanted to be a part of anyway. I just use it to have fun, it’s nice to be able to take fans behind the scenes, it’s cool to be able to interact with your audience in that way. I don’t think it is a vital tool, having a million followers doesn’t make you a good actor, but it’s a part of the game that deserves respect.
DA: All in all, what do you see as the best part of doing what you do now?
CC: I was thinking this the other day. I’m very hard on myself. I’m overly self-critical. I’m constantly pushing myself to do better or work harder. The other day I was in one of those moods when something came to me. If I could time travel back to 15 year old me and sit down with him and tell him all the details of my life, he wouldn’t believe me. He would think I’m the coolest. I’m not the coolest, I don’t really think I’m very cool but 15 year old me would think I’m awesome and that in a dumb kind of way counts for a lot. I’m living the dreams I had when I was a kid. It doesn’t get better than that.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen Mccormack
Styling Ari Tavelman
Grooming K.C. at thewallgroup.com
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