Recently Legendary Women was lucky enough to speak with “Smallville” producer and director Christopher Petry by phone. Petry has worked on the CW’s superhero drama since its beginning, starting as a production assistant parking cars. By the end of the series ten years later, Petry was a producer and director with independent film work under his belt.
While cooking up a delicious dinner for himself, Petry shared some inside dish about working on “Smallville” since the beginning and how the show created their own super heroine legacy in the form of one Chloe Sullivan.
[img_assist|nid=151|title=Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan in the Chris Petry directed episode 'Fortune'|desc=Photo property of Tollin Robins Productions, Millar Gough Ink, Warner Brothers Television, and DC Comics.|link=none|align=left|width=600|height=286]
What made you want to get into show-biz/production?
I always just really loved it and wanted to be a part of it in some fashion. When I moved out to Vancouver I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I am a huge movie and TV nerd so I guess it was a matter of time before I started doing it. Like everyone else I just loved it and wanted to become a part of it.
It looks like you did a lot when you were on “Smallville”. You started out as a production assistant, before becoming a producer and then you directed. What role did you prefer?
I definitely really like directing. I mean it was something that, again I never really knew if it was what I was going to do and then when I started doing it on independent and short films I really fell in love with it. During that time I started parking cars on “Smallville” and I was lucky enough to be on a show that went 10 years. I made a lot of really good friends on it and connections and as my career started to get better in the independent world opportunities start arising on “Smallville”. So it’s kind of unheard of I guess, but it went great.
Yeah I’d say! I was actually going to ask you about what your journey was like on “Smallville” because you started towards the bottom but by the end of the show’s run you were producing and directing. So it’s a pretty unconventional story, you don’t see that often.
Yeah, I was a producer for two years and directed screen. I was also a second unit director there from season five. I would direct a lot of stuff and that was an awesome experience as well.
I am a little older than Allison [Mack who played investigative reporter Chloe Sullivan] but Tom Welling [who played future Superman Clark Kent] and I are the same age and a lot of us pretty much grew up on the show. So I mean that probably had quite a bit to do with a lot of my experience there. You know I guess it’s like being in school where if you’re in a small school and everyone there is the same age, you just sort of become friends after a while. We were all pretty tight and the actors and the mentors I had on “Smallville” were pretty integral.
They treated it like film school there. It was a really good environment for teaching people and letting us all grow. I know Allison got to direct and she became a great director, aside from her acting talent. Tom became a great director. Justin [Hartley, who played Green Arrow Oliver Queen] by the end had directed. Everybody got to do different parts of film making and that’s what was pretty awesome about “Smallville”.
I remember by the end of the run it seemed like most of the cast had directed at least one episode.
Yeah absolutely and did great jobs too! It was challenging at times but it was a great environment where everyone wanted to help one another, so that was pretty cool.
Since you were on “Smallville” for pretty much its entire run, what would you say your favorite story line was for the show?
My favorite story line for the entire show? That’s awesome! I was a big Lex Luthor fan [played by Michael Rosenbaum] and one of my favorite story lines was when Lex was on the island. I don’t know how much you know the show.
Yeah, I remember that, when he was stranded on the island, eating worms. [laughs]
I like when the characters would have pitfalls and up and downs, like when Clark would be on Red Kryptonite or Justin [Hartley] was having personal battles and drug problems. Justin did a great job. Then Chloe always had this underlying tone of mental illness that was always really interesting, like with her mother. I find story lines like that really fun.
What would you say your personal favorite moment was working on the show?
The first day I got the call back. I will never forget that day, that was pretty awesome.
What was the first episode you got to direct on your own where you weren’t a second AD [assistant director]?
The first one I directed completed and fully was an episode called “Persuasion”, I think it was in season nine. Season six was when I started directing more second units. But I know at the end of season five I got to call action as director and that was the coolest day.
So clearly we are highlighting Chloe for the month of February at Legendary Women. What did you think of Chloe's journey throughout the course of the show?
What did I think of it? Oh I think it was an awesome character. I mean it’s a character that, we’re taking all these DC characters that are established by other writers and are established within this world. And here we have a character that as a collective group, you know our show runners right from the beginning, our writers and then to Allison Mack, to take a character that has never existed before and now exists in our world and make her like a superhero. In fact she is a superhero, she was Watchtower right? So to create that seed and for Allison to grow it into this character, that’s probably my favorite thing. You have all the geeky comic guys creating superheroes and then we got to create one of our own out of thin air.
Do you know if the original conception for Chloe changed over the years?
I cannot say for certain but I’m sure it did. Every year we would do an overhaul of the characters and where their arcs were going and what not. And then also the cast brings certain things to the show, like Allison would. If she had chemistry with someone than you’d start developing it. As a part of a series you have to imagine, and I’m speaking for our writers which I wasn’t one, they did a great job of seeing what Allison would bring to the table and writing to that. They would blueprint and the cast would put forth great performances and story arcs. Allison Mack is just a phenomenal actress though.
What was your favorite moment for Chloe’s character on the show?
My favorite Chloe moment? Gee, there were a lot of moments. I didn’t like when she was always pining over Clark. I would have to say I think I’d go with the very end when you see where her character got to, at the very end of the show when she was telling the whole story through a comic book to her child. That’s pretty awesome. Again that’s a testament to Allison’s commitment to the show and the show runners. Keeping her on contract for that period of time and getting her to have a great character wrap-up and a whole arc to the series. Not all the characters got to do that.
What would you say your favorite moment working with Allison was?
My favorite moment working with Allison? I would have two different answers. For Allison the actress, just being with her and Justin Hartley when she’s trying to leave and they have a big romantic moment where he won’t let her go and they kiss. That was my favorite moment directing Allison; it was just awesome working with her and seeing her craft getting her there. As for Allison the person, working hand-in-hand with her when she directed her episode was very memorable. I enjoyed that. Watching her grow and learn and seeing what a director she became, those are my favorite moments working with Allison.
What is her process like would you say?
Well for one, she’s just so on in terms of her craft. You don’t have to get too in-depth with her. She’ll bring to the table what she thinks it should be. Very few actors are just able to mold so easily with a very tiny note. Allison’s been acting since she was a child and she is very easy to direct. She’s a very skilled actor and able to go places and access certain emotions with such ease. She’s very easy to work with.
Legendary Women is about positive, empowering portrayals of woman in the media, so I was wondering what you think makes Chloe Sullivan a positive portrayal?
With Chloe I think women with passions and career goals, who have dreams and visions, are very attractive people. I think in our society today that’s much more common than even 10 to 15 years ago. It’s swayed; I mean you watch shows like “Mad Man” and that’s how far away the vision of a woman was then. You think now how it’s completely flipped on its ear and a character like Chloe actually becomes sexy for reasons other than just her outward beauty. Her passion and drive makes her a very strong character. Then if you can shuffle that into a character that has heart and emotion and is filled with the sensitivities of women, you have a very gripping character. You have someone that can be strong, assertive and powerful in what is typically considered a man’s world. Chloe Sullivan was a lot like that. Then if you are able to access that person, if they are not just a cold business person but in the end a loving and caring person, I think those are great characters.
In a show like Smallville which centers around a literal SuperMAN, it can be easy for female characters to fall into the damsel-in-distress or love-interest pigeonhole. I felt like Smallville worked hard to try to keep their female characters more multi-dimensional than that, even when they fit those roles.
Oh absolutely! I don’t know if you’ve heard but we had an unspoken rule that I’d heard numerous times when we dealt with certain emotional situations. We actually always said that the men are the women and the women are the men. You know what I mean? We treated the roles as such. In a lot of our cases you always thought Clark had this meek manner and could never make decisions and he was never the alpha in his relationships. Whereas all the women in his life were definitely the alphas in those relationships. And that’s a testament to our writers and our actors. Erica Durance [who played Lois Lane] was very good at that, Kristin Kreuk [who played Lana Lang] was very good at that and Allison is just that naturally.
Yes, I was going to ask if that was something the production was concerned about, making sure the women characters always stayed more multi-dimensional?
Yes they did that. We had moments where we had damsels but the women on our show were also doing round-house kicks. Characters like Tess Mercer were running giant companies and replaced Lex Luthor. You know Lois Lane went to the true character of a career driven woman and was very aggressive, unlike Clark Kent who was very shy and meek. So they paid attention to definitely making those roles as such.
And you saw the Chloe character, like I said; she was the clog on which the whole show turned. I always thought that people never realized that. She was one of the underrated characters that the show really spun on. She kept the wheels turning. She kept every storyline in synch and even connected all the heroes’ storylines.
Why do you think so many viewers really connected with Chloe and loved her so much?
Well for one Allison Mack is very watchable, that’s definitely what Allison brought to the table. And then second, I think the culmination of the writing team, the pressure every week, the producers who were show runners and what Allison brought was a collective work in creating a character that people could relate to and follow and respect. Our show did a really good job of listening to the voice of online[fans] and the people. They paid attention to what the people liked, especially towards the end a lot more.
Was the production office aware of the online presence? Because there were so many fans of the show, were they aware of all the different fans?
Oh absolutely it was hard not to! We would get like bouquets from the Chlollie [fans of the relationship between Chloe and Oliver] group and the Lana groups and stuff. We were very aware of what was going on. And whether or not anyone else wants to admit it, I will. I was on the blogs all the time, I was always watching and reading and chatting myself.
The “Smallville” fans are very passionate.
Yes it was hard sometimes when I directed an episode and you go on and just read them annihilate it. But at the same time I cherished those voices.
Well it means they care.
Yeah, like half the time they wouldn’t know, maybe I was like CK742 going “well it wasn’t that bad”. [laughs]
“Come on guys!”
[img_assist|nid=152|title=Lemur from Chris Petry's 'Smallville' Episode|desc=Photo property of Tollin Robins Productions, Millar Gough Ink, Warner Brothers Television, and DC Comics.|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=169]
“Come on the lemur was funny!”
Oh the lemur! Was that one of your episodes?
Yeah, that was one of mine.
What was it like working with the lemur? That was a real animal I’m assuming?
Yes that was a real lemur. It was definitely a real lemur!
I’m assuming there would be challenges involved.
Absolutely! They use food to get the animal to do something and you know after a while it didn’t want the grapes. Then it was trying to get at these chips and I was like: “Dude give him some chips, man. I don’t care, give him whatever he wants! Just make him stand up and clap.” [laughs] It was definitely challenging.
Stay tuned to Legendary Women next week for an in-depth profile on Chris Petry’s independent film “Marilyn” starring Allison Mack!