Long before there was Arrow-verse and the intertwined adventures of The Flash, Supergirl, and the Legends of Tomorrow, many of those characters in one form or another actually turned up in Smallville. The pre-Superman Superman series ran for 10 years on the CW and it chronicled how Clark Kent (Tom Welling) went from awkward teen struggling to comprehend his incredible power to becoming the Earth’s greatest superhero. Part of that unusual journey was the friendship between Clark and a young Lex Luthor played by Michael Rosenbaum, who was constantly struggling between his desire to be a good man and his own dark instincts. It was meaty stuff for an actor, so why did Rosenbaum bail at the end of season 7?
Rosenbaum revealed why he departed Smallville in a new interview with Empire Online:
“I remember sitting with Peter Roth, the president of Warner Brothers … I’ve never really told this story. Everybody has an ego and I think everybody likes to get their way. Peter took me to dinner, because he tried to get me to do two more seasons of Smallville. I was very polite and respectful. I said, ‘Peter, my grandma thinks I’m funny and I’ve always wanted to do comedy, and I started out in comedy, and I was doing tons of comedy, and then I was catapulted into this role that I love and it’s been great, but I was contracted for six years to play Lex Luthor, I did seven, and I’m just ready to move on and I’m just ready to take a new step.”
After Rosenbaum left Smallville at the end of season seven, he appeared in a number of roles, and only recently got the comedy showcase he was dreaming of in TVLand’s Impastor, where he plays a con man posing as a small town pastor. Still, Rosenbaum has no regrets despite Roth’s high-pressure sales tactics.
“He looked at me and says, ‘You know, Julianna Margulies, she turned down millions of dollars to stay with ER and look where she is now.’ It wasn’t two or three years later where she just made a fortune with The Good Wife and all of that, and her career just took off. I said, ‘I’m going to bank on my talent. I’m just going to take a chance on me. I think I’ve done this long enough, I did this character for seven years and I just don’t feel like shaving my head for two more years.’ I came back for the finale, but at the time I just wanted to take a chance.”
It’s also worth noting that Rosenbaum was open to returning to the role of Lex Luthor in a proposed Man of Steel sequel, but that was before Jesse Eisenberg was cast in the part in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so there’s no hard feelings; he’s not writing any “I Am Not Lex Luthor” books or anything. Of course, anyone that saw Rosenbaum’s nuanced work as Lex Luthor would have much rather had him in Batman V. Superman than Eisenberg’s “The bell can’t be unrung!” zaniness. Maybe they can have Rosenbaum roll up on Supergirl as Lex… Just a suggestion.