Michael Rosenbaum is an actor probably best known for portraying Lex Luthor on Smallville. Currently he stars in TV Land’s Impastor, which recently kicked off its second season, where he portrays a man who steals another man’s identity and ends up posing as a gay pastor in a small town. Michael was nice enough to take a few minutes from his busy schedule to answer a few questions from us.
1. You walk into a bar. What do you order from the bartender?
Probably a Jack and Diet. I’m from Indiana, that’s what we drink, but I live in L.A., so hence the diet.
2. Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter and/or Instagram?
I love Bruce Campbell. I worked with him, he’s hilarious and comments on everything. Carrie Fisher is ridiculous and brilliant, so she’s fun. And Michael Ian Black kills me.
3. What’s currently waiting for you on your DVR?
Dateline, of course.
4. It’s your last meal — what are you going out with?
Olive Garden, baby!
5. What websites do you visit on a regular basis?
RedTube.com. Don’t go to that… it’s a porn site.
6. What’s the most frequently played song on your mobile device?
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross. “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.
7. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t worry. Once you grow pubic hair, fix your grill and grow nine inches… you’ll eventually get laid.
8. What’s the last thing you Googled?
Halloween onesies for adults.
9. Dogs or cats?
I love all animals, especially my dog Irv. He’s named after my grandfather Irv… who’s still alive.
10. Best concert of your life was…?
I go to so many ’80s concerts, so this is a really difficult question. Chicago, I’ve seen them so many times, love them. Guns N’ Roses at the Hard Rock in Vegas. Def Leppard at the Hard Rock in Vegas. ELO at the Hollywood Bowl. Human League at the Microsoft Theatre.
11. What book are you most likely to give as a gift?
It would be a book about farts. I have many fart books.
12. What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?
There are a lot of great people out there, a lot of nice things have been done for me. A fan once sent me an Impastor version of the game Clue, and the thing was unbelievable. I mean it was so elaborate, really lovely gift.
13. South Park or Family Guy?
14. You have an entire day to do whatever you want. What would you do?
Probably nap… or go to Disney World… or go to Universal Horror Nights.
15. What movie can you not resist watching if it’s on?
Tommy Boy, Empire Strikes Back, Alien, The Shining, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Slapshot. Arthur (Dudley Moore version).
16. The sports team or teams you’re most passionate about?
I love the New York Giants. Anything New York — New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Rangers and New York Mets. I hate the Yankees.
17. Where did you eat the best meal of your life?
Gibbys in Montreal. Holy shit, what a steak.
18. The last movie you saw in a theater?
The Blair Witch 2016. Just saw it and I love horror movies. Not a great flick, but the last 15 minutes almost made me piss myself.
19. Who was your first celebrity crush?
Probably Goldie Hawn. I think I saw a vagina in the movie Private Benjamin. I don’t think it was her vagina, but I still have a crush on her. Met Goldie and Kurt Russell a few months ago and they were wonderful.
20. What would you cook if Nic Cage was coming to your house for dinner?
Olive Garden. Or Sonic. My sister works at Sonic, so I’d get Nic some free shit.
Lex Luthor is a tough act to follow, a notion that isn’t lost on actor Michael Rosenbaum who portrayed the iconic Superman villain for seven of Smallville’s ten-year run. It was at that point, after having extended his six-year contract by one, that he set out on his own path, believing, as proud as he was of the Luthor role, that he had even more to offer the audience, particularly when it came to humor.
He got a chance to test that theory in the short-lived 2011 series Breaking In, but has really come into his own in Impastor, which is embarking on its second season. Rosenbaum plays Buddy Dobbs, something of a slacker with a gambling debt that is proving detrimental to his health. Running out of options, he’s ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge, but is saved by a young gay reverend who, while doing so, accidentally plunges to his own death. Suddenly Buddy is given new purpose: to take the reverend’s identity and proceeding to the small town the reverend was appointed to that has no idea he isn’t who he claims to be. What follows is his immersing himself in this new life, always looking over his shoulder for the moment when the truth becomes known and he has to flee. Think of it as The Fugitive, but with weed, sex and political incorrectness.
There seemed to be something surprising in you doing a series for TV Land in the States, but here you are, going into your second season.
That was my reaction when my agent gave me the script. He said, “It’s written by Eric Tannenbaum and it’s for TV Land.” I go, “TV Land? Look, man, I love I Dream Of Jeannie and I’m a big Gilligan’s Islandfan, but I don’t want to do a show on TV Land. I don’t want to do that kind of fluff stuff.” They’re, like, “No, they’re changing their network.” I said, “I’ve heard that they’re changing and then you go in there and you can’t say ‘damn.’ You have to say ‘crap.'” But then I read the Impastor script and realized it was really good and we say “cock” on page eight, we say “shit” on page twelve. Buddy’s banging a prostitute. He said, “They want to do the show. They want to make it edgy, they want to make it fun, they want it to be serialized, shot like a movie, not a sitcom.” I went and had a conversation with Eric, who said he wanted me to executive produce the show with him. His words were, “Michael, I want you to be part of the creation. I want you to be part of the casting I want you to be involved in everything.” I didn’t believe they would, but they picked it up.
And then they picked it up for a second season.
Right? And I admire them for being patient and really believing in a show that is, I feel, unique and unlike anything on TV. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it still has edge, it surprises you, the characters are fun, it’s shot beautifully, it’s serialized, it’s quirky, it’s Fletch-like, it’s easy to watch and it’s only twenty-two minutes of your life. I think that getting people in this oversaturated business where there’s a billion shows, is amazing. Getting people to watch it is the hard part, but when they do, then they tell other people. The truth is, you have only ten episodes nowadays and it’s hard to keep an audience. You come back a year later and try to get the same audience to come back and hope that it grows.
The advantage in the shorter season model in that, yes, you’ve got the opportunity to craft ten really solid episodes, but maintaining that audience is a challenge. On the other hand, much like you had with Smallville, there’s the twenty-two episode season run, which oftentimes has so much filler that it can dilute the dramatic thrust of the season.
How did they do it? How do you write twenty-two episodes a year? That’s ten months a year we’re working. We had freak of the week on Smallville for a while, but how couldn’t you? You can’t write twenty-two brilliant episodes a year. You just can’t do it. It’s hard to write tenbrilliant episodes a year, but if most of your episodes are compelling or good and keep the audience engaged, then you’re in good shape.
In some ways it seems like a tough premise for a series to sustain; the rug could be pulled out from under him at any second.
How Buddy got to this town is the most ridiculous thing you can imagine. He could always just split, but something’s keeps him around. He’s got this house, the town is so small and the people actually believe he’s this guy; they didn’t do any research on him and, on top of it, he’s starting to like some of them. And he’s, like, “Wow, this is the best scam I’ve ever done. I’ve got this prostitute on the side, I can steal some weed, I have to do these crappy sermons every once in a while, I have this beautiful house, I’ve got this assistant who will do anything for me.” At the same time, the keys are always in the ignition, he’s always ready to go if something happens, but there’s something keeps him there. Call it divine intervention, call it whatever you want, I think it’s fun. There’s an article on Zap2it that I always loved because I’m a huge Chevy Chase fan and it said he has a Fletch-like twinkle in his eye … It is kind of an edgy Fletch.
It seems that Buddy is evolving the longer he’s involved with these people, despite still being a bit of an asshole. Do you feel that he’s changing?
I think that Buddy’s so used to getting shit on and then shitting right back on people as a defense mechanism. It’s like when someone says, “Screw you,” you say, “Screw you” back and you get so used to that that he just expects that out of people; he doesn’t expect good out of people. Then he comes to this town and meets someone like Dora, played by Sara Rue, who’s awesome in the show. You know, “There’s just no way she’s this good. Something’s messed up, she’s not this good.” But then he starts to realize that there are good people out there and that kind of messes him up a little bit, because he’s not used to it. Then he starts realizing that some of his actions are actually hurting people. Does that stop him? I don’t know if it stops him, but it might make him… pause. I mean, the guy does have feelings. I think that he doesn’t want to hurt these people, and even wants to bang a few of them.
I also think he wants to make a little money and try to live the high life until he is forced to get out of there or he gets caught. He’s not really a bad guy, I just think he grew up in a bad part of town, he didn’t have a mom and dad around, he didn’t have good role models, and he’s just kind of looking out for himself. If he doesn’t look out for himself, no one else will. If he has to take advantage of something and it hurts someone else, he doesn’t feel great about it, but he tends to do it.
You’re so enthusiastic talking about Impastor but it really has been something of a bumpy road career wise, hasn’t it, since you were so determined to get off of Smallville after season seven?
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.” 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.
The transition was what I thought it would be. I remember Greg Beeman, who directed License to Drive, The Wonder Years and a lot of Smallville episodes, said, “You realize, dude, you’re the only person in the cast that looks different. Once you grow your hair out, you won’t look like you.” I hadn’t thought of that. I called my agent and said, “Hey, set up general meetings with everybody. They need to see me with hair.” We started doing that and then I was cast on Breaking In. Then I directed my first feature [2014’s Back In The Day] with Morena Baccarin, Nick Swardson, and Harland Williams. I couldn’t have done more … Again, I think you really have to know your ability and you have to know who you are. It wasn’t ego, it wasn’t, “I’m not doing Smallville because I’m too good for it.” It was more, “Hey, I’ve got more to offer.” Look, luck is a commodity of preparation and opportunity and I feel like I’m always prepared when that moment comes. I think it comes down to just believing in yourself.
You mentioned that you appeared in the last episode of Smallville. What was your feeling about the way the show ended?
Here’s the thing: I didn’t watch the last three seasons, because I wasn’t in it. Call me egotistical, call me whatever, but that’s the reason I didn’t watch the show. I was working and getting my shit together. But I finally called them up and said, “Hey, look, it’s the last episode ever. I’ll do it, you’ve got me for one day next week.” When I got there I was, like, “What’s happened since I left?” I had no idea what was going on. There were moments where I just didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I liked my scenes with Tom Welling, but I felt like the show was, for me, done when I left in season seven. Then I sort of did it for the fans and did it for me for closure and to say, “Hey, I did come back.” I did do it, and that’s ultimately why.
Do you realize that this is Smallville’s 15th anniversary?
Holy shit. You just made me feel really old, but I’m proud of it. I have fans all over the world because of that show and I love them. I go to Australia, I go to England…people just embrace it. You can’t be luckier as an actor or as a human being to feel that sort of accomplishment, and if that’s all I did — if I was just Lex Luthor — it would be enough. It really would be enough to go back home to New Berg, Indiana, where there are, like, 3,000 people in the town and where I wasn’t supposed to do anything. To say you were this iconic, legendary character for seven years. I would’ve mowed my lawn with a smile on my face.
I have updated the gallery with pictures of Michael at the 80s weekend on stage, at the Universal horror nights, and at the Impastor season 2 premiere. To see the goods just click the pictures below: