On a warm August afternoon, Clark Kent, Lana Lang, and Lex Luthor are all notably absent from the Smallville set. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of members of the future Superman family around. In the brightly lit Kent barn, a young 16-year-old blond girl named Kara (Laura Vandervoot) wears acid washed jeans and pets a horse. She is startled as someone descends the staircase from the loft. It is her aunt, Lara: a striking figure in a flowing white dress. What makes this reunion extra special is that both characters are from Krypton - Lara is Clark's mother, while Kara is his cousin - and this is flashback sequence from 1986, meaning the two Kryptonians visited Earth long before baby Kal-El ever crash-landed on the planet. Such implications are huge, yet making this conversation even more remarkable is the fact that Kara is Smallville's modern take on Supergirl, while Lara is played by Helen Slater, the original Maid of Might from the 1984 Supergirl movie.
"I had seen a couple of episodes of Smallville before and liked them very much," says Slater. "I hada ctually auditioned for a part around three years ago, which I didn't get. This time, I was in Metropolis, Illinois, doing the Superman Celebration and there were a bunch of writers there. Right after I finished that, people were asking me about Smallville, and two weeks later there was an article about how the Smallville producers wanted me to come on the show. It was really strange and great."
Sitting at the Kent kitchen table during a break, Slater is obviously thrilled and delighted to be revisiting the superhero genre.
"I just said yes right away," she says about being approached for the role. "It was a fun idea to play Superman's mom, and it is a quality show. I especially love being part of the mythology. You can kind of keep reinventing it, which I find interesting, so from that point of view, I know this is going to go in the archives. Clark's mom comes to see where he is going to be raised and visits the Kent farm. There's some juicy stuff for a lot of people."
"I keep looking at Laura Vandervoot, who is just a beautiful girl, and thinking 'She's 23 and I was 19 when I played Supergirl.' I keep staring at her and having this weird deja vu feeling. I was four years younger then her when I filmed Supergirl, and she seems so young. I don't think I look like Laura, but there is that same vibe of a blond flying around and getting into all kinds of trouble."
Unfortunately, there are no aerial acrobatics happening today. Instead, Lara is reprimanding Kara for following her to Earth before the perceptive teenager finds out that her aunt is pregnant with an unborn Kal-El. Slater couldn't be happier about those meaty developments, but being of Kryptonian heritage, she would have also embraced any phsyicality thrown her way.
"I would have loved to have done some stunts," smiles Slater. "I just hope in the next episode I'll get to do some. Honestly, for this particular show, I don't think they play up that aspect as much. It's there, but it's not the highlight. It would be so much fun to fly or throw something around."
Given Slater's experience, she could definitely give some pointers to Vandervoot about Supergirl's abilities, or wearing the colorful threads and cape.
"Oh my goodness," laughs Slater. "Laura hasn't been in acostume yet, has she? I found it very joyful at the time. It bruoght me back to my childhood games. You put on a costume and it helps you believe in that playful spirit. It makes me want to know how Laura is dealing with her superpowers in these episodes. She has done a little bit, but not a ton of stuff. Maybe I shouldn't speak for everybody, but for me, it was a dream to have superpowers, to be able to fly and lift things."
Slater is due back on Smallville toward the end of September, and even now the friendly 43-year-old finds it hard to believe she has such a distinguished place in the Superman legacy.
"I was never aware of that before, but when I went to the Superman Celebration and was doing asigning at the booth, people had this encyclopedic knowledge of what happened," she says. "I did have this feeling of pride at being part of the Superman legacy. In the museum in Metropolis, they have my costume, posters, cereal, and little figurines. I do feel blessed and very lucky to have had that experience."
Shortly after Slater and Vandervoot wrap that particular scene, the focus shifts to the Daily Planet, which is located a few minutes down the street in a separate building. Along the way, a gas station and other small stores have been erected where a vacant lot opposite the Talon alleyway previously stood. Once there, Smallville viewers may not be so astonished to witness at least one presumingly deceased character alive. In the season finale Phantom, Lana was blown up, Lex was cuffed for her murder, and Clark was busy comforting an evil carbon copy version of himself. For Chloe, her healing power had manifested just in time to save a mortally wounded Lois. However, the strenuous effort seemingly left Chloe dead in her cousin's arms.
"In true Smallville style, you have to make sure it's dramatic," notes Allison Mack about the shocking cliffhanger. "I like that Chloe's powers came as a surprise, that she had no idea what she was coming up against or when it was going to happen, that it just took over. I like that it's the ultimate expression of empathy. That is really beautiful, taking on the pain someone else is feeling. That is very Chloe, and in line with her character. It was very dramatic, and then coming back this season, being dragged through water and mud, and then landing in the morgue - it's a good thing Erica Durance is a strong woman!"
On the flip side, her main squeeze Jimmy wasn't around in the premiere episode to help comfrot Chloe and pick up the pieces.
"I've been working on stuff, but that was more about letting Jimmy go on assignment and allowing other things to happen," says Aaron Ashmore while relaxing in the Kent kitchen. "I think he gets thrown back into the situation after all this. It's interesting to have Jimmy out of the loop, coming back, and going 'What's goingon?' I like it because it lends a lot of the tension and drama."
Walking into the hectic newsroom, Kara and Jimmy are conversing, and while they are inaudible from behind the video village, she soon leans in and plants a kiss on him before leaving. Could there be an attraction brewing between the two?
I think maybe Kara sees something in Jimmy," offers Ashmore. "Maybe he is a little goofy, but there is an honesty and truthfulness in everything he does. Kara is different, and everybody has a lot going on, but Jimmy is there for her. He's simple and sweet, so she responds to that. It has been fun so far, and I am anxious to see how it plays out. Kara is drop dead gorgeous, so how do you react to that?"
Kara's action and Jimmy's schoolboy grin speak louder than words, so moments later, when Chloe strolls in, the expression on her face can't hide her hurt. Clearly, this cute couple's once perfect romance is beginning to crumble.
"The reason, and it is true in real life as well, is that you need honesty in relationships, and obviously that is not happening or possible between Chloe and Jimmy right now," says Ashmore. "Chloe's priority is to keep Clark's secret and to help him out. She's proven that over and over again, and Jimmy just doesn't understand. If you were a regular guy in real life and you found out your girlfriend was lying to you, it would not work out or last. There is definitely some turbulence there, so we'll see how it unfolds and how they work it out, if they can."
"It's a great example of how challenging it is to be part of Clark's life and be on the inside track, as far as knowing his secret and upholdingi t," adds Mack. "I'm really glad they've played it out the way they did, and it is important to show that everyone who is part of what he is trying to do has to sacrifice a part of their life in some way. We've shown that with Clark, again and again. So bringing in a single woman who has dedicated herself to changing the world with this man... It's interesting that we've shown how challenging it is for her."
Indeed, Chloe has more on her plate than her love life. Besides Clark, there is her own health to worry about. For some reason, Chloe is initally reluctant to discuss her healing touch and its consequences with Clark, and is certainly not about to divulge her new status to Jimmy, which leaves her alone and confused.
"Chloe doesn't understand how to use her powers," explains Mack. "She doesn't understand how they developed or why. She just knows that she has them, they developed, and she almost died. She is really freaked out about what would happen if she was in another situation like that. Would she throw herself in front of the bus in order to save that person? Or would she watch that person die, knowing she could save them?? It is a crazy, weird struggle. It is fascinating because it's like she has this virus living in her that is potentially lethal, and she has no control over it. Right now, Chloe is just trying to deal with getting rid of it."
"That dilemma boils over in the episode Cure, when Chloe approaches the enigmatic Dr. Knox about removing her abilities, no matter what the cost.
"Chloe is willing to risk her memory and relationship with Clark and Jimmy," reveals Mack. "It's a bgi step, but I think it makes a lot of sense. It shows she is desperate to go back to what she was, because she feels so out of control now."
Then there is Kara, who is proving to be more than a handful.
"Kara is essentially another secret to hide, and she doesn't understand why she needs to be hidden like Clark is, so it's this constant struggle of 'You can't go flying whenever you want to,'" explains Mack. "She's much more defiant ant outrageous."
The last time Smallville Magazine spoke to Ashmore, he joked about Jimmy's poor photography skills, but since then, there has been a natural progression to his craft.
"He's definitely had some experience and is being given more opportunities," he says. "With that, there's more confidence, and he will become a better photographer. As much as he has been doing some Mickey Mouse photo shoots, it has to start somewhere. Jimmy definitely feels that, and is moving toward that goal. He is starting to focus his camera a little bit, and those are good signs."
"One of the things about Jimmy is that he is generally instinctual," continues Ashmore. "He really does go for it. Whatever he feels, he doesn't really think about it much, he just jumps in and gets into trouble sometimes, but it also puts him in many great positions."
Season seven is shaping up to be a mielstone year, especially for Mack and her inquisitive character. Not only is Chloe exploring unfamiliar territory, but the talented actress is scheduled to make her directorial debut with episode 20.
"Tom Welling directed an episode a couple of years ago, and I was sort of inspired by that, but terrified," admits Mack. "Then he directed another one last season and we talked about that, why he's doing what he's doing, and he said to me 'You should do this. You should direct.' I said 'Are you kidding me?' I totally panicked and freaked out about it.
Then Michael Rosenbaum directed one and really enjoed it. Again Tom said 'You should do this.' Then Al Gough and Miles Millar brought it up over lunch one day, and I just thought it would be a great evolution as an artist, and a really good place for me to learn. Glen Winters is going to be my director of photography, and I have an incredible team behindme, with John Davis as my camera operator. It really feels like I have this amazing support system through James Marshall, Rob Maier, and all the boys upstairs. It's an incredible school, and not to take advantage of that is a real waste."
It is months before Mack steps behind the camera, and those nervous butterflies have been replaced by feelings of exhilaration.
"I've gone from panicked to excited about 370 times," admits Mack. "Ultimately, I'm excited to be taking on a new experience, to see what my limitations are, what I am good at, what I suck at, what I need to work on, and what I have good instincts for. It's going to be great!"