WITH AN EYE ON . . . : As ABC’s second assigned Jimmy Olsen, Justin Whalin hits the newsroom running
Justin Whalin is sure glad he doesn’t look like “Superman” Dean Cain. Not that he has a problem with Cain’s looks (who would?) , but Whalin thinks his own visage is a reason he is playing Jimmy Olsen on ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
Whalin took over the role of the intrepid Jimmy from Michael Landes, who played the cub reporter in the series’ first season.
“They (producers) just thought that Michael looked too much like Dean,” explains Whalin, 20, from his home in the Los Feliz area.
Whalin says he’s known Landes for a few years and adds, “This kind of thing happens all the time in this business.” He said he believes his predecessor “knew there was a conflict over him and when you have that, you have a hard time knowing what to do with your character. I think he might have felt constricted.”
The young actor says with a sigh, “You just can’t make everyone happy.”
Whalin, though, has managed to make executive producer Robert Singer happy. Singer says of him: “He’s one of the nicest and most cooperative actors I’ve ever worked with.”
“When I came on,” Whalin explains, “I wanted to be as different from Dean and from Clark as possible. The old Jimmy was very preppy and I’m sure not. I wouldn’t call the look grunge, because my clothes are never ripped, but I’m untucked and tousled. I look more like the way young people look today.”
Singer calls Whalin “a Jimmy Olsen for the ‘90s.”
Whalin attributes Jimmy’s often-portrayed “nerdiness” to depictions in early movies and TV. “In the comic books, Jimmy wasn’t nerdy at all. He was out of reform school and an orphan. That’s where I based him. He’s more streetwise.”
But one thing Jimmy Olsen must maintain is his enthusiasm, Whalin says. “He has to have that excited energy about someday wanting to become a reporter. He worships Perry, Lois and Clark. He’s eager, but not nerdy.”
Whalin, a San Francisco native, got his own eager start in acting at 11, when he took an acting class to be near a girl he had a crush on. By 13, he was playing Alan Quartermaine Jr. on ABC’s “General Hospital.”
“It was a really good thing for me to go from stage to a soap opera,” he recalls. “It’s a completely different thing. I mean, acting is acting, but it’s different in the way you perform. It’s so funny to look at my earliest stuff on TV. I was so big, because of the way I worked in theater. I’m so over the top in my earliest episodes, it just makes me laugh.”
Whalin then landed roles in TV’s “Charles in Charge,” “It Had to Be You,” John Waters’ feature film “Serial Mom,” “Child’s Play II” and the upcoming feature “White Wolf II: The Legend of the Wild.” Whalin’s critically acclaimed performance last year in the “CBS Schoolbreak” special “Other Mothers"--about a lesbian couple raising a teen-age boy--won him an Emmy.
Whalin describes himself as “the most boring person you’ve ever seen.” He says he loves to play blues on guitar, but wouldn’t become a musician.
“What I love is acting. That’s what I know how to do and it’s my job. I don’t ever feel I have to get away from it. We work 15-hour days, five days a week, so when I’m off the set, I just tend to relax.”
He relaxes in the “funky and artistic” house in the hills he shares with his mother, who owns the Learning Castle, a private school, in La Canada.
Of his chosen profession, he says, “It’s a weird business. It can go to your head. I’ve had it come and had it taken away. I’ve gotten that appreciation to realize you’re not that special. You’re only as important as the show you’re on or how long it’s on or how long you’re on it.”
“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.