Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum Sets The Record Straight On His Exit From The Show And His Return For The Series Finale

There’s a lot to love about Smallville, from Tom Welling’s winning performance as a teenage Clark Kent to its various references to the larger DC Universe. Michael Rosenbaum’s turn as a younger Lex Luthor also earned praise from comic book fans and casual viewers alike. The actor ultimately defined the iconic supervillain for a generation, so many were understandably saddened when he departed the show after seven seasons. At the time, there were a number of rumors circulating about the move and, now, the actor is setting the record straight on his exit and his eventual return for the show’s final episode.

The actor and podcast host left a serious void when he left the seminal superhero series in 2008. When the news broke, some were quick to assume that contract disputes with The CW were to blame for his decision. Others may have even had wilder ideas. However, when I recently spoke with the star, he explained the real reason why he walked away from the Superman prequel

I didn't quit the show. I had six seasons I was contracted to, and I ended up doing another season, which was seven. I felt like... just my time had ended. I felt like they could have wrapped it up in many ways, and that was it for me. And I don't think they ever really tried to really bring me back. They never really tried to give me an offer I couldn't refuse. It just felt like, you know, I was done, and they maybe didn't really care as much. And the show went on without me.

In Michael Rosenbaum’s final episode as a series regular, Lex discovered the Fortress of Solitude and confronted his frenemy, Clark Kent. Using the Kryptonian pentagon he had acquired, he brought down the entire fortress on both him and Kent. By Season 8, Luthor was missing and ultimately declared dead, though the character eventually resurfaced, without Rosenbaum in the role. A badly scarred Lex appeared throughout the season, only to meet his ultimate fate in a truck explosion.

Fans, of course, know that wasn’t the end of the villain’s story, as he (a perfect clone, to be exact) returned in the series finale, marking the hoped-for return of Michael Rosenbaum. From the moment Season 10 was confirmed to be Smallville’s last, many wondered whether Rosenbaum would return. Throughout the year, various reports claimed he wasn’t too keen on reprising his famous role. Things looked grim for a little while so, when his return was officially confirmed, people like myself were delighted by the news. And as the actor further explained, it didn’t take too long for the producers to land him:

It wasn't until the final season, where I called [the producers] up a week or two before and said, ‘Hey, I want to be part of the series finale. You've got next Friday to shoot me.’ And they wrote enough scenes where I did everything. I think I shot for 24 hours straight that day, to get all the scenes in there. I had enough time to see Tom [Welling] again. I had enough time to become Lex Luthor in the white suit. I had enough time to kill Cassidy Freeman, my sister. I had a lot of time to do everything I needed to do. I got a lot done in 24 hours. I'm glad I came back, the fans were glad I came back and you know, I think it was a good ending.

Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The actor’s final appearance put a firm stamp on his tenure as Lex Luthor. Since he mostly played a version of the character that hadn’t descended into full-on villany, the star was able to add even more layers to the role. Some fans may still find it hard to believe that the man who voiced the DC Animated Universe’s Flash could also play the intense and manipulative Luthor. Speaking of animation, even his Justice League co-star, Clancy Brown (who is iconic for playing Lex in his own right), found it somewhat intimidating to discuss their takes on the role.

Today, Michael Rosenbaum’s work as the famed Superman villain is still enjoyed by many who either watched Smallville or are now starting to discover the show. A decade has passed since the series finale aired, but there’s still much that can be done with the character. And if reports are to be believed, Rosenbaum could very well be stepping into those villainous shoes again sometime soon.

Those looking to revisit the coming-of-age drama, or check it out for the first time, can do so by picking up Smallville: The Complete Series on Blu-ray now!

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.