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Why Superman: The Animated Series’ Clancy Brown Didn’t Draw Inspiration From Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor Performance

Gene Hackman as wig-wearing Lex Luthor in Superman: The Movie
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In 1978, nearly four decades after he was introduced in Action Comics #23, Lex Luthor was brought to life by Gene Hackman in Superman: The Movie, and to this day it remains one of the most popular portrayals of the character. Fast-forward 18 years, The Shawshank Redemption star Clancy Brown was first heard as Lex Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series. However, Brown didn’t draw any inspiration from Hackman’s Luthor performance when crafting his take on the Man of Steel’s arch-nemesis, as he’s not the biggest fan of those original Superman movies.

Clancy Brown revealed this to me when I interviewed him on behalf of Superman: The Animated Series’ Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. When I inquired about if he turned to Hackman’s Lex Luthor during his preparation to voice the supervillain for the Kids’ WB follow-up to Batman: The Animated Series, he responded:

Not at all. I mean, I love Gene Hackman, but I just thought those Superman [movies] were silly, to be honest with you. I didn’t think they were that exciting. I don’t mean to be bitchy when I say that, but it just wasn’t my thing. The only one that I remember was the guy who did it in Super Friends. That was sort of the one I grew up on a little bit. I just remember his voice being very big and deep and kind of scary, but not really scary. That whole show wasn’t too scary. But that was my impression of him, and bald from the beginning, and whatever comic books I had of Superman, Lex was always a big, far bald guy. So that’s how I thought of him. He actually got designed in trimmer and trimmer shape, which I appreciated, through the years.

The actor Clancy Brown is referring to is Stanley Jones, with his version of Lex Luthor appearing in more Super Friends episodes than any other comic book villain. Super Friends aired from 1973 to 1986, so there was a period when Luthor could simultaneously be enjoyed in live-action and animation. In Brown’s case, it was Super Friends’ version of the character (who led the Legion of Doom) who had the more substantial impact on him, particularly because he was always bald, whereas Hackman’s Luthor frequently wore a wig. Following his time on Superman: The Movie, Hackman reprised Luthor in 1980’s Superman II and 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and with 2006’s Superman Returns acting as an homage sequel to the first two Superman movies, Kevin Spacey took over the role.

As far as Clancy Brown goes, he voiced Lex Luthor in 20 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, as well as recurred on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Brown has also voiced non-DCAU versions of the character in projects like The Batman (the animated series), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Lego DC Super-Villains. The actor’s recent credits include Promising Young Woman, Invincible and the soon-to-arrive Dexter: New Blood, and he’s currently shooting John Wick: Chapter 4.

Superman: The Animated Series is now available on Blu-ray, and the show can also be streamed on HBO Max. Those of you looking for live-action Superman content can expect Superman & Lois Season 2 to premiere on The CW sometime in early 2022, and Michael B. Jordan is developing a Val-Zod-focused series for HBO Max.

Adam Holmes

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.