Dana Delany On The Legacy Of Lois Lane And ‘Superman: The Animated Series’ [Interview]
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, 1938’s Action Comics #1 set off a chain reaction in American popular culture, one whose effects would be felt throughout the subsequent decades in nearly every dimension of commercial enterprise and in the hearts and minds of countless people of all backgrounds and occupations who’ve been entertained, educated and inspired by Superman’s embodiment of truth, justice and courage.
This year, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, Superman has been rightly honored for his contributions with major publishing initiatives from DC Comics like the recently launched Superman Unchained; a massively popular live-action film called Man of Steel; and a robust humanitarian relief effort for children called We Can Be Heroes.
Part of that celebration is another hero who also made an important debut in Action Comics #1 75 years ago, one whose importance has occasionally been overlooked but is nevertheless an indelible and indomitable force in comics and beyond.
Lois Lane is the star reporter of The Daily Planet, the Metropolis newspaper best known for its unmatched clarity, truth and exclusive interviews with Superman. At once intensely passionate and wryly cynical, Lois Lane has been in relentless pursuit of “the big story” since the Great Depression, during which time she’s routinely given Superman himself a run for his money in the bravery department and remained the quintessential model of the fiercely independent American “career gal,” inspiring generations of young women since before feminism had a name.
Among those women is Dana Delany, beloved by Superman fans, writers and artists for giving voice to what many believe is the best ever expression of Lois Lane in Superman: The Animated Series and related projects. As she revealed in a recent interview conducted by me and published by Wired, Delany’s early exposure to the then-radically progressive Lois Lane in the Noel Neill-starring Adventures of Superman television series and DC's various Superman comics would inform the passion and dedication with which she would pursue humanitarian causes and her own career -- which, appropriately enough, has been distinguished by emotional performances as decidedly complex women in television series, films and plays including Body of Proof, The Parisian Woman, Tombstone, China Beach (for which Delany won two Emmy Awards), and of course the fabulous animated film, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Crucially, Dana Delany just loves Lois Lane. Indeed, the actress wears an image of her animated character as her own Twitter icon rather than one of her glamorous portraits. It was because Delany had so much left to say -- and the fact that this week Warner Bros. Animation releases Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, in which Delany reprises her Lois role for the first time in years -- that we continued our candid discussion about Lois Lane, women in superhero entertainment and the animated series that Delany helped make an enduring classic of the genre.
ComicsAlliance: I believe you were introduced to the world of Warner Bros. Animation superhero productions through another woman who’s also an icon in this area, Arleen Sorkin?
Dana Delany: Yes, Arleen and I are old friends. She knew [Superman: The Animated Series producer] Paul Dini from playing Harley Quinn [on Batman: The Animated Series], and she suggested me for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. So they offered me the part of Andrea Beaumont in that, which was my first time doing voice work. I had such a great experience doing it, and that’s also when I met Paul and [producer] Bruce Timm and [voice director] Andrea Romano (Andrea Beaumont is named after Andrea Romano, I don’t know if people know that!) Then they were going to do the Superman animated series and asked me to audition for it and I said, "absolutely," and that’s where it all began.
CA: What did you think when you first saw Superman: The Animated Series producer Bruce Timm's design for Lois Lane? Her cool hair, her lavender eyes, short skirt, black high heels; this was a very different Lois Lane than the one you remembered from childhood.
DD: Well, Lois was always very stylish and she certainly had different incarnations over the years. I liked that our show had the retro look to it. It had a classic, timeless look that I thought was really great. I loved the lavender eyes, which kind of made me think of Elizabeth Taylor, who’s another one of my idols. As everyone knows, Bruce Timm is incredibly talented. He’s a real artist. I have complete respect for him.
CA: Did that art direction, with its influence from the past, inform your performance?
DD: Yes, definitely. I believe they might have shown me some storyboards first, but it was actually the script itself [that mattered more]. As an actor you just take it from the words, and it was written in that “ratatat” style of the ‘40s film dialogue. I immediately thought of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, which makes sense because she was a reporter in that film. Rosalind Russell, especially in that movie, always had a quick delivery; kind of snappy, and I just decided I was going to model Lois after Rosalind Russell in that movie.
CA: For an actor working in animation, I’d imagine you don’t have the kind of flexibility in developing a character as you in your usual work like Dr. Megan Hunt on Body of Proof, where you performed a full characterization.
DD: It is very different than doing a television series because when you come to the studio to do the recording, you are just handed the script -- often just the night before, sometimes that day. So there’s really no preparation and it’s your job to make it fly. Usually there’s other actors in the room. That’s the best circumstance, when other actors are there, like doing a radio play. That’s really fun because you’re just sitting in front of the microphone and letting your voices do the work.
CA: What’s the process of working with the producers and Ms. Romano on finding Lois’ voice and attitude and reconciling it with the script and the design?
DD: Andrea has a very distinct style of being fast. She’s really, really fast. She doesn’t like to talk about it. You just have to keep up with her. She’s very much the director-- more like a conductor. She’ll say, “Okay, good. Do it again! A little more anger!” She’ll just throw you these directions and you have to keep up with her. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. You’ll do the first pass and then they’ll turn off the mic and we’ll sit there while they talk about us [laughs]. And Bruce in particular has very, very distinct ideas about what he wants and what he expects and how he heard it in his head. So Andrea will listen to that and then she’ll make adjustments to our performance. It was always my impression that [the show] was Bruce’s vision.
CA: Cumulatively speaking, have you worked with Andrea Romano more than any other director? Including your live action work?
DD: That’s an interesting question. I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t do a lot of voiceover work. Occasionally I’ll do something. I’m so used to Andrea at this point and I like her so much as a human being. It’s very different when you work with other directors. I really do think that she’s the top. She just gets it. She completely gets it and she loves what she does.
CA: As you may know, the American comic book industry -- the publishing industry -- has kind of been going through a change with respect to women --
DD: How so? Tell me.
CA: Historically there haven’t been very many women writers and artists actually creating the superhero comic books. There have been lots of women in executive roles and editorial roles, but there’s been more attention paid to it in this decade. But as we were talking I realized that Andrea Romano, who directs all of the Warner Bros. Animation projects based on DC Comics, must have directed more superhero productions than any other person alive. I think that's notable because of the feminism theme that surrounds any discussion of Lois Lane.
DD: I would say so, yeah.
DD: Let me ask you this: Traditionally comics have been drawn with the females sort of having big boobs and being very sexy, almost like Vargas girls or something. Has that changed or is that still part of the “mythology?"
CA: It depends. It’s definitely still a prevalent topic, the sexualization of women in superhero comics. The audience likes a sexy comic that’s sexy in a way that makes sense. The objection is to the prevailing sexiness of almost all women in superhero comics, the lack of variety in characterization and appearance. Relatively speaking, a Vargas girl is considered something very sophisticated now. But sometimes things become distasteful. There is a concerted effort in the scene to address it and create more variety and take into account the female audience, which is really bigger than anyone understood until the Internet, really.
DD: Interesting. But even the men, Superman and Batman, they have huge muscles and things like that. It must be a fantasy element on both sides?
CA: I think the argument there is Superman and Batman aren’t sexualized, they’re idealized.
DD: Right. You don’t see, like, a big package on them.
CA: Lois has been identified as a model for how to do it right -- especially on your show, I think. She is what some people might derisively describe as “girly” -- she talks about frizzy hair, she talks about which boys are cute, she’s glamorous and sexy -- but she’s also many, many other things as well.
DD: Yes, I think they show many sides of her, which I like.
CA: in anticipation of this conversation I watched every episode of the show, so I’d like to list off some moments that struck me as remarkable and get your reactions, insights and recollections. The first thing Lois says about Clark when she hears he’s been hired is, “Is he cute?”
CA: And when she actually meets Clark, she calls him a rube and a hayseed.
DD: That’s funny! That’s what I love about her. She’s so smart and yet she’s so unaware! Here she is being so mean to this guy and if she only knew the love of her life was standing right there in front of her.
CA: The first time Lois sees Superman, who’s just caught some impossibly huge object that was about to fall on her -- with the music swelling and everything -- is, “No way.”
DD: My god, that was really funny writing. Really clever. You know, one of my favorite Greek myths is “Psyche and Eros.” Lois fits into that myth, to me. There’s this man who’s in love with Psyche and she’s in love with him but she can never see him during the day, he only comes to her at night. He says, “You can never light a candle, I can only come to you in darkness.” Everything’s perfect except she can’t see who he is, and she of course spoils it all by lighting a candle. And I feel that way about Superman and Lois. She’s constantly trying to figure him out and ruin the whole thing. If she’d just trusted that he was right there in front of her!
That’s the best part. It’s such a great romantic construct. Lois has no idea that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person. I love that as a metaphor for women -- for all of us, for human beings -- and how we look at love. We put this person on a pedestal -- Superman, the higher being -- when Clark Kent is right there in front of us. It’s her humanness, which we all have. I liked that, too, that she was not a superhero, she was just a human being who was experiencing the same awe as everybody else with this superhero, but she didn’t realize how cool she was herself.
CA: Speaking of the way Lois looks at love, your show dropped a bombshell into the mythology by stating that at some point in the past, Lois dated Lex Luthor. What do you think happened there?
DD: I thought it was so great for the time because that was post-Donald Trump; after the height of Donald Trump at that time. You can see how Lois would be seduced by this very powerful man. He was very much a Trump-like character, but much more powerful. Of course she’s going to go for the power, but I love that she dumped him and saw what an ass he really was. And it gave more complications to the whole plot line. And I loved working with [Lex Luthor voice actor] Clancy Brown. He’s awesome and so not that character. In real life he’s this nice dad, a family man, and kind of low key. He’s really a gentle giant.
CA: “Bruce Wayne is nothing but Gotham trash. Rich, spoiled... and absolutely gorgeous.” She drops her purse and babbles like an imbecile.
DD: [laughs] That’s the dichotomy of Lois right there! Underneath it all she’s still a girl and that gets her in trouble. That’s very funny.
CA: Interestingly, even though she’s ostensibly Superman’s Girlfriend, the Bruce Wayne relationship was the most intensely romantic development for Lois in that show.
DD: I can’t remember, who reveals their identity to her? Was it Batman or Superman?
CA: Batman is forced to reveal himself in the course of an action scene that she happens to witness.
DD: And she has some great line about it, right?
CA: She says to Bruce, “When were you going to tell me, the honeymoon?”
DD: OH THAT’S RIGHT I LOVED THAT SO MUCH. That was one of the best lines I ever got to say. That’s huge that she finds out who Batman is. It’s the worst thing in the world for her because she’s a reporter and the biggest story she could write is who Batman really is and she can’t say anything because she’s in love with him.
DD: How does that relationship not work? I can’t remember, why does she end up not with him?
CA: At the end of the episode she basically says, “I like you a lot but you’re the god damn Batman and that’s whack.”
DD: [laughs] That’s interesting because she’s obviously attracted to power, both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luth -- wait, how do you say it?
CA: Lex Luth-or.
DD: Andrea kept correcting all of us. “It’s not Lex Luth-er but Lex Luth-or!” It was a big thing, we had to say LUTH-OR. But yeah, I like that she’s attracted to power but ultimately I think Lois wants the “All-American guy.” That’s what she wants, really. The good guy. There’s something about Superman/Clark, I think she really likes his goodness and his innocence.
CA: There’s an old adage about young women being infatuated with the “bad boy” and growing up into mature women who prefer the “nice guy.”
DD: It’s true. I can vouch for that.
CA: Lois says, “I can’t figure out how some yokel from Smallville gets all the hot stories.” And Clark smugly replies, “The truth is, Lois... I’m Superman.” And all disgusted, she goes, “You’re a sick man.”
DD: THAT’S GOOD WRITING! She’s so offended! I remember [Superman actor] Tim Daly saying that and we were cracking up, my god.
CA: Was he as into the gig as you were?
DD: Oh, yes. Tim loves, loves, loves playing Superman. It’s too bad that we’re older now, most of us kind of look like our characters. It’s too bad we never got to do them live-action.
CA: Never say never!
DD: That’s true, that’s true.
CA: Another line I thought was really funny given the sort of conspicuous way women are sometimes drawn, like we mentioned earlier, was when Superman flies out the window and Lois’ short skirt flies up and she goes, “I gotta start wearing pants!”
DD: She was always wearing that cute little white skirt and doing action scenes in her high heels, which is funny because it’s what I do as Megan Hunt on Body of Proof. It’s kind of silly, isn’t it?
CA: Your version of Lois, do you see her one day accepting Clark as a romantic partner?
DD: Without knowing he’s Superman?
CA: Yeah. Does Clark have a shot without being Superman?
DD: Oh, that’s really interesting. Part of me would like to think -- of course Lois never grows old, which is just miraculous! -- but I would like to think that she evolves as a human being enough to appreciate Clark’s better qualities. And then wouldn’t it be great if she falls for Clark and then gets the surprise of Superman without even knowing it! And then she really earns Superman!
CA: I think the show kind of put the lie to the notion that Lois Lane is first and foremost Superman’s girlfriend. They didn’t even share their first kiss until literally the final scene of the final episode.
DD: Really? Wow, I didn’t even know that!
CA: Throughout the whole series, she’s not his girlfriend. She’s Lois Lane, super reporter.
DD: Interesting. That’s cool. What is the final episode? How did they tie it up?
CA: Superman’s reputation has been destroyed because he was manipulated into doing all these terrible things. In her capacity as a journalist, she cleared his name. They’re up on the roof of The Daily Planet building and she says, you’re Superman and people are going to come back to you, “one person at a time.” The implication is the first person is her, Lois, and she kisses him. That’s the end of the series.
DD: Aw, I like that.
CA: I was counting your credits and if I’m doing my math right and not including network promos and things like that, the upcoming Justice League: Flashpoint feature is the 60th time you’ve played Lois Lane.
CA: It’s a lot. It’s fewer episodes than Noel Neill and fewer than Teri Hatcher [in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman], but over a much longer period of time than anyone else. Seventeen years since the first episode of Superman: The Animated Series.
DD: That’s incredible.
CA: There have been many good Lois Lanes in animation, but every time I’ve been to an event where the creators behind the subsequent animated shows or films have been available to answer questions about a new project and Lois is involved, your name always comes up and people want to know why you're not involved.
DD: [laughs] What are the answers?
CA: Well, for example, the Flashpoint movie you’re doing is part of a whole series of original Warner Bros. Animation superhero films with different aesthetics and different themes. They’re not a continuation of stories like your show was; they’re one-offs, and these people are filmmakers and like with anything else they have a vision for it and a kind of performance in mind to go along with it.
DD: Well, I can understand that. They want to put their own stamp on it. That makes total sense. You don’t want to associate it with something else.
CA: Now that you’re so accessible to your fans on Twitter, do you encounter young women giving you credit for inspiring some kind of important decision or strength of character through your work as Lois Lane?
DD: Yes. I certainly didn’t set out to be that person, a role model, but all these girls came from all over the world to see The Parisian Woman. I had young women in their 20s and some in their teens come from Scotland, Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma and locally, too. Somebody asked them, without telling me, “Why do you follow Dana around?” And they evidently said, “She’s a strong, independent woman and it’s good for us to see.” So if I can give them a little bit of what Lois gave me, that’d be great.
CA: That’s the reason we wanted to speak to you on the occasion of Lois' 75th birthday, because it’s obvious that you really love her -- indeed, you actually wear Lois as your Twitter avatar. But it’s simply the estimation of many Superman fans that you really, really nailed it. People talk about hearing your voice when they read Superman comics and that if they can’t imagine you saying it, the dialogue just doesn’t work. The same goes for many comic book writers I’ve spoken to.
DD: I’m totally honored, especially because I have such a personal connection to Lois. When you’re a kid -- and all those young men and women who are older now probably had the same thing -- when I was a kid I didn’t know how much she was influencing me. I didn’t realize how much that image of the sassy career woman would become who I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s why you relate to that character inside of you and subconsciously. And I certainly did not know at the time the shelf life that Superman: The Animated Series would have and that I’d get to go on to get to do Lois in Justice League work. I am completely honored if I am in any way associated with Lois.