SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Interview: Dana Delany On Lois Lane's Legacy And A Possible Return (Exclusive)
Superman: The Animated Series star Dana Delany talks to us about playing Lois Lane, the importance of strong female characters in animation, advice for anyone else who plays the character, and more...
2021 marks the 25th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series, and to celebrate, the entire show arrived on Blu-ray for the first time ever earlier this week (remastered, of course). The series starred Tim Daly as Kal-El/Superman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, and received nominations for 11 Daytime Emmys between 1997 and 2000, winning two of them.
It's quite rightly considered a classic, and the Blu-ray box set includes all 54 episodes, a new featurette titled "Superman: Timeless Icon," and audio commentary on a number of classic instalments.
Last week, we caught up with Lois Lane herself, Dana Delany, to discuss bringing the intrepid Daily Planet journalist to life in both this series and the wider DC Animated Universe. Of course, that wasn't her introduction to this world because she also played Andrea Beaumont in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and we get to hear her thoughts on that and a lot more in this interview.
As well as reflecting on the legacy of Lois Lane, Delany reveals some of her favourite moments from Superman: The Animated Series and even weighs in on potentially reprising the role one day. She also offers some advice to any future actresses looking to bring the iconic character to life and explains why it was so special to explore Clark Kent's dynamic with Lois throughout the show.
When Superman: The Animated Series first aired, strong female characters weren’t the norm in any genre, never mind animation, so how did you feel when you were approached with this layered version of Lois Lane?
It’s funny because I grew up reading Lois Lane comic books. When I was a kid, she actually had her own comic book. I had also watched the TV series when it was on, if you can believe it, in the 1950s [Laughs]. So, my image of Lois Lane was always a strong career woman and that’s how I found her. I was really happy when I saw the writing as that matched my image of her and when I auditioned for it, I was just thrilled. Lois had been an icon for me my whole childhood and my whole life and I saw that they had a period feel to it. I immediately pictured Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. In the movies from that time and when Superman was introduced, women were really strong. They’ve just backslid since then.
You’ve been able to return as Lois since the conclusion of the series on multiple occasions; what has it meant to you to have this character follow you throughout your acting career?
It’s great. I’m a fan of Superman and that world myself. Like I said, I grew up reading those comics, so that makes sense to me. Also, I feel like what Superman represents - not in a cheesy way - but the original people who drew him, Shuster and Siegel, were doing it in response to Nazis, World War II, and Anti-Semitism. It’s always been a world with a political statement rather than just, ‘Rah, rah, America!’ I was really happy that those guys continued that in our series.
You’re currently playing Edith Roosevelt, another strong woman in history; how important has it become over the course of your career to find roles like that and Lois Lane that can inspire and educate?
It’s very important [Laughs]. I think once I did China Beach which, again, was over 25 years ago, I realised how what you do as an actor can have an impact and that you have to be responsible for that. Whether you like it or not, it has an impact. It does affect people and the culture. I’ve always been very careful about choosing my roles and I’ve turned down a lot of big parts that astounded people. It has to be personal or have meaning to me or otherwise, why do it?
You last reprised the role of Lois in 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, but are you optimistic that you could return again somewhere down the line?
That’s the great thing about voice acting: nobody knows how old you are [Laughs]. I would love to do Lois again. Your voice really doesn’t age that much, so absolutely, I’d love to do Lois. I’d love to be the longest-running Lois in history and would do it until the day I die. It’s a role I have a great fondness for and I think the character evolves and creators might want to bring in their own Lois, but I would love to go back to play her again.
When you were working on the show, did you ever anticipate it would have such a lasting impact on fans and in pop culture?
No, I don’t think I did. I was very aware this was not my idea of an animated series and what I grew up watching as a kid like Loony Tunes. This was so sophisticated. The artwork was sophisticated. The dialogue was too and the music by Shirley Walker was like it was out of a film. I worked with Shirley on China Beach, and she was actually in the studio conducting a live orchestra. It felt very sophisticated at the time and I think the way it was drawn and Bruce Timm’s idea for it was so timeless and smart. It had a bit of a retro feel but was also modern. That always lasts forever. It’s like classic clothes. As long as it has a classic feel to it but is also modern, that will last forever.
Like this show, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has left a real lasting impact on fans; that movie remains one of only two of these animated DC features to receive a theatrical release, but how do you look back on its legacy?
I’m surprised it’s had that staying power because I remember when they released it, it was rushed into theaters and it opened on Christmas Day. It didn’t get any publicity, no one knew it was there, and then it disappeared. Then, it had a resurgence and people became aware of it. It tends to happen a lot with my work actually [Laughs]. It’s not really appreciated at the time but comes back later and I have an awareness of that happening a lot. I don’t really worry when something doesn’t take off at the time because I know good things have a long shelf life. I feel like when I did Mask of the Phatasm, one of the directions I got was they wanted it to be real. They didn’t want it to be your typical voice acting at the time. Back then, people were doing more funny voices but they wanted it to be very real, very well-acted, and very serious. It’s really stood the test of time.
What interested and excited you most about exploring Lois’ dynamic in the series both with Clark Kent and Superman?
It’s funny because I watched some of the episodes in preparation and I was laughing out loud because I forget about some of the great dialogue in it. I’d forgotten that Lois was the one that names him Superman [Laughs]. What a great honour to have, you know? I think it was the triple episode where Lois was dating Batman and we had the crossover. That was so much fun to make Superman jealous and have Clark not be able to say anything. It makes me laugh when Lois finally realises Batman is Bruce Wayne and says, ‘So, when were you going to tell me? The honeymoon?’ [Laughs] It was such a great line to say and she really got to say some great stuff. Another thing that I noticed was, yes, Superman saved her a lot, but not until she’d kicked ass herself. They’d let Lois go as far as she could in defending herself until it was a matter of life and death and she was falling out of a building and he had to swoop in and catch her. They really let her fight her own fights that I really appreciated.
I remember seeing tonnes of merchandise for the show when it was on the air; did you hold on to any keepsakes or toys from that time?
I remember Paul Dini and Arlene Sorkin who were responsible for me having both jobs. Arlene, who voices Harley Quinn, is an old friend of mine so she suggested me to Paul and he brought me in. He very nicely gave me the Lois Lane figure which I still have in the box for some reason. Someone told me it’s more valuable that way, not that I’d know! I have the Phantasm figure also. Oh, and a Superman statue with a cape that comes off.
Lois Lane quite rightly remains a big part of Superman’s story on screen, but what advice would you share with any future performers given the opportunity to bring her to life?
I learned really early on that my Lois was too tough or too hard. Now, watching it, I’m thinking, ‘No, I wasn’t!’ [Laughs] What are you talking about? I feel like she should definitely be her own person and have a great sense of wit and black humour to her. However, she’s not afraid to be vulnerable when it’s earned. I think if you can play those two things off of each other, it’s great. Superman isn’t the focus of her life, but he’s certainly an exciting part of it. She’ll never stop being a career girl.
When I spoke to casting and voice director Andrea Romano, she talked about bringing the entire cast together for recording sessions. What are some of your favourite moments from that?
Oh my God, it was so great. I’d never done that before and it was like radio theatre. In my mind, it was like working with Orson Welles in the Mercury Theatre! Having all the actors there was great and they were fun. I got to meet some of my heroes in that small recording room which was amazing. A Malcolm McDowell who I’d seen in Clockwork Orange, Olivia Hussey from Romeo & Juliet, Shelley Fabares who played Martha Kent because I’d grown up watching her on TV and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as I’d grown up watching him in FBI. Those were the most amazing ones for me.