Carl Lumbly as Myr'nn J'onzz aka Martian Manhunter in SUPERGIRL - Season 3 - "In Search of Lost Time" |© 2018 The CW Network, LLC./Robert Falconer

Carl Lumbly as Myr’nn J’onzz in SUPERGIRL – Season 3 – “In Search of Lost Time” |© 2018 The CW Network, LLC./Robert Falconer

The CW’s SUPERGIRL, in its third season on Monday nights and renewed for a fourth, is part of the network’s DC-verse, a slate that also includes ARROW, THE FLASH, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and BLACK LIGHTNING. The headline extraterrestrials in SUPERGIRL are obviously Kryptonians – Supergirl, aka Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist), Kara’s slightly less-famous cousin Mon-El (Chris Wood) and Kara’s slightly more famous cousin, recurring guest character Kal-El, aka Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), to say nothing of their sometimes adversarial relatives. However, SUPERGIRL also has Martians. First, there was the Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs director Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who turned out to be J’onn Jonzz, aka Martian Manhunter, supposedly the last green Martian.

This season, J’onn has been reunited with his heroic father M’yrnn J’onzz, played by Carl Lumbly. Lumbly actually voiced J’onn J’onzz in three different DC animated series: STATIC SHOCK, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. The Minnesota-born Lumbly also portrayed Dr. Miles Hawkins, perhaps the first live-action black superhero to have his own TV series, in the 1994-1995 M.A.N.T.I.S. Lumbly is additionally known for a volume of stage and film work, as well as playing Detective Marcus Petrie in the CAGNEY & LACEY series and follow-up telefilms, C.I.A. agent Marcus Dixon in the five-season run of ALIAS, and John Parker (another extraterrestrial) in the cult-favorite movie THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION.

In a phone conversation, Lumbly talks about whether or not it’s easy being green in SUPERGIRL, and much more.

ASSIGNMENT X: You voiced J’onn J’onzz for quite awhile there, so did you ever think about him having a dad during that period?

CARL LUMBLY: No, because the origin story was that there was no one left, that he was the last Martian in the universe. So I never thought about his dad. I thought about where he came from – I wasn’t sure how it happened, but I did know that he had lost a wife and child in the wars, and Mars apparently was no better at this connection thing than we are here on Earth. So it was a treat [laughs] to find out that he had a father who, in the story that I play, was a prisoner, and a spiritual man who basically, for hundreds of years, held his own as a prisoner, meditating and keeping all of the memories and the knowledge of Mars. Wow. They find me in the present on Mars, and they bring me to Earth.

AX: I know you pronounce the characters’ family surname J’onzz as “Jones,” but how do you pronounce your character’s first name, M’yrnn?

LUMBLY: Muh-rinn.

AX: Do you have to do any makeup, or motion-capture dots, to play M’rynn when he’s in his Martian form?

LUMBLY: Yes, the motion-capture dots. Thus far, it’s only once or twice that I’ve been in it, but it’s so much better than appliances and spirit glues and gums and all of the madness that used to take place [laughs].

AX: With BLACK PANTHER being such a phenomenon, did you feel at all like, “Well, wait a minute, I did this first with M.A.N.T.I.S.”?

LUMBLY: [laughs] No, it’s funny, because I also did the BLACK PANTHER animated voiceover that Djimon Hounsou did [Hounsou starred as Black Panther]. So I think I was much more connected to the idea that I was so happy that they made a film out of it, because I thought the project was so wonderful. And then to see the success that it has is pretty astounding.

AX: You’ve done a fair amount of genre work, so where does J’onn Jonzz fit in your pantheon of the types of superheroes you’ve played over time?

LUMBLY: J’onn is pretty much up there on top. J’onn in the animated version, for me, was an exemplary superhero. I thought he was flawed – I guess also because he was all on his own, I admired him, and I thought that he was the most mature of the Justice League group. Batman and Superman had all that ego stuff flying about, and he seemed to be able to keep his eye on the prize. It was an honor to play him, also because for awhile, he had disappeared from the Justice League in the comic books. He was there and then he was gone. I always loved J’onn. And I also love what David Harewood, the actor on this [SUPERGIRL], is doing with J’onn. He’s a marvelous actor, and I think he’s taken the portrayal of J’on to a place I really admire, and the added thrill of coming in to play his father – J’onn keeps getting better and better.

AX: You said that M’yrnn is this wise, contemplative man. So are you basing him on someone like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela?

LUMBLY: Yeah. I think Nelson Mandela almost directly. I don’t know that I would say that I’m basing him [on Mandela], but because Mandela has played such a large part in both my normal life and my creative life, I think he can’t help but be there. And the message is the same – war is madness, revenge is the sour soup that aligns you with your oppressor, and keeps you both from rising; strength of mind, and strength of will, and strength of spirit can triumph over any force that can be applied, even if in the end, you’re not around to see the outcome. I think my back story for M’yrnn perhaps goes a little further than maybe what I’m playing in any particular moment, but I think that’s true for me with whatever I do [for any character’s] back story, and I’m writing more than I know I will need [laughs], so I have my own resources to fall back on.

Carl Lumbly as Myr'nn J'onzz aka Martian Manhunter in SUPERGIRL - Season 3 - "Far From The Tree" |© 2018 The CW Network, LLC./Dean Buscher

Carl Lumbly as Myr’nn J’onzz in SUPERGIRL – Season 3 – “Far From The Tree” |© 2018 The CW Network, LLC./Dean Buscher

AX: You and David Harewood both have very extensive stage backgrounds. Did that help you bond with each other?

LUMBLY: Absolutely. Without question. And it was unsaid. Working with him is just a joy. I always want to believe, whether it’s true or not, I am trying to work at the top of my intelligence. And David is right there. I feel like there’s a lot of connective tissue between us that takes place without having to talk about it a lot. The process is always fascinating to me, the ways in which you can twist and turn and change. It’s been always helpful to me, especially in television work, where the writing can just twirl and change as well [laughs]. So I feel like it keeps me more alive inside the work, and I kind of thrill to that.

AX: How was the shooting the initial reunion scene between M’rynn and J’onn?

LUMBLY: It was great. It would be like any situation where a father had given up hope of seeing his child, and the child not only returns and sees him again, but [the son] literally releases him from bondage and brings him into a new life. I suppose it’s not unlike if I had been homeless and he came and found me and said, “Come move in with me.” As a man of faith, M’yrnn holds a light and holds a space for miracles, but that also has to be done without expectation that what you want will happen. That’s I guess the whole point of having continued faith. So if it does indeed become realized, you’re now living with/inside a miracle. What that does is just strengthen your spiritual foundations, and also in this instance gives you a completely new life.

AX: How is working with Melissa Benoist, who plays Supergirl?

LUMBLY:. Most enjoyable. I told her when I met her, she reminded me in spirit, just her work, her leadership, the way she holds and presents herself and her demeanor, of [ALIAS lead] Jennifer Garner. And I think Jennifer is singular, so I feel quite fortunate. [Benoist] is a valuable asset, I believe, in the world of television, at a time when it’s great to see women in leads who aren’t [doing things the same way as] men. It’s a different kind of leadership. Yes, there are certain aspects of the heroism that do involve that kind of martial aspect, but she has as much a fight on an emotional level and a spiritual level as she does on a physical level, and she’s championship material. I think it sets a great example for everyone.

AX: How is working in Vancouver, as opposed to working in Los Angeles?

LUMBLY: I love Vancouver. It’s pretty much the same [as Los Angeles], because there is a structure, their crews have been doing it a long time. In fact, you mentioned M.A.N.T.I.S. That was the first period of time I spent up here working. It was I would say maybe in the middle of the learning curve for the industry up here, maybe closer to the beginning of the learning curve, but it’s a well-oiled machine now. People are very, very nice. This crew is wonderful, as is this cast, and I’m having a lovely, lovely time. I don’t know if [feeling they were on a learning curve during M.A.N.T.I.S. was because] I required more, early on, or if because I love stage so much, if I was always doing a comparison that was perhaps a little unfair to television, but maybe I’m mellowing with age. I’ll accept that.

AX: Were you familiar with The CW DC-verse before coming aboard SUPERGIRL?

LUMBLY: No. The executive producer at the time sent me a few episodes. I watched the rest of the first season, and then I watched the second season as well.

AX: But you’re not watching all of the crossovers and all of the ARROW and BLACK LIGHTNING and …?

LUMBLY: No. I’m only one Martian. [laughs] I’ve limited my research. I think it’s possible to know too much. I want to believe M’yrnn just intuits what’s going on in the worlds of FLASH and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW and …

AX: There are continual rumors of some form of continuance of BUCKAROO BANZAI …

LUMBLY: [long laugh] I don’t know. I will say I would be delighted to have anything to do with that again, if only because the project initially was just so much fun, so unexpected, so out of the box, and the fact that people still continue to talk about it is a surprise to me, because it did not do well in its initial release. But I suppose, given the cast of people, it seems like things sometimes get another go-round. I can’t quite imagine it, especially having watched John Lithgow in THE CROWN, playing Churchill. I would love to see him reapply himself to this mad character [BUCKAROO’s Lord John Whorfin]. It was a delight. I don’t even know if it could be duplicated.

AX: But if that came around, you would be interested?

LUMBLY: Yes, yes, absolutely. I may still have the silver jacket I wore.

AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?

LUMBLY: Well, I am preparing a one-man show about [influential black author] James Baldwin for the stage, and that’s my creative challenge and my joy right now. It’s been very difficult, and very rewarding, because he’s one of my heroes. I think unfortunately, what he had to say, the life he lived, is almost more timely now than it was when he was alive, but I think he was an important individual in my life, and I would love for more people to know about him, and to bring to life his experience of this Republic, and some of his notions about things we could do, together, to truly become a democracy. It’s I want to say exhilarating, perhaps in the way of that moment when you’re changing a light bulb and perhaps you touch something and your finger is wet.

ASSIGNMENT X: Your wife of twenty-three years, actor Vonetta McGee, passed away in 2010. You didn’t completely stop acting, but it seems like there was a period where you were doing less work …

LUMBLY: It was not a good period, but I must say, from that absolute low point in my life, the rebound has been fairly miraculous. I have to say overall I’m blessed, but that was not the way that I wanted it to happen. I would say that I was not certain that I was going to continue to do this work. At a certain point, it felt frivolous. The life I was leading at that moment seemed as far away from fiction as anything could be. And I lost my charge for a couple of years. But now that it’s returned, with it, I think has come perhaps a renewed sense of how important, as an artist, that I feel truth and hope and faith can be. Theatre came out of the church. Ultimately, I think there is some kind of secular sacredness to the art form, no matter what it is. And so I’ve re-enlisted, and I’m happy to be of service.

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Article: SUPERGIRL: Exclusive Interview with Carl Lumbly on playing Martian Manhunter’s father and Season 3


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