By the time that Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman ended its four season run in 1997, actor Dean Cain — playing the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman to Desperate Housewives actress Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane — had been made well aware of not only the pressure, but the commitment that serving as a lead on a television series could have on his life, professionally and, more importantly, personally. It’s a lesson that has guided him for the past two decades.

“Teri had gotten married after the first season,” Dean explains in an exclusive interview, “and I don’t know how well that was working out by the end; they ended up getting a divorce. I had a couple of different girlfriends during that period of time. But a series just takes over your whole life, and that’s why, as a father, I would not be the lead actor on any other show for the past 18 years. I have turned down the lead so many times, because I won’t do it until my son graduates and he graduates at the end of this month.”

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Not that anyone should necessarily thinks that Dean is going to jump right into a TV series, though those offers are there. “That’s the other problem I’m having,” he smiles. “I’ve really enjoyed doing a lot of different things. Over the past eight months, for instance, I did a couple of travel shows, had a lot of political meetings, was researching and working on a documentary, was being honored for another documentry, and then I shot small roles in four movies between all of that.” Not to mention frequent appearances as a guest host on the fourth hour of NBC’s Today.

“I don’t know what everybody’s perception of me is,” says Dean, “but I know how sort of ‘diversified’ I am as a writer, producer, director, talk show host, political analyst — you name it. I have no problem doing all those things, and while it’s hard to jump from world to world, I enjoy it a lot, because it keeps me on my toes and there’s all these things that I like to be a part of. From the history part of my life, I love the storytelling aspect of film and television shows where you can bring in a historical aspect to tell stories and change people’s perception about things that have happened. I did one called Architects of Denial, which teaches people about history, how things have happened, and how things need to be paid attention to or else they will repeat them. Like I said, I love to be in all of those different worlds. As a producer, making shows like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or writing episodes of Lois & Clark — but all of it takes backseat to the fact that I’m a single father.” That would be to his son Christopher Dean Cain, born to Dean and ex-girlfriend Samantha Torres on June 11, 2000.

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(Photo Credit: Courtesy Dean Cain)

“The last 18 years of my career,” he continues, “have been predicated upon being a father first, and an actor second. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that, but that kind of forced me to diversify to some degree. I get a lot of crap on Twitter with people saying, ‘So, what happened to your career? Why don’t you do another Hallmark movie?’ Well, I love making Hallmark movies. They’re shot in three weeks and I can be back home quickly or bring my son with me for that short period of time. And that’s all allowed me to work and continue working while raising my son, and being his baseball, basketball, and football coach; being at his Jujitsu events. I’m there. I’m a very present father, and I would never do it otherwise. I’m blessed to be able to have the ability to do so many different things, and yet still be a father first. People are, like, ‘Haven’t you been aspiring for anything?’ Yeah, I’ve aspired for a life!'”

That Life Begins

Born Dean George Tanaka on July 31, 1966 in Mount Clemens, Michigan, he’s the son of Roger Tanaka and actress Sharon Thomas. In 1969, she would marry director Christopher Cain (Young Guns, The Next Karate Kid), who in turn would adopt Dean and his brother, Roger. Eventually they would move to Malibu, CA where Christopher and Sharon had a daughter, Krisinda. Dean would attend Santa Monica High School, growing up with a number of celebrities and playing sports with many of them.

“I grew up around Chris Penn, Sean Penn, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez — my dad directed them in Young Guns,” says Dean, who turns 52 this summer. “I grew up playing football with Chris, baseball with Charlie, watching Sean surf. I was the top athlete in high school and won what’s called the Lauren D. Switchenburg Award.”

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From high school, Dean attended Princeton University, where he played football and won the Poe Trophy, a top award, and graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts in history. “All these other kids were becoming very famous actors, and I had the ability to watch them go out there and become the Sexiest Man on Earth and all that sort of thing, and then watch them make horrendously dumb mistakes as young people would do,” he reflects. “And as I may have done at that age as well if I hadn’t had the sort of upbringing and the education that I had, getting in college, in flag football and playing in the NFL. You realize there’s a humility that comes with that while these guys were out there getting told how wonderful, how sexy, how amazing they are. And sometimes you believe it.”

Right after graduation, Dean was signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills — a dream come true — but during training camp he suffered a knee injury so severe that it ended a potential career in football. “My NFL career was over really quickly,” he says. “I started thinking about acting and my father — who adopted me when I was four — said three words to me: ‘Don’t do it.’ I need to say, he’s been such a strong guiding force in my life, it’s unbelievable. That’s why the greatest respect I could pay him was to name my son after him. But he said, ‘Don’t be an actor. Don’t go into this industry, because it’s mean. They’re going to say you’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too fat, your hair is too dark, your skin is the wrong complexion, you’re Japanese, you’re this, you’re that. Even if you do a great job, you go out there and win an Academy Award, there are going to be people saying, “I thought that performance sucked; he’s wooden as an actor.” You’re opening yourself to such ridicule. Why would you want to do that?’ I, of course, didn’t listen to him and decided to do it anyway.”

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He also decided to give screewriting a shot during his years on Lois & Clark, and at one point his father said to him, “Dean, I don’t care how long you’re going to be an actor, and I don’t mean any disrespect by this, but you’re never going to be as good an actor as you are a writer right now.”

“I know it was a compliment,” Dean laughs, “but it felt like I’d been slapped in the face. But I’d written for him and behind him on 30 projects. In the last five years I’ve written seven or eight screenplays. Some novel adaptations, some just from the concept. Some completely on spec. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, or if you bust your knee, when you’re writing, nobody cares. When you’re an actor, all that stuff matters.’ Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve been so diversified from the very get go. I mean, I like doing a lot of different things, but if I go back in my life and look at when I was an athlete in high school, I didn’t just hang out with the athletes. I’ve always just sort of made my own way, and I think that becomes a strength in life.”

Early on, he scored small roles in several films, and guest starred on such shows as A Different World, Grapevine and four episodes of the original Beverly Hills 90210. Then came the opportunity to play the Man of Steel.

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Writer Deborah Joy Levine had come up with a new twist to the concept of Superman, choosing to focus on the growing relationship between Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent, with an emphasis on humorous repartee and then a growing romance, with the Last Son of Krypton taking a backseat (though still featuring heavily). That concept became 1993-97’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which would mark Dean’s debut as a leading man.

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“Listen, I was just trying to get a job to pay the bills,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was a young kid trying to figure out how to work in this acting world. I’ve watched all these other guys do it, and then I started to get into the real business of it and would go out there and do it on my own. My dad wasn’t out there helping me out. He put me in a couple of films early on just to get my feet wet, but that was it. I was out there running around and dealing with so much rejection. It was then that Superman came up, though it wasn’t so much Superman as it was the character of Clark Kent. I read the script and thought, ‘Wow, this is great. I can completely understand this guy.’ As it turned out, I was the first person they saw.”

He had his audition and, having heard nothing for several weeks, moved on mentally. But then a friend who worked in casting at Warner Bros told him that he had made a positive impression and that the studio was interested.

“Then,” Dean picks up the scenario, “he said, ‘They really like you and they’re going to start bringing in actors to do all the pairing ups,’ which was to see which Clarks worked best with which Loises. I came in and there were still dozens of men, supermen, if you will, including actors I recognized. We started going through the process and eventually I started thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve got a shot at this.’ And I remember exactly what it was. After we’d been doing this and pairing us up, I knew I was in the mix. I didn’t know if I was the frontrunner by any stretch of the imagination, but they wrote a scene that was never actually in a script. Clark Kent is at home at night and Lois Lane bursts in, she’s intoxicated, and she wants to get it on. Clark, of course, won’t do it, because he’s so moral and she’s intoxicated. Were she not, you’d better believe he probably would have. But the fact that she was not in her right mind, he doesn’t. And that was the character. When I saw that scene, it was no work at all for me.”

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That was the easy part. More challenging was just the fact that he was going for the lead of a show. “I was just hoping as a young actor that I was likeable,” he admits. “I had no idea if I could carry a series. I had no clue. I didn’t know what that would feel like or what it would look like, or how it would be perceived. So there was a bit of nerves.” And there was, again, the question of chemistry. “Choosing two people to have chemistry on film is a very difficult thing, and if I knew how to do it, then I would be the casting guru of Hollywood.”

Dean found himself paired off with Paula Marshall (“I thought she was amazing”) and one other actress, but not Teri Hatcher, who was there but he hadn’t actually met. Fortuitously, while that part of it was being figured out, the actor had other networks interested in him, so it forced Warner Bros and ABC’s hand to make a decision, and they elected to go with him. That happened on a Thursday, and to celebrate he and a friend took a skiing trip, which had to be cut short when he was asked to come back to the studio on that Monday so he could read with potential Lois Lanes.

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“They brought in 10 girls,” Dean reflects, “and I read with nine of them in that same scene where she bursts in the door, is intoxicated and wants to sleep with Clark. But I’m in front of the network and I’m mortified now, because as comfortable as I had been — and happy to have the job — I was also very green and concerned that they were going to watch me with all these different Loises and realize, ‘Maybe he isn’t our guy.’ But they didn’t seem nervous about it. It took me a few takes, but the first thing that happened is she bursts in, smacks a big old kiss on my lips, and then the scene progresses from there. It was very funny; you know, kissing 10 different girls in a row was fantastic. And the final person was Teri Hatcher. She was the last person I was going to read with, and they said, ‘Teri would like you to run lines with her before we do it.’ She was the only one who asked me to do that, though. So I went in to run lines with her. I said, ‘Hi,’ and she said —I kid you not — ‘You don’t like me, do you?'”

Which, it should be pointed out, was not Lois Lane talking to Clark Kent, but Teri Hatcher directly to Dean Cain. Notes Dean, “She says, ‘We’ve been on these things and you haven’t said a word to me or anything.’ And I was, like, ‘I’ve been scratching for my life trying to get a job here. I wasn’t going to go up and talk to anybody. I don’t have anything against you; I have no feelings one way or the other.’ Then we did the scene, and it was clear that she was the best actress and the best kisser of the bunch. It was sweet and fun and it worked from there.”

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As Dean explains it, he actually did feel a deep connection with both Clark Kent and Superman. “As a character,” he notes, “Superman was always my favorite superhero, because he could do everything. He was amazing. When I was cast, there were people from my junior high school, high school, and even college days that weren’t that shocked. They joked, ‘Dude, you’ve been Superman for 15 years already.’ I would never say my morality was as good as Clark Kent’s or Superman’s, but the things that I’d done, and I worked hard and was a positive straight-forward guy. I didn’t have any ill will toward anybody, and I still don’t. And that’s part of the whole thing with Superman. There’s a kindness that’s really important for the character that you have to have.

“The other thing is,” he elaborates, “when I played Superman, Superman was the disguise that Clark Kent was able to go into and let out that other part of his personality. He wasn’t disguised as Clark Kent. Everybody makes the joke that you just put the glasses on and you’re disguised. The disguise was Superman. And that changed the dynamic of the character and it was great fun. But I borrowed my Superman straight from Christopher Reeve, no question.”

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Romance would grow between Lois and Clark throughout the run of the show, culminating in their marriage at the end of Season 4. ABC had intended to bring the show back for a fifth season, but abruptly changed its corporate mind. Dean believes that there was still life in the concept, and it’s one of the reasons he wishes someone — Netflix perhaps? — would bring the show back. “I would love to do six episodes of Lois & Clark to see where they are 25 years later, explore what’s going on. That would be a lot of fun, to have a rebirth of the show to a whole new generation that hasn’t seen it. We didn’t get to finish our story, and we’re both parents. Teri’s got a college sophomore, I’ve got a high school senior. That’s been our lives for 20 years, and I think it would be really important for Lois and Clark to have had a kid. Do they have superpowers? Fully? Only sometimes? There are lot of differenet fun things that could happen.

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“And I’d like to keep it fun, because I think it needs to be fun and light,” he continues. “I don’t love the current incarnation of the Superman character. I think Zack Snyder is a very good filmmaker, but I don’t like his version of it at all. It’s too dark, and Superman is too much of a Christ-like figure. There’s not a sense of fun to it.”

How viable is a new version of Lois & Clark? “I haven’t tried to pitch it to them yet, but the way things work these days, if the noise gets loud enough, people will respond,” he muses.

Dean Cain and Politics

At the same time, no one should think that Dean is just sitting around, pining for the day when he can return to spandex. Besides the various projects noted earlier (which include many TV movies and television appearances, among them the Superman-related shows Smallville and Supergirl) he is having an amazing time with his appearances on Today and the world of politics.

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“Kathie Lee and Hoda are great,” he says of the former. “Al Roker’s fun. It’s a fun, happy place to me — not that the work isn’t demanding, you know? I get to interview really interesting people. I spoke to Ron Howard, who I have enormous respect for as a director. Then, all of a sudden, Barry Manilow, whose music I’ve loved forever, comes on and I’m genuinely so excited. I’ve learned so much on the show, because when you’re going to be interviewing somebody, you’ve got to do a little research to stay current, whether it’s pop culture or politics.”

Not really too worried about Dean staying current with politics: “I was a history major. I paid complete attention to history and always have,” he points out. “I co-host Fox and Friends Weekend, I’ve done shows on CNN. As an actor, people know who you are and you end up with access to people and things that you otherwise wouldn’t. You start making comments and then you start working with foundations or things of that nature, and meeting more and more world leaders.

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(Photo Credit: Courtesy Dean Cain)

“I met President Clinton a couple of times; I was able to meet President Reagan,” Dean continues. “And the reason I met with many world leaders recently was that documentary Architects of Denial. Montel Williams and I were being honored by the then President of Armenia for our contribution in recognizing the Armenian genocide and bringing awareness toward that. That was a great feeling. I went and lobbied Congress and met with dozens of senators and congressmen. I just find it so interesting, so when I was going to these different countries I always reached out to the U.S. Ambassador. I’ll meet with them and discuss the situation. One of the big guys in charge of religion and cultural affairs within Jordan and I had a lot of meetings. I met with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and six or seven members of the Knesset. Once you become a documentary filmmaker, it’s really amazing to see what you can do and how you can affect people. It’s very important work, and I was honored to be able to do that, so I’m certainly encouraged to do more of it.”

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Dean is also heavily involved with politics in America, supportive of many of the current administration’s policies, if not always the man at the top. “Within the United States, he has a lot of power, and as the leader of the free world, he has a ton of power, but people need to understand that he can’t unilaterally do anything,” he emphasizes. “And he doesn’t. He says things that are just indefensible, but in this country we bow down to the Constitution. It’s not to our leaders. I wouldn’t walk around with a Donald Trump picture on my lapel, but would I put the American flag on it? You better believe it. But as much as everybody is jumping up and down about him being this horrific, awful guy, I don’t think his policy decisions are bad at all.”

Defying the Superman “Curse”

Over the course of 80 years of the character’s history, there is this thing people tend to cling to called “The Superman Curse.” It stems from the fact that Kirk Alyn, who portrayed the character in a pair of movie serials in 1948 and 1950, died of Alzheimer’s Disease (at the age of 88); or that George Reeves, who played him in the ’50s TV series Adventures of Superman, took his own life; or that Christopher Reeve, who brought the character to the big screen in 1978’s Superman: The Movie and three sequels, was paralyzed from the neck down following a horseback riding accident in 1995, costing him his life from health complications in 2004. For his part, Dean doesn’t see a curse tied to playing the character.

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“Again, I respect the character so much,” Dean enthuses, “and am so proud to have played the guy. I love being a part of it. Other people want to stay away from that, and that’s their business. People call me Superman all the time. I play basketball games and they’re, like, ‘Oh, I shut down Superman!’ But it’s all good-natured. Heck, Benjamin Netanyahu said it to me when I walked in his office: ‘Superman, what are you doing here?’ And I was there just as he solved a major government crisis. It’s so surreal.

“So what’s this about a Superman curse?” he smiles. “I don’t feel the curse. Everybody who’s ever been President of the United States has died except for, like, the last five guys. Is that a curse? You’re gong to die eventually; I don’t think a curse has anything to do with it.”