When he was just 11 years old, Jerry O’Connell found himself the subject of critical acclaim when he — along with Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman — starred in Rob Reiner’s 1986 film adaptation of Stephen King’s Stand by Me. And unlike a lot of actors who burst on the scene at a young age, he’s been able to work consistently over the past 34 years. Which is not to say he’s enjoyed the same sort of acceptance from the critics or fans during that time, but now, finally, he’s finding himself the recipient of some respect — and, to some, the reason may be a little unexpected.
“I was in Jerry Maguire, Stand by Me and Scream 2, and do you know what I’ve gotten my highest rating from Rotten Tomatoes for?” he asks rhetorically. “The Death of Superman. It’s my crown jewel.”
What he’s referring to is the 2018 animated film which had him voicing the Man of Steel in one of the character’s most popular storylines from the comics. He continued as the character in the animated films Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016), Justice League Dark (2017), Reign of the Supermen (2019), Batman: Hush (2019) and the just-released Justice League Dark: Apokalips War.
As he puts it, being a part of these films has given him the most “street cred” and, Jerry emphasizes, “It’s an honor to be a part of something so important to so many people. My psychiatrist tells me not to do this, but I read pretty much all the tweets and comments and you do get compared to not only everyone who has portrayed Superman, but pretty much anyone who’s acted or voiced any superheroes. When it really strikes me is when I walk the floor at Comic-Con and everyone’s throwing out high-fives and no one gives me any side-eye. It’s kind of funny, but typically on social media people say pretty nasty things about me, except when it comes to voicing Superman. The worst I get is that he’s ‘pretty good.’ There’s none of that, ‘I can’t stand this guy, get him out of here.’”
Beyond superhero fandom, he’s amusingly found a real-life perk that caught him by surprise. “A couple of months ago, I went to the DMV to get a Real ID,” he says, “and there was a huge line. I had already been there for about an hour and I figured I had another one or two hours ahead of me. I’m just sort of goofing around on my phone and somebody comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, are you waiting for a Real ID?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he tells me to come with him. I’d filled out all my stuff and said to him, ‘My number hasn’t been called yet,’ and he was, like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I paid the fee and thanked the guy and he said, ‘Hey, man, I love you as Superman!’ He actually recognized me as a voice actor and as the voice of Superman. How mind-blowing is that?”
While Superman die-hards might argue that the “real” Man of Steel might not accept such a perk (then again, would he really need an enhanced driver’s license?), Jerry certainly believes that the character remains relevant in the 21st century. “Not to get too hokey,” he reflects, “but we’re in a pretty tumultuous, fragile time right now in society. I think Superman really just represents the ideal of safety, security and being a guardian.”
The way things look, Justice League Dark: Apokalips War — which deals with Superman, the Justice League, supernatural heroes like John Constantine (voiced by Matt Ryan) and others fighting to literally save the world from the powerful Darkseid (voiced by Tony Todd) — is ending a story arc that’s been gradually unfolding over the course of these films. As such, it could very likely represent Jerry’s final turn as the Man of Steel. If so, for him, it’s been an interesting journey.
“I was in my 30s when I started and now I’m in my 40s,” muses Jerry, “so there’s just a little more gravitas. There has been a little bit of a learning curve for me personally, after I watched the final films, trying to find, as an actor, subtle differences I can put into Clark Kent and Superman. Because you are playing two different characters and there has to be a differentiation where it can’t be too overt or too subtle. So it’s really helped me as an actor, because playing Superman is like playing a four-dimensional character. He’s a superhero, he’s a frightened boyfriend, he’s a dedicated son, he’s an orphan and he’s the last survivor from his home planet. There’s a bunch of characters there — not to get too Inside the Actor’s Studio — and a lot to play with.”
Justice League Dark: Apokalips War is available now for digital download and on 4K/Blu-ray and DVD May 19.