Since finishing up his run as Clark Kent on “Smallville,” the Hockessin, Del.-reared Tom Welling has encountered his share of career Kryptonite.
Choosy about roles, he accepted a part in “Parkland” (2013), a look at the events surrounding the JFK assassination, only to see the superb docudrama barely released in movie theaters.
Welling also served as an executive producer on “Hellcats,” a CW series about the world of college cheerleaders which was cancelled after one season. And last year, it was announced that Welling would produce (and perhaps star) in the USA series “Blanco County,” but that show remains in development.
It’s no wonder, then, that when Welling was offered a role in “Draft Day” as a star quarterback at a career crossroads, he immediately signed on the dotted line.
“The storyline my character goes through was very interesting to me,” he says. “This guy’s job is in jeopardy. Sure, he’s an NFL quarterback who’s coming off an injury and his job is being threatened, but that’s the kind of challenge which a lot of people have to deal with.
“Even though he’s a big quarterback, he has to go home to his wife and say, ‘I might be out of a job.’ And that’s not an easy thing to do.”
Unlike his alter ego, Welling has learned to embrace the unpredictability of his career. “Acting is a gypsy lifestyle,” he says. “You don’t know what the next movie is going to be, or if there is going to be another one. … I enjoy it because it’s exciting. But it’s a hard thing to explain to your parents.”
Directed by Ivan Reitman, “Draft Day” stars Kevin Costner as the manager of the Cleveland Browns football team. The action is set on Draft Day, the annual lottery organized by the NFL for choosing promising college players.
As if trying to pick the best players wasn’t stressful enough, Costner also has to deal with his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) and mother (Ellen Burstyn) as well as the team’s owner (Frank Langella), coach (Denis Leary), and star quarterback (Welling).
After having toplined three baseball films (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “For the Love of the Game”) and a golf comedy (“Tin Cup”), Costner is the unofficial king of sports movies.
Welling says working with the acting legend was the primary reason he wanted to do “Draft Day,” which was partly shot during the real 2013 NFL draft in Manhattan.
“When I was growing up, I watched everything Kevin did,” says Welling, 36.
Oddly enough, when the pair got together for the first time, it wasn’t acting or even sports they discussed, but rather the life and legacy of President John Kennedy.
“He was aware that I had just shot ‘Parkland’ and we started talking about JFK. … I felt like such a Kevin Costner fan showing up on the set, but he put me at ease right away. It was really cool to just hang out with him.”
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of gridiron gab in “Draft Day,” but Welling doesn’t think it is strictly a football movie.
“Football is the catalyst which brings all of the characters together,” he notes. “But this is really a story about Kevin’s character and his struggle to find himself and to listen to his own voice and heart.”
Welling was a last-minute recruit to “Draft Day,” so he had only eight days to prepare for the role of the anxious quarterback. Psychologically, he found it easy to key into the footballer’s determination.
To physically prepare, Welling headed to Cleveland, where he attended the Browns’ training camp. The actor was thrilled to be able to throw the ball around with a few of the players.
“It was humbling, very humbling,” says Welling. “The best throw you can make doesn’t even come close to what those guys can do.”
As the son of a General Motors executive and a stay-at-home mom, Welling and his family moved around frequently. He was born in New York City but grew up in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Delaware.
“I’d say most of my childhood was spent in Hockessin,” notes Welling. “I loved it. I love the East Coast, and I think a lot of my sensibilities were formed there.”
Welling began high school in Delaware at Salesianum School in Wilmington before moving to Detroit at the end of his freshman year. After graduation, he was working construction when he was discovered at a party in Nantucket by a modeling scout. Two years later, Welling moved to Los Angeles where he tried to break into acting.
Almost immediately, Welling landed the role of Amy Brenneman’s love interest on “Judging Amy.” Not long afterwards, he was cast in “Smallville.”
While Welling appeared in a handful of movies (“Cheaper by the Dozen,” “The Fog”) through the years, the series about the origins of the Man of Steel occupied most of his time for a decade.
The actor credits “Smallville” and his role as a superhero-in-training with giving him an education on a number of aspects of show business.
“I went from not knowing anything to acting, producing, and directing on the show,” he notes.
During Welling’s “Smallville” run, he directed a handful of the show’s episodes. He credits Costner as well as other actor/directors like Warren Beatty and Robert Redford with inspiring his move behind the camera.
“These guys created their own opportunities,” says the actor. “That’s what I always try to do.”
As Welling plots his next career move, he says Costner remains an unofficial inspiration.
“Look at Kevin in ‘Draft Day,’” muses Welling. “He’s still [taking chances]. I’ve never seen him play this type of character with so much drama and humility and humor. There’s a version of Kevin in this movie that I’ve never seen before. And that’s exciting to watch.”