Cameron Cuffe: Establishing Krypton’s Legacy
By Tim Beedle
It’s not unfair or inaccurate to say that Krypton is a show about Superman. However, it isn’t a Superman show. It’s set 200 years before the destruction of its titular planet, and the Man of Steel doesn’t appear on it. And yet, his heroic spirit is very much present in Seg-El, Kal-El’s grandfather and the hero of the Syfy hit. Scrappy, determined and rebellious, Seg-El is quite different from his grandson. Yet both share a common dedication to justice and standing up to those who would harm the helpless and downtrodden.
But how would the two Kryptonians get along? What would they say if they got the opportunity to meet? Who would learn from whom? And would they possibly be envious of each other? We recently spoke to Cameron Cuffe, the actor (and bigtime comic book fan) who embodies Seg-El about the relationship between his character and Kal-El and about Krypton in general. And of course, we couldn’t end the interview without asking him what comics he’s been reading. Enjoy!
Note: The below interview has been edited for clarity.
So, what’s it like playing Superman’s grandfather?
Crazy. Wonderful. So many superlatives! I just feel incredibly lucky to be doing this.
Krypton’s showrunner, Cameron Welsh, has said that although Krypton is set in the past, it’s a contemporary story and it relates to what’s going on in the world right now. What can you tell us about that?
Absolutely it is. This is a high concept science fiction show, and the role of great science fiction has always been to hold a mirror to humanity. A great work of science fiction, like Blade Runner or the work of Stephen King, is not just about monsters, aliens, robots and ghosts, it’s about us. It’s about how we deal with each other. It’s about our connections. Those are the things that ground a story and make a story important, and we very much felt that through this story, we had something to say and a responsibility to say it.
How do you think it must feel for Seg-El to hear everything that he’s been told in this series? His grandson’s going to be this bigtime superhero who absolutely HAS to be born. That’s got to be some crazy pressure.
It doesn’t make any bloody sense. That’s the truth of it. He feels so far removed from that. When Adam meets him and gives him that cape, it’s the lowest point in Seg’s life. You hear him say something like, “You killed my parents. They died for whatever all of this is, and it doesn’t mean anything. What does this have to do with me? I am not the sort of person who can bridge the gap between the amazing past of my family—this family of revolutionaries, free thinkers and scientists—and also deal with the fact that in the future, my grandson is going to be the greatest superhero who ever lived. I am not the guy to bridge that gap. What do you want from me?”
It’s a huge amount of pressure and he has no idea what he’s doing. But that’s sort of the thing that makes Seg a really compelling hero in the same way that Ripley from Alien or Indiana Jones—they’re good people, they’re capable people, but they’re thrown into a situation that’s way over their head. And there’s no one else who is in the position they are, so they decide to make a brave choice. That’s Seg’s journey.
Playing a new character like Seg-El, there are all kinds of fun liberties you can take with it to make it your own. What’s the favorite thing that you brought to this character?
Humor. I think that was the big thing.
When I had my first screen test for David Goyer, the scene could have been played very earnestly and seriously, with a lot of gravitas, but I thought, this guy’s a little bit more Han Solo. He’s a little bit more fun. I could have some fun with this. I went in there and I think I was probably the first person to make them laugh, and I thought, that’s what it is! It’s the element of fun.
This cast is wonderful. I love every member of it. It’s a really, really funny set to be on. I laugh hard every day, and I think that’s the thing that we love bringing to it. Yes, this is an epic space adventure, and the stakes are really high and grounded in the personal stakes of the characters. There is tragedy, and it does deal with heavy, heavy themes…but it’s fun. This is Superman. This is science fiction. We’re here to have a good time. We want people to be on the edge of their seats. It’s a thrill ride. So, in terms of the thing that wasn’t initially there when we got there, and that we brought to it, I think it’s humor.
What were some of the challenges you faced bringing Seg-El to life?
I started out in London acting in theater, indie films and British costume dramas, stuff like that. Krypton is my first big, American job. It’s a massive lead part playing Superman’s granddad, and very understandably, the first week of filming, like any actor would, I’m thinking, “I can’t do this. I’m not the guy. I’m freaking out.”
I get on the phone with my girlfriend and I say, “I suck! I’m a fraud! Everyone’s going to find out. I’m going to ruin Superman for everyone.”
She just said, “But you love this. You love acting.”
And I was like, “Oh yeah…I do.” Phew!
I remembered why I do it. That’s the thing—staying grounded and remembering your job. That’s the big thing. Stay grounded.
What do you love most about playing him?
I feel really lucky to be a character within the DC Universe who isn’t a traditional superhero. I’m not putting on a costume and fighting crime. There is no black and white in this world—it’s shades of grey. Even the villains believe they’re doing the right thing, and the heroes lose. A lot.
I think it’s really interesting to be able to play in a world that’s paying tribute to all of the amazing interpretations of the character of Superman who have come before. But also, it’s forging its own path, its own way forward. This is a character who hasn’t really been explored before, and that is a really great opportunity.
Most of the Krypton cast, including you, is British. Does Superman resonate the same way overseas as he does in America? Everyone thinks of his “Truth, Justice and the American Way” mantra.
Superman belongs to the world, right?
I mean, yes, he’s an American character. He grew up in the Heartland, in Kansas. “The American Way”—it’s why America throughout history has been such an interesting country. Superman is the ultimate immigrant story. He came from elsewhere, he came to America and he had all of these amazing abilities. He grew up here and he decided to give back. That’s the ultimate American story—the American tale.
The American Way? Yeah, it’s the American Dream, but all of those themes are universal—freedom, unity, humanism, the great things we achieve when we work together. So yeah, even though it’s American, those themes resonate no matter where you are in the world. That’s why he’s such an undying character.
Every actor has a favorite scene. Is there one that stands out to you as your favorite episode or thing that you’ve done so far?
Oh man… Yes, absolutely, and I can’t reveal it!
You’re going to know it when you see it. The thing is, and I’ve said this a couple of times, this is not the show you think it is. It takes a massive twist. This show is far more ambitious, bold and wonderful than people can possibly imagine. No one has predicted how this show is going to end because it’s crazy. But there is a moment, and I will tweet it. There is a draft in my Twitter right now that just says, “I told you so.” After a certain episode, after a certain scene, I will post it. And that is how you will know.
It must be killing you, not being able to talk about it!
It is! It really is! It’s just awesome. It is just so awesome, and I think the internet is just going to blow up.
So, I hear you’re a big comic book fan. Have you read any comics recently that just blew you away?
Gosh, so many!
Invincible finished, which was really sad. I adored that comic book. Right now, I’m reading INJUSTICE, ACTION, SUPER SONS, SUPERMAN. I’m reading DETECTIVE. I really love Detective. Tim Drake is one of my favorite characters, and James Tynion IV—I think he’s said a few times that Tim Drake is his favorite character in all of comics, so it’s been great to see future Tim come back from Geoff Johns’ storyline. That sort of blew me away. DOOMSDAY CLOCK. Doomsday Clock has been crazy, and METAL as well! Some really, really good events going on at DC!
If Seg-El could offer one piece of advice to his grandson at the start of Kal-El’s journey, what do you think it would it be?
Seg has such a long way to go on the journey of being a hero. I think if they met, it would be Kal giving Seg advice. I would love to have a scene of Superman sitting down with Seg. That is the awesome thing about the character of Adam Strange—Adam knows. Adam’s the only character on the show who’s seen the future, who’s been there, and is able to say that he’s met Superman and he’s incredible. Adam Strange is sort of that barometer for Seg. Even though Superman isn’t in our show, he’s the most important offscreen character. There is a sort of relationship between him and Seg, even without Seg ever meeting him.
That’s the magic of Superman. When you read a comic like IDENTITY CRISIS—which is one of my favorite comic books—the way everyone talks about Superman, you see the effect that this character has on your life, even when he’s not around. That’s the power of Superman.
Do you think Seg ever gets jealous or angry over hearing how great this grandson of his—who he hasn’t met and isn’t even alive yet—is all of the time?
Absolutely. It doesn’t make any sense to Seg. I wouldn’t say jealousy, but indelibly, in Superman’s legacy, Krypton has to die for Superman to live…or does it? That’s the central conflict on the show.
Catch new episodes of Krypton at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CST) on Syfy. Check back later this week for more interviews with the cast of Krypton!