"The strangest thing they've asked me to do is get buried alive. I'll tell you, though, that wasn't actually dirt being thrown on my face in 'Pandora.' That was crumbled-up Oreo cookies. So the strangest thing turned into the yummiest. I was like, 'Guys, I don't think we got that. Let's go again.'"
Cassidy Freeman finds 'Smallville' role empowering
By Ian Spelling
New York Times Syndicate
Originally Published: 5/13/2010
As the enigmatic and calculating Tess Mercer, boss of LuthorCorp on "Smallville," Cassidy Freeman has glimpsed things to come, contended with the power of the Kryptonian Orb, devolved into a zombie and - in an alternate future - died. So what is the single strangest thing they've asked Freeman to do on "Smallville?"
"That question has many, many answers," the actress replied. "The strangest thing they've asked me to do is get buried alive. I'll tell you, though, that wasn't actually dirt being thrown on my face in 'Pandora.' That was crumbled-up Oreo cookies. So the strangest thing turned into the yummiest. I was like, 'Guys, I don't think we got that. Let's go again.'
"Things have been not only crazy, but also challenging. I'd never been asked to play a zombie before. I'd never been asked to fight zombies with a samurai sword before. And I'm the kind of actor that likes to do as much of that stuff myself as I can, so it's challenging, but I like those challenges."
A 28-year-old from Chicago whose previous credits include several short films, the feature "Finishing the Game" (2007) and a 2008 episode of "Cold Case," Freeman arrived on "Smallville" during Season 8 of The CW show and made an immediate impression on longtime fans. Likened to a female version of her mentor, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), Tess Mercer takes her name from Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), gal pal of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) in "Superman" (1978) and "Superman II" (1980), and Mercy Graves, a baddie introduced in "Superman: The Animated Series" and subsequently seen in numerous DC Comics titles.
On "Smallville" Tess has been ever-evolving. She started as the villain, an eco-terrorist of sorts. She has ordered people killed and personally murdered a few others. She has clashed with Clark (Tom Welling), trying to compel him to reveal his true identity, as well as with Lois (Erica Durance) and Chloe (Allison Mack), and she has romanced Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) and Major Zod (Callum Blue). Viewers recently discovered that Tess works for Checkmate, a covert government agency seemingly bent on destroying the Justice Society of America.
"What intrigued me at first was the idea of this really strong woman who was looked at as a villain in the story line," Freeman said. "Also I was intrigued by the mixture of the two characters I was at the beginning, Ms. Eve Teschmacher and Mercy Graves. Those are two very interesting characters to me.
"As time went on and the character developed, especially through this season, what's interested me most is probably her human nature," the actress continued. "It's interesting how that compares with everyone else being special or super in some way. Tess Mercer is always very human, and her motivations are always from emotion, rather than some higher calling."
"I love that her destiny is not written out," she said, comparing Tess to Clark and the many other characters whose future lives are already sketched out in DC comics. "She gets to create it and find it as she goes, which I think is a nice dichotomy from the rest of the characters on the show."
Season 9 will close on Friday with the cliffhanger episode "Salvation." Zod unleashes his Kandorian army, prompting Clark, Chloe, Oliver and Tess to race to stop him, or at least to limit the damage. By the time the credits roll, everything and everyone will be in limbo. And, though the network recently renewed "Smallville" for a 10th season, it remains to be seen who among the cast and characters will return next fall.
"Everyone is on the chopping block, as it were," Freeman said, "and everyone is in danger. I think it's a well-written and well-planned finale. That's the exciting part of a finale. So we don't know who is going to be back - except Clark, of course.
"I'd love to be back. I'm having the time of my life. It's a wonderful group of people to work for and really fun stuff to do."
The end will come eventually for Tess, whether it's in "Salvation" or sometime in Year 10, which likely will be the last for "Smallville." Freeman - due next in the "slow-burn" horror movie "Yellow Brick Road," which she also produced - acknowledges that she has given serious thought to how she would like Tess' story to play out.
"I want her to find her center, if that makes sense, in a yoga kind of way," Freeman said, laughing. "I want her to figure out what's really driving her, and I don't want it to be fear. I feel like Tess Mercer is often listening to other people, is trying to find some source of trust in her life, a lot of times in men, and she's always let down.
"I feel like she has a clear objective and then she gets in trouble, does the wrong thing and lets herself down and everyone else down. So I want her to find some sort of salvation, I guess, some salvation in what her real purpose is and what she's there for.
"I don't know yet if that's for good or for bad. Part of me wants her to be a good person, and part of me wants her to be honest with what she wants and, instead of trying to fix everything or cure everything or save everything, to know what she wants out of this life."