Superman & Lois: Elizabeth Tulloch reveals Lois Lane’s Biggest Challenge Ever

Superman & Lois Season 3 is setting viewers ablaze with the most emotional scenes of the entire series. It’s a drastic shift from the relatively lighthearted season premiere, as the mystery of what’s going on with Lois Lane is revealed in dramatic fashion: she’s not pregnant, and she’s not suffering from some fictional alien illness, but the all-too-real menace of breast cancer. The decision to undertake this storyline wasn’t one taken lightly by the cast or crew.

“We just felt like it’s such an important thing to discuss,” Superman & Lois co-showrunner Brent Fletcher tells me. “Lois Lane is such an iconic character, we feel like now that the audience knows this family, we can show the audience what this journey is really like. We built everything in service to that story…And very intentionally, there’s no magic cure. There’s no thing in the Fortress of Solitude that’s going to save Lois. This is a real cancer journey that many women are going through. We did a lot of research, we talked to survivors, women that are going through it, oncologists, the CDC. Our writers did a ton of work on this so that we could tell something that people would recognize and people can relate to and learn from.”

But before they put pen to paper, the showrunners went to star Elizabeth Tulloch to make sure she was on board.

“Todd and Brent made sure, to their great credit, that I was comfortable with this storyline,” Tulloch tells me. “They had pitched it to the studio and…then they called me and said… ‘we know, it’s incredibly intense, it’s going to be emotional, and how do you feel about this?’ I thought, What a cool idea to make one of the primary villains for season three be a villain that millions and millions of people around the world can relate to, or have been affected by themselves or someone that they love.

And not only that, but a villain that Superman can’t just easily take out. There’s no easy fix to this. It’s a very human problem that she’s having. It was a little bit daunting because the kind of breast cancer Lois gets is called inflammatory breast cancer, and it’s extremely aggressive. It’s not even detectable until it’s stage three. So it’s an advanced and aggressive kind of breast cancer. I was excited. It was a challenge, like I knew it would be. And I was also pleased that they they felt that they trusted me enough with something this serious.”

Just as the writers and producers did their homework, so did Tulloch, going to the CDC, breast cancer survivors she knew, and more.

“I did a ton of research,” she says. “A friend of mine who’s a director and a producer had breast cancer and she set me up with her breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Kristi Funk, who was Sheryl Crow’s doctor, and she did Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy. She’s incredibly wonderful and smart. I had some long conversations with her specifically about inflammatory breast cancer, because it is really rare and it’s so aggressive.

I wanted to make sure I was getting that specific journey right, because there are a lot of different kinds of breast cancers and some of them are much more easily treatable than the one that Lois has.”

It was through Dr. Funk that Tulloch started speaking with survivors of this specific type of breast cancer.

“She set me up with a woman named Diana Franklin, who was amazing and who’s an IBC survivor,” Tulloch says. “Her attitude towards it was basically what I tried to infuse in my performance because Diana basically was so sick when it was detected that Dr. Funk thought, ‘this woman is probably not going to make it.’ But Diana instead had apparently had stayed up overnight doing a ton of research and walked into the office with a a three-ring binder and was like, ‘not only am I going to beat this, but you and I are going to be friends, and whatever you tell me to do, I’m going to do it 110%.’

And she did and she completely beat it and has had no evidence of disease for for years now. So as I spoke to Diana I was thinking, ‘this is sort of how Lois’ attitude would be.’…I ended up interviewing about 11 different breast cancer survivors, before it got to the point where I almost had to force myself to stop because it was weighing me down a lot. You know, it’s impossible not to take on some of that emotional weight, because every conversation I was having was really emotional and inspiring… but it was a lot of double, triple checking to make sure that on all our parts to make sure that we were getting Lois’ journey as as realistic as we possibly could within the confines of being a television show.”

But the moment that Clark finds out about Lois’ diagnosis may be a high point not just for the episode, but for the series so far. As Lois literally talks a suicidal woman off a ledge, she reveals the truth about what’s been going on, and Superman learns the truth alongside the audience. It’s a powerful moment (and one that sharp-eyed comics fans may notice is a clever inversion of a similarly emotional beat in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s classic All-Star Superman), and one of Tulloch’s finest performances as Lois Lane.

“There was something about that scene,” she says. “We were shooting on top of the Vancouver art gallery. And the actress herself wasn’t rigged up there, her stunt person was, but it’s not like we were filming that scene on green screen. So it’s easier as an actor to put yourself in that situation [when] there is actually a human being on a ledge right now and this is dangerous. So just imagining this is what’s going on and what would Lois say to someone to get them to reconsider?’”

In the midst of all of this challenging work, there’s also a new actor in the Kent family, with Michael Bishop having replaced Jordan Elsass as Jonathan Kent between seasons. Tulloch has nothing but great things to say about her new “son,” especially considering what a challenging storyline he finds himself in the middle of.

“I really want to give Michael Bishop props because that’s a strange situation to sort of be thrown into,” she says. “The casting happened pretty late, pretty close to when we started filming season three. Tyler and I were doing chemistry reads with a handful of the finalists for the Jonathan Kent role. Michael had flown in from Australia and he had a return ticket to Australia. And they basically said ‘don’t get on the airplane, you’re getting this role.’ I think we were doing chemistry reads on a Friday and we were filming by that Tuesday. For a young actor to just be kind of thrown into this and also be taking the place of someone else, he was brave and he was awesome and we all settled into it really quickly. Michael’s mother had had breast cancer and was diagnosed around the same age that Jonathan Kent would have found out that Lois had breast cancer and so he was really was able to access all of those emotions. He would talk about it and he would tell me how incredibly brave his mother was, and how inspired he was by his mom.”

While Superman & Lois has always tempered its superheroics with more relatable human drama, this one seems to hit home for many.

“Cancer is something that is so prevalent, that if it hasn’t touched you, it’s probably touched someone you love, either a friend or a family member,” Tulloch says. “Everybody just has these intense stories about it. I had done so much research and I’ve spoken to so many women myself who had been through this and and it was it was an intense season. I’m glad that the writers were so committed to getting it right within the confines of a television show being as realistic as possible.”

Superman & Lois airs new episodes on Tuesdays at 8pm on The CW.

Author Profile

Sola James
Feature Writer & Interviewer


Leave a Reply