By Stacy Jenel Smith
Justin Hartley has been credited for helping to breathe fresh life into the CW's "Smallville" this season - playing edgy billionaire playboy Oliver Queen a.k.a. The Green Arrow.
The hunky blond, 6'3" actor certainly has his legions of ardent admirers, as "Smallville" and Hartley fan sites attest. But in an afternoon's conversation, it soon becomes clear that he's retained a down-to-earth manner despite his rising star status. He wastes no time in giving a figurative tip of the hat to series star Tom Welling when he says, "My job is easier than his -- playing the Boy Scout-good guy, making him dimensional. There are so many things he has to watch out for because he's Superman."
As "Smallville" watchers know, The Green Arrow is no Boy Scout. He has a dark side and a guilty past. He's fought an addiction, for example, to a substance that causes instant healing but has very nasty effects on a super hero's personality. And Oliver Queen, as a prep school bully, was partly to blame for a school mate's death - the incident that's caused him to try to do good ever since.
Hartley, who starred in the "Smallville" producers' "Aquaman" pilot that ended up not being bought, says he definitely prefers playing The Green Arrow.
"He's got a lot more going on. He's got a James Bondish, J.F.K. Jr. thing by day, and his life as The Green Arrow at night. And he's on land," laughs the actor, who admits that the underwater aspect of "Aquaman" became cumbersome, to say the least.
Hartley is getting attention -- knowing looks and nudges between other shoppers at L.A.'s Beverly Center - as we speak. But seeing that he is busily engaged, they allow him a respectful distance.
Maybe he should have worn his Green Arrow hoodie as a disguise.
"That would make it worse," he says brightly.
How are his friends and family feeling about his growing fame?
"I tell you what. I'm getting rid of them all," he dead pans. "I'm upgrading all of them. If they're not at least on a daytime show, out they go.
"No. My immediate family - they know how hard I've worked, constantly studying, going to school. It's the most mortifying thing the world to move somewhere you don't have a job," notes Hartley, who hails from Orland Park, Illinois and has two younger sisters and an older brother.
His desire to act took shape in school - along with avid athleticism, as a basketball player who also competed in soccer and baseball in high school. He went on to attend Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he majored in theater and history.
After landing commercial work in L.A., he made a breakthrough, playing the role of spoiled rich kid Nicholas Foxworth Crane on NBC's "Passions" for three years. He also fell for co-star Lindsay Korman on the show. They married and in July of 2004 Lindsay gave birth to their daughter, Isabella Justice Hartley. (How's that for a foreshadowing? As comic book aficionados know, The Green Arrow is the first non-charter member of the famous D.C. Comics Justice League.)
Hartley credits his work on "Passions" for honing his acting abilities. "With soaps, you have one take and you have very little time to memorize your dialogue. It's a totally different art, a totally different thing to master than what I'm doing now. The soap helped me learn to dissect scenes really quickly."
As far as being recognized and approached by fans, he notes that as a lead on a popular soap, his wife "gets the same kind of thing. We've gotten that for awhile. It's nothing new. It's nice, at this level - nice to make someone smile. It's not like we can't go from here to there without getting mobbed."
At least, not yet.
With the attention Justin has been getting this season, including "Breakout Star" designations and One to Watch stories, one wonders whether any of the "Smallville" stalwarts are chafing a bit. Justin says the rest of the cast has been, well, super nice. "They all have their heads down and are focusing on their work," he comments. "I don't know how much any one is thinking about other people's press. But I think that when attention comes Tom's way or Erica's (Durance) way, or anyone's way, it's all good because it's good for the show."