Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
When “Superman & Lois” returns for season three on The CW, its title characters will face a villain whose resume includes wiping out this Earth’s John Henry Irons.
Though he appears to be a big-hearted, philanthropic Metropolis pillar, Bruno Manheim is actually the head of Intergang, a vast criminal outfit – and he’s no fan of the Man of Steel.
To play this foe of many faces, the series cast a master of many talents: Chad L. Coleman.
Fans may recognize Coleman from his past guest appearances on sister Berlanti-verse series “Arrow,” where he played the hard-hitting Tobias Church.
What viewers might not know is just how across-the-board Coleman’s career choices have been, or that he’s a Broadway veteran whose past work life included a stint as an Army video cameraman stationed at the Pentagon.
Coleman has worked in comedy (“The Orville,” “Girls5eva,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), action (“Copshop”), science fiction (“The Walking Dead,” “The Expanse”), history and culture (“Roots”), law and order (that’s right, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) and drama (“The Wire”). He’s capable of playing in any genre sandbox – and he’s made some interesting fans along the way.
Coleman shared more about his training, character choices, and work on “Superman & Lois” in this edited Q&A.
Chad L. Coleman (Photo by Benjo Arwas // courtesy of Anderson Group Public Relations)
Q: Inasmuch as people might know you more for “The Walking Dead” or for “The Wire,” you have had this really wide-ranging career. I'm wondering: Is that an intentional choice, or is it just where you’ve found the best roles?
Chad L. Coleman: I come from the theater. You see the mask of comedy, and you see the mask of drama. I was taught technique, and that's why I'm able to do it, because I was taught the craft.
Not playing a persona or playing my idea of me. Which is what most actors in the game do. Because that's all they want.
I’m a trained actor, so I study. And so, that informs my instrument, and it makes me available to all types of work. That's really what it is.
Q: Do you find that there is a particular genre that you like more than the others? Certainly, you have the talent, but do you also like having the freedom that you can go literally into any genre for a role?
Chad L. Coleman: Yeah, I love the range and the variety of it. Even as a person, there's varied parts to me. I'm not just one way. I can be incredibly serious, or I can be incredibly silly. I can be philosophical, or I could just be cheeky. It's all in there.
So, a lot of times when the industry drills down – because they capitalize off of people's persona, and the money they can make – they keep you in a particular lane. It's like a basketball player. If you’re 6 foot 9 and they say, “You should just play center,” but you got ball-handling skills like crazy – which is what's happening in the game. You see the game changing, right? You see these big guys are not reduced to just playing in the low posts. That's how it is in terms of my career.
I just have the skillset to do it. And people have acknowledged it, mostly through, like, say an audition. So, say “The Wire” puts me on the map as this serious actor that can play a complicated role. The guys from “Always Sunny,” they love “The Wire.” They got a comedy called “Boldly Going Nowhere” that they're going to do for FOX. What got me in the door? “We love him. We loved him on ‘The Wire.’ Let's just see if he can do it.”
Now, if I was unsuccessful at that, you know, a lot of other comedy circumstances probably would’ve never came up.
I think “The Wire” is the entree. And then once I get in the door, then I get to show them what else I have.
Q: It's awesome you are showing through your talent and your ability that you can play all of these different roles and in all of these different genres.
You've talked about yourself and what you can do, and what you bring to the table. I want to ask you about observations of others you work with. As I said, you were on “The Walking Dead,” you were on “The Wire,” but you've also been in a number of highly successful shows, whether it be for a longer arc or for just a guest appearance. So, I also wonder if that's a choice – that you recognize you're walking into something that is established, that is successful, that has a good sort of rhythm to it – or, again, if that's just where the work has taken you.
Chad L. Coleman: I would say that it's where the work is taking me, but some circumstances are I'm a fan of that show. I'm a fan of this actor, actress. I'm a fan of the producers.
So, like “Girls5eva.” That's Tina Fey. Who don't want to rock with Tina Fey. So, when I hear that Tina Fey loves some Chad Coleman, I'm floored. But I look at the material.
And I don't want to contradict myself, but playing the Lunch Lord, it's about as close to me as I could get. That's how I am, in a lot of ways. He's quick-witted; he’s smart; he's reading the room.
And, you know, humor is a wonderful tool. So, you put all those variables together and that's what happened. I didn't know I was going to be on “Girls5eva.” But they came at me, and she's a fan of mine. I didn't know that. I'm a huge fan of hers.
These things are offers. I'm just fortunate enough, I think, to be offered high-quality work. ...
She literally, when she met me, said, “Oh, my god, it’s so great to meet you. You're so funny.” I was like, “So are you!” We’re in the mutual admiration club.
And so now, it left the Peacock platform and it's now on Netflix, and they just called me to come and do a couple more; so, we’ll do that.
The other John Henry Irons (Wolé Parks) and John Diggle (David Ramsey) spoke about the mysterious Bruno Manheim in the "Superman & Lois" season two finale. (Photo by Bettina Strauss/The CW // © 2022 The CW Network LLC. All rights reserved.)
Q: “Superman & Lois” is starting up again. You're going to be joining the story for this season. Tell me a little bit about what appealed to you about being a part of this series, and tell me also about your character.
Chad L. Coleman: Well, it's classic. It’s Superman, you know? It's a cultural icon. No one could get around Superman. Now, mine was Christopher Reeve, because I grew up in that time. Well, first it was the guy on TV. And then, I remember Christopher Reeve having a profound effect. And then, unfortunately, what happened to him personally. It still draws you to the fact that he played Superman, and was amazing.
Then the one with Henry Cavill, where it was the first time I felt like, “Oh, shoot, I really feel the power of him.” And it's that thing we do on our show, that whoosh. Like a plane just flew by you, you know? Buzzed you.
So, it's always been there. I always remember these villains, especially I really knew Lex Luthor. And then to find out … where Bruno Manheim fit into it. And then we're in a day and time where these comic folks want to do stuff that’s socio-political, that's layered as well. So, it was just the right time for me to step into that world. And they allowed me – it’s not lost on me that Manheim is German. And then, again, in the timing of things, as we're reimagining all these classic things, they go, “Why not have an African American?” And then the implications in the story, even if it wasn't an African American, when you put an African American in it, it absolutely elevates and it works. “Oh, because we could suggest this now.” And whereas if this guy played him, they were suggesting something else, or it's just a little more expansive, or just enough different take on it. It works. It works incredibly well.
Q: You mentioned this is a different take on Bruno Manheim. Tell me a little bit more about that character and what fans can expect to see from him?
Chad L. Coleman: Well, it can go either way, right? But when you put an African American male in the role, and you say you're from South Metropolis, the backwash that nobody gives a damn about. And there's certain things that are happening in this community that you can draw social-political thoughts and constructs from that are happening in the real world. And that's what these writers were able to do with it.
And so, he's a self-made man. And he loves his community. And he said nobody gives a you-know-what. “I do. I'll do it myself.” So, if you juxtaposition that to who Superman is, and what he's about, this man has some very trust things to say to him because of the way he came up. Like, “Where were you in this community, Superman?” And it's true. “You were in Metropolis, living it up; and doing your thing. But you didn’t come over here to try to help us.”
So, it's very, very powerful. And this man has been able to ascend to a very powerful position. And so, you see all of those dynamics – and he is a family man. And the gray is the gray. You talk about any politician you know. “Oh, they're unscathed.” … It's real. Its contradictions in the hypocrisy in everyone who ascends to a certain height. And that's what you're dealing with, with him.
Q: I think you crushed it with your appearances on “Arrow.” So, certainly, you're already a veteran of this universe, so to speak.
Chad L. Coleman: Think about it like that: He's a lower-level guy. (Tobias Church) was a lower-level guy. So, the truth is, that dude would be answering to Bruno Manheim. That's what happened. That's what this is. He was a lower-level dude. And then Bruno Mannheim was a lower-level dude who ascended. And you’ll find out how he ascends when you watch it.
It’s a hell of a ride; I’m telling you now. Suspenseful.
“Superman & Lois” airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on The CW and is streaming on HBO Max.
"Superman & Lois”: Pictured, from left: Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane, Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, Alex Garfin as Jordan Kent and Michael Bishop as Jonathan Kent. (Photo: The CW // © 2023 The CW Network LLC. All rights reserved.)