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His fame slowly taking flight

When he was 5, Tom Welling insisted on being Superman for Halloween two years in a row. "I wouldn't have it any other way," Welling says.

Little did he know that he would grow up to play a modern incarnation of his caped hero on the WB's Smallville.

But it almost didn't happen, Welling, 26, says.

"I had turned it down twice because of the way it was described to me, as "Superman in high school.' Once I read the script and I saw that it was Clark Kent trying to fit in to be a normal kid, it became much more interesting to me with what he was struggling against," Welling says.

Long before Smallville, Welling took a risk when he left his native New York to try his luck in Los Angeles.

"I spent nine months out here going to auditions, getting good feedback, but not getting a job. As time went on, money started to get more and more tight," he says. "I started to wonder if this was really what I wanted to do, and that's when I got the role on Judging Amy."

The part, as a boyfriend of star Amy Brenneman's Amy Gray in 2001, came almost by default, he says.

"Because the guy they had chosen couldn't get someone to watch his kids that day. So they had remembered me," Welling says.

"I was signed for three episodes, and after the three aired, the viewers wrote fan letters, and it influenced the show, and so they called me up and said, "Look, we're really getting a great response, we'd love you to come back for three more.' So that was great.

"I remember doing the last episode of Judging Amy and talking to Amy about this TV show, which was Smallville. I had no idea it would turn into this."

Welling not only turned the young Clark into a teen-scream idol, now he co-stars in Steve Martin's new movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, which opened on Christmas Day.

Welling plays the serious older son in a family of 12 whose father (Martin) earns the job of his dreams and has to uproot his unruly brood.

Welling, who started as a model, says finding himself the object of adoring teenage fans can be a little awkward. "It's something that's completely out of my control," he says, shaking his dark, curly hair.

"If people like what you're doing or like you, that's not such a horrible thing. I'm recognized a lot more than before I was on Smallville. Yeah, I mean, it's not something that hinders me from going on and living my life," says Welling, who has been married for a year and a half to the former Jamie White. "I would never let it."