Carl Lumbly's parents didn't allow him to read comic books while growing up in Minneapolis. Jamaican immigrants, they wanted him to concentrate on more serious writing — which was fine with Lumbly, who fell in love with all types of books, especially sci-fi.
"My father's notion was that we made a sacrifice to leave our home to come to a place to give you greater opportunities, and that opportunity is going to be found by pursuing education and fitting yourself for proper work," said the graduate of Minneapolis South High School and Macalester College, who is now 66.
Nonetheless, the comic book world found Lumbly. His many TV and film credits include voice work for the animated "Superman," "Batman Beyond," "Justice League" and TV's "Black Panther." And he was television's first live-action black superhero in the 1994 series "M.A.N.T.I.S."
His latest foray into the comic universe is on the CW's "Supergirl," playing a new character, called M'yrnn J'onzz. He and his adult son J'onn J'onzz (David Harewood) are the last Green Martians. Both have telekinetic and mind-reading abilities and can shape-shift. At the same time, this stranger in a strange land must deal with some very human issues.
"I think he is such a textured character because he has so much going on inside him," Lumbly says. "The fact is that he is a being who has managed to continue to survive by holding onto his spirit and utilizing his mind. He's had to rely on faith, and faith provided a miracle, returning his son to him. Now he is in this wholly alien environment which has been really fun for me. It goes way beyond being a fish out of water."
The series about Superman's super cousin (played by Melissa Benoist) was on hiatus but returned with new episodes April 16 and will continue through the season finale on June 18.
Working on so many projects built on the foundation of a comic book character has been a combination of Lumbly being attracted to the genre and how the job offers have landed.
"I always loved science fiction and read all of the great science fiction writers — and some not so great," he says with a laugh.
"As far as the work I have done, it has been a combination of desire and luck. What I like is that people sometimes don't expect me in places. They remember me from one thing and then are surprised when they remember me from something else that is so very different. That aspect pleases me because I have always believed the job of an actor is to be versatile."
He spent five seasons playing Jennifer Garner's partner on "Alias" and seven seasons as a detective on the 1980s police series "Cagney & Lacey." His most recent work has included recurring roles in "Chicago Med," CBS' summer drama "Zoo" and the A&E's suspense series "The Returned."
Toss in a passion for working in theater and Lumbly has accomplished his main goal. He's always wanted to be known for the work he has done and not for the celebrity that many often chase.
"Stage was seminal for me," Lumbly says. "I believe in the preparation that stage teaches you about character, and about the joy and the challenge and the kind of responsibility to text — to taking the ideas of a writer and the sensibilities of a director and aligning yourself in a way that hopefully makes a character live."