“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.