Director Guy Ritchie accepted a difficult mission when he chose to make the big screen reboot of the spy caper The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Not only did mega-star Tom Cruise drop out of the film to make his own — Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation — but Cruise's replacement for sarcastic American CIA operative Napoleon Solo was British actor Henry Cavill, the earnest Superman in the Man of Steel franchise.
American Armie Hammer, best known as the stoic masked lawman in Disney's disastrous The Lone Ranger, filled the other half of the U.N.C.L.E. pairing as KGB agent Illya Kuryakin.
Odd on paper? Certainly.
"I wasn't thinking about them as Superman or the Lone Ranger," says Ritchie. "Their previous incarnations don't mean anything to me at all. It's whether an actor can act."
Hammer and Cavill proved they were up for that task in the slick, often humorous U.N.C.L.E., opening Friday.
"I was surprised how well the chemistry worked here," says IMDb managing editor Keith Simanton. "Ritchie brought out the best in both of them — Hammer's self-deprecating humor and Cavill's impeccable timing and delivery."
Cavill says he enjoyed stepping away from his superhero persona. His American agent Solo "is so different from the characters I have played," he said. Solo's sarcastic humor also fits in well with Cavill's own.
"(Superman) is just too nice of a guy for that," says Cavill. "But I can be quite dry and very sarcastic a lot of the time. It's part of my character. You can definitely paint parts of your own personality into a character similar to you."
Another perk: Trading the super suit for Solo's selection of hand-tailored suits and handmade shoes.
"The major difference is, I could sit down and be comfortable all day in my Napoleon Solo suit," says Cavill. "In the super suit, it's a very different kettle of fish. You start to feel uncomfortable. But you're stuck in it all day."
Hammer, who admits he still has "dust in my lungs somewhere" from the prolonged desert shoot of 2013's Lone Ranger, easily transitioned to shooting in stunning Rome locations such as on the famed Spanish Steps.
To keep the mood light on set Hammer led guitar jamming sessions, which included Ritchie. And there was zero diva behavior — a notion reinforced when Cavill and Hammer were both guests of honor at Ritchie's wedding to Jacqui Ainsley this month.
Even a fight scene between Hammer and Cavill's dueling agents had a realistic and humorous feel to it.
"In real life you're kind of pulling each other to the ground and rolling around," says Hammer. "That realism in the fight is better than seeing superheroes with hugely choreographed moves and all that stuff."
Hammer is already hoping for a sequel.
"If enough people see the movie, the studio will decide to make another," says Hammer. "And I'll fight kicking and screaming to send Illya and Napoleon down to the Caribbean."