“I Just ﬂew in from LA,” says Henry Cavill and, for a moment, in spite of his shirt and jeans, you glimpse a ghost-image of a scarlet cape rippling from his shoulders. Superman is definitely in the room. It’s not just that he looks the part — sure, Cavill has the fineline handsomeness of a Neal Adams pic, torn from the pages of Action Comics. But he also radiates a clear-eyed, decent-hearted vibe. You imagine he’d do his level best to save you, should you find yourself randomly tumbling from a skyscraper one day. What more can we ask of our movie stars?
You nearly won the role of Superman in 2003. Do you think you would have played him differently back then?
I’m sure, yeah. It was a very different story, for one, the script which [JJ] Abrams wrote and McG was directing. And it’s that much more life experience to play a character as complex as Superman. You do need life experience. You need to have been through a few things so you can portray that message to an audience trying to associate with a character who’s quite difficult to associate with. I think I would have played it very differently, and hopefully I’m playing it better now.
What was your first experience of Superman?
To be honest I don’t remember, and I think it’s probably because Superman is so infused into our cultures that it’s kind of just accepted that Superman exists. It’s like Coca-Cola — what was my first experience of drinking a can of Coca-Cola? I have no idea — it just existed.
Were there any specific comic book stories or images that inspired your take on Superman?
Nothing which really inspired but I read an awful lot of material. Three of my favourites were Death Of Superman, Return Of Superman and Red Son. Those three in particular showed a wonderful cross-section of different interpretations of Superman, all the different colours and flavours added by various different people. One of them’s a Russian Superman, but there’s still that baseline of who the character is. And that’s what I pulled from. When I was asking myself questions when I was reading the script and deciding how to play a certain moment I stuck to that baseline, and then I added my own colours and flavours to it.
But in terms of the way the character stands and moves, it’s such a specific comic book visual...
It is. There’s one particular thing which I really enjoyed — one image. There’s a DC Comics app for the iPad, and I would download all of the Superman comics and read them in my spare time, just to keep in touch with the source material during shooting. And when this app opens up, there’s a picture of Superman in the middle with Wonder Woman and Batman standing either side. And just the way he was standing is in my mind the perfect representation of what and who Superman is. It’s kind, it’s gentle, it’s accepting. It’s open in the face, but the body is extremely confident. I drew from that as far as imagery is concerned.
In Kill Bill 2 Quentin Tarantino argues that Superman is the true self and Clark Kent is the disguise. Do you think that’s true?
I think Clark Kent, Kai-El and Superman are all different facets of the same entity. And that’s all you’re getting!
How did you feel the first time you walked on set wearing that costume?
It felt pretty incredible, actually. I’m not going to lie. You put it on and you think okay, this is day one of work — day one of being Superman, and you’ve got a whole crew here who are invested in making a Superman movie. I was all wrapped up in this very sticky waterproof black cape thing, so no paparazzi could get shots or anything like that. And it was roasting hot, it was over 100 degrees in Chicago. And it’s that moment of going, “This is me, unveiling myself as Superman to the crew.” And there was a slight aspect of nerves, but it was more about excitement. People weren’t waiting to judge — everyone is sitting there rubbing their hands together with glee, going, “We finally get to see what we’re creating here!” It was an incredible feeling, wearing the suit, after all the work I’d done and everyone else had done in putting the suit together. It just felt like the right moment. It felt bang on. Really exciting.
You didn’t put your hands on your hips, did you?
I found myself doing that to relax! But then you go “Oh, I can’t be doing that...” [laughs]
What’s your Kryptonite?
My Kryptonite is not being able to protect the ones I love. That really sort of spins me out, if I’m not there to look after someone and I’m worried something’s going to happen to them or people are taking advantage of them or manipulating them. That spins me out of control. It really drives me nuts.
So Superman is perfect for you.
You said it.
Do you feel the pressure of the die-hard Superman fans?
Yeah, people are very passionate about the character. It’s very close to their hearts and they’re passionate about different sides of the character too. Some people are passionate about the comic book character, others are very, very passionate about Chris Reeve and the way that he played it. I think the trick is to not worry if you’re going to piss people off. Just focus on what you're doing. And the way I’m doing it is to stay as honest and true as I can to the source material, which in my mind are the comic books. Zack and I worked very closely — it was very much a collaboration, and as long as we get to portray the story we want to tell we’ll be happy, because there’s a thousand different ways of telling this story. We just need to keep our integrity. Everyone else, if they like it or don’t, that’s up to them.
Do you share the geek gene?
I’m a geek. I love computer games. Absolutely love them, and I will sit there for hours and hours and hours... and hours. I’ve actually sat down and played a computer game for 20 hours straight once. And that’s pretty weak as far as geekdom goes. But I consider myself a geek because of that.
What if they made a Superman game starring you — how big a thrill would that be?
That would be awesome. I don’t know if I could play that. That would be weird, puppeteering myself... but it’d be fantastic.
How did you learn that you’d won the role?
I was playing a computer game! I was playing away, and my phone rang, and I ignored it, because I was playing World Of Warcraft and I couldn’t pause it, and you can’t save it, so I just ignored the phone, because it was a high moment... And then I looked down at the last second and saw Zack Snyder. I was like “Uh-oh...” I went to answer it. Missed it. So I called back. It went straight to voicemail. At this point I started to think, “Okay, you’ve messed up this time...” Then I got another call, from a different number. It was Zack. He said, “I was just calling to say thank you very much for coming in and performing, and we had a great time meeting you. Just wanted to say thank you.” And I thought, “Oh no, he’s letting me down easy...” And then he said, “I was basically just calling to ask if you want to do a little movie with me.” At which point you want to roar and shout with excitement but you can’t. So I tried to play it cool — not too cool, so it seemed like I wasn’t appreciative, but cool enough. And so I said, “Thank you very much, and I can’t wait to come and see you in LA and start working with you.” And then I hung up the phone and ran up and down the stairs just roaring and shouting. I couldn’t get the smile off my face for about 12 hours. It’s a very surreal experience to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m going to be Superman.” That will stay with me forever, for sure.
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