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Superman: Classic and Modern
“I’ll tell you a funny story,” smiles Henry, sitting in a room of the Mirage Hotel in Beverly Hills. “I have two nephews, aged 6 and 4. The older is known for telling wild tales in school and telling lies invented all the time. During one of the classes, the teacher asked pupils to talk about their family members, and what they do professionally. Then, the boy said: “My uncle is Superman.” The teacher said crossly: “Do not lie.” But, he was very sure of what he said and kept insisting. When his mother came to pick him up, the teacher talked to her about it: “He is lying again, I don’t know why he has that habit. Now he says his uncle is Superman.” And his mother responds: “Actually he is.”
The man, who tells this story, is Superman, or at least he surely will go down in history as the reinvention of the superhero called, The Man of Steel released in Argentina on June 13. Henry Cavill, British, 30, knows that he is part of the pantheon of actors who wear the famous cape and interpreted the iconic superhero first published in June 1933. That means that this year Kal-El, that is his real name on the planet Krypton, turns 80. “He’s the granddaddy of all superheroes,” says Cavill.
The title “Man of Steel” is a part of the idiosyncrasy of the producer Christopher Nolan, who gave new life to Batman in the latest trilogy: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan took over the franchise when Superman Returns (2006) did not meet expectations, in terms of reception from the public and the box office. The film by Bryan Singer, a director of the first X-Men, was a direct sequel to Superman II filmed in the seventies. And his tribute, almost literally, people did not catch on to, but is now considered slightly undervalued.
Who better than Nolan, then, to resurrect one of the most precious of pop culture? Dark stained Nolan’s Batman realism and its commitment resulted in one of the most lucrative franchises in history. Now, with The Man of Steel, the intent is the same and will also serve as an introduction to the future Justice League with Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, scheduled in 2015.
To begin, Nolan chose Zach Snyder, the 47-years-old director of 300 and Watchmen comics.
Does the Man of Steel have the same tone as the latest Batman?
Henry Cavill: Our intention is to make an actual Superman, as much as you can about a guy who can fly. That myth is fantastic and colorful with elements of science fiction. But also, there is a story about the character and the human element that is most important. Kal-El is different from other people because he is an alien. That makes him feel lonely and distressed, almost petrified. Growing up being so very different and not knowing where he comes from or who he really is should be scary, and we wanted to explore the difficulties that he was going through in various situations.
Christopher Nolan has a dry and realistic style. Snyder, on the other hand, is a very visual director. How have they supplemented each other?
Henry Cavill: Personally, I had no interaction with Chris. I know he chose Zack as the director, wrote the script and talked much of his approach to the character, but I did not know him until this year. When we were filming, he was doing the last Batman. But Zack is my reference and who was responsible. It’s his baby and I’m sure it’s the most realistic movie he has ever filmed.
With Christian Bale as Batman, you are continuing the invasion of British actors who play American superheroes.
Henry Cavill: If you put on thinking about Superman, he’s not American but comes from another planet.
Was your American accent worth the effort for you?
Henry Cavill: It may be hard, but it is a matter of practice. An accent is formed by the muscles of the throat and mouth. And you can exercise in it as in a gym. When we were filming, I was waking up with my British accent and then, in September I went with my American accent until the end of the day.
Cavill is a native of the island of Jersey in the English Channel, southern England. “It’s what I call my home, where my parents still live,” he says wistfully. He comes from a military family, whereas his father is in the Navy and his two brothers in the army. “At 17, it was my way to go. Getting a scholarship and go into military service. It had not occurred to me to do otherwise.”
To relieve boredom young Henry went to boarding school in Stowe where he was terribly homesick and that’s why he became part of the school drama department.
“One day a casting group came to Stowe to find boys for a movie named, The Count of Monte Cristo. And they choose me, perhaps because I had some experience in acting. I got an agent in England, and later in the United States, because it was a studio film. And so it began.”
When Bond comes
In 2005, Cavill was chosen personally by the director Martin Campbell to play James Bond in his new film Casino Royale. But the producers finally choose not a boy with good-natured face in his early twenties, but an experienced and tough guy like Daniel Craig.
Do you regret not having gotten the part of James Bond?
Henry Cavill: Yes and no. It would have been a great character to play. But Daniel Craig did and does a perfect job. He is ideal for that role. I’d rather the movie hire the right guy and be fantastic, than hire the wrong guy — including me, I do think I was the wrong guy for Bond at the time — and make less of a story. They made the right decision at that time. Maybe my time will come in the future. But the casting process gave me a lesson. I did not have much work at that time and I was thinking of getting a scholarship, going to a good university, and study something to pursue a degree. Auditioning for James Bond taught me that even though I didn’t get the role, if I can get to second on that sort of thing, perhaps I can get to first on other big things.
And how did you get the role of Superman?
Henry Cavill: Oh, it was so long ago... In January 2011, I was told I hired, so it was in late 2010. I did two auditions. The first time I was only reading a text and the second I filmed a screen test. Before the first audition, they made me sign a contract for three films, even if the film does not do well.
The Man of Steel is known as a reboot, or relaunch. Like Batman Begins or The Amazing Spider-Man, the story starts from zero counting how to the superhero becomes a superhero. “It’s an origin story, yes. And it’s discovery of the hero”, confirms Henry.
The screenplay by Nolan and his collaborator David S. Goyer (as well as being co-writer of Batman is the writer of the last video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II) draws on the already installed Superman mythology from the planet Krypton and raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent in a rural village, but updated certain elements from comics of recent years.
What were the influences for your interpretation?
Henry Cavill: My influences for the modernization of the character and his psychology were comic-books Death of Superman, Superman Returns and The Red Son (which assume that Superman fell into the Soviet Union and was growing there), because they are different facets of the character you already know. It is as if we dissected the different characteristics of your personality.
Superman’s personality is well-known. What is your contribution in it?
Henry Cavill: My contribution? It was not my plan to bring something different or new and leave a mark, but represent as closely as possible and to do the role justice to a new generation and a new historical context. I have never thought I'll do this to make it different. Certainly not. There is a lot of pressure from fans who want to see their hero depicted in a great story.
How do you deal with that?
Henry Cavill: I don’t let the pressure get to me because that would have hindered my performance and I didn’t want the fans being disappointed. If you transfer that anxiety elsewhere, it may actually help you, and how it helped me in this case was in the gym, with me thinking ‘First things first, I have to look like Superman’.
How tough was your trainings?
Henry Cavill: There were four months of training before the filming starts when I trained for about one-and-a-half hours every day. The goal was to gain muscle mass, so I ate a lot — about 5,000 calories a day. My diet at that time was of one-third carbs, one-third fats and one-third protein in every single meal, and I was having thousand-calorie shakes as well. As I like to eat, it wasn’t hard for me. But after gaining weight, I had to outline my shape to look like a bodybuilder and you could see the muscle structure under the suit. That lasted four weeks when I ate protein only. The training itself was really difficult. I had my personal trainer, Mark Twight. He knows how far to push someone to their limit, and if that was their real limit or it was the limit they believed in their head.
The new suit looks great. Is it comfortable?
Henry Cavill: When it is cold, you are cold, and when the weather is hot, you are warm. It is consist of one piece and is complicated to put on. When we were filming, it was waiting for the breaks to go to the WC, but sometimes you cannot.
It looks like a kind of armor.
Henry Cavill: It is modern. It looks alien.
Was there any time when you said ‘I’m Superman’?
Henry Cavill: Yes, it’s a surreal experience. I was training, having meetings with the director and producers, doing costume screen tests and one day the suit is ready and I put it on. And, then I realized that everything became reality.
What was the next?
Henry Cavill: In total there were four months of training and six of filming: almost a year. After a while the novelty becomes part of my life, it becomes a routine work of fifteen hours a day. I woke up at four in the morning, went to the gym and after that I went to the film set — for all those months.
The Man of Steel, besides presenting Cavill as Kal-El and Clark Kent, has a cast full of recognizable names. There is Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, his eternal love, and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the chief editor of the Daily Planet in Metropolis. But, the actor who is going to take everyone’s attention and scrutiny will surely be Michael Shannon, who plays General Zod, a compatriot of Superman coming to Earth with non-peaceful purposes.
Superman glimpsed in 1978 and led the villain Zod in Superman II, who was played impassively by Terence Stamp. The character first appeared in comics in 1961, along with Lex Luthor, one of the main villains of the superhero and the main antagonist of The Man of Steel. “Oh, we got on really well. Michael’s a great guy,” Cavill extols of his co-star. “Great sense of humour. The contrast when he switches into character is incredible. We don’t have to get along to do our jobs, but we get along.”
Why are superheroes so popular in the movies?
Henry Cavill: They symbolize an ideal of hope. They are protectors in our thoughts and allow us to follow them. The heroes have always existed since humanity has existed. Who does not like a fantastic story? It’s nice to escape.
One theory proposes that Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the human race: fearful, timid, weak, insecure. Do you agree?
Henry Cavill: Mmm... interesting [long silence]. Does Superman sees the human race as Clark Kent? [another long pause]. It is complex and that is all I can tell you. There is a depth in Superman that works as our psyche. That’s all I can tell you.