Though by no means a disaster, "Superman Returns" didn't live up to expectations. As for Cavill, he went on to star in "Red Riding Hood" (2006), "The Tudors" (2007-2010) and "Immortals" (2011), in which he played another classic action hero, the Greek warrior Theseus.
Then Cavill once again looked up in the sky. Warner Brothers announced plans to relaunch Superman, Zack Snyder signed on to direct "Man of Steel" and Cavill - who, in the meantime, also had come close to portraying James Bond in "Casino Royale" (2006) and Edward Cullen in "Twilight" (2008) - immediately threw his hat in the ring.
"It's been so satisfying," said Cavill, who turned 30 on May 5. "Going into the room for the first time, way back when, for McG, was an enormously nerve-racking experience. I wasn't quite sure what was going on. I was very new in town at that point. Walking into the room this time? It was different altogether. I knew what was going on. I felt right auditioning for it.
"I have to say, I didn't think, 'Ah, I got it this time,' " he continued. "It was more like, 'OK, great, this is a wonderful opportunity.' I approach a role, any role, like it's a fresh and new thing every time, but, if you put too much hope into every audition and screen test, you can end up being heartbroken and a broken, bitter man by the end of it all.
"But this time it worked out."
Set to open on Friday, "Man of Steel" tells the origin story of Clark Kent, born Kal-El of Krypton, who grows up on Earth and becomes its greatest protector. In addition to Cavill, the cast includes Russell Crowe as Kal-El's Kryptonian father, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as his adoptive human parents and Amy Adams as Lois Lane, the intrepid Daily Planet reporter who wins his heart. The cast also includes Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod and Antje Traue as the equally dangerous Faora-Ul.
The character is a complicated one to play, Cavill said, in large part because he's called on to portray three facets of the same person. There's the noble Superman persona known to the world, there's the private, lonely and secret-keeping Kal-El and there's Clark Kent, his very human alter ego.
"When you're at home with your wife and kids, you're yourself, naturally, and when you're at work in your office, doing your job, you're yourself, but you are not necessarily exactly the same person," Cavill said, speaking by telephone. "There are characteristics you allow yourself to have at home which you don't allow yourself to have at work and, when you're at work, you allow yourself characteristics, or force characteristics upon yourself there, that you do not bring home.
"This story, it's about his personal experience and his journey and the decisions he has to make that matter," Cavill said. "It's discovering. It's learning about oneself and one's own capabilities, for the positive and the negative, I suppose."
The "Man of Steel" shoot was, no surprise, long and intense, not to mention physically grueling for Cavill. He trained hard before filming commenced, then spent months on end suspended on wires.