20 Jun Henry Cavill soars as Superman in Man Of Steel

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Man Of Steel: Henry Cavill as the latest incarnation of Superman Man Of Steel: Henry Cavill as the latest incarnation of Superman

It takes a dashing Englishman to bring America's favourite superhero to life, writes Tiffany Baker. After years of disappointment and near misses, Henry Cavill's time has finally come.


The first time Henry Cavill stepped into his Superman suit and looked in the mirror, something odd happened.

"I didn't recognise myself at all," he says. "I just saw the character – I saw Superman."

Cavill is the latest in a long line of actors – Christopher Reeve and George Reeves, most famously, and Brandon Routh, not so much – to don the iconic red cape in Man of Steel, the new cinematic incarnation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster's beloved comic-book superhero.

For Cavill, it was not a moment to take lightly.

"The suit is a very special thing to have put that on. It's not just putting on a costume, it's become something more than that, certainly for me, and putting it on every morning was an experience. It was incredibly special and it's something that will stay with me."

Still, even he admits there were a few drawbacks.

"It fit like an alien body glove - that thing is tight," smiles Cavill. "Let's just say it made going to the toilet interesting. I could've done with a fly."

Meeting the 30-year-old British actor on the back-lot of the Warner Bros studios in Burbank, California, there's a palpable sense of history about the place.

After all, Bogart, Bacall and Bette Davis all filmed here. Cavill is feeling a keen sense of history himself, a pressure that comes from taking on a character that is kept so close to people's hearts and minds (particularly rabid comic-book fans).

"My greatest fear is that I'm not going to be accepted as this character," he says. "It has really worried me."

"Henry had to get used to the fact that, aside from Ronald McDonald, he's going to be the most famous red-booted person in the world," says co-star Russell Crowe, who takes on the role of Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father. "And I think he's done a fantastic job of it."


Directed by Zack Snyder (the man behind the cult classic 300, the fairly decent Watchmen and the fairly ordinary Sucker Punch), Man Of Steel stays close to Superman’s roots. As expected, the special effects are dazzling, but the film very much concentrates on the human element of the story, namely young Clark Kent/Kal-El's stark feelings of loneliness and displacement.

Snyder does a fine job in not allowing the bells and whistles to overshadow the emotional narrative. Here, Clark Kent is not portrayed as a bumbling Daily Planet reporter, but rather an aimless drifter, jumping from one ill-advised job to the next, until fate intervenes and he crosses paths with Lois Lane, played this time around by four-time Academy Award-nominee Amy Adams.

"I felt very comfortable and relaxed with Henry," says Adams, who also praises Cavill's 'work ethic'.

"He kept me laughing, and he's very handsome, too, which doesn't hurt.

"I giggled like a schoolgirl the first time I met him, and I kept on giggling right through shooting. It can be a little distracting."

It's kind of apt that an outsider would play such an iconic American character – "He's a vulnerable alien from Krypton," says Cavill, "‘so you can see the similarities right there."

But in the flesh, Cavill still has something quintessentially all-American about him. With his classic old-Hollywood looks, chiselled jaw and impressive physique, he resembles something of a Tom Brady-esque quarterback or prom king.

In reality, Cavill's own school days were far from glorious. He attended a stuffy boarding school in Buckinghamshire, suffering from acute homesickness and bullying at the hands of classmates, who, ungraciously, had anointed him "Fatty Cavill". (One can only wonder what they’re saying now.)

Cavill, who grew up with four brothers, was miserable and took refuge in theatre after a teacher suggested he give it a go.

He found he was pretty good at it and he embraced the opportunity to play a character that his classmates could not be critical of because he wasn't playing himself.

"I dealt with my homesickness by doing drama and teachers responded well to it, so I did another one and I just loved it. I thought, 'I actually really like this, maybe this is something that I’m good at. Maybe I should keep on doing this...'"

Success, though, was a while coming. He bypassed university to give acting a serious crack, and ended up doing what every British actor worth his salt does – nabbing a small part on Midsomer Murders. Other bit parts followed until he found himself attended a casting call looking for a "posh English boarding school boy" for a role in The Count of Monte Christo (not surprisingly, he got it).

But it's the roles Cavill missed out on that defined his early career. Famously, he lost out on two major roles which ultimately went to fellow Brit Robert Pattinson – Edward Cullen in the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer initially wrote the character with Cavill in mind) and Cedric Diggory in the fourth Harry Potter instalment, Goblet of Fire.

Disheartened, Cavill decided that maybe an acting career just wasn't on the cards, until, at age 23, he was asked to audition for the role of James Bond. Ultimately, the role went to Daniel Craig ("I was too young," says Cavill, "and there can be no better Bond right now than Daniel Craig"), even though director Martin Campbell pushed for Cavill. Still, the 007 near-miss gave Cavill the boost he needed.

"Just going through that process was a turning point for me. It felt like, 'Well, if I can even be remotely considered for James Bond, there must be something there'."

He joined the cast of TV series The Tudors in 2007, where he stayed for four seasons (playing the First Duke of Suffolk), and later went on to star in skirts 'n' sandals action movie The Immortals. Now, Superman will make him a truly global name (it bemuses the actor that there's already an action figure available).

Cavill says he's even sought out his fellow cinematic superheroes to ask their advice.

"I bumped into (Thor actor) Chris Hemsworth at ComicCon during The Immortals panel and he was a really lovely guy.

"He was just like, 'You know what, people are going to be more supportive than you think they are', and he's been right."


The Brit says his family is "very proud" but "they'd be proud of me if I was a garbage man, as long as I was happy".

It is Cavill's six-year-old nephew who has the most impressed by the recent red cape-wearing developments of his uncle.

"He's known to tell a few tall tales, and he went to school and the class was talking about what jobs their family members did, and he got up and said, 'My uncle is Superman'. His teacher thought, 'Oh, not this again...' and she called my sister-in-law to tell her that he'd been telling lies again. She had to say, 'Well, actually, he’s not lying. His uncle is Superman!'"

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