God damn it, I am Superman!
Kalina Mróz talk with Henry Cavill, a new Clark Kent, Superman made of flesh and bones.
What is new about this upcoming version of Superman in comparison to the previous movies about the superhero?
The previous films were great, but they were very much rooted in the past reality, in a “lighter” world. “Man of Steel” is very modern and very much connected in today’s reality. The viewers need to feel a connection with the main character and the easiest way of achieving it is by giving it a realistic background. We are not taking any superpowers from Superman, but we combine two completely different worlds – the realistic one and the totally unrealistic. We’re showing what consequences for different characters result in such a clash.
What do you think is this new quality that you give to the character of Superman?
I don’t know, really. I can’t answer this question, to be honest. That’s just one of those things that other people ought to be asked about. The film will give you the answer.
Let me ask you differently, then. How much did you want to take part in “Man of Steel”?
Very much! I already was cast in 2004 when “Superman Returns” was being made, but it didn’t work out. Producers working for Warner Bros remembered about me and decided I was the right candidate for “Man of Steel”. Especially since I am the right age and I have more experience.
So maybe it’s good that you did not get the part then, but now?
I am very glad I was given a chance to play Superman now, I think it’s a perfect time. On the other hand, I don’t feel any special relief because I failed to do it the previous time, that was a completely different production and a completely different director.
Do you remember your very first reaction when you heard you were to become Superman?
Well…”God damn it, I am Superman!” – that was my very first thought. I was very excited, of course. I’ve been an actor for over twelve years and I got the part when I was 29. For the first time I have been given a chance to tell a story of an incredible character, a story which is wonderful and loved by people around the world. I was proud, but felt the responsibility on my shoulders. I was to give this character all my energy and job experience. Plus, I became a part of a wonderful ensemble – director Zack Snyder, producer Christopher Nolan, screenwriter David Goyer and wonderful cast. For the first time in my life I’d felt I was a part of a perfectly prepared project. On the other hand, I did not want to give in to the pressure.
How did you cope with the sudden explosion of popularity?
I focused on work. Although, the popularity is not necessarily a bad thing, because Superman’s fans are really great people. They love Superman, they think of him as a good person. I have never come across a negative reaction towards me, everyone is super excited.
I hear you’ve become a true expert on Superman. Have you been surprised by anything about him while you were preparing?
I was surprised by how complex the character is and how empathetic. It used to be said that Superman is a boring superhero, difficult to present as a multidimensional character. However, it turns out, that in the comic books there is a lot of immensely interesting material showing a tremendously complicated character. In “Superman Returns” we can see a superhero who is depressed, who shows many character traits, which, singled-out would not be too interesting, but put together, they create a fascinating hero.
Do you have any favorite classic Superman comics?
Yes, of course. “The Death of Superman”, I like it for both story which shows who he really is as well as the graphic art. I also like “Superman Returns” a lot. I particularly appreciate “Superman: Red Son”, because it shows my character from a completely different perspective. Those comics were a base for me – all possible colors and nuances which I would later on interpret for my own version of Superman. Following the limitations imposed by the script, of course.
Why do people still need superheroes? Years are passing, and we still want to see more versions of the same stories...
We’ve always needed them – the mythological heroes, and we will always need them. Society needs to have ideals and examples, a model, a standard to look towards. It’s natural.
Do you think it’s possible for you, after playing Superman, to picture yourself as an anti-hero?
Yes, after all it’s my job, I am an actor and I play different characters. It would be great to play a superhero just to become someone entirely different.
It seems that nowadays there’s a tendency to humanize superheroes, to give them human-like weaknesses. Will it be a similar case with Superman?
Unfortunately, I can’t say. Batman has always been very human-like, that’s the phenomenon behind him – no god-like element about him, but because he’s a genius and has a tremendous talent, he was able to build his unique position. I am not sure if we’re humanizing superheroes or if we’re allowing people to identify with them.
But Superman is an alien, he came from a far-away plant, so it’s more difficult to identify with him…
That’s true. This is exactly why we’ve put so much effort into making his world as realistic as possible. The combination of those two worlds – a hero gifted with unusual features and a very mundane world – allowed us to show something really interesting.
In “Kill Bill” we can find an interesting sentence. It’s about Superman being the most interesting of all superheroes, because he’s an exact opposite of every other superhero. He hides his true out-of-this-world identity under the mask of a weak, cowardly man (and not the other way round), which makes him a perfect critic of human nature. Have you used this concept?
We spent hours talking about it with Zack Snyder and the rest of the crew. We kept coming back to it over and over again, thinking about what kind of story we are to tell. As I’ve said, I can’t tell you too much so I’ll only say that Superman, Kal-El and Clark Kent are all the basis of the same person.
Okay, so how was the flying?
I remember wondering how to show that flying is not effortless on the one hand and the joy of it on the other. Besides, I had to fly in a very concrete, one-of-a-kind way!
Did you train a lot?
Yes. The training was unbelievably hard. Fortunately, the final effect was totally worth it. When I got the job, I was immediately introduced to Mark Twight, a founder of a prestigeous training center and a legendary mountaineer. I was given two months to prepare myself, exercising according to a schedule that was planned specifically for me, without any chance of easing up. Simple, individual exercises, about 90 minutes every day, something to regulate my weight. Later on, I started training with an instructor in California. That was a really difficult experience, I wasn’t expecting I would be able to cross so many physical barriers. I had no idea that even being tremendously tired, when you think that the body really can’t stand anymore of anything, it was still possible to finish a training. Then it was the most difficult phase – I had to eat 5000 calories a day and lift truly gigantic weights in order to build body mass. During the shooting of the film the amount of calories I was eating was limited to 2000 so I wouldn’t gain on weight. Later I was consuming 3000 calories daily. The training lasted about twelve months non-stop.
And what happened when the shooting was over? Did you start eating hamburgers and chocolates?
Yes, I stopped training for a while, especially because I got very sick when shooting was about to end. My body finally rebelled and I simply was not able to continue it for some time. However, I am taking care of myself now again. The secret is to like doing exercises , to look at it as a pleasure not duty.
It’s interesting that there are three British actors – Christian Bale, Andrew Garfield and you – who play iconic, American superheroes. Is it a coincidence?
I think so. We’re actors, we play different characters. I can assure you that privately I am nothing like the mighty Kryptonian. I am an ordinary English man. We, the actors, we simply need to fit to the characters; we need to look the way they ought to look, be of a proper age, have experience and fill director’s and producers’ requirements.
Okay, so how much time did it take you to get used to American culture and mores?
Now, after I have worked in the States for many years, I feel good here, I am very well accustomed with the American lifestyle. It was hard to fit at first. My father warned me: “Just because in America they speak English, it doesn’t mean it’s the same culture.” British culture is characterized by being reserved, by certain conveyances, while Americans are very outgoing, they would talk to you on a bus or on a train. In England it’s not common to keep an eye contact with other people whole you’re in a subway! I think that this American straightforward attitude is wonderful – it’s very pleasant to keep on meeting new people, to communicate with others instead of sitting closed tight within your own ego.
Empire magazine called you one of the unluckiest man in Hollywood. You almost played Superman in “Superman Returns”, you did not get to be James Bond in “Casino Royale”. What would say about it? Are you really unlucky?
No, not at all! The person who wrote it was completely wrong. But, to tell the truth, it’s because of the author’s story that I got to be a bit more recognized in the media, something which makes it way easier to appear in Hollywood. Isn’t it ironic? And besides, do I look like I’m unlucky?
Thanks to our fan Joanna for the scans and translation!