At last they meet. Not Batman and Superman, but Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck on the pages of ShortList. Andrew Dickens sits them down for a chat.
Actors, they say, always seem to be smaller than you think in real life. It’s usually true. Unless, of course, you’re more of a theatre-goer, where they tend to be exactly the same size.
Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck are exceptions to the rule. They are a big pair of lads. Cavill, you expect, would be an ounce of will and a tin of fake tan from winning Mr Universe; Affleck – taller, but still solid - looks every inch the retired NFL quarter-back.
A bit of physical presence is a start, of course, when you’re playing the world’s two most iconic superheroes. Batman vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice sees Cavill’s Man of Steel confronted by Affleck’s a none-too-impressed Dark Knight. An unforgettable clash of titans, you’d think, wouldn’t you? Think again.
What was it like shooting your first day together?
HC: I’ve been asked this, I don’t remember. Were we Clark and Bruce?
BA: Obviously it was really meaningful to both of us [laughs]! We passed a lot, we didn’t work together all that much.
HC: There’s a lot of build up towards the conflict but we’re not sort of hanging out. That’s next [laughs].
BA: It was just you and my stuntman in a metal suit [laughs].
HC: Ok. I’m going go with this answer: absolute amazing
BA: It’s seared into my memory. He was more masculine even than he appears in photographs [laughs].
HC: In all honesty, it must have been pretty cool. You’re focusing on the task at hand. If you step outside it, you look at it and go, “Wow! It’s Batman and Superman standing right next to each other!” but we don’t see it like that. It’s Henry and Ben about to do a job.
BA: It’s all so deconstructed, particularly the fighting. It’s all done bit by bit. Broken down into moment by moment. So you never get a sense of how cool, flashy and sexy it all is when it’s all put together with the visual effects and everything else. It’s inevitably some ignominious moment when you’re half-dressed and you’re wet, getting hoisted by wires. It’s never really as cool as it looks.
You’re spoiling the magic.
BA: Sorry! “Well, that doesn’t sound like a film I want to see.” [laughs]
Did you know each other before?
HC: We met once but we didn’t know each other.
Did you try to build up some animosity during the filming?
BA: Henry’s a tough guy to build animosity towards. He’s such a nice guy, going method wasn’t going to do the trick.
HC: And it’s acting. You don’t want it to be a bad working experience. It’s potentially 12 months of your life. If you don’t like each other, that’s really bad.
BA: A long time to be around someone you hate.
Did you get to do the fight scenes together though?
BA: We did indeed.
HC: It’s an awesome spectacle. I mean, woof! Sparks flying, the most amazing thing, best fight ever in movie history. Go watch it.
I assume there was a lot of physical prep and you’re both big guys. Were you gym buddies?
HC: I’d oil him up before his work outs. He didn’t return the favour that much.
BA: We did a lot of stretching with each other. It was important to get limber.
HC: Couple’s stretching.
BA: Some people thought it wasn’t necessary for us to lube one another up, but I felt like it helped. Having sex just before a work out can bond you closer.
Some sport coaches aren’t in favour of it before a big game.
BA: But what do they f*cking know?
HC: I think it’s all about releasing the testosterone. You don’t want to keep that pent up.
You also had Jason Mamoa on set. Is he in a different league?
HC: He’s a large man!
BA: He’s a beast.
HC: He’s a large man in every respect. He’s larger than life and wonderful with it.
Henry has to wear a Lycra body stocking, but Ben gets an armour plated suit. Is that cheating?
BA: I would do any cheating I possibly could, for the record. I never claimed that I’m an honourable bodybuilder. I’d take any edge that I possibly could. At my advanced age, it’s certainly not easy. I saw the first movie and I knew what Henry looked like, so I was running around reminding people that Batman’s a human being, Superman’s an alien.
HC: And all aliens are ripped.
BA: Aliens are known for being shredded, yeah.
HC: They don’t have junk food on Krypton.
That’s one of the big questions: Superman is a practically invincible alien, Batman is a guy in a suit. How do you make that a fair fight?
BA: It takes an hour of storytelling to make that plausible.
HC: There’s a complexity to it, which requires a lot of forethought. It’s not so simple as, “Oh yeah these guys are going to beat each other up”, because we all know how that ends. It makes sense.
Does Superman have one arm and one leg tied behind his back?
HC: That would work.
Without giving too much away, why can’t these guys get along?
BA: It comes down to the fact that in the comic books, we all know that Superman is a good guy and we trust him so we all take that for granted. But the tone of this movie is one of realism. And so it asked the question: “What would people really do if there was a Superman that showed up who was all powerful?” When he showed up, there was this terrible catastrophe where a lot of people died. Would anyone say, “but he’s really just a good guy!” Or would people react with fear? In real life, when people feel threatened, they react fearfully and sometimes violently. They want to protect themselves by getting the threat before it gets them.
HC: What he said.
Ben - why did you take the role? Obviously Henry was already in.
HC: I didn’t have a choice.
BA: Initially I wasn’t sure if this was the version of Batman, the down-the-middle Batman, that I wanted to do. But Zack showed me some graphics, paintings and short videos. Kind of what you see now in the movie. I thought it was interesting and unique and would allow me to explore these themes in a really cool way, in a movie I would be really proud of. A movie I’d be psyched to show my kids and really bummed if I missed out on.
Were you hesitant?
BA: There’s always risks. I’m not too risk averse. The movies I’m most glad I did, involved the most risks.
How would you describe his Batman, Henry?
HC: I would say the soul and heart of Batman is there, but it’s covered and masked by scar tissue. Let’s put it that way. There’s a vulnerability, but it’s shielded and armoured by experience and a bit of bitterness. They’re different sides of the same coin, in that both are looking for the right thing, to achieve the same goal, but they have different ways of going about it. And they don’t realise that until much later obviously.
What about you Ben? I read a description that said “older and f*cked up”.
BA: I could have said that, yeah [laughs]. Broken and introspective and disillusioned. Definitely kind of bitter. In that place where when Superman comes along, he takes the darker view and sees him as a threat, wrongly.
HC: Because, ultimately, he’s trying to protect people.
BA: And I think what Henry does with Superman, that’s actually much harder to do. He takes this alien who’s invulnerable and makes him feel human. And that’s the hardest thing with Superman, he could be such a f*cking boring, stiff, inaccessible character. Henry makes you feel for him. It’s a thankless job because once he does it, you feel “Of course! I can identify and empathise with this character.”
HC: Thanks man. So either I’m a really good actor or really bad because I can’t play an invulnerable alien who’s hard to associate with.
Ever since this film was announced, everyone’s had an opinion on everything from costumes to casting. Do you think it’s taken an unfair beating?
HC: We were talking about this earlier. It’s all part of the entertainment really. It’s great that people have an opinion, the more opinions the better. Because someone who’s going to give an opinion, negative or positive, is going to the movie. It’s not just the movie that’s the entertainment piece these days, it’s everything around it. All the negativity and the positivity which goes with it. I enjoy it.
BA: You just have to understand that if your movie is good then people will say it’s good. If it’s not, they won’t. Ultimately the work bears itself out. So until then, people are going to have fun voicing their opinions and that’s ok, too. That’s part of this business. If you can’t handle that then you’re probably in the wrong job.
There’s also a third wheel: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.
HC: That’s not a very nice thing to say.
BA: We love having him on our dates [laughs].
Tricycles are fine vehicles. What did you think of that take: a young Lex for modern age? A Palo Alto villain rather than your standard megalomaniac.
BA: All supervillains are billionaires.
HC: It’s uncanny! [Jesse as Lex] works. There’s no other way of saying it. There’s finesse and complexity to it.
BA: Yeah. I was doing Gone Girl with David Fincher when Jesse got cast and David said to me, “That’s brilliant. Eisenberg can do anything.” We were lucky to get him.
Is it a coincidence that they cast the guy who played Mark Zuckerberg?
BA: You’d have to ask them!
There are a few other characters in the film: Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash. How did that work out?
HC: I think that the Wonder Woman storyline works really well. Not that the Aquaman story doesn’t work really well, but the Wonder Woman storyline fits in seamlessly into the movie. It sets up a wonderful launch-pad for the DC cinematic universe to expand upon.
Do you have a favourite of the other characters?
HC: Ben [laughs].
BA: That’s taking far too political a stand! [laughs] You realise we’re all working together in the coming months?
Onto that expanding universe. I hate to use the M-word, Marvel…
BA: The M-word? I was going to say, is that a new one? “Whatever it is, I’m not going to say it.” [laughs]
Probably best you don’t. So, they seemingly have plans that go on to the 31st century. Are you privy to DC’s plans for the future?
BA: We’re privy to some of it, but I’m sure there’s a lot that we’re not quite privy to. We’re privy to the stuff that’s actually happening.
HC: Stuff that pertains to us is what we’re privy to. There’s plans which are so loose and mercurial because you don’t know about the success of what hasn’t happened yet. Once things are solidified as a success or not, then the plans start to formulate one way or another.
Do you feel it’s going to take on Marvel which is already a behemoth?
BA: Success won’t be relative to Marvel, I think these movies success will be measured against themselves. If they’re good then people will keep coming. Now, granted I’m really proud of this movie and I’ve seen some stuff from Suicide Squad that’s awesome. That’s going to kill. Looking at the tone that Deadpool strikes and seeing that audiences are open to playing with the genre a little bit. I think that augers well for Suicide Squad. Seeing the creative teams that are behind the movies in the pipeline at DC, I think they’re going to be very successful. But I don’t think it has to be measured in terms of what Captain America 3 or Iron Man 2 did. They‘re all just very different.
You haven’t been banned from talking to Marvel actors have you? You don’t have to blank Robert Downey Jr if you see him?
BA: [laughs] Not yet.
Apart from the lubing you mentioned earlier, what did you do to relax off set?
HC: Same stuff everyone does really. Have a beer, go for a meal, chill out. I was raising a puppy at the time, so a lot of my free time was taken up by that. That’s what I did to bring myself back to normality. Because the puppy needs to take a sh*t, take a p*ss and sometimes he does it in the house and it brings everything back to reality.
What’s he called?
HC: His name is Kal. For obvious reasons.