- "I guess you can say Henry was born to play Superman," director Zack Snyder says
- Cavill was almost cast as the hero in 'Superman Returns' but ultimately lost the role to Brandon Routh
- Cavill trained for four months to build his body for the role
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Henry Cavill wears blue jeans, flip-flops and a T-shirt while walking through a flock of diners at Fishbar restaurant, but it might as well be a form-fitting bodysuit and a red cape.
Maybe it's his stride, physique, deep blue eyes and coiffed dark hair, the guy really does look like Superman, even while relaxing at a beach eatery.
"When my hair was longer months ago, you wouldn't have said as much," says Cavill, 30. "But at the moment, yeah, I guess there's a certain resemblance."
This "certain resemblance" was strong enough that director Zack Snyder nabbed the British actor to play the iconic comic-book character in Man of Steel, the much-awaited Superman reboot that hits screens June 14. It was also enough that Cavill was pursued for 2006's Superman Returns, though he lost out to Brandon Routh when the project switched directors.
The experience of having come so close just makes snaring the Man of Steel role that much more poignant. It also gave Cavill some valuable training for the path-seeking character he portrays.
"I guess you can say Henry was born to play Superman," says Snyder, noting the actor's physical similarities. "But all these life experiences have come together. He's gone through a journey. In our movie, Clark Kent gets jostled around by life and then becomes Superman. Henry has done the same thing."
Cavill already has had an impressive career, including roles in 2002's The Count of Monte Cristo, Showtime's The Tudors and 2011's Immortals (which had a No.1 opening weekend with $32 million).
But he also has shrugged off high-profile setbacks such as losing out to Daniel Craig for the role of James Bond.
"Having had all the ups and downs maybe made me want to work all the harder," Cavill says. "Yeah, bad things will happen to you. And you'll get kicked (down) a few times. Stand up."
But with Man of Steel, "I got lucky enough to have a second shot with different people whose vision I fit into," he says.
Snyder was hooked on Cavill after his December, 2010 audition and became fully convinced after a screen test with the actor wearing Christopher Reeve's Lycra Superman outfit. Even though Cavill was out of shape after being directed to eat pizza to appear like a regular guy for 2012's The Cold Light of Day, Snyder knew he had his man.
"When he came out in the suit, it was like, 'OK, that's our Superman,' " Snyder says.
Cavill recalls the phone conversation when he found out he had the part. He was ignoring calls while playing video games before he noticed his potential employer was trying to reach him. When they finally connected, Snyder was too polite.
"I'm thinking, 'He's letting me down easy,' Cavill says. "And then he said, 'I was also wondering if you wanted to do a little movie with me.' Inside there were fireworks going off. But I played it extremely cool."
The "little movie'' called for the supersuit to be updated with an "alien" look. A cast was assembled that includes Russell Crowe as his father, Jor-El, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Meanwhile, Cavill immediately underwent a physical regiment capped by four months supervised by 300 trainer Mark Twight.
Cavill says he shunned using performance-enhancing drugs ("I like to see the results for myself and think I did the honest course") and computer-graphic tricks to make his body look bigger on-screen.
"I wanted it to be me," he says. "It helped me get into character. And also because it's my name. I wanted to provide that image (of Superman) and make it reality."
Cavill dove into the workouts and a 5,000-calorie daily diet to bulk up. The subsequent body-sculpting phases, when he drastically cut the calories, were far harder to handle. But Snyder says the actor never lost his cool — even when he was shirtless and wet for scenes shot outside in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"We were shooting under this Blackhawk helicopter, and the downdraft was blowing a million miles an hour," Snyder says. "Henry was wet and freezing cold. And he never said a thing. Never complained. He's just amazingly gracious all the time."
Cavill bottled up his outbursts and later vented in private.
"If I was being irritable, I'd save it for being in the car,'' he says. "Just some choice words. And I could be professional and go back on set again.''
Antje Traue, who plays Superman's mortal enemy Faora, couldn't help but compliment her costumed screen foe on the Plano, Ill., set.
"He became that person. Seeing him in the suit, you say that he is Superman," she says. "And he's superhumanly attractive."
Cavill is aware of the risk of placing an estimated $200 million movie and a potential franchise on the shoulders of a relative newcomer, and he accepts that responsibility: "I'm the one who is going to take a hit if this doesn't work.''
But Snyder believes that Cavill's newness is beneficial.
"You don't have the baggage that other actors might have going into a part like this," he says. "People can just look at him and go, 'Wow, it's Superman.' That's fun."
Maintaining his superhero's famous decorum in public is clearly important to Cavill. He pauses repeatedly to make eye contact and says "thank you'' every time the waitress fills up his water glass. And when interview topics stray into areas he deems too personal, such as girlfriend Gina Carano, a mixed martial artist, Cavill gives a calm but firm rebuff.
"I would love to talk about that," he says before not talking about it.
He does show hints of a wild side when discussing the odd night with the movie crew to unwind or his favorite cheat meal (Chicago-style thick-crust pizza). But the details and temptations are kept firmly in check — he has a character to protect.
"If I'm walking around an unhealthy mess, it might damage (people's) idea of what Superman is," Cavill says. "So there is a responsibility."
He takes the image so seriously that he won't even take his shirt off when he heads to the beach.
"You set yourself up for too much criticism and speculation on the Internet,'' he says. "So I'm keeping all my semi-nudity private for now."
Cavill has signed a contract for two more Man of Steel installments, though any sequels no doubt will depend on how Steel does at the box office. "It's up to Warner Bros. and everyone out there," Cavill says. "If they want to see more of this Superman, then I'm sure we will. But until then, there's no knowing."
The actor does not buy into a Superman curse ("If anything bad happens to me, it's not because Superman made it happen"). Nor does he fear being stereotyped in the role — a fate that has befallen other actors.
"There is always that risk. But it's a risk I'm glad to take," he says. "The way to break out of that is to do a different role."
To that end, Cavill just signed on to star as a spy in Guy Ritchie's adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., replacing Tom Cruise, who is no longer associated with the project. He is tight-lipped about his Napoleon Solo role except to say he'll be alongside The Lone Ranger star Armie Hammer, who will play Illya Kuryakin.
"Things are full-steam ahead. It's all very early days. But it's gonna happen," Cavill says before pausing. "Well, this is Hollywood. It's supposed to happen."
He might be understandably cautious, given his history. But Cavill knows he's one Hollywood success story that has taken off after a few scrubbed launches.
"It's like, wow, I've been in this biz for 13 years and worked really hard. I've suffered a lot. And I've put my all into everything I do. And it's so nice to have it come back in such a beautiful way."
As he exits the restaurant, Cavill makes it clear that he plans to repay the kindness.
"I'm going to go fly around a bit," he says as he walks away. "Maybe save some lives."