New-look Superman gets ready to fly

By Michele Manelis

The stars and creator of the new Superman movie talk to Michele Manelis about rebooting - and re-caping and re-tighting - the iconic character

Director Zack Snyder is sitting on a Warner Bros soundstage humming the opening theme to the 1950s Superman TV show.

His youthful appearance and energy belie his 47 years. He has the demeanour of the sort of fan who might break out his own superhero costume when the mood takes him.

"Well, I'm a fan. I was always interested in Superman. It was on TV every day after school and you couldn't miss it; it was everywhere," he laughs.

"There were moments when I'd see Henry Cavill in the costume and I'd just dork out a little bit over the coolness of it. It's pretty fun to make a Superman movie; it doesn't get much better than this."

Snyder already is a one-man Comic-Con. Having made his feature debut in 2004 with zombie remake Dawn of the Dead, the one-time commercials director came to wider notice with 300, his 2007 adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book about Spartan warriors.

Then came his 2009's twilight zone superhero epic Watchmen, which he quickly followed with avian animated fantasy Legend of the Guardians and the much derided girl-powered action fantasy Sucker Punch, his only film from an original script.

But that misfire did not stop Warner Bros putting him in charge of its US$225 million ($285 million) sure-fire blockbuster with Batman reinventors Chris Nolan as producer and screenwriter David S. Goyer.

Unsurprisingly, the reboot of this much-awaited superhero movie presents a darker, brooding man-of-steel than the previous big-screen incarnations - the first of the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeves in 1978 created the blueprint for the modern superhero movie.

Although 2006's melancholic Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer, won wide acclaim, it disappointed Warner Brothers with its near US$400 million box office return. The company's then-president said it didn't have enough action for the teenage male market and a sequel was scrapped.

Eventually, with the success of Nolan's trilogy of DC Comics' other great superhero, as well as the Marvel Comics conveyor belt of blockbusters, it became inevitable that Superman would rise again - and that a new set of broad shoulders would be stretching out that "S". Like Reeves and Superman Returns' Brandon Routh before him, Brit Henry Cavill was a relative unknown when he was cast, his biggest roles being the lead in 2011 mythological action flick Immortals and as Henry VIII's brother-in-law in television series The Tudors. Muscle-bound, darkly handsome and square-jawed, 30-year-old Cavill certainly looks the part to play comic book royalty.

Also considered were Zac Efron, Armie Hammer, and Sam Worthington. But Cavill had come down this road before and kept his expectations low - he had been up for the role in Superman Returns before Singer came on board and opted for Routh.

"So this was my second chance to play him. And I was ready.

"How badly did I want the role?" he repeats the question. "Really badly. I fought for it, I just did my best, and something right happened."

Says Snyder: "We liked what Henry was doing in the audition. Then we put him in the original Christopher Reeve costume because we didn't have the modern one made yet. And by the way, let me just tell you, even though everyone goes, 'Oh Christopher Reeve's costume is awesome'. It is not awesome. If I laid it out on this table, it would look like a used condom; a shrivelled-up thing," he says. "It's spandex and you need to fill spandex in order for it to have shape.

"But when Henry came out of his trailer in this ridiculous suit, the crew - the crusty, jaded grips who've seen everything - they looked at him in this thing, and nobody laughed. Nobody smiled. Everyone was heart-attack serious. It was like, 'Here comes Superman'. It was powerful."

Looks aside, Cavill possesses an intensity that Snyder regarded as an important element. "I wanted to go for the earnest quality of Superman. The trait of wanting to help, being a first responder; he's the type of person who can't not help. And in order to take the world we made seriously - with fantastical elements and UFOs flying around - Henry had to have the weight of Superman and have that weight be serious."

Interestingly, there are some similarities between Cavill's background and Clark Kent's early years: both fell victim to schoolyard bullying.

Although it's difficult to believe, sitting a few inches away from the strapping Cavill, apparently it wasn't always that way. "Fat Cavill" attended boarding school in Buckinghamshire away from his family home on the Channel island of Jersey.

It didn't help that he was prone to homesickness, often crying on the phone to his mother.

If success is the best revenge, it must be a little surreal to be in the kind of shape for which he's now celebrated. He smiles. "It definitely gives you a different perspective, certainly, and I am thankful for a different perspective. But kids are kids and they will always be mean. They are stretching their social muscles and trying to figure out where they fit into the social ladder.

"But there's no grudge held and I think what's really kept me grounded now is my upbringing. I have two amazing parents who have always told me to do the right thing but do my own thing, and to remain humble and thankful. And my brothers would kick my ass as soon as I'm not humble."

The fourth of five brothers, his mother Marianne works as a secretary in a bank, and his father, Colin, is a stockbroker.

Cavill's life changed when a casting agent went to his school in search for an actor to star in The Count of Monte Cristo. At 17, he landed the role, lost 10kg and "Fat Cavill" was no more.

Now that he will forever be associated with Superman, Cavill has his own perspective on why British actors are stealing such iconic American roles as Batman and Spider-Man.

"I don't think British actors have anything over the Americans; I don't think it's a versus situation. When it comes down to Christian Bale, Andrew Garfield, and myself, we just happen to be the right age and have the right look and experience to fit into the respective director's visions.

"It's got nothing to do with Brits being better than Americans at all," he says.

The Man of Steel cast includes Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Ma and Pa Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, and Russell Crowe as Superman's biological father, Jor-El. Michael Shannon plays the malevolent General Zod, the Krypton survivor who is out to destroy mankind.

Some of the highlights of the film are the battle scenes between Jor-El and Zod, as well as those between Superman and Zod, which take place on Earth as well as on Krypton.

As for a possible sequel, Snyder says, "We really just wanted to make sure this one worked, so there were no ideas we were saving for sequels. We shot all our bullets, because the one idea that you keep back might be the one thing that would have made it more successful." He pauses.

"But then again, you can't do a Justice League movie without Superman, right?" hinting at the fanboy holy grail of Chris Nolan's Batman and Superman joining forces on screen.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself. For now, I just wanted to make sure Superman's house is in order."

What: Man of Steel, the latest big screen incarnation of Superman
Who: Henry Cavill as Superman, directed by Zack Snyder
When: Opens June 27

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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