June 14--The new Superman looked ultra-serious.
Maybe it was the five months of lifting weights. Maybe it was the so-called "Superman curse" that has afflicted many who have played the role. Maybe it was the daunting fact that, starting today, he is about to become one of the more famous people on the planet.
Henry Cavill, 30, is the star of "Man of Steel," the Superman reboot that opens in thousands of movie theaters today, including several in Hampton Roads. With a budget of $225 million and marketing expenses of an added $150 million, it is one of the big hopes of Warner Bros. for the summer of 2013. It's also a big risk.
"If this thing tanks, I'm going to be right in the middle of it," Cavill observed.
"But what an honor! This character has meant so much to so many generations over the past 75 years. I had to keep that in mind as I lifted those weights one more time. I have to look like him. You feel as if you have to do it for him. I have to be him. That's quite an assignment, but it's done now. We send it out there."
Cavill said this while sitting on a soundstage at the Burbank, Calif., home of Warner Bros. Studios. Clad in a beige V-neck sweater, he looked like a sculpted statue -- the result of those months of weight training in preparation for the movie's two shirtless scenes. He acknowledges an obsession with the physical requirements of the part.
"Once you put on that suit, you feel it. You feel his presence. Put on the suit and you've got half the character -- if you're ready."
Aside from Cavill's face, Superman has a new look for "Man of Steel," with the first major outfit change in the hero's 75 years of cinema. The red bloomers are gone. So is the light-blue suit, in favor of a navy hue. The red cape is still there, but it's a deeper, more royal shade. The suit is now metallic-macho -- mod with a hint of heavy metal.
But Cavill contends that the look isn't the only thing that's new with this film treatment of the comic-book hero.
"He has to face major emotional challenges in that he's growing up on a strange planet with amazing powers. He tries to keep his powers hidden in order not to be exposed. He could stay Clark Kent all his life -- and hide. Eventually, he has to face the reality of his birth origins on the planet Krypton and his choice of whether to devote his life to saving his adopted planet. It didn't just happen. He had choices."
Cavill hasn't had as many choices.
The 30-year-old British actor has had a checkered, uphill career marked with disappointment. So much so that he was once considered the unluckiest guy in Hollywood, because of how close he came to major fame.
He virtually had the Superman job in 2002, when he was the choice of director McG who was going to direct "Superman: Flyby" until the studio insisted it be shot in Australia. McG backed out and the project became "Superman Returns," directed by Bryan Singer, who preferred relative unknown Brandon Routh to star as the hero. That film was disappointing to critics and at the box office.
Cavill was then in the running for the role of James Bond. The director wanted him, but the studio wanted an older Bond and chose Daniel Craig.
Cavill's fans mounted a write-in campaign to get him cast as Cedric Diggory in 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." The role went to Robert Pattinson.
Stephenie Meyer, the author of the "Twilight" books, pushed hard for Cavill as her "perfect Edward" in the movie version. But things were delayed so long that he became too old for the part of the teenage-looking vampire and it went, again, to Pattinson.
"It was just jobs here and there until I got Superman," Cavill said, succinctly. Not smiling. Deadly serious.
Cavill stares at you with intense blue eyes that seem to be pondering something of depth.
According to his press credentials, Cavill's left eye, although blue, too, has an alien spot of reddish-brown. His hair is coal-black.
"Give me a few months off, and I won't look anything like Superman," Cavill said. "I'm going to let my hair grow, and I don't lift weights as much when I don't have a shirtless scene coming up."
He is committed to two sequels, assuming the box office smiles on "Man of Steel."
"It's unnerving how good-looking Henry is," said Amy Adams, the four-time Oscar nominee who plays Lois Lane opposite him in "Man of Steel." "Up until now, my little daughter, 3, was most impressed that I had worked with the Muppets, but she kinda liked Henry's suit. She got to touch it."
He wasn't always a hunk.
"Growing up," he said, "I was a fatty. I mean to the point that I was bullied and girls didn't pay any attention to me. Even though I was fat, I wasn't weak. They couldn't bully me but so much because I was strong and fat -- but fat."
That, of course, changed. He went to an expensive British prep school and was particularly interested in Egyptian culture, "but, if I hadn't got modeling and acting work, I would have joined the Army."
His first movie role was in 2002's "The Count of Monte Cristo," and there were parts in "Red Riding Hood" (2004) and "Tristan and Isolde" (2006), but not many people noticed until he got the part of Charles Brandon, first Duke of Suffolk, in the Showtime television series "The Tudors."
In 2011 he got big-screen billing as Theseus, the son of a god, in the digital spectacle "Immortals."
As for his private life, all Cavill will reveal is that his girlfriend is named Gina. But it is known that she is Gina Carano, a mixed-martial-arts-competitor-turned-actress who is widely mentioned as a candidate for the title role in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. It could mean an appropriate mating of Wonder Woman and Superman.
Moving quickly not to get typecast as a superhero, Cavill is starring with Armie Hammer (the upcoming "Lone Ranger") in a big-screen adaptation of the TV classic "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." And, not one to give up, he has announced that he'd like to be in the running for James Bond, if and when Daniel Craig drops out of the role.
Cavill's career hasn't exactly been faster than a speeding bullet, but his persistence has finally turned a number of close calls into, well, a Superman.
Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347, firstname.lastname@example.org
Local listings for "Man of Steel."
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