Henry Cavill finds the complexity in playing Superman
Henry Cavill is the ideal Clark Kent. Mild-mannered, self-effacing, and the perfect gentleman, the British heartthrob embraces all the best qualities of Superman’s alter ego.
Beginning with Man of Steel (2013), Cavill gave his Kent a less clumsy and more reserved sensibility, compared to the late, great Christopher Reeves’ interpretation. Having created a distinct new Superman, he now takes things a step farther in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which we find him at odds with Ben Affleck’s Batman. The film invites audiences to witness the founding of the Justice League, and will lay the groundwork for a series of new Superman films in the years to come.
“This film expands on the world that you were introduced to in Man of Steel,” Cavill says. “Superman is now more confident and understands his role as a superhero better. He has a very strong sense of his mission on Earth and he disagrees with Batman’s way of doing things even though they both want to save lives and fight evil.”
In Batman v Superman, while the two DC Comics superheroes engage in their own private war, mankind faces a terrible new threat that makes it imperative that they put their differences aside and unite to save the planet. Directed by Zack Snyder, the film co-stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Diane Lane (Martha Kent) also reprise their characters from Man of Steel.
For the 32-year-old Cavill, the upcoming release of the highly-anticipated film will help him rebuild his career momentum after last year’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. disappointed audiences and critics alike.
Born in Jersey, England, to Colin and Marianne Cavill, Henry is the second youngest of five brothers. He was poised to carry on a family tradition of joining the military — his father served in the Navy before becoming a stockbroker, and two of his brothers are in the army and Royal Marines, respectively — until the lure of acting proved too strong.
Cavill’s acting career began in earnest with a small role in the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Christo starring Guy Pearce. He later achieved recognition as Charles Brandon in the highly acclaimed TV series The Tudors, opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
What do you think is behind the appeal of the Superman character?
He represents a champion for good versus evil. Superman is an ideal — he represents the good in all of us and he is determined to fight for justice as part of his mission in life. We may not have superpowers like he does, but he is someone whom we all admire and aspire to be like. He is a source of inspiration and hope, and when I play the character I try to reflect that with as much integrity and authenticity as possible.
Beginning with Man of Steel, would you say you’ve tried to make your mark on the character, and set your Clark Kent/Superman apart from Christopher Reeves’ interpretation?
It made no sense to try to emulate or compete with Christopher Reeves’ portrayal. That will always stand on its own and be cherished by audiences.
I tried to be as faithful to the character as possible and at the same time bring something of my own sense of both Clark Kent and Superman. I wanted my Clark Kent to be more retiring — someone who doesn’t want to draw any attention to himself. That’s why I didn’t want to play him as very clumsy or doing anything that makes people notice you. For Superman, I wanted to convey his integrity and sense of justice and capture his heroic and idealist spirit.
Given Superman’s extraordinary powers, is it essential to not turn him into this overly heroic or flawless being?
He’s not infallible, and he has his doubts at times. Those elements are very important in giving you a sense of his emotional vulnerability. I wanted to bring that to the character and I think it makes it so much more interesting for audiences to see that his man, even though he’s an extraordinary individual, also struggles at times to make sense of everything.
Do you share his very altruistic outlook?
I think we all want to do the right thing. I have always been guided by that kind of principle. I’ve made mistakes like everyone else, of course, and Superman is going to make mistakes even though he’s a very good man with noble ideals.
He still has this outsider’s sensibility, and as someone who has been the subject of bullying I understand the anger that he has experienced as a teenager. But in his case, it’s a big problem if someone with those kind of powers gets angry!
Do you get a boost out of wearing the Superman outfit?
Every time I put on the suit in the morning I would feel fantastic. It’s the ultimate feeling and that S is an iconic symbol. It’s not the easiest costume to get into and it takes several people to help get you into the suit because it’s a very tight fit. You become very close over the course of several months of getting you in and out of the suit!
Is this film taking off from where Man of Steel left us?
This film introduces us to Batman and the Justice League but it’s not a Superman sequel. We will see those films down the road and this one helps develop new storylines and expand the kind of universe that will set the stage for more Superman stories in the future I hope.
Were you a big Superman comic book fan when you were growing up?
No, not really, but I was aware of superheroes like Superman, of course. I went to boarding school where even if I would have been allowed to leave the school grounds there were no comic stores in the area anyway. But when I first auditioned for the role (for DC’s original reboot Superman Returns, which eventually went to Brandon Routh) I began reading everything I could.
Then for Man of Steel, I did even more research in order to develop my own appreciation and understanding of the character beyond what was simply in the script. When I went back to the original comic books I discovered a wealth of insights into the character that made him much more interesting to me and what as an actor I could bring to the role. I tried to search for the complexity in the character and I hope to keep exploring new layers to Superman as we go along.
Superman grows up feeling like something of an outsider. You yourself were subjected to a lot of teasing when you were a kid because you were overweight. Does that give you an added sense of his mindset?
I understood what it means to not feel that you fit in and you need to look within yourself more. I grew up with the kind of complex that comes from being overweight and constantly teased and getting called things like “Fatty Cavill.” When you’re fat, kids use that to pick on you and make fun of you and you can react very negatively and let that make you miserable and self-pitying or you can react against that and use it as a motivating factor to make you more self-reliant and determined to stand up for yourself. (Read how Cavill got shredded for the role.)
My parents were very instrumental in encouraging me to not let those experiences inhibit me or make me more cautious about life. I was taught to have a positive outlook and instead of letting myself feel sad or sorry for myself I developed a stronger sense of who I am and what I wanted to accomplish in my life. All (that abuse) made me much tougher and more anxious to prove myself.
Is there a kind of ego boost to playing Superman?
There’s a certain pride you can take in playing this kind of iconic figure and it creates some excitement with people. I don’t walk the streets thinking I’m Superman, though, although it’s not a bad image to have. And girls don’t seem to mind, either.
How does your family react to your Superman status?
My brothers tease me to death. They’re always saying things like, “Let’s see who gets to defeat Superman today!”
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in wide release March 25.