When “Man of Steel” hits theaters on June 14, 2013, it’s possible that Superman will make saving the world appear effortless, but on August 29, 2011, Earth’s greatest superhero is sweating.
That’s not a criticism of the artist sometimes known as Clark Kent or Kal-El. Even the coolest of customers would wilt under the oppressive late-summer heat on the Plano, Illinois set of the DC Comics adaptation. And it’s not like Superman is just sitting under an umbrella chilling and sipping a super-mojito.
With background debris exploding into flame, Superman keeps trying to escape from a seemingly Kryptonian adversary, but every time he thinks he’s gotten free, he gets dragged back in, possibly tearing up bits of the road as he goes. To create the illusion of a preternaturally strong tug of war, star Henry Cavill is attached to a harness and the harness is attached to a crane. Between the effort and the costume and the temperature, the scene might as well be taking place in an oven and between shots, an assistant rushes out to pat the Man of Steel down with a Mountain Dew-colored towel. It’s an illusion-destroying act of charity.
Initially, it looks like a simple shot and Cavill very politely declines hydration, but after enthusiastic director Zack Snyder requests more and more takes, the actor is soon cooling down with a bag of ice.
It’s arduous, but Cavill keeps joking and laughing with extras and stand-ins.
“I’ve got a harness on underneath it, so I’m moving quite stiffly, but it’s really not so bad,” Cavill insists, talking to a small group of reporters.
You get the feeling, though, that even if Cavill were suffering, he wouldn’t grouse. Being Superman is about the power and the suit, but it’s also about the aura. Oh and the hair. While I assume that it has something to do with the way his Kryptonian DNA is impacted by our Earth’s atmosphere, Superman’s hair is a force of nature all its own. It never moves and never has to be touched up. You could audition thousands of actors and never find one capable of portraying Superman’s hair, much less the rest of the package.
“Henry is like, Superman-ish, you know, in his feel,” Snyder tells us. “He’s really kind. He’s incredibly humble in real life. He can project a naïveté, which is nice, without seeming naïve, which is really a difficult quality. I don’t feel like you can take advantage of him, but he’d still help you change your tire if you had a flat tire on the side of the road. There’s a fine line there.”
Adds “Man of Steel” producer Deborah Snyder, “Henry has been really awesome because he”s here almost every day and his training, and to maintain the training when we”re shooting is quite a big deal. So sometimes he”s getting up at four o”clock in the morning and he trains before he comes to set. He hasn”t complained. [I]t”s kind of a rare thing because I mean, everything that he”s asked to do, he even moved out here because we were all staying in Naperville because that”s where the training facility is and because it”s a 45 minute ride. He moved out here to like, one of the smaller hotels so he could get in his training and still come to work.”
Given the skin-tight nature of the Superman suit, it’s hard to miss that Cavill has been working out intensely, or perhaps it would be more fair to say that it would be hard to ignore if he decided to take a week off from working out. It doesn’t sound like he’s been given many cheat-days, though.
“Two hours a day on a mix of calories depending on what sort of work we’re doing,” Cavill says in his native British accent. “We started off at about 3,000 a day plus shake. That’s about 3,500. But, two hours of work and then we moved up to 4,000 and then up to 5,000 calories. Now, we’ve dropped down to about 3,500 while we’re doing an hour’s training every morning because if I keep that high calorie intake I’m going to start putting on fat weight, but if I drop too low I’m going to start losing all the new muscle I’ve gained. But, an example of the sort of workouts we’ve been doing recently? A couple of weeks ago it was 100 front squats in body weight. We’ve been quite fond of doing the 100 repetition stuff recently and heavy as well. I’m trying to think of the other good stuff. But generally, the guys work out with me now. And so, we all have a bit of fun doing it as well.”
The preparation has worked. Cavill looks the part. And this isn’t the first time Cavill has looked the part. While audiences know him from Showtime’s “The Tudors” and the similarly body-conscious “Immortals,” even before his name was floated to play this version of Superman, movie fans knew him from the last time his name was floated to play Superman, back in 2004 when McG tapped him for the role before that film went fallow and Bryan Singer chose Brandon Routh for “Superman Returns.”
It’s an experience Cavill is matter-of-fact about.
“I don’t know what it was called at the time, but it was the McG movie,” he recalls. “Yeah, the McG movie and then when Bryan (Singer) came on he had his own script and his own idea and I wasn’t a part of that process.”
Certainly, Cavill knows the pressure that comes from being associated with Superman and he admits that he particularly feels that pressure when he meets awestruck children.
“That is the biggest of effects so far. Everyone else, you know, when people say, “Oh, it’s Superman,” and all sorts, you just sort of ignore the pressure,” Cavill says. But when it comes to seeing a kid who actually believes you’re Superman, doesn’t see Henry Cavill the actor playing Superman, it’s, “Daddy, it’s Superman,” and he’s hiding his face, he’s scared and then he wants to… little babies reaching out for you, that is nuts because the responsibility attached to that it’s…they’re going to have that experience for the rest of their life, when they met Superman, not when they met Henry Cavill who is an actor playing Superman. I think that’s really important, for such an incredible icon to do that just right. If you mess that up, you’re the wrong guy for the role.”
Viewers are only two weeks from getting to decide for themselves if Cavill is the right guy for the role.
Click through to the next page for highlights from Cavill’s conversation with reporters on that August day. I’ve made some trims, but I’ve left in enough examples of his invocation of the Nolan Clause for you to get a sense of the on-set secrecy, as well as his character insights.
In the chat, Cavill discusses his American accent, his physical preparation and the impact of Zack Snyder’s style on his work.
Q: We heard you guys are shooting six day weeks and it sometimes involves you waking up at four in the morning, working some very long hours. Is this even more challenging of a role than you anticipated? Talk a little bit about just the daunting nature of this role and this project.
Henry Cavill: As far as anticipation? No. It’s exactly as hard as I anticipated, so I’m okay, so I’m not going to sort of suddenly stop and went, “Oh my god, this is impossible.” I was expecting very early mornings, so I’ve got to get up, train in the mornings and then go to work for a 12-hour day. That’s all expected and fine. As far as the sheer scope of it, it’s wonderful. The more the days go on, the more I’m enjoying it.
Q: So have you flown around on wires yet?
Henry Cavill: There’ll be no flying around on wires just yet. There has been an awful… well, it’s a little bit I suppose, of being, you know, heaved about the place.
Q: It’s certainly very rich in terms of coming to terms with two identities — Kal and Clark — and having to reconcile that. So, talk a little bit about what’s involved with that dramatically and what it allows you to do.
Henry Cavill: I can’t really answer that. I’m going to have to invoke the Nolan Clause because I may give away essential things.
Q: What’s something that a lot of us are really happy to hear is it’s very realistic. Talk a little bit about when you first heard that it was going to be so realistic-based and just the way you guys are playing it?
Henry Cavill: The realism, I liked the idea of immediately, because as the traditional Superman fans know what it’s all about and they will hopefully love and associate with the character anyway, sort of grown up with him and been there through his various stages of development. But, the people who aren’t diehard Superman fans still need to be able to associate with the character and that needs to have a sense of realism in today’s world, certainly a sense of science as opposed to mythology attached to it as well. So, people, as I say, can associate and have an emotional connection with him.
Q: You are shooting here in Plano and when we were driving by we saw one of the hardware stores had Superman painted on the glass. Would you say how community’s really embraced the shoot so far?
Henry Cavill: From what I’ve heard, there’s Superman stuff everywhere. I’ve heard about Superman ice cream, Superman cookies, a welcome sign to Superman cast and crew outside banks, that kind of stuff. I think that’s really cool.
Q: I understand that you’ve been reading some “Superman” comic books lately. What are some of your favorites, and possibly even what some of your least favorites?
Henry Cavill: Least favorites is a new one. Favorites — I’ll start with that one. Recently, my most recent favorites, the New Krypton saga and otherwise, “Death of Superman,” “Return” and I quite like “Red Son,” very different and that was great for character study, because it gave me an entirely different perspective on the character and therefore, gave me a couple of nuances I could act. I won’t tell you what they are. Least favorite? I don’t really know. I haven’t thought about that one.
Q: How is it portraying such an American icon?
Henry Cavill: How is it? It’s a lot of fun.
Q: Is it intimidating?
Henry Cavill: I don’t think there’s an intimidation to it as such. Certainly if I really thought about it and concentrated, there’s been a couple of phases where people have said, they’ve been explaining to me all the “Superman” cookies and the ice creams and I saw “organic kryptonite” next to “organic corn” sign on the way down here. There was a second where I went, “Wow, this is massive.” You gotta ignore that and not let it get to you otherwise you’ll be focusing so much on the pressure as opposed to actually dealing with the important thing which is doing justice to the character.
Q: Which side is a little bit more difficult for you to play? Do you connect more with the Clark side or with the Kal-El side?
Henry Cavill: I connect with both equally. I really want to explain why because I’ve got a great answer, but I’m going to give away plot points.
Q: Now we know that Zack is shooting a lot in handheld with a lot of intimacy in the way he was shooting the scenes we saw earlier today. What are the advantages of that for you in your character?
Henry Cavill: I mean, it’s intimate for the watcher, but it’s no different for the actor. John’s very good-the cameraman. He’s fantastic because he’s not an obtrusive person. He’s not in your way in the space. He’s there and you got a camera right here moving forward and backwards and side to side, but it’s easy to phase him out in your head. But as far as ease of acting goes, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. I mean, it’ll seem more intimate to you guys, but it’s exactly the same for us.
Q: David Goyer said that Superman has to make some terrible choices in this story. Again, without going into detail, which he didn’t of course, does that make it more interesting? I mean, even when you were in the running to play this, is it just more interesting as an actor to play a flawed Superman as opposed to a sort of God-like being that’s invulnerable?
Henry Cavill: My instinctual answer will be “Yes,” however, a flawed being is closer to human, and therefore, potentially less interesting to play than something further away from human. I think it certainly adds an interesting touch to a character which we’ve become so used to being God-like, to use your word. It makes it more fun to play because there’s more choice in reactions to everything as opposed to, “Oh yeah, well, I’m God-like, so therefore this. Oh, I can actually do this, this, this, this, this or this.” It allows me to add more of my own flavor to this character.
Q: You said that you’re obviously able to bring some of your own personality.
Henry Cavill: Yeah. When I said “my own flavor,” I’m not saying my own personality. I mean, as an actor, to leave an imprint upon a role which is so iconic is a wonderful opportunity. It’s not necessarily my personality I’m putting in, it’s the choices I make as an actor to add a different — now don’t take this the wrong way, I mean, it’s still very much what the source material is — but my own way of interpreting what the character is.
Q: The things you can’t tell us about the process you’re in now, were there any particularly memorable moments in the audition process, in the casting process leading up to this-things that happened already?
Henry Cavill: Naturally, screen testing for this was memorable, but not in the sense that a lot of people seemed to assume, which is, “What was it like putting the suit on and being Superman and being there and being shot as Superman?” It was more of a nerve-wracking, “Am I doing it right? Am I going to get the role? How do I look? Is it okay? I haven’t prepared… I haven’t had a chance to prepare nearly enough for this!” Yeah, all of the above. So, it was definitely a nerve-wracking experience. As soon as it had finished, as I always do after you finish a screen test, I just forgot about it and because in case I didn’t get the role, you don’t want to be disappointed, because if you do that in every role you get then you’ll end up throwing yourself off a building.
[A few more answers, including his discussion of Clark/Kal’s accent, are on Page 3.]
Q: What was your first reaction to seeing the changes in the suit?
Henry Cavill: My first reaction? I honestly thought it was really cool. There’s something about the suit which you don’t know what to expect. You come onto a project like this and you hear about modernization and you hear about bringing everything forward and to today and all you can do is hope that it’s going to look cool and different from anything else you’ve seen before. I’m pretty sure it does. I love putting it on. I love going through all the different phases of how the suit developed. Yeah, it was really exciting.
Q: The first concern as soon as you were cast among fans was, can he do the accent? Would you mind letting us just hear your American accent.
Henry Cavill: Under normal circumstances, if you came in on a day where I was doing dialogue, I’d be more than happy to. But because I have not warmed it up at all… Doing an accent is like going into the gym for a workout. If you pick up the heaviest weight possible and try and clean and press it, you’re going to pull something. So, you need to warm it up and then you can go into doing all the heavy weight exercises. You’ll see in the movie. So, I would not do it justice now. I might do it justice, but it’s a risk. If it comes out all squiffy and funny then it’s going to be not good.
Q: Can you tell us what the accent is?
Henry Cavill: Midwest.
Q: How did you sort of develop it?
Henry Cavill: How you develop it? Drill, drill, drill, drill, practice, practice, practice. Like gym training, you just gotta build up those muscles so they’re used to doing that kind of movement.
Q: Easy or hard?
Henry Cavill: I had done American accents before and I’d worked with this coach before as well. Some bits, initially tricky because you’re rusty, but then it got easier as time went on and it does become quite natural. I often find during a day of shooting I will speak in an American accent all day long when I’m doing dialogue. At the end of the day, it often takes an effort when I’m talking to my fiancé to bring my English back just because you’re so used to speaking that way.
Q: Can we hear your Kryptonian accent?
Henry Cavill: No.
Q: Talk a little bit about the stuff that you prepared for besides the action stuff besides getting training for the role physically? [That was the question. Cavill answered about his physical preparation.]
Henry Cavill: Okay, physical training for the role has been extraordinary intense. Mark Twight, the chap from Gym Jones, has been putting me through the ringer big time. Two hours a day on a mix of calories depending on what sort of work we’re doing. We started off at about 3,000 a day plus shake. That’s about 3,500. But, two hours of work and then we moved up to 4,000 and then up to 5,000 calories. Now, we’ve dropped down to about 3,500 while we’re doing an hour’s training every morning because if I keep that high calorie intake I’m going to start putting on fat weight, but if I drop too low I’m going to start losing all the new muscle I’ve gained. But, an example of the sort of workouts we’ve been doing recently? A couple of weeks ago it was 100 front squats in body weight. We’ve been quite fond of doing the 100 repetition stuff recently and heavy as well. I’m trying to think of the other good stuff. But generally, the guys work out with me now. And so, we all have a bit of fun doing it as well. For example, if Mike Levitz, who’s the assistant trainer, Mark Twight myself with training, we’ll just do 10 reps of a weight and then someone drops out, they do 10, someone drops out, they do 10. By the time the third person’s finished their set, you come in and do your 10, up to 100. Otherwise, training stuff, I mean, it’s huge amounts of kettle bell workouts. Does anyone know, has anyone sort of been through a strict training program before? Basically, it’s hard work. I’d love to have Mark here so he could actually run you through some of the stuff we do. But, prep-wise, the most intensive has been the physical.
Q: In comparison to “Immortals”, how is your regimen?
Henry Cavill: “Immortals” was very much a martial arts-based training program, a lot of body weight stuff, very little in the way of actually lifting heavy weights and a very, very low calorie diet. This is the opposite in the sense that it’s a very high calorie diet, and been lifting very, very heavy weights.
Q: Do you feel you carry yourself differently, in normal every day life, do you feel differently? Do you feel that you walk differently, you move differently, think differently?
Henry Cavill: You definitely do walk and move differently just because if your training is good, your muscles are all equally balanced, a lot more so than, for example, what I had been. I feel stronger and more able in everything I do. As a person, does it change me? I hope not. But, I mean, no one said it has so far. I’m really getting quite big now.
Q: You’re working out with your mind even?
Henry Cavill: A large amount of constant activity will get things going. For example, training in the morning will have everything, all the juices flowing by the time you actually get to work. So, when you’re at work, you’ve been already up for an hour or so or two hours, and you’re raring to go where everyone else is still wiping sleep out of their eyes.
Q: Talk a little bit about, obviously Warner Brothers wants to make this-they’re hoping it’ll turn into a big franchise for them. Was it a little weird for you to sign onto something where you’re signing on for multiple pictures, a character that you could be playing again and again? Or is it sorta like you’re only going to want to do this if the film is successful?
Henry Cavill: It’s pretty much standard procedure these days to sign a three-picture option deal, so you get the first job. In fact, it’s a pre-screen test half the time these days, so you do the screen test and if they say they want you, you have to take the job. Then, they get to choose whether you’re hired for the second and third. So that’s something I’ve really gotten quite used to over the years, because you just never know.
Henry Cavill [As he exits]: I’m sorry I couldn’t answer half the questions. Maybe in 2013.
“Man of Steel” will be in theaters everywhere on June 14.