BURBANK, CALIFORNIA—Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s fresh take on the 75-year-old Superman legend, isn’t about the icon—well, not exactly. It’s more about what it takes to make an icon and be an icon, and what it means to carry that “icon” mantle—almost like a cape—around your burly, defined shoulders. (This is a look that star Henry Cavill, who plays the new Superman, is able to pull off.)
During a media day on a Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank, California, Cavill was asked what it means to “find his way into playing an icon”.
“First of all, playing an icon, you don’t try and be an icon, because that defeats the purpose,” he began. “The responsibility attached is enormous, and the realization that it actually really, really matters [to millions of people] meant that I wanted to put the most amount of work into representing the character properly.
“That especially applied when I was working out at the gym. When I felt that I couldn’t push any harder, couldn’t lift any more weight, I think: ‘Hold a sec, I’ve got to look like Superman. There’s a whole bunch of people out there relying on me to be that superhero.’ It really helped to push out those extra few reps and really become that character.”
Reps aside, when Man of Steel isn’t about the lengthy, elaborate action set pieces, it’s about what it means to be a man—and in this case, the man he becomes depends greatly on what it means to be the son of two fathers.
“People have a very proprietary relationship with Superman,” said David Goyer, who wrote the story and the screenplay for the film, which opens Friday (June 14). “It’s important to respect the iconography and respect the canon, and at the same time you have to tell the story: who the character is, what the conflicts are.”
“For me,” Goyer added, “it’s very simple. It’s a story about two fathers. Just as I was writing this, I became a stepdad and a dad, and my own dad died. I never thought that my own experience would find its way into something like this, but [Man of Steel ] is about a man with two fathers and he has to decide which he wants to choose.”
So, while Cavill was busy with his nose in the script and on the weight bench looking for inspiration, the filmmakers surrounded him with the well-thought-out origin story a boy needs to become the man—or Superman—he’s meant to be.
“Our personal mythology is all about who we are and where we come from, and adopted children—adopted families—have to create their own mythology a lot of the time,” said director Snyder, adding that his experience as a father of four adopted children greatly informed the film’s emotional arc.
Spoilers aside, the Clark Kent of comic-book lore is torn between his two fathers and their ideals of the manhood they want him to grow up to embody. In many ways, he chooses both, and his character is a composite of both his fathers and their influence on him.
His biological dad, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe), is a top scientist from the planet Krypton who sends his infant son hurtling toward Earth in an effort to save him. Clark interacts with Jor-El from beyond the grave, via some sort of soul-encryption device found on his crashed spacecraft.
Meanwhile, Clark’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), finds him after his spacecraft crashes on Jonathan’s farm in Kansas. The farmer and his wife, Martha (Diane Lane) raise the young humanoid alien as their adopted son but soon realize he has special powers that will always separate him from the rest of humanity—that, and the special form-fitting blue-and-red suit that is crafted in imitation of the ones worn by warriors and courtiers on his home planet of Krypton.
“If anyone’s holding her breath for the suit to be revealed, it’s his Mom,” Lane commented. “I mean, talk about your son coming out!”
Crowe, who plays Cavill’s dad from the planet Krypton, added that he had an interesting experience as a father during Man of Steel.
“I think Zack employed four babies as the recently born Kal-El, and it was unlike my own experience as a father of two, [in which] I’ve managed to dodge all the piss and the poo though I’m pretty slick with a nappie,” he began.
“In this movie, I got farted on first—that was okay—and then pissed on, a little inconvenient, and [then] the topper happened, under those hot lights. It was after lunch, which is to be expected, and I got a handful of the essential Kryptonian ‘material’. So I learned a lot, had new experiences as a parent on this movie than I previously had.”
Though many would argue that the stuff Crowe is referring to is the stuff parenthood is made of, Cavill insisted that there’s more to it than that: that Superman is inspired to save humanity by the guidelines he receives from his biological father.
“Jor-El says: ‘You have to give them hope,’ and…that ideal speaks to everyone. We all need hope, no matter what stage of life we’re in, no matter what century we’re in, whether we’re going through tragedy or not. It’s just hope that everything will be okay.”