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.