'Man of Steel' Cast Interview: Why Superman Had to Be Reinvented For a New Generation

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Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Although this summer has been full of highly-anticipated blockbusters, 'Man of Steel' may be the one that has worked fans into the biggest tizzy. The long-overdue follow-up to Bryan Singer’s 'Superman Returns,' conceived as a reimagining of the character from the ground up, promises the kind of moral complexity of the last three Batman movies, while still retaining the energy and frenetic action of, well, all of the earlier Superman movies. Director Zack Snyder created a singular vision for Superman’s beginnings, rebranding the character as an outsider struggling to find his place in a world that he knows is not his own.

At the recent Los Angeles press day, we got to speak with the cast and crew of 'Man of Steel.' In addition to discussing the challenge of bringing Superman back to life, the actors talked about their physical and psychological roles within the film, while the filmmakers offered their perspective on why the character endures – and why that enduring persona had to be reinvented for a new generation.

Henry, did you feel some sort of responsibility playing Superman, and how did you find your way into this iconic character?

Henry Cavill: First I don't think it's about finding my way into an icon. Playing an icon, you don't try to be an icon because that defeats the purpose. The responsibility attached is enormous and the realization that it actually really, really, matters meant that I wanted to put the most amount of work into representing the character properly. That especially applied when I was working out in the gym, when you feel you can't push any harder and you can't lift anymore weight. You think, 'Hold on a second, you've got to look like Superman.' There's a whole lot of people out there who are relying on me to be that super hero. So it really helped to push those extra few reps and just become that character.

Henry, have you taken anything from other actors that have played him before and how did you want to be different from them?

Henry: I did not take anything from the other characters that played it before. As an actor, the way I do it and the way I viewed it is that all the actors that have come before, it's their interpretation of the source material—source material being the comic books—and I wanted to have my interpretation. Not out of a sense of ego, but in a sense that it might be a disjointed performance if I have someone else's personality and their influence affect the interpretation of the character. So I went straight to the comic books and saw the older movies, but I did not apply those performances to mine.

Clark spent his childhood being told he couldn't fight, but is then placed in a situation where he has no choice, how does he break through that?

Henry: He broke through it in the period where gets the sage advice from Jor-El, and it's there where he really gets to test himself. When it comes to the fighting aspect, it's not really a matter of choice—you have to—and when it comes to characters like that, it's not 'Okay, now I've got to change my thinking. You just respond accordingly, and that's what’s required in fighting.

Zack Snyder: Don't forget that the first punch that he throws is in defense of his mother so it's not like—

Henry: It's instinctual.

I don't think we have ever seen Kal-El or Clark this conflicted about his existential life and who he is. Was any classic Superman material helpful in exploring that?

Henry: As far as the conflict that he went through or the journey, it wasn't about classic Superman material. So when you see Clark traveling through the world and trying to work out what and who and why he is, I didn't go to source material for that, I just applied my own life to that. As actors, it's quite a lonely existence unless you have someone traveling with you the entire time. You spent a lot of time by yourself and you meet new people and you make temporary families and you love them. And then you never see them again, potentially, apart from the press conference. You just apply that to the character and that's exactly what he experiences. New groups of people constantly, and then disappearing again and having to introduce himself to these other people and prove to them he's a nice guy who tries to do all the right stuff. And then all of a sudden, he disappears again. So it's just that lonely aspect that I applied to it opposed to any classic Superman material.

In deciding what the structure of the movie was going to be and who was going to be the main opposing force in the film, what was it about Zod that made you think, 'Yeah that's the story I want to tell?'

Zack: I think the cool thing about Zod, he offers a real threat to Superman. A physical and emotional threat to Superman that is much stronger then any earth bound threat. He's able not only to match him physically, but also represents his people—he's a hard opponent that way. Michael [Shannon] and I talked about it in the beginning that we wanted Zod's point of view to be pretty clear. If this was happening to your planet and you were trying to save the people that you loved, what lengths would you go to?

Michael Shannon, you have the ability to play evil like no other. Where do you go to channel that evilness?

Michael: Satan. Yeah, that's where I go for my evil. I get my bucket and I go down to the well and I say, 'Satan, are you down there? I've got to be evil today.' And I lower the bucket down into the well and the lava comes back up and I drink it and it hurts but then I take some Alka Selzter and some Pepto Bismol. No, I don't know. I really don't know. It couldn't be anything further then who I'm actually am. I'm kind of just a tall, lanky, goofy person. And then I do these other things and I don't even necessarily think of it as evil. I keep cracking my brain and saying, 'Was my guy in '8 Mile' evil? Why do people keep saying I'm evil?' I don't get it. It's like when people say, 'Van Holden, he's so evil.' I'm like, 'Look at all the other men on 'Boardwalk Empire.' Let's line them all up shoulder-to-shoulder. Now you're telling me that Van Holden is the most evil person on this television program?' So, I don't really know. In terms of choreographed punches, it's no secret to anyone in this room that I'm much stronger then Henry is. There were a lot of ice packs back at the hotel for Henry.

What about you and Russell?

Michael: No Russell. No Russell. Russell really kicks my butt in this movie. I mean he's the 'Gladiator' so what are you going to do? Oh, then '8 Mile,' that fight. Wow, what a walk down memory lane. That's more of an awkward fight, really. I mean, that's that kind of awkward fight you have when you just had sex with some dude's mom.

It's a great Lois Lane, and it's a Lois Lane we never seen before. Can you talk about what attracted you to the part, Amy, and how you see this Lois as different from previous ones?

Amy Adams: I grew up watching Superman and loving the characters and I let it be known that I auditioned several times—this was my third time. So thank you, Zack, for letting me play Lois. When I talked to Zack about this incarnation of Lois, what I loved was that she was still this intrepid reporter, that she was somebody that was going to be a part of the solution not just part of the problem. She was going to have more of an inner track on Clark and sort of be on the inside as opposed to being on the outside, and I really liked that and I thought that was a very unique idea. I really loved that Zack wanted it to be this really big, amazing film, but that was also very important to him to focus on the characters and the truth, grounding the characters in reality as much as possible in this amazing world that he created.

Jor-El is pretty involved in this movie compared to the original film where Brando just came in and shot a bit. Jor-El is really the soul of the movie—what was the experience like for you?

Russell Crowe: I have a confession, might just get it out. I've never seen any other Superman movie. Haven't seen one with that fellow in it, or the new young fellow—I didn't see that either. I didn't have any references in terms of cinematic experiences. The only Superman reference I have is the black-and-white Superman TV show that was on TV after school when I was a kid. So I really had nothing to draw on. The simple thing for me is I read the script and thought it was a complex and really cool story in and of itself. And I thought the problems that Jor-El faced in terms of his decisions as a father was a very interesting thing to do and get involved.

For Zack and David, you both have adapted superhero or comic books before into films, can you talk about the challenges about taking on the Superman franchise and your decision to not include Lex Luther as a character in this first film?

David S. Goyer: It's a huge challenge, I remember five or six years ago someone asking me at a Batman junket whether or not I would want to do Superman or not. At the time I said no. It's an enormous responsibility. People have a proprietary relationship with Superman. A lot of people would say that's my Superman, but there's the [Christopher] Reeve Superman from the '50s, the [Max] Fleischer Superman, 'Lois & Clark' Superman, and the [Richard] Donner Superman. It's important to respect the iconography and respect the canon, but—Henry was talking about this earlier—at the same time you have to tell a story. And once you sort of land on who you think the character is and what his conflicts are, you have to let that lead you. You have to throw all that other stuff away and not be worried about this epic responsibility or it will just crush you and paralyze you.

Zack: What I was going to say about Lex Luthor was, there is a kryptonite question, too, that floats around the Lex Luthor question. Someone asked me if there's no Kryptonite and there's no Lex Luthor. Well, okay, within the parameters of this story there's no kryptonite or Lex Luthor — but that's not to say they don't exist in the world. That's an entirely different question.

As a writer, when you strip it down what do you think is Kal-El's ultimate struggle?

David: For me it was very simple: it's a story about two fathers. While I was writing this script, I became a step-dad, and a dad, and my own dad died. I never thought that my own experiences would find their way into something like this, but if you boil it down to that, it's about a man with two fathers and he has to decide which kind of linage he has to choose. My Kryptonian father or my Earth father? And in the end, it's kind of both that make him the man that he becomes.

It's the first cinematic portrayal of Superman that doesn't fit in, and it weirds him out that he doesn't fit in. Yet he kind of doesn't want it, so watching that struggle was really great.

Henry: I don't necessarily think that he speaks to the outsider alone, he speaks to everyone—or that ideal speaks to everyone. We all need hope no matter what century we are in, whatever state of life we are in, whether we are going through tragedy or not. It's just hope that everything will be okay, and if tragedy and disaster happens I hope we can overcome it. I don't believe it's solely for those who are outsiders and those who think they're alone. It's for everyone.

Zack: Yeah, but you think that Superman, because in your mind you think, 'Oh, everything is going to be great, he can fly and everything.' That's awesome but then you say, 'Wait a minute, it also makes you different.'

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