When Warner Bros. releases “Man of Steel” on June 14th, audiences will experience a take on the seventy-five year old comic book character that is both new and yet undeniably familiar. Though specific details may be changed, the core of the character was foremost on the minds of star Henry Cavill and director Zack Snyder. “Playing an icon, you don’t try and be an icon,” the actor explained. “Doing so would defeat the purpose.”
Snyder echoed the thought, acknowledging the responsibility filmmakers face when tackling Superman. Cavill and Snyder, along with actors Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe and Diane Lane, producers Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven, writer David S. Goyer and Composer Hans Zimmer, met with CBR News and other journalists to discuss Superman’s iconic status and how the new film respects the tradition while finding new ways to explore the beloved character.
“I was worried about Superman,” Snyder confided, saying that before he took on the film, he thought a new Superman film would be “a lot of work to make work.” Once he read the script and saw it had “no fear,” he was able to move forward with confidence. “I followed Superman throughout the years, and the fear for me was, could I honor what he has the potential to be?”
Understanding the legacy of the character, Cavill watched Superman’s previous cinematic outings, but was careful not to let it influence his take on the Man of Tomorrow. “I didn’t apply those performances,” he said. “It might be a disjointed performance if I have someone else’s personality affecting the interpretation of the character.”
Instead, borrowing from the script’s focus on Clark/Kal-El’s nature as an outsider, Cavill utilized the oddly isolated life of an actor as part of his approach. “It’s quite a lonely existence. You spend a lot of time by yourself and you meet new people, you make temporary family and then you never seen them again, potentially,” he explained. As the film’s story begins, Clark is found drifting across North America in a similar fashion to the life Cavill described. He saw the similarity immediately. “When you see Clark traveling through the world and trying to work out who and what he is, I applied my own life to it.”
Isolating Clark from the rest of the world is just one of the new approaches writer David S. Goyer utilized while conceiving the script — a task which, just a few years ago, he was sure he would never undertake. “Someone asked me at a Batman junket whether or not I’d ever want to do a Superman movie, and I said no,” he recalled, knowing that no matter what he wrote, he would face the audience’s memories of “their” Superman — whether it is the version from the Christopher Reeve movies, the 1940s serials or “Lois and Clark.” When he eventually did sign on to the project, Goyer knew that in addition to respecting the character’s canon, he had to tell a compelling story. For this, he turned to the tension between Jor-El and Jonathan Kent as played out in Clark. With that in mind, he began crafting his tale “It’s the story of a man with two fathers. [Clark] has to decide which lineage to follow.”
Russell Crowe, who portrays Jor-El, admitted, “I’ve never seen any other ‘Superman’ movie.” He recalled seeing the 1950s George Reeves television series as a child in Australia, but not the cycle of films initiated by Richard Donner in the late 1970s. This blank slate allowed Crowe to focus on the problems this version of Jor-El faced.
Amy Adams, who plays Lois Lane in the film, was more than happy to discuss how her Lois differs from previous versions. “I grew up watching Superman and loving the characters — I’ve auditioned [to play Lois] several times. This was my third try,” she said. “What I loved is that she was still the intrepid reporter, but someone who was going to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”
“It’s such a unique scenario, having an alien come into your barn and raise it,” added Diane Lane, the movie’s Martha Kent. “Imagine what it would be like to temper a young person’s attitude adjustment when they have the powers that Clark has.” She and Snyder, along with Kevin Costner, who played Jonathan Kent, discussed exactly that scenario in developing their roles, which the actor hopes will be shown on screen further in a sequel.
Deborah Snyder looked at the task of maintaining a mammoth production with incredibly high expectations from a philosophical direction, saying that once you consider that, you then go past it and get on with business. “You could let it paralyze you,” she said. “You break [the project] down piece by piece and, seeing the task at hand, look at it as a process.” Having days filled with story conferences, casting session, costumes tests, shooting, editing and other realities of producing a film combined to help keep the gnawing sensation of the expectations at bay.
Roven agreed with the sentiment. “That [trepidation] is what makes something worth doing,” he added. “We were blessed that everyone shared Zack’s vision.”
“I have a question for Chuck,” interjected Crowe. “When will the Lego Jor-El Minifigure be available?”
After a laugh, Roven responded. “It is imminent. Apart from the muscles, it’s a very good likeness.”
In General Zod, actor Michael Shannon found his latest bad guy to sink his teeth into. Prompted to reveal the source of his ease at playing villains, the actor smiled and said, “Satan.” “I get my bucket and go down to the well and I say, ‘Satan, are you down there? I gotta be evil today.’ I lower the bucket down the well and the lava comes back up. And I drink it. And it hurts.” After the laughter died down, Shannon suggested that this version of Zod is not as thoroughly villainous as previous versions. “I don’t necessarily see it as evil,” he explained, saying that his Zod has a clear reason for his actions.
Of course, by including Zod, Snyder had an opponent Superman could fight with his fists. “[Zod] offers a real physical and emotional threat. He represents [the interests of] his people, so he’s a hard opponent that way.”
Following in the footsteps of John Williams’ signature theme from the 1979 film, Snyder often fielded questions about that music in early interviews about the project. “‘Are you going to use the music?'” he laughed, remembering it was often the first question asked. Though “Man of Steel” composer Hans Zimmer always found Williams’ theme to be incredible, Snyder ruled out its use early on.”If we’re going to act as though no other films had been made, there was no cherry-picking of [older elements].”
Instead, Zimmer focused on the outsider element of the story. “I know what it’s like to be a foreigner, and I know what it’s like to be an outsider,” the German-born composer explained. As the two continued to talk during development of the film, Zimmer added a celebration of American ideals that he felt had not been seen in a long time. Snyder, who also wanted to emphasize the notion of hope the character represents, at one point made an unusual request.
“It would be cool if the Superman theme had humility,” Snyder laughed. “[Hans] probably thought, ‘I want to kill him!’ but it’s in there. He made it happen musically!”
And while decision of whether or not there will be a “Man of Steel 2” depends on the audience’s response to “Man of Steel,” Snyder did take a moment during the interview to address the absence of Superman’s chief nemesis. “Within the parameters of this story, there’s no Kryptonite or Lex Luthor, but that’s not say they don’t exist in the world.
“That’s a whole different question.”
“Man of Steel” opens June 14.