If there were ever big shoes to fill in film, the red boots of Superman would be them and after Christopher Reeve’s defining portrayal of Superman in four feature films, it seems that anyone looking to play Big Blue- in any capacity- has been compared to Reeve. With the casting of “Superman Returns,” director Bryan Singer went with an unknown and according to feedback from fans, seems to have scored big with Brandon Routh.
The following interview took place on July 30th, 2005, in Sydney Australia at a museum in New South Wales. As with the other interviews from this set visit, the interview was conducted in a roundtable style and Brandon Routh began the interview by personally introducing himself to each reporter, learning their name and then displaying many Clark Kent like mannerisms, from the surprising honesty to the way he played with his glasses.
Brandon: I mean obviously it’s influenced by Chris’ performance because we’re somewhat using that as a vague reference. So it has to somewhat follow that character a little bit. And beyond that it’s within the writing. It’s within Clark’s relationship to Superman. It is “What is Clark to Superman?” What purpose does Clark serve for Kal-El and for Superman? And that ranges depending on the situation. But he’s always a bit of a spy, he’s the guy that can find out information. He finds out information about himself through how Lois feels about Superman. He’s always there. He’s the fly on the wall. So there’s that. It’s the way Superman gets to relate to everyone. How Kal-El gets to relate to the public. Clark is Superman. I mean he gets to be humorous and fun. And I think almost sometimes that is not just a disguise, but it is fun for him because Clark isn’t just completely made up I don’t think. It’s part of him. Just as Clark is part of me and Superman is part of me, you can’t be Clark without that be a real part of you. So I think he enjoys that part of it as well. And I’ve heard how Bryan describes Clark and Superman. Sometimes it’s a spitting-image of Chris and sometimes it’s my own thing. And it’s hard for me to judge that, so I do my own thing. And also Clark is a character, that kind of character, something I’ve done before, whether it be in acting class or plays in high school, and just myself… getting into those situations and being nervous about things. So it’s all of that mixed together I think really.
Press: Does Bryan let you see the dailies, see your footage?
Brandon: Yeah, I can watch whatever I wanna watch. Yeah. And that’s very helpful with the Superman stuff, with flying. Because a lot of it’s, “Okay, what am I really doing here?” because in the setups I’m not really flying, I mean I’m not even hanging from wires in some of it. I’m standing on a box or doing other strange things so it’s hard to wrap my head around it, because I might be standing this way, but I’m actually flying this way. So to wrap my head around how that actually looks it’s a must to watch the playback and see all that. And the Clark stuff is kind of fun to watch to see how others are reacting, what I’m doing, because sometimes I’m so into the character I don’t know what I’m… there’s faces on that Comic Con trailer that I don’t remember making. [laughs]
Press: Can you talk about going from an unknown to this potentially life-changing role? I mean Christopher Reeve did it and it completely transformed his life. And you’re in the shadow of Christopher Reeve and you’re taking on an iconic character and reviving him… I mean all these things, are these a factor for you? Or do you try screening them out? How does it work?
Brandon: Well obviously they’re a factor, and all things I’ve thought of. I don’t let myself get bogged down by any of it. The process was very smooth for me and it kind of took a long time to happen. Several stages of, “Am I gonna get this?”, “Am I really gonna get this?”, “Wow, I think I’m gonna get this”, “I’m gonna get this”. So I had a while to become okay with it. To think about it a lot. It’s a big deal not only to be Superman, but to follow Christopher. It’s a high priority for me to do him justice and do Superman justice as well, and not to step on his feet. I mean there’s no way that I could have. But it’s a huge deal. I guess this role has been in my life ever since I moved out to Los Angeles really. Where my first manager mentioned that I looked a lot like Christopher Reeve and that’s one reason why he wanted to work with me. So he always said, “If there’s a Superman movie, you’re going to get it”. And that was six years ago now, I guess. I’m no longer with him.
Press: Before that didn’t anyone tell you that you looked like Christopher Reeve?
Brandon: No. No one mentioned it until him. So, it’s been in the books for a long time because of that. And then when “Smallville” was auditioning I auditioned for that. I got a call back. Was really excited about that. And it didn’t happen and I was kind of like, “Well there goes that! There’s no way they’re gonna do Superman again!” But of course it’s been in the works before I even went out there, with [Nic] Cage and all that in the beginning. And I moved to New York right when “Smallville” was happening, that’s when I booked “One Life to Live”. So I was in New York at the height of promotions for “Smallville”, and Tom [Welling] was everywhere. [Laughs] And at that time I was like [pulls a face] [Laughter], but now it’s great and I’ve since, even after that, started watching the show.
Press: Have you met him [Tom Welling]?
Brandon: I have not met Tom yet, but I eagerly await…
Press: Comparing notes?
Brandon: Well, you know I’m sure he has a lot of interesting stories and can help me out with a lot of stuff too as far as he’s been Clark a lot longer than I have and been in that universe more than I have.
Press: Do you wake up in a cold sweat sometimes and think “Oh my God what have I got myself into?”
Brandon: I haven’t yet. No. I haven’t…
Press: Thanks for mentioning it! [laughter]
Press: We’ve heard Bryan Singer’s version of how you met. Let’s hear your version of it.
Brandon: Well it was a long day. It was a Friday and I was having a migraine headache in bed. I didn’t have to work. At 10am or something my agent called and I didn’t want to answer the phone because I had a headache. She kept calling and calling. So I answered the phone… she said, the message said, “Bryan Singer wants to meet with you.” I was shocked and thinking, “Finally!” because I’d done several things in the process before that and kept thinking it was never gonna happen. So I called back and said, “I have a migraine. Can we move it any other time? Any other day?” And she said, “No he’s leaving for Australia to do a scout.” And I said, “Well I guess I better have the meeting then, migraine or no.” Thankfully the meeting kept getting pushed back, pushed back, and we finally met around five o’clock or something at the Coffee Bean on Sunset. I waited for him, I was there early, I think I was reading “Atlas Shrugged”. He got there, we ordered coffee. He was a little bit nervous and I was a little bit nervous. We just started talking about my experience so far, and the film, and how he got on board, how he’d wanted to do it before and timing just wasn’t right and everything. We just talked for a good hour and a half about the film and so on and so forth. Then he got a call from Kevin’s [Spacey] agent actually and he told me about the conversation. He was open and forward about the character. And then we left and he said, “Would you mind coming in and reading? Doing some more stuff?” And I was like, “Yeah. Of course.” He went off to Australia. I had a really good feeling from that. Really, really good feeling. And as he said, he was pretty much sure from that meeting too. So it was pretty much what he said.
Press: What’s more difficult for you? Clark Kent or Superman?
Brandon: Superman. I think a lot of people coming in said Clark Kent was… when they were doing auditioning Clark was more difficult for people to do than Superman. I am a lot like Clark. I’m becoming a lot like Superman as the process continues and I become more confident in myself. But Clark was always… close. Because I’d done other characters, like I say, like that. It’s comedy, which is something I love to do. You can completely step out of yourself and just become a different person, but it’s not a different person, because it’s part of me as well. But Clark was always a lot of fun. Superman carries a lot more weight. He’s got a lot more stuff going on in a sense… saving the world and all. Then you get into stature and how you move. There are many more things involved with Superman. And then you’ve also got Kal-El on the farm, they call him Farm-Clark, but he’s actually Kal-El in my estimation when he’s on the farm with Martha. So that’s a little bit different too. It’s Superman mostly, but he doesn’t have to perform for anybody. You know he can really be himself. He’s not necessarily very happy when he’s on the farm in this movie, but he’s Superman without all the pressure of having to perform when he’s in the public eye, because he can be whoever he wants to be in front of his mom.
Press: Can you talk about your training regime?
Brandon: Yeah, I worked out for… I’ve been working out since November (2004) and trained for basically four months before we started filming any Clark stuff. Most of the suit stuff didn’t come till April/May (2005). So by that time I’d had five or six months training. I still train. I train tomorrow. The regimen has decreased obviously because I’m not building anymore. And also that’s a challenge too. Once you get to a certain place your body just wants to keep going, so maintaining that and not going further is kind of cool. I mean you get to a certain point and it’s easy to keep going, but also there’s certain restraints you have to keep on. It’s much better [laughs] that I don’t have to work out as much because with 12, 13 and 14 hour days it becomes very arduous.
Press: How many hours do you train?
Brandon: Now, it’s about an hour, an hour and fifteen. But it had been two, two and a half, depending on what we were doing.
Brandon: Well like I say, it was a long process, and I kind of knew three weeks before I actually got the go ahead that there was a 99% chance. I just had to have one more meeting. So I’d had a lot of time to think about it, to be prepared for it. So when it actually happened it was a relatively uneventful phone call. [laughs] Kind of like, the person on the other end, I think was from publicity or something, I’m not even sure who it was now, saying, you know, “Well congratulations you’re,” you know…
Press: You’re Superman!
Brandon: Yeah! [laughs] And I go, “Great. Thank you.” And it was more of a big relief to finally have it happen.
Press: Who’d you telephone?
Brandon: I think I probably called my parents, told them.
Press: In Kansas?
Brandon: No. [laughs] Close! Iowa. We’re pretty close. We’re neighboring states to Kansas. It was a great relief and I was very happy, ready, eager then to begin the next stage, which was then coming to Australia and beginning filming.
Press: Were you a Superman fan growing up?
Brandon: I was. I was growing up. I’ve told this story many times, it’ll probably appear everywhere, but when I was five or six, first time I was gonna see “Superman”, I was dressed up in Superman pajamas that I had, and a cape, which my mom still has. And I was jumping around the house, jumping on furniture, so excited to finally see the movie. I got so excited that I gave myself a migraine. Migraines have something do with Superman obviously. When I get very excited or something, I do that to myself. And I was so excited that I was basically sick to my stomach for the first half of the movie. Sitting in a daze on the couch watching the movie. I think I got better towards the end. So I was a huge Superman fan when I was younger. And I remember having seen the second film… I’m not sure that, I remember thinking I saw the third and fourth film growing up as a kid, but I don’t think I did until recently. Actually I think I did see the third film, because I remember the junkyard… the bad Superman in the junkyard scene from my youth. But my interest in Science Fiction/Fantasy went more, at that time, into Fantasy, and I started reading Terry Brooks, and then from then on Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, and all these other guys. So I’m very interested in that idea, in that world. But now have come back into more of the Science Fiction.
Press: Any mannerisms that you’ve worked on with Bryan in regards to how you play Superman/Clark Kent?
Brandon: No. I mean I play with my glasses all of the time. I play with my glasses now and I did that before. Everybody who wears glasses probably does. The only thing really that we added sometimes were certain times to do… or, I think I kept going like this most of the time [indicates pushing up his glasses with his whole hand], or this most of the time [adjusts them from the right side arm], and we just wanted to have one good one. Sometimes I did this [pushes his glasses up from the bridge with his index finger] but who knows if they were gonna use that take. Sometimes he picked a time when maybe that was gonna work better, that that was more of a scene that he might use that in. Just to make sure we had some of that stuff in there, but other than that…
Press: What about posture?
Brandon: For Clark, no. No posture, because I did a lot of those things instinctively. For Superman we talked about things. We also worked with Terry Notary, who’s the movement coach who’s been working with me and we did a lot on posture for that using the Alligator Technique, just spine alignment, taught a lot more I think to ages past of actors rather than my generation of actors I think. But it’s been very helpful in how I carry myself and all of that. And just embodying… and being relaxed in your body, rather than forcing things. It’s not just about puffing out your chest because that looks forced, but just having the right alignment and all these other things that make it happen.
Brandon: We worked with voice in the beginning on the screen test. Then we discovered that it wasn’t necessarily just about voice. It’s about intention. When I had clear intentions and knew exactly what I was doing after having read the real script and all that kind of stuff it made that happen naturally rather than forcing it by changing the voice. And the Clark voice just kind of happens because he’s nervous and it’s not a… I think to myself, “Am I doing this on purpose or is this unconscious?” And usually I think it’s pretty much unconscious. Unless it’s not until we go and do voice-over [laughs], that I go, “Okay now I gotta remember how I…” because it’s a different environment to do it in.
Press: I think most people can relate to Clark on some level. What are you doing to make Superman relatable to an audience, to people?
Brandon: Very good question. I think what’s interesting about this film, and the script, is when Clark – and I think you’ll see a lot of that at the farm when I’m Kal-El – because… He comes from this journey… He comes back. He’s learned things about the world that have changed. And he’s not found what he went after, and all these things. And he feels alone. And he’s not sure if he wants to use his powers even. It’s at that point that he really tries to connect with the world, with humanity, with his humanity. I mean he’s an alien but he’s human. He live here. He wants to be part of that world. I think I would. So he uses shovels, he uses human instruments/tools instead of doing things he could do easily on his own, to feel that connection with the world. It’s about his humanity. The whole movie’s about his humanity. He’s only alien because he [came from a different planet], I guess it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s not human. I mean I don’t know the science behind that. But he can still be pretty much like us, except he has these other powers of course. But I think the love story is very relatable to everyone. You lose love. You get it back. The journey you take to get the person you love back. Giving up things. Finding the positives in the negatives. All these are human things. I trust that’s evident in the film, in my portrayal. That even though he exudes this confidence, that it doesn’t seem too far away as a possibility for all humanity to be like Superman. I mean I think we are able to obtain close to that level of clarity of mind. He’s very clear in almost all his thoughts. That’s why it’s easy for him to do things. He doesn’t worry over saving things. The one worry that he has is his love of Lois, because it’s something that he doesn’t understand, and it’s hard for him because that’s a very strong emotion, and it’s the first person, the only person he’s every truly loved in that way.
Press: Can you talk about the scenes you’re filming now?
Brandon: Well I haven’t really shot any scenes for a while, I’ve actually been doing a lot of flying. I work with Kevin [Spacey]… I think we have our stuff on next week. Monday or Tuesday we start that.
Press: Have you worked with him before?
Brandon: I haven’t, no. I’ve haven’t worked with Kal [Penn], I haven’t worked with any of the thugs, or any of that story line yet. The whole last two months have been pretty much all flying for me, and one scene in the Fortress of Solitude. It’s a very lonely last couple of months [laughs]. A lot of green screen. So I eagerly anticipate working with Kevin. We’ve had some run ins at the studio. He’s got this cart that he’s made up, with like a Superman with a circle around it with an X through it. [laughter] Then Kryptonite on the side. And he’s got this [Superman] doll chained to the back, and he drops it off and drags it. And yells on his megaphone, “Superman must die!” [laughter] So, yeah, I definitely feel his presence. [laughter] Definitely feel his presence.
Press: Can you talk about the flying stuff and how difficult that is?
Brandon: As for flying, it’s quite an experience. It’s painful sometimes. Long and arduous many times. And there is fun in it, sometimes. You just don’t know what the day brings. The fun stuff is when I’m actually interacting – lifting something or saving something – because then I’ve actually got my hands on something, and I actually can see without having to visualize so much. I still have to visualize the rest of the object because we can only use so much of a piece of set before they CGI the rest of it. It’s gone through many modifications from flying in a body pan to the X-Y-Z rig, as they call it, to standing on a box, to spinning on a gimbal – I don’t know if they call it a gimbal – but a machine that spins you around, to actual wire work when I’m actually moving and flying vertical. That’s the most fun stuff, because I’m actually doing something and there’s that exhilaration of when you reach the top and that weightlessness. And I miss that. We hadn’t done it for like a month, and then we did it one day and I was really psyched because it was nice to be moving and not just standing still.
Press: I was lucky enough to speak with Terence Stamp earlier this year and by this time he’d played to comic book characters, General Zod in “Superman II” and then Stick in “Elektra”. I was surprised to hear that he actually took the comics of all the characters he worked with, and actually tried to fill in the movements, tried to figure out how the character moved in the comics in real life by looking at the comics. I wondered if you had looked at any comics in preparation for this role specifically and if you had maybe done anything similar to that?
Brandon: Yeah. Well not as far as the movement thing. That’s very interesting actually. Because I had Chris [Reeve] to look at I think I took a lot of what he did in, and a lot of what was in the script and my own imagination. Because I didn’t want it to be, and nobody wanted it to be, a direct resemblance of Christopher’s performance. Because I don’t think I would have done that justice and I don’t think that’s what anybody wanted to see necessarily anyway. It would have been to eerie. As far as looking at comics, yes, before I actually got the role, many times I was in this place that was in L.A. that was close to my apartment looking at, and feeling kind of sheepish because my picture had already been out once, the first time I tested I think, so I thought if anybody might recognize me it’d be these guys working in comic book stores. So I was always kind of hesitant to even go in. But I did look at a lot of the… there’s so many, five different stories or something going on now… and I realized that Superman was married to Lois. There was “Birthright” I think… I won’t even attempt to be that specific. And I watched the Max Fleischer cartoons that they did in the 40s. My mom had bought some at Walmart or something, I don’t know, for a dollar, and then I got some from somebody else. You know they’re these 10 minutes ones, and they’re pretty much the same scenario, they just change the villain every time. Lois goes and gets in trouble and Clark goes after her, and always says, “This is a job for SUPERMAN!” He changes, and he goes after her. I always find it funny how he’s never surprised that she’s there or where he finds her. You know he opens up the door of the plane not knowing really that she’s in there, unless he has intuition or using his x-ray vision, and then she’s there! He saves her and that’s the end of the story. So all that stuff was interesting. Watching that old stuff to see the evolution of the character. As Clark becomes more subdued and not as boastful. The whole character, I think, mellows. Which I think is good. You know obviously it’s all about America and “Go America” in the 50s. A lot of that stuff is because the war’s going on and we’re selling war bonds and all these things, and Superman did things that maybe [laughs], you know looking back, politically Superman was used for things we wouldn’t agree with now. So I followed the evolution… and how Chris made the character much more real for that time in ’78. And for 25 years it changes a lot how we view, and even the comics change, are more open in the way in which they speak, it became more real as well. But I think what’s great about a film is that the characters can become even more real from the comics obviously because it’s a real person playing him not a photograph. But there’s difference in the language and how the actor can portray the story. I’m not sure if any of this is making sense. [laughs] I’m rambling now.
Brandon: I’d watched “Lois & Clark” and remembered that. As far as remembering his performance. I think I remember his Clark much more… It’s still a way back, for me anyway, to remember. But that was fun, and that was a TV show, and television never quite matches the reality of… but even then it’s a step up from speech and storytelling, and reality from ’78 to early ’90s, whenever that was.
Press: It was because of that show that the characters in the comics had to get married. They got married on the show and DC scrambled to get them married.
Brandon: There you go. It’s neat that we can affect, that we can both affect the universes and that makes for a lot of creative power. It has to always evolve, so one media pushes another media. So that’s cool.
This interview is continued in Part 2, which you can out here and learn what it was like the first time that Brandon Routh put on the costume.