The actors who bring the DC Extended Universe to life through its various films — Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League and several more on the way — are an impressive collection of talent. It’s a far cry from the days when appearing in a superhero movie was something to be avoided, or was looked down upon, for fear of being typecast or killing one’s career. This group possesses enough awards to fill an arena, with at least a couple who hold the Triple Crown of Acting, for their work on the stage, the small screen and the big one. A couple more earned Academy Awards for Best Picture. A DCEU flick isn’t a detriment to an actor’s resume; instead, it’s a positive addition to one’s body of work.
But there are surprises lurking in the backgrounds and career histories of these thespians, including humble beginnings, grinding away in poverty and taking awkward jobs in the private sector before turning to acting. Embarrassing early roles in TV commercials and near misses that could have seen someone else in the part have all shaped these stars. With that in mind, here are 20 things you never knew about DCEU actors.
20. HENRY CAVILL WAS ALMOST SUPERMAN… IN 2002?
Henry Cavill might have been Superman in 2002, had Superman: Flyby gotten off the ground. Flyby, with a script by J.J. Abrams, was one of the attempts to revive the franchise after 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Cavill did a screen test for Flyby, but the project was dropped and 2006’s Superman Returns became be next in the series.
Cavill got his shot in 2013, but nearly missed it playing “World of Warcraft.” On The Tonight Show, Cavill told host Jay Leno, “It was a high point of the game. And so the phone’s ringing and I’m ignoring it, because I’m not going to bail on these guys. And I look down and it’s Zack Snyder calling, so I dive for the phone, and I missed the call from Zack Snyder, the one I’d been waiting for, for Man of Steel.”
19. AMY ADAMS WAS ALMOST LOIS LANE… IN 2002?
Amy Adams might have been Lois Lane a lot earlier, too: She also auditioned for Superman: Flyby. But she did land four other movies in 2002, including Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio — and then was in a dry spell for a year.
Before acting, Adams was a hostess at a Hooters restaurant in Atlanta briefly at age 17; after her next birthday, she got the opportunity to switch to waitressing, but didn’t like it. She told Vanity Fair, “I did learn, quickly, that short shorts and beer don’t mix! The nicest guy walking in is not necessarily the nicest guy after two pitchers of beer.” She saved $900 and quit three weeks later, buying a car with her earnings.
18. LAURENCE FISHBURNE LIED ABOUT HIS AGE
Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne was an out-of-the-box casting choice as Perry White in Man of Steel, being the first Perry White to sport an earring, as well as the first who is African American. As most fans know, he was Morpheus in the Matrix movies, and the voice of the Silver Surfer in 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Fishburne’s movie career began with 1975’s coming-of-age story Cornbread, Earl and Me. “Cornbread” was a high-school basketball star who is accidentally shot and killed by a police officer chasing an assault suspect. Fishburne was “Me,” Wilford Robinson, who testified as to what truly happened. Fishburne’s third movie role was as a 17-year-old Army soldier in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. At the time he was 14; he lied about his age to get the part. He was 17 by the time filming wrapped.
17. KEVIN COSTNER: A BEAUTIFUL CORPSE
Two-time Oscar-winner Kevin Costner (Best Director and Best Picture, for 1991’s Dances with Wolves) was Superman’s dad, Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Costner was part of the all-star ensemble for 1983’s The Big Chill, about a group of friends who reunite after 15 years for the funeral of one of their college buddies. Costner was Alex Marshall, who had committed suicide.
Costner would have appeared throughout the film in several flashback scenes… except they all landed on the cutting room floor. He only is shown as the corpse being prepared for burial. Director Lawrence Kasdan made it up to him by casting Costner as the lead in the 1985 western Silverado. They also worked together in 1994’s Wyatt Earp.
16. DIANE LANE: MOTHER OF STEEL, LOVER OF BATMAN
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman is startled out of his murderous attack on Superman with the mention of the name “Martha.” The Martha Kent from that film and Man of Steel shared a bit more in common with the Dark Knight: off-screen, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck co-starred in 2006’s Hollywoodland. The movie looks at the mysterious death of George Reeves, title character of TV’s The Adventures of Superman.
Affleck played Reeves, and Lane played his lover Toni Mannix, wife of MGM big shot E.J. Mannix. Lane has been acting since age 13, but the back-to-back box office failures of Streets of Fire and The Cotton Club in 1984 prompted her to step aside for three years. The 1989 Lonesome Dove TV miniseries helped put her back on the map.
15. MICHAEL SHANNON DIDN’T BELIEVE A MAN COULD FLY
Michael Shannon, who was General Zod in Man of Steel and in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, also crossed paths with Ben Affleck in a previous film. Shannon was Army pilot Lt. Gooz Wood in 2001’s Pearl Harbor. He also appeared in 2010’s Jonah Hex.
Shannon wasn’t totally sure the CGI for Man of Steel could pull off the spectacle. In Digital Spy, he said, “Literally the first shot I did, I was supposed to be coming out of a spaceship, which was basically some wooden stairs they’d build and painted neon green. I walked down them in my unitard, acting like I’m General Zod. … It takes a lot of faith, because the first day you’re there and you wanna go home and cry, because you think no one’s ever gonna take this seriously.”
14. BEN AFFLECK: SUPERMAN
Ben Affleck, the hard-bitten Caped Crusader of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, knew from age 9 that he wanted to be an actor. At 16, his first on-screen part was in a Burger King commercial. Not only has Affleck been a DC superhero, he’s been a Marvel hero as the title character in 2003’s Daredevil.
But Affleck sported the Superman costume in 2006’s Hollywoodland, the biopic about the life and death of TV’s Man of Steel, George Reeves. Reeves was found shot to death in his home on June 16, 1959. The matter was ruled a suicide, but Hollywoodland follows a private detective trying to discern if it was a murder or an accident. This makes Affleck the only actor to be both Batman and Superman on screen.
13. JEREMY IRONS: TWIN GYNECOLOGIST?
Jeremy Irons, who plays faithful butler/tech expert/father figure to Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has a boatload of awards as an actor. Among them is the Triple Crown of Acting: an Oscar (Best Actor, Reversal of Fortune, 1991), three Emmys and a Tony (Best Actor in a Play, The Real Thing, 1994).
Irons is so skilled at his craft, he played his own twin, in 1988’s Dead Ringers, based on the true story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus. Directed by David Cronenberg, this psychological thriller follows a pair of gynecologists who have twisted relationships — the one brother seducing patients and then passing them off to the shy, passive brother when he’s bored. But a particular woman attracts the ardor of the shy brother, upsetting equilibrium of their relationship.
12. JESSE EISENBERG: NAKED PEPPER AGGRESSION
If you thought Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was unconventional, he wouldn’t disagree. Eisenberg told Business Insider, “I view myself in the narrowest possible terms,” but doesn’t watch his films or read reviews. “So I’m kind of shocked any time somebody hires me and even more shocked any time somebody hires me to play a character like Lex Luthor, which I only knew from the public consciousness of him being a bald, brooding villain who is older than me.”
The role was a long way away from an early part in a 2001 Dr Pepper commercial as “Butt-Naked Boy,” a supermarket shopper buried under a pile of groceries who has his clothes cut off by the emergency workers who dig him free.
11. MARGOT ROBBIE: NEAR MISSUS
Margot Robbie played the ditsy and dangerous Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, which reacquainted her with Will Smith, who was playing the deadly assassin Deadshot. Robbie and Smith had teamed a year earlier in 2015’s Focus, a caper flick in which Robbie is an apprentice grifter to Smith’s old pro. Robbie nearly missed the audition thanks to partying the night before.
Robbie told Vogue, “I get back to my room, turn on my phone and there are 10,000 missed calls from my team. … They said, ‘You are on a flight to New York tonight, you are reading with Will Smith tomorrow.’ … Within five minutes I just threw everything I could into my bag … I did the audition and got the role the next day.”
10. WILL SMITH AND THE DEEP, DARK HOLE
When we first see Will Smith’s assassin Deadshot in Suicide Squad, he is coolly renegotiating the price of his latest hit with a client reluctant to pay. Smith in real life wasn’t always savvy with money. He had early success as part of the rap duo Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, which won the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance, in 1988, when Smith was 20.
Living high on his music success put Smith in a deep financial hole. The IRS came after him for more than $2.8 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Smith turned things around when he was cast in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, based on the life of producer Benny Medina. The show became an enduring hit, and led to his even bigger movie career.
9. VIOLA DAVIS AND… LUKE CAGE?
Viola Davis, the fierce Amanda Waller of Suicide Squad, is a second cousin of Mike Colter, of Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and The Defenders. Davis is from St. Matthews, South Carolina, and Colter was born in Columbia and moved there. Davis’s family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, while she was an infant, before Colter was born. Davis and her family struggled in Rhode Island. When her little sister was born, Davis and siblings walked two hours to visit her in the hospital in Providence.
Davis, a Julliard graduate, has the Triple Crown of Acting. She is the first African American to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress (How to Get Away with Murder, 2015) and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (Fences, 2017), along with two Tony Awards.
8. GAL GADOT: WONDER WOMB-IN’
Gal Gadot shouldered the rigors of being in Wonder Woman, and then traded them for the real-life heroics of motherhood. Of course, the never-ending battle never ends (like the name subtly implies), and Gadot was called back for reshoots, but was five months pregnant.
No worries; the costumers designed a modified outfit that featured a green screen over Gadot’s belly, allowing the digital effects wizards to edit out the baby bump during post-production. Gadot carried on gamely, said director Patty Jenkins to Entertainment Tonight: “There are so many things we asked her to do. Now do it on one foot. Now shout while you’re doing it. Now it’s raining in the freezing cold and you’ve lost your voice, go. Every day it was a hilarious gantlet and she would do it.” The baby, Maya, joined her older sister in March, healthy and well.
7. CHRIS PINE V. WILLIAM SHATNER
Chris Pine, Wonder Woman’s Steve Trevor, got positive notices for his portrayal of the ill-fated Army officer who introduces Diana to Man’s World and sacrifices his life. But another iconic role — James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek movie series — brought out Pine’s talent, as well as his diplomacy.
At 28, Pine was the youngest lead actor in a Star Trek film or show. But William Shatner publicly complained about not being offered a part in the new film, prompting Pine to write to him. Pine told the Los Angeles Times he wrote, “‘Look, I’m an actor and I got this role that you originated, but I’m not trying to usurp your status as the original Kirk. I’m just trying to do my part to further it.'” He said Shatner wrote back, “‘I wish you all the luck in the world. Best, Bill.'”
6. CONNIE NIELSEN: INTERNATIONAL WOMAN OF MYSTERY
Connie Nielsen, who played Queen Hippolyta in Wonder Woman and who will do so again in Justice League, was an actress for more than a decade before appearing in 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate. But her work before then was in French and Italian films and an Italian miniseries. An early role was in 1984’s Par où t’es rentré? On t’a pas vu sortir (How Did You Get In? We Didn’t See You Leave), with Jerry Lewis. This film was made for European audiences, and Lewis forbade its release in the United States. The Devil’s Advocate was Nielsen’s first major English-language film.
Her U.S. work includes Gladiator and recurring roles on The Good Wife and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Nielsen, a native of Denmark, speaks English, French, Italian, German, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish and, of course, Danish.
5. JASON MOMOA THE DREADED
Casting Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Justice League goes a long way in dispelling the character’s image as a less-than-useful character. The 6’4″ Momoa has a distinctive scar through his left eyebrow, from a 2008 bar fight. “A guy smashed a pint glass in my face,” Momoa said. “I got a little over 140 stitches in my face.” But he told the New York Post the scar helped change his image from pretty boy — he was in Baywatch: Hawaii for two years — to tough guy.
Momoa did four seasons on Stargate Atlantis as Ronon Dex, who had signature dreadlocks. Because the dreadlocks were causing him headaches, he cut them off. The SciFi Channel wanted them back however, which meant he had to wear wigs that were even heavier than his original hair.
4. EZRA MILLER: KNIGHT AT THE OPERA
Ezra Miller, The Flash in the upcoming Justice League, stuttered as a child. A kindergarten teacher encouraged him at age 6 to take opera training to beat it. “I had been doing speech therapy, and it had been making me more aware of the stutter, which actually made it worse,” Miller told The Daily Beast. “It was a breath-line stutter, so I wasn’t breathing in enough to complete a word, and opera training is all about control and manipulation of the breath.” It worked; the stutter was conquered by age 7.
Miller sang with the Metropolitan Opera while a boy, and started his film career while at the Hudson School, a private school for “intellectually inquisitive students” in Hoboken, New Jersey. His first film was 2008’s independent movie Afterschool, leading him to drop out.
3. JOE MORTON: BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET
Joe Morton is Silas Stone in Justice League, the father of Victor Stone, who is fated to become Cyborg. He’s done TV, film and stage, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama in 2011 for his role on ABC’s Scandal as Eli Pope.
In 1984’s The Brother from Another Planet, Morton has a largely silent role as the title character, an alien who resembles a Black man. An allegory about the immigrant experience in America, The Brother is an escapee on the run from slave catchers. Crash-landing in Harlem, The Brother interacts with a variety of people who hear what they want to hear in his expressions. In 1991’s Terminator II: Judgment Day, he was Myles Bennett Dyson, a systems engineer who develops what will become Skynet, the network that leads to the rise of the Terminators.
2. MEAT RAY FISHER
Ray Fisher, who was primarily a stage actor, will play Cyborg in Justice League. He gained 20 lbs. of muscle last year to play Muhammad Ali in an off-Broadway play, Fetch Clay, Make Man. Fisher attracted the notice of Ang Lee, director of 2003’s Hulk. “One of his next projects is a 3-D boxing movie about Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. So he’s scouting for people to play Ali in this film,” Fisher told Entertainment Weekly.
For Justice League, Fisher gained even more weight, packing on 33 lbs., going up from 190 lbs. to 223 lbs. Fisher was startled to learn the studio plans for him to headline a Cyborg movie in 2020. “I’m a long-game player and didn’t see any of this happening until at least my 40s,” he said.
1. J.K. SIMMONS: TELEGRAMS AND M&MS
Longtime character actor J.K. Simmons has been cast as Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon in Justice League and the upcoming Batman movie. This is a jump to DC films from playing Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson in three Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.
Simmons initially went for a music career and studied to be a composer, which helped in early jobs delivering singing telegrams. Beginning as a stage actor, he had his first movie role in 1994’s The Ref at age 39. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2015 for Whiplash, opposite Miles Teller, who would go on to play Reed Richards in 2015’s Fantastic Four. And since 1996, Simmons has been the voice of the yellow M&M in all those TV commercials.
What else do YOU know about the actors of the DCEU? Let us know in the comments!
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