When he found out he was to play Superman in Man Of Steel, he reacted the way any of us would. Now, as the world waits to see him in the suit, Andrew Dickens meets Henry Cavill.
Superman: faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! The latter sentence describes the impact Henry Cavill’s casting as the cowlicked Kryptonian in Man Of Steel had on some cape-loving cinemagoers. This, after all, was a public school-educated Channel Islander with a reputation for getting his 16th-century kit off in The Tudors and a solitary leading role to his name (in Immortals), completing a British hat-trick of major superhero roles alongside Christian Bale’s Batman and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man.
The first sentence, however, does not describe Cavill’s journey to stardom. Often described as ‘the unluckiest man in Hollywood’, until a couple of years ago he was most famous for nearly being James Bond, nearly being Edward Cullen in Twilight – nearly being famous, basically.
He was even nearly wearing the cape in Bryan Singer’s 2006 film Superman Returns. So, when he finally earned his Spandex, he must have felt like leaping over a very tall building in a single bound.
Most obvious question first: how did you feel when you got the part?
Clearly excited. I mean, it’s one of those things where you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re going, “I don’t believe it. I’m Superman.” And you keep repeating it. It’s so surreal that you need someone from Warner Brothers just to call you and say, “Hey, it’s real.”
How does this differ from past Superman films?
The one major difference from movies and TV shows past, is that this is very much grounded in reality. This is a real world – this is today’s world that just happens to have an invulnerable superpowered alien living in it – and that’s the great thing about it. It’s about a realistic setting with something unrealistic slammed in the middle of it, and how everyone reacts to that.
Did you gauge the response online?
Of course I did. People were saying, “You’re the most looked-at person on IMDB,” and I’m like, “What? You’re kidding me? I’ve got to go and check that out.” I certainly checked fan response throughout the movie to see how they felt, and to let me know if I was on the right track. If I’d had a really bad feeling about the movie, I wouldn’t be checking that stuff, but things felt like they were going well, so I thought it was fine to go and have a little look.
A couple of your compatriots, Christian Bale and Andrew Garfield, have also been cast as big-name superheroes. Did you seek advice?
I didn’t, actually. I did briefly speak to Chris Hemsworth at Comic Con, who played Thor. I just walked up to him and said, “Mate, I wanted to say hi, my name is Henry, I’m playing Superman. What’s it like?” He said “Don’t worry about it. The fans are a lot more supportive than you think. They’re behind you the whole way, so just enjoy it.” He’s a really nice bloke.
You came close to a couple of other roles – James Bond and Edward in Twilight. When you don’t get a role, does it hurt or motivate?
First of all, I want to set the record straight; with the Twilight thing, I think Stephenie Meyer was keen on me playing the role, but I was never approached with a script. The Bond thing is true, but when you get close to big stuff, your name is put in Variety or Empire saying you’re ‘the unluckiest guy in Hollywood’, and it’s actually a huge bonus – it gets you a name, and to land lead roles in Hollywood you need a name. I’m glad I didn’t get Bond, as Daniel Craig is the perfect guy to tell that story, and I don’t think I could’ve done it at that age [Cavill was 22 when he auditioned for Casino Royale]. He nailed it and is continuing to nail it.
We read you didn’t want CGI abs. How did you shape up? Was it hell?
It was hell and wonderful at the same time. [My trainer] Mark Twight gave me a whole bunch of workouts to do by myself to get my fitness levels up, so that when I arrived in LA the really hard stuff would start. I did two months training on my own and four months training in LA with Mark, and that was excruciating – breaking boundaries I didn’t know I could. I remember one moment, doing some horrible rowing sprint thing, and I said, “I can’t do this Mark, I can’t, I’m done,” and he said, “No you’re not, don’t listen to the lies.” I kept on pulling and pulling until suddenly I realised I had finished. That’s what Mark taught me – one of the many things – don’t listen to the lies, your barriers are breakable.
Did you pig-out once shooting finished, then?
We had treats throughout filming, because to do 10 months without anything would be excruciating. The biggest treat was after a six-week phase when I was getting in shape for shirtless scenes. After that, Zack Snyder bought me an amazing apple pie and a tub of ice cream. Then I ordered a pizza as well, and didn’t even go home – I just sat in a trailer afterwards and ate it. I passed into a food coma after that.
When did the desire to act first take hold?
My first acting role was in prep school, when I was about 11. I got the bug there. Then I went to boarding school and kept it going. At one point I thought that maybe I could make a career of it. I was about 16, and told my parents. My dad initially said, “Erm, OK, I know you love your stage stuff, but how about you go to university and get a degree so you have something to fall back on?” I couldn’t fault that logic, and thought I’d get a Foresters scholarship to university, perhaps study Egyptology, and if I still wanted to go to drama school after that then, yeah, maybe.
So what happened?
A casting group came round English boarding schools and I was cast in [2002 film] The Count Of Monte Cristo. And my dad said, “You’ve got a career now, so go with it, keep this ball rolling. There’s no point going back to school for your final year when you’re making money.” My mum and my dad have been hugely supportive.
Do you still have that love of Egyptology?
I have a love of ancient history. I read historical fiction all the time. My Egyptology would be a bit rusty – very rusty by now, actually – but I did love reading all the books.
So do you unwind by opening a historical novel?
Absolutely, yeah. I like to play characters from history, because there is so much there – so much room for interpretation – because who wrote history? Loads of people, and they all had different perspectives, so who’s telling the truth? Nobody knows.
You must have loved doing The Tudors, then.
That was great.
Quite a bawdy show…
Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of that. Sex sells, I understand that, and it certainly drew attention to the show. I’m not pooh-poohing it, because it made people stand up and take notice, but what I loved about it was the historical aspect – how much research the writer put into everything. It was so beautifully written, so much depth on every page, and the chance to play a character [Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk] from history who isn’t really written about that much. Wonderful opportunity. I loved that, I really did.
I imagine any semblance of embarrassment around stripping off went after that…
Yeah, I don’t really like those types of scenes – I’ve never felt particularly comfortable with them, and a lot of the time I don’t think they are necessary, but hey…
When you received your first decent pay packet, did you treat yourself?
Yeah, but nothing huge. I treated myself, eventually, after a few years of decent pay packages. I got a very snazzy car.
What car was it?
An Aston Martin DBS.
When we asked Roger Moore this question he said “a big cigar”...
Ha! A big cigar. I mean, sure there are times when, after a bit of pay, you go to a fancy nightclub and get table service and spend silly amounts of money on alcohol, which would only cost about 40 quid in the shop. But the big one was the car.
Apart from the interest in history, what else do you get up to when you’re off a film set?
I love reading, I love walking, I love my computer games.
What kind of games?
I’m into online games, role-playing games. One I was playing a lot, and I still love, is Skyrim. Dude, such a good game. I love it. All the Elder Scrolls games I’ve actually really enjoyed, and Skyrim in particular – nailed it, I did really well.
You’ll probably get this from all the teen magazines, but I have to ask you. Which superpower would you want in real life?
That’s a hard question, because Superman has them all, and now I have to narrow them down. It’s like giving someone a whole box of crayons and then being told that you can only have one. I think I’d probably choose flight, because it saves on fuel and you can get to places very quickly.
Man Of Steel is at cinemas nationwide from 14 June
(Photography: Jill Greenberg)