Henry Cavill: I’m impossibly far from the true Superman I want to be
Superheroes are representative of human character traits and personality traits. At least, that’s according to Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
“That’s why you often see many types of the same person being affiliated to one particular hero,” said Cavill as we sat down for our interview at the Park Hyatt Beijing.
“You can see who the Batman fans are — you can spot them a mile off; Superman fans, Wonder Woman fans … Green Lantern, Aquaman — they all have a certain personality trait.
“My personality trait tends to align with Superman’s. That’s why I enjoy playing this character so much. It’s really the guy who I wanted to play.”
Indeed Cavill, still sporting a superhero physique that can make the rest of us mortals feel simultaneously fat and skinny, could very well be considered the ultimate Superman. And not just because the director of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice Zack Snyder said so.
“He really went all the way. He’s an amazing Superman. I don’t think it could be possible to have a better Superman because he really studied the mythology and everything else,” Synder told us.
During our interview, Cavill considers and answers every question about his role as Superman so carefully, thoughtfully and genuinely that you can’t help but forgive him for taking all that time to get an answer out.
It’s no secret that the 32-year-old takes being Superman very seriously. And why shouldn’t he? After all, he is back for the second time reprising his role as the titular Man Of Steel. This time, he’s not thwarting his fellow Krpytonians’ plans to destroy humanity. In Dawn Of Justice, he goes toe-to-toe with Ben Affleck’s ageing and world-weary Batman. And it seems like it’s on those very broad shoulders that Cavill carries the immense responsibility of ensuring that the movie lives up to the expectations of fans and sets a favourable climate for the ultimate DC cinematic universe, which includes upcoming films such as Justice League, Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad, among others.
“I feel like I’m pushing myself to the limits. I put myself under whip and chain when I’m working on jobs but especially with this,” said Cavill, before quickly adding: “It’s not like I don’t work hard on other jobs — I do!
“But there’s something about this character that really matters to me and I really care about. I’m almost protective of him, like a mother is protective of her child. I’m like ‘Don’t mess with my Superman! I don’t agree with this! This is not the right way’.”
So what are the best things about being Superman? “Selfishly, it’s the character I want to be,” he said with a laugh.
“He’s my favourite superhero. But (playing Superman) also means there’s a chance to make a bit of a difference,” he added, citing how he is using his clout to raise money for two charities. “I can help people that way, just because I’m (playing) Superman. That makes a huge difference. When people say Superman is turning up today, people start throwing money at the charity and that is a really good thing. I love that.”
But as much as Cavill is a fan of what being Superman can do, he also lights up when he recounts stories of a child recognising him as Superman. “To see a kid’s face when they are looking at you … And they walk up to you — after double checking with their parents — to whisper, ‘I know you’re Superman!’ And you get to look and tell them: ‘Yes, but please don’t tell anyone!’ and they reply, ‘Okay.’ To have that moment with a child, when a child believes you exist and therefore wants to do the things that Superman sets as an example is really important,” he said.
“And it feels fantastic! Maybe that’s selfish and a very un-Superman quality. But I like it,” Cavill added.
The reason so many people feel so connected with Kal-el (for the uninitiated, that’s Superman’s real name) is because he is a character who belongs to everyone — not just to the die-hard DC comic-book fan, or Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who first created him back in 1938. More significantly, it could simply be because Superman has always represented goodness and hope.
It’s a responsibility that Cavill, as this generation’s Superman, knows all too well, even as he admitted that he didn’t want to be remembered as Superman. “I want to be remembered as the guy who played Superman well and represented him as he existed in the comic books,” he said.
So after doing two movies, how far is he away from the true Superman that he is trying to be?
“That’s a very good question,” he said with a smile after another of his long, considered pauses.
“Impossibly far,” he declared, before adding: “Every day, I’m learning from my mistakes. I’m looking back and evaluating my actions and the things I say, and thinking, ‘Did I say that because that’s what I feel, or was I saying that because of an emotional attachment to something that made me want to say that?’ And how did everyone feel about what I said afterwards? Did everyone in the room feel happy when I left? Or did I offend and insult some people, and make them feel lesser about themselves?
“It’s all these little things which I try to evaluate. It’s almost an impossible task to achieve, but you can sure try. And every day is a lesson.”
But all that said, Cavill does believe he has grown a lot since he donned the blue suit and red cape in 2013’s Man Of Steel.
“Hopefully in a good way,” he said with a laugh. “Although there are some ways which are not positive as well. But it’s about catching those moments and making sure they don’t develop any further.”
And if he did have to put on his news reporter hat — as Daily Planet newshound Clark Kent — and interview Superman, what would be the most important question to ask the superhero? “‘What do you find most difficult about being Superman?’ I think that’s an answer Superman would like to get out there,” said Cavill thoughtfully, although he said that Superman’s response would probably be: “Not being able to save everyone.”
“That’s the blessing and beauty of Superman — and the curse,” elaborated Cavill. “He’s always going to be in pain because of it. That’s why he’s so beautiful a character. That’s why, when you think about who Superman truly is, it should bring a tear to your eye. His is not necessarily a happy story.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice opens in cinemas tomorrow.