When asked about your weaknesses in a job interview, the old joke is that you should always answer: “I care too much …”
But that’s actually the truth about Clark Kent’s heroic alter ego in the new DC cinematic universe. As Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice heads to theaters March 25, Entertainment Weekly has been talking with the filmmakers and stars about where things will go after 2013’s Man of Steel.
Henry Cavill literally describes his Superman as the new guy on the job, one who knows he messed up while trying to save the world the last time around. It sounds like a fair amount of regret hangs over the head of this superhero, and now he has invoked the ire of this bizarre man in a bat costume from neighboring Gotham City.
Here are the actor’s thoughts on what Kal-El is facing in Dawn of Justice, and how he’s learning on the job…
Entertainment Weekly: This film has been in the works for three years, so what are your earliest memories of getting back into the cape and picking up the story after Man of Steel?
Henry Cavill: My first memory of getting back into it was delving back into the comics and finding bits of personality. Obviously, I had to wait for the script to come back so I knew what I was allowed to implement, and then it was just about trying to get as much of Superman’s character into the script as possible – as far as how I saw it – and of course everyone has their different viewpoints on the character. My lasting memory, was going back to the comic books and really exploring the psychology of the man with the hope that I could apply it to the script.
Kryptonite has become a synonym in the English language for a weak spot, an Achilles heel, but beyond that these movies have taken the fact that Superman can’t save everyone and made that a weakness. I think that’s a very human weakness to have.
For me, when it came on to Superman’s weakness, it’s inside him. It’s the fact that he does really love humans. He loves what they bring to the world, he loves this planet and who he lives alongside, and he wants to really, really help them. We could go deep into the psychology of what that means and what that makes ones intentions on a daily basis when you’re a super-powered alien.
Not only is he bulletproof, but he can withstand a lot of cruel treatment from us.
Essentially it’s that. That’s his weakness, that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He doesn’t want to scare anyone, and in that you can take advantage of him. It makes it very easy to take advantage of him. … This is someone who is a complete amateur, and he’s facing up against someone who is very well versed in the arts of war.
That’s the way religions of the world talk about God, isn’t it? That God loves us even if we’re horrible, even if we do the worst things imaginable. It’s interesting seeing that element in Superman.
I mean, there’s always been some parallels drawn, theological parallels drawn between Superman and various religions. I do my best to draw parallels just between mythological heroes if I can, and yeah, because religion’s a dangerous ground. That’s a minefield.
After the destruction we saw in Man of Steel, is Superman suffering from a kind of survivor’s guilt, since he saved the world, but destroyed a city?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a survivor’s guilt. I mean, that’s a different kind of thing because he’s above the threat. I think the most difficult thing for him at this stage of the story is that he has just come to terms with the fact that he is really, really quite powerful and he hasn’t found any major vulnerabilities yet, and despite this, despite the enormous power that he has, he still cannot do everything, and he really struggles with that. It’s not just a quick, “Okay, I get it. I can’t save everyone.” That takes a long time to work out.
There were complaints from some fans that it was out-of-character for Superman to allow the Man of Steel fight to cause such destruction and loss of life. In Batman v Superman, that anger is part of the story – it’s why Bruce Wayne hates Superman. Did it surprise you that they incorporated that?
I think that may have been part of the master plan all along. When it comes to the major story stuff I can’t really speak on that, because that was above my paygrade. What I can speak of is the idea of Superman, especially when the finger is pointed at collateral damage in the first movie. I mean, we’re talking about a greenhorn.
Do you think he’d do it differently now?
Let’s say now, [if] Superman has the same threat again, that’s a different story. He would, of course, bring collateral damage to an absolute minimum, but in that, he’s just trying to survive because if he doesn’t, the planet’s gone. That’s the excuse I make for Superman. He’s fresh and he’s new, and it’s very easy to point out the faults in someone after they’ve done it, but put yourself in their shoes and see what happens.
In the past, some have complained Superman is too perfect. But give them the flawed hero, and there are complaints that Superman should be perfect. It seems like your Superman deals with the same problem. He seems to want the world to cut him a little bit of slack.
I mean, it’s going to be impossible to please everyone anyway, but I think there is huge potential to provide Superman with the weakness that people crave in the future and expand upon story stuff without offending the lore of Superman. It’s a fine line to tread because we’re in a different age now, but I think we can tell a fascinating, interesting story where Superman has his weaknesses and is also doing the thing which we expect Superman to do. He’s being the ideal. It shouldn’t be easy to tell the story of Superman.
Shouldn’t this Superman be a little angry? He saved the world, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for everyone.
The thing about Superman is that although he is physically infallible, psychologically he’s very much vulnerable to the same things that make us vulnerable. When you’re doing your best, your utmost, and you still can’t save everyone, and then people point their finger at you and call you the bad guy, I mean, that would be enormously frustrating. I know the human reaction would be, “Hold on a second, F-you man,” and his reaction is the first half of that: not quite the ‘F-you.’ It’s the hurt.”
Are there any offbeat Superman stories from the comics that you’d especially love to see in film? I always loved Mark Millar’s Red Son, where Superman lands in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas…
I think the offbeat stories are great, and I read Red Son in particular before I did Man of Steel, to get an idea of the baseline of the character because despite the fact that it’s offbeat and he’s grown up in a completely different environment, the character is still, at it’s very core, the same thing, and I love that. I think what’s important now is to tell a story which is dedicated to sharing the same character in the comic books in the cinematic universe, and then after that’s been established, then we can start exploring some more of the offbeat stuff.
Now, your Batman, Ben Affleck, played early Superman actor George Reeves in a movie called Hollywoodland a few years ago. So, for you, as an actor who is now playing Superman, I wondered if you had any interesting conversations with him about him playing a guy who once played the same iconic role.
I didn’t actually. Maybe I should have a good long chitchat with him about that.
What do Batman and Superman talk about when you’re both in costume between takes?
Like, “Do you need to pee?” “Yeah, I need to pee.” “Should we go now or wait?” “How much time do you think we’ll have between shots?” [Laughs] That’s pretty much it. The process.