LONDON — It’s not every day that you go shopping with Superman.
It was 10 a.m. on a sunny Friday last month, one of those rare autumn days when the English capital seems to have swapped weather with Santa Monica, Calif., when I first spotted Henry Cavill, the British actor who has put his stamp on the Man of Steel for a new generation of filmgoers.
Military erect, his arms folded purposefully, he was standing outside Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row clothier that has been outfitting the British gentry since King George III.
He was hard to miss. Regardless of one’s age, gender or sexual orientation, it can be agreed that the man is a specimen, a 99.9999 percentile hunk, a super man. I pictured a hypothetical ad in Variety: “Wanted: Actor. Untitled Superman project. Must be as handsome as Ryan Gosling, as charming as Colin Firth and as ripped as any starting linebacker on the Dallas Cowboys.”
He had arrived on Savile Row from his home in London’s genteel Kensington district to browse for suits on the eve of the publicity blitz for “Justice League,” the superhero blockbuster-to-be featuring Mr. Cavill alongside Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Aside from a Superman-ish forelock that tumbled down his forehead, Mr. Cavill looked more like a romantic lead from an E. M. Forster period drama, wearing a royal blue Cifonelli blazer, a dandyish confection of curls and a distinctly retro, and distinctly absurd, handlebar mustache.
“It’s for a role, ‘Mission: Impossible 6,’” he said sheepishly, referring to his giant crumb catcher. “It makes me feel a little odd at times. People think I’m some crazy handlebar-mustache-growing person.”
“But,” he added gamely, “I’m also playing around with it now, growing it a bit longer. Why the hell not? When else am I going to grow a handlebar mustache?”
To the degree the mustache was intended as a disguise, it failed. In recent weeks, the whiskers had seemingly become more famous than he was, inspiring countless tabloid items after Mr. Affleck jokingly referred to it as a “full-on porn-star mustache” during a “Justice League” reshoot.
Then again, Mr. Cavill has an uneasy relationship to fame. For years, he was a Hollywood’s king of the near miss. He lost out to Daniel Craig to be the next James Bond, and also to Robert Pattinson on both “Twilight” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” Although he has been working steadily since he was a teenager, he always seemed to receive second billing to his biceps.
But he has been flirting with A-list stardom ever since he inherited the role of Superman in Zack Snyder’s 2013 franchise reboot, “Man of Steel,” followed by featured roles opposite Armie Hammer in “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” in 2015 and now Tom Cruise in his latest “Mission Impossible” installment.
In person, though, Mr. Cavill comes across less like a Hollywood action hero than an English gentleman in the prewar sense, a vestige of an era when leading men were described as “dashing” or “debonair,” and civility meant something.
In a less august setting than one of London’s oldest bespoke tailors, he might be fair game for the “paps” (paparazzi), as they say in England, as well as for any hormonal young woman with a smartphone and an Instagram handle.
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