When Henry Cavill was 17, Russell Crowe visited his school to film scenes for the 2000 film Proof Of Life.
‘One of the guys at school was playing Russell’s son,’ says Cavill.
‘The scene involved Russell coming to visit him. I was one of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) kids chosen to be in the background.
‘Between takes everyone was standing around and I thought, “We all look like clunkers standing here staring at him.” So I went over and said, “Hello. My name is Henry and I’m thinking of becoming an actor.”
‘He was very encouraging. He told me, “Sometimes they treat you well and sometimes they don’t and sometimes the pay is great and sometimes it’s not. But it’s great fun.”
‘And then everyone else who had seen me chatting came over and started asking for his autograph. I waved at him and said, “Quick, run!” I remember he laughed.
‘A couple of days later I got a note from Russell that said, “Dear Henry, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Best, Russell.”
‘He also sent me a signed photo from Gladiator, an Aussie rugby jersey, some Aussie sweets and a jar of Vegemite. It was incredibly kind of him. It actually made me think, “Yes, this is what I want to do.”’
Thrilling though a chance encounter with a bona fide star must have been for a teenage boy, Cavill never dreamed his tale would have a Hollywood ending, but it has.
This week, the callow schoolboy becomes the first British actor to play Superman, in Man of Steel… and his mentor, Crowe, plays his father.
‘It’s amazing,’ he laughs. ‘It felt like he was there to greet me at the end of this long journey.’
Today, Cavill is standing on the set of Hollywood blockbuster Man Of Steel in Vancouver, telling me about the day he first donned the Superman cape.
‘I was infused with this childlike excitement. I had been to numerous fittings, through all the prototype phases, with hundreds of bits of the costume. I promised myself I wouldn’t look in the mirror until the whole shebang was ready.
When I turned around, it took my breath away. The “S” emblazoned on my chest, the boots, the red cape… Superman seeps into every boy’s consciousness.
‘I remember running around the garden with a makeshift cape, then later a hand-me-down from one of my older brothers.
‘The “S” is the third most recognisable symbol on the planet, after the Christian Cross and Coca-Cola. It isn’t a Hallowe’en costume. I was Superman.’
There was a certain poetic justice in that moment, which was not lost on ‘Fat Cavill’ – his phrase.
Staring back from the mirror was the once-obese teenager who had been bullied at that same boarding school where he met Crowe; the struggling British actor who had lost out on both an earlier role of Superman, then James Bond – to Daniel Craig.
‘I don’t know if I believe in fate,’ Cavill, 30, had said when we first met. But vindication is surely his.
As a teenager Cavill was overweight and unhappy. Aged 13, he arrived midway through the first term at Stowe, one of Britain’s most prestigious public schools, where fees are more than £9,000 a term.
‘I got there late and the other kids had all formed their groups and cliques,’ he recalls as we sit to the side of a gigantic green screen during a break in filming a scene where Superman flies.
Six foot tall and nearly 16st, with an impressively chiselled jawline, Cavill looks every inch the superhero.
‘I had been head boy at my prep school. I had ambition. I wanted to be head boy at my boarding school. I think, immediately, that put some noses out of joint.
June 09 Articles