MAN OF STEEL
Casting an Icon
When we first meet Clark Kent in "Man of Steel," he is a grown man hiding from the world. He is unable to remain unnoticed under the watchful and increasingly suspicious eyes of the people of Smallville -- thanks in large part to the manifestations of his superpowers and his inability to keep them completely under wraps, as his Earth father, Jonathan, advised him. Therefore, Clark has abandoned all he knows and loves, wandering in a metaphorical desert of odd jobs and emotional isolation in search of his true self.
"Clark feels he has to stay on the fringes of society," Zack Snyder explains. "That way, if he's forced to use his abilities -- if he saves someone's life or does anything else out of the ordinary -- it is easy for him to disappear."
However, it is a solitary existence, one devoid of companionship and equally filled with longing. Knowing he is not of this planet, he also worries about what humans would do to him if the degree of his uniqueness were to be revealed. And, if he is ever able to discover his true origins, will he find that he belongs there instead?
The director continues, "He's wondering, 'What is my purpose?' We all ask that of ourselves, but it's harder for Clark because the things that he's best at are also the things that are most frightening about him to others; knowledge of his existence would call into question everything we know about who we are. So he's on his own, trying to find out what his place is in the world, where he belongs, what is his destiny. I think the audience will relate because most of us share those same questions and insecurities when we are starting out in life."
British actor Henry Cavill, who stars in the multi-faceted role, says, "Clark has always felt like an outsider. He was raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent to never react in an aggressive, violent manner and, most of all, never to reveal the things that he can do. But dealing with the very real growing pains of becoming a young man unlike any other, and being unable to share that with anyone else, has manifested a sense of isolation in him. That isolation is only amplified by the fact that he feels powerless to do anything about it, while actually having all the power in the world."
"Henry really found a way to play the many contradictions in the character," Snyder relates. "Clark is physically superior but can't show it, he has X-ray vision but must learn to regulate it, and even though he's misunderstood by the human race, he still finds the good in people; he still instinctively wants to help. Henry did an incredible job of conveying the conflict within him, while also projecting that sincerity that is inherent to the role."
In taking on a part that was both physically and emotionally demanding, Cavill says he found an ally and invaluable guide in Snyder. "Zack was fantastic," the actor states. "His energy was always up and, as much as the hours on set were long, he kept things interesting and moving, and it permeated throughout the cast and crew. We were making a Superman movie, after all, and Zack's positive attitude reminded us of that every day."
According to Roven, playing Superman gave Cavill a boost in much the same way it's given every child who ever donned a makeshift cape and imagined him or herself flying through the skies. "When he put on that suit, Henry's whole demeanor changed. He really owned the character, on- and off-camera, and put an amazing amount of hard work and thought into every aspect of his performance. It was great fun to watch."
Cavill began conducting his research into the part at the source: comic books. "I got into the comics and that gave me a great baseline to the character. He's far more complex than I think most people know. He admittedly has a moral code, but he's incredibly conflicted. In the story we're telling, his origin story, he's learning everything about himself right along with the audience. So, when he's faced with having to fight for Earth or for Krypton, well...it's not exactly an easy decision to make."
Jonathan and Martha Kent found their son when his spaceship landed on their farm in the town of Smallville, Kansas. Rather than alerting the authorities, they hid the ship, named the baby Clark, and raised him as their own. The secret came at a cost, though, as the alien boy exhibited otherworldly sensitivities and abilities that gradually raised concerns in the community. The Kents lived in constant fear that there would be a knock on their door, and Clark would be taken from them forever.
"Jonathan and Martha understand right away that finding Clark was both a blessing and a curse," Snyder says. "Jonathan knows that he is not only a father, but he also has to be the guy who, while protecting his son no matter what, has to keep his eye on the ball. He realizes that this is bigger than him, bigger than all of them. Clark could change the course of history."
Thus it falls to the concerned, loving dad to impress upon his son the magnitude of what his existence means for humanity, even if they are as yet unaware.
Kevin Costner portrays Jonathan Kent, whose paternal responsibilities are greater than most could ever imagine. "The nature of a father is to teach and protect. My character tells Clark that he's a miracle, proof that we are not alone in the universe," the actor offers. "It's a huge burden to bear, but Jonathan believes that his son is on Earth for a reason and, as he says to him, the day will come when he will have to decide whether to stand proud in front of the human race, or not."
Costner felt the themes of the film, especially with regard to the relationship between his and Cavill's characters, have very real world implications. "People often talk about movies as being make-believe," he says. "But the truth is, sometimes movies can construct moments that make you ask yourself, 'What would I do in this situation? What kind of man am I?'"
Though absent through all of Clark's young life, it eventually falls to his biological father, Jor-El, to ingrain in his son how crucial his existence is, but this time for Krypton. Having only just discovered his alien roots as the last son of that planet, and learned his true name to be Kal-El, Clark nonetheless begins to feel a real sense of self for the first time in his life.
Kal-El is the light of his parents' lives, if only for a moment. Almost immediately after he is born, his father, Jor-El, the planet's leading scientific mind, and mother, Lara Lor-Van, must make the heartbreaking decision to send their infant hurtling through space in search of a safe haven. Krypton's natural resources are depleted, and it is imploding at a rapid pace. Jor-El's pleas to evacuate have fallen on deaf ears, and he feels the only way to preserve the Kryptonian race is by rescuing its most innocent member, with the hope that Kal can survive and, through him, their people.
"Jor-El is very much an advocate of free choice, and that made him an outlier on Krypton," Goyer explains. "In effect, it made him a criminal, an enemy of the State. Part of his hope for Kal is that he will continue that philosophy of free will."
Russell Crowe, who plays the renegade scientist, asserts, "If you come at the story from the perspective that Jor-El is simply a good guy, I think that is underselling the argument that exists, at least to my mind, that there's a touch of madness to him, a touch of massive desperation in what he's doing. As far as he's concerned, it's the last roll of the dice for keeping Krypton alive."
In order to accomplish that goal, Jor-El must first relate to Kal the story of his past, and impress upon him the importance of his future. This he accomplishes only when Clark's journeys bring him to the one place on Earth that Jor-El can connect with him: a frozen tundra that holds a secret more than 20,000 years old...and that allows for Kal to come face-to-face with the image of his father.
"One of the really critical things that Jor-El tells his son is that in this world he must step out of the shadows to help correct the mistakes made on Krypton," Crowe reveals. "It is a huge responsibility, but if he doesn't fulfill his destiny...there is nobody else."
Jor-El's wife and the birth mother of Kal-El, Lara Lor-Van's heart breaks as she and her husband place their newborn child, Kal-El, in a space pod. With little to sustain them except the belief that at least their son will live, they send him into the unknown. It is an act that is particularly painful for the woman who had just given him life against all odds.
Ayelet Zurer, who plays Lara, says "She's an incredibly brave woman in unimaginably sad circumstances. She reminds me of women in war-torn countries, and what they do to save their kids. A mother would not send her son away against all of her instincts...unless she thinks there's hope."
Despite the strength of the paternal voices in his head, it could easily be said that the women in Clark/Kal-El's life hold great sway over his choices as well: one, with quiet, nurturing strength, the other with quick wit and pure tenacity.
"I think of Martha Kent as very pragmatic," says Diane Lane of her character, Clark's Earth mother, in every sense of the word. "I think she has to be, because when you find this 'star' child on your farm," she laughs, "and you realize all of the capacities that this young being has, there has to be a moral obligation to be the best tour guide you can be. She knows he's special, and that she's been given this opportunity, as a mother, for a reason. I think she feels duty- and honor-bound to explain the world to him as best she can."
In playing the role, Lane called upon her own parenting skills, and those of her mother. "I remember being a little kid and breaking all my crayons in order to convince my mother to do whatever I wanted her to do. I imagine if I had had the strength to tear down the house, I probably would have. At that point, you think, maybe there's another way to handle those feelings. In the movie, Martha is the one who found the way to help her young son calm down when things are too difficult for him, protecting him from outsiders without having any shame about his gifts. She knows that he's going to require as much internal strength as he has physical strength when he goes out into the world."
"Diane and Kevin just completely embodied the all-American parents," Deborah Snyder says. "They both worked so generously with the younger actors playing Clark, and brought so much genuine emotion to their scenes with them and Henry. It was incredibly touching."
Once he does grow up and leave home, Clark drifts, but leaves an unintentional trail of courageous, seemingly impossible and equally inexplicable acts behind him. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lois Lane of The Daily Planet is on assignment in the Arctic when she witnesses firsthand Clark's extraordinary powers. Lois is convinced she is onto the story of the century. Her investigative skills are admirable, but Lois is blind to the consequences her revelations may have for her mystery man.
Amy Adams embodies one of the most famous female characters in comics, who has no superpowers of her own -- other than those of deduction. "Like so many journalists, Lois is singularly focused; she's only aware of the story she wants to tell. She has that fearlessness in pursuit of truth, the belief that it is more important than one's own wellbeing, but it has become addictive, clouding her judgment and detaching her from the real people behind her stories."
So it comes as a surprise, especially to Lois herself, when Clark's assertion that the world may not be ready for his truth makes her think twice about her objectives. "She recognizes there isn't one truth, that there's truth from different perspectives," Adams continues, adding that, because of her ambitions, and perhaps because of the nature of her job, "Lois had lost trust and belief in goodness. To see and feel that Clark's intent is so pure is reinvigorating for her; it's almost like a rebirth for her. I think it's very interesting that it takes this person from another world to make her more human."
"There are so many facets to Lois," Deborah Snyder says. "She is tough as nails, feisty, and also beautiful and sensitive and emotional, but she's no damsel in distress. She's a truly modern woman. We were so lucky to have such an accomplished actress play her. Amy brought so much depth and spirit to the character."
While Lois may believe she's onto the Planet's ultimate front page story, her editor is understandably skeptical. Taking on the role of Perry White is Laurence Fishburne, a fan of the genre who jumped at the chance to work with Zack Snyder. "From my first conversation with Zack, before we even started talking about the script or the story, I felt really confident about the project," Fishburne says. "I've always enjoyed his work, and I believe he is a director who can really deliver a film that's based in the comics and graphic novel world, so I thought he'd do a terrific job with Superman."
The esteemed actor understands the popularity of the enduring Super Hero. "'Joe Normal' needs to feel like a Superman sometimes, whether with his wife, his children, his coworkers or his friends. There are always those moments when we need someone to tell us that we are extraordinary, that we're capable of incredible things. What I liked about the way the writers structured this particular story is that it suggests that we are extraordinary, that we can do great things, and that it is less about having superpowers than it is about the choices we make."
Luckily for Clark, Perry puts the kibosh on Lois's account of an alien on Earth. However, unfortunately for both Clark and the people of Earth, whether or not Lois chooses to pursue her story without Perry's consent will quickly become academic when the spaceship The Black Zero, commanded by the ruthless General Zod, hones in on the planet.
"Someone once said that no villain thinks of himself as a villain, he is always the hero of his own story," Goyer conveys. "In Zod's mind, he is a noble figure."
However, Michael Shannon, who portrays the charismatic, militant leader, believes, Zod's behavior isn't entirely patriotic. "I think anyone who spends their life as a warrior, who metes out orders, grows accustomed to a certain structure. Once that structure is taken away from them, they still have that impulse. Once one has power, one enjoys exercising it. But it is interesting to watch Zod try to stay pure to his intentions."
Both Zod and his onetime compatriot, Jor-El, have, in their different ways, put the survival of their species ahead of other considerations. "Zod genuinely believes that what he's doing is for the better of Krypton," Cavill observes. "He tried to explain it to Jor-El, but they just didn't see things the same way. So he's trying with my character. When he tells Kal how beautiful Krypton was, how it can be again, you see the strength and passion of his vision. It's what he deems necessary to achieve that goal that takes him from visionary to dictator and destroyer. Michael plays him with a wonderful stillness, which carries a lot of weight."
"There's a comparison to be made," argues Shannon, "and it is certainly worth wondering that, were Earth in as dire straits as Krypton is at the beginning of the film, what would we do? Certainly there would be more than one solution, more than one valid argument. What side would you take? Wouldn't you try to stop it from happening? Zod, in his way, was taking a side, perhaps no more forcefully than Jor-El was. It was just a different side."
Zack Snyder observes that both Crowe and Shannon brought equal passion and power to their scenes together. "Russell and Michael complemented each other perfectly. Because their characters have a long history in the movie, it was important that you get that instantly, and because they're so good, they really brought a depth to the relationship that went beyond even what I could have hoped for."
Zod and his merciless crew are warriors who no longer can protect their planet, so now they are bent on preserving their race. Antje Traue, who plays Zod's stalwart second-in-command, Faora-Ul, says the single-minded nature of her character is due to the fact that "she's a creature for whom violence is satisfaction. She doesn't feel remorse. She inflicts suffering and she experiences it herself, but it doesn't have any meaning; there's no subtext. And her loyalty is absolute: Faora serves Zod, she fights for him, she protects him, follows him without question."
Goyer explains, "Faora isn't really a villain; she's not evil, per se. We're judging her through this human lens. On Krypton, there's a caste system, and everyone in Krypton has been raised to fit into a certain specific stratified role. Faora was bred to be a warrior, to kill and to obey orders. She's not meant to have compassion; that's a weakness. So, by following Zod, she's doing what she was born to do, she's fulfilling that purpose."
Zod's invasion is met by U.S. forces who are no less devoted to duty and to saving their own planet. Among their leaders is Colonel Nathan Hardy, played by Christopher Meloni. The Air Force colonel is initially very distrustful of outsiders looking in on military operations, starting with Lois Lane.
"Have you ever seen a dog's hair rise on its back?" Meloni smiles. "That's what happens to Hardy when he first meets Lois. She's a real chop-buster; she tries to steamroll him, but he doesn't kowtow to her." Hardy has an equally bristling view of Superman, too. "He doesn't trust him, possibly fears him. I think he sees Superman as a fairly potent weapon, which makes sense considering what Hardy does for a living."
Despite the nature of the battle between the Kryptonian renegades and the U.S. military, Meloni feels that the film offers an interesting commentary on the nature of power. "Superman's journey in the film is partly about learning how to control his powers, which raises the question, 'What is true power?' I think true power is forgiving, true power is withholding, true power is not fear-based."
Rounding out the cast are Harry Lennix as Hardy's Air Force commander, General Swanwick; Richard Schiff as Dr. Emil Hamilton, a scientist aiding Swanwick's military unit in the Arctic; Michael Kelly as the Daily Planet's sports writer Steve Lombard; and Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry, who play Clark Kent at ages 9 and 13, respectively.
"We had a knockout cast," Zack Snyder says. "It was so important to all of us to make sure that the actors not only fulfilled the needs of the story, but also would embody these well known, beloved characters in the eyes of the legion of Superman fans. I think they accomplished that and more."
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