Henry Cavill on Immortals, Man of Steel, Surviving Tough Times and Inspiring Twilight's Edward Cullen
Much has been made of British actor Henry Cavill's abs in this week's Immortals, or the strange, logic-defying Superman beard spied on the set of Man of Steel. Never mind that the 28-year-old actor turns in a persuasive dramatic performance in Tarsem's stylized fantasy myth, playing the classic hero Theseus as an honorable peasant battling a sadistic god-hating tyrant (Mickey Rourke) with the aid of a comely priestess (Freida Pinto) and supernatural bow and arrows. But therein lies the surprise: Go to Immortals for the bloody action, or the mythological spin, or the wonderment of Tarsem's visuals, and you'll also get the pleasant revelation that Cavill wears leading man status like a natural.
After years of flying under the radar for "long periods of time... scrambling for money, just trying to make ends meet," Cavill's profile shot sky-high when he won the coveted role of Superman/Clark Kent in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which is presently filming. The actor rang Movieline last week to discuss those rough early days, his work on Immortals, what to expect from Man of Steel, and how he feels knowing he inspired Stephenie Meyer's insanely popular (and sparkly) Twilight hero, Edward Cullen.
The Theseus of Immortals isn't exactly the Theseus many of us remember from reading Greek mythology. How would you describe the changes the film makes to that mythology and why they work here?
Well, Tarsem decided to make his own story, his own movie, his own thing. He didn't want to tie into too closely to the classic mythology, and in that I think it gives us more freedom. But ultimately the point of all mythology is to get that message of the oppressed and fighting against the odds and coming out on top, and that is still a very strong message in this. It's just Tarsem's interpretation of the myth, as opposed to the classic interpretation.
Tarsem is what they call a visionary director and quite a character to boot -- what was your initial impression of him?
Full of energy, and someone who is very passionate about the project. When I first read the script I thought, okay, there are some major holes here and I'm not too sure about it. It was still very much being worked on. My agent told me, "I understand the script isn't where it should be right now, but go meet the director." And Tarsem had a whole room filled with artwork that he had culled from the internet and from books and all sorts, and he was painting this picture of what the world was. It really sold me because he's obviously so passionate about it, and it wasn't just some half-assed thing. He was actually designing a world to live in, and as an actor that's the kind of thing you want from a director. You want a guy who's creating it all and has a hand on every aspect of it. So when it comes to questions which you need to ask him, he's got the answers.
Watching the film, the world of Immortals, not just on the screen but practically speaking, is unique -- you're shooting on real sets, there's a gorgeous painterly quality to the world around you, and yet you had to work a lot with CG. For example, you shoot CG arrows that then travel through an impossible space in one scene. Did it feel like more of a risk than any other movie, not knowing how those elements would come together in the end?
Well, you always take the risk. You never know what the final product is going to be because there's the editing process, and anything can change. The one thing that you may shoot on any film, the whole story can be changed by moving some scenes around and changing the order of things. Taking out just one aspect of an actor's performance can change the character entirely, so you're really taking a risk as an actor to go through that, and you trust the director to portray you as you intended to be portrayed. This sort of job really didn't make it any more of a risk, and I trusted Tarsem implicitly. He knew what his world was. And as much as we did do with CGI, we did have that immediate environment around us at all times, a very elaborately detailed set. And it was only the deep background that was CGI. Tarsem always brought in artwork and scale models and everything and showed us exactly where we were and what we were doing.
You share scenes with Mickey Rourke; even Tarsem has acknowledged how different an experience it is to work with him, and his reputation for intensity on set precedes him.
It was really an opportunity to see someone who's got years of acting experience under their belt, and I have a chance to learn from them. Sit back and watch. I think that often can be the best way of learning stuff, you watch them and see how things go.
You're best known already for playing Superman in the upcoming Man of Steel, but Immortals will actually be your big action hero debut. How much do you feel that your stock as an action star, as the future Superman, will depend on how Immortals is received?
I think it'll certainly have an effect. If everyone loves this movie and there's a good bit of action it, with all the complex choreography, naturally, people will be keen if they do like the movie and like my performance in it, to see me in other action roles. So I think it will have a major effect. You've just got to hope everything goes down well and everyone likes it.
The ending of Immortals, and the nature of its mythology, is such that it could seem to leave itself open to sequels. Can you speak to that possibility, and would you be involved?
There's certainly nothing planned yet, and these things depend on how well our story does. Of course, in the magical world of mythology there's always room for a sequel because anything can happen. It's just a matter of waiting and seeing, and fingers crossed. It could be a great opportunity to continue the story.
With these larger than life heroes and all this action back to back, do you look for a change of pace to do next?
Oh, very much so. These larger than life characters and roles are a lot of fun to do, and I do enjoy playing them, but I like to tell stories in other roles as well. It's a matter of just finding the right script. I certainly don't want to only show one facet of my ability. I want to show people I can tell stories in a non-action capacity as well. It's finding the correct scripts, seeing what's out there, and biding my time.
Has it become easier in, say, the last few years to find those better scripts?
No, not necessarily in the last few years. Ever since I got the Superman role, I think I'm going to start getting more choice of scripts, but in the past it was just a matter of trying to find the script and trying to get the job, and you don't know if you'll get the job. There's a bit more of a name attached to me now and hopefully that will help me get my foot in the door more often, and I'll have more of a choice than I have had in the past.
You bring a strong dramatic gravitas to Immortals, but so much of the build-up around the film in previous months was focused, say, on your abs. Or your workout regimen. Meanwhile, while shooting Man of Steel you've got people wondering things like what earthly tools are strong enough to shave or maintain Superman's beard. Is it a strange thing to deal with, people focusing so much on these kinds of non-serious aspects instead of your work?
[Laughs] I think in this day and age it's all part and parcel. There are people taking photographs of us working all the time. It's just one of those things; you've got to take it in stride. And you know, I put all the prep work into it. I'm not necessarily being shot in the best, most flattering of lights, but I put the hard work in and the performance will come later. People will see the movie, hopefully. It'll help when people see these photos beforehand, from various movies, to sell them more on the character. So it's less of that transition phase from seeing an actor on screen to believing a character and getting wrapped up in the story being told.
Superman's such a familiar character, so deeply ingrained in pop cultural history. What do you think fans will be most surprised to see added to the canon in Man of Steel?
There's only so much I can say, I'm afraid, about the job or the character. But what I can tell you is that we're going to make him easier to relate to, and it's a modernization of the role.
Speaking of another superhuman franchise your name has been connected to... were you aware that Stephenie Meyer thought of you as her ideal Edward Cullen in Twilight?
[Laughs] I had heard things like that, yes -- I don't know how much truth there was to that story though.
It's true! You were who she envisioned for the role, although I'm not sure of how many qualities you share in real life with the sparkly vampire.
I'm flattered! It's enormously flattering. If a writer were to say that I am the writer's ideal choice, that's enormously flattering. I hope that I will be able to continue to perform in a way that will have other people saying it.
You've been quoted as saying that if you hadn't gone into acting, you might have studied Egyptology. Do you ever wish you'd followed that path instead?
No -- at this stage, I'm very happy that I stuck to my chosen path and kept to it, because things are looking good! There were certainly times in the past, long periods of time, when things were going terribly and I had no work. I was scrambling for money, just trying to make ends meet. Badly in debt. But I made my decision back then and I'm glad I stuck to it. As much as I do have a fascination with ancient history, and with history in general, I love the story that history is, it's just one of those things which I was planning on doing -- something like Egyptology -- at university. Going through university on a scholarship and then going to join the armed forces in the U.K. History was just a filler for the time being.
At present I'm sure that decision to stick to acting seems particularly wise.
Yeah. It was a combination of a lot of hard work and some good choices... and, of course, some bad ones which I got away with. And ultimately, some very good fortune. If it hadn't been for certain people liking me and doing casting in certain areas, or me being the right age for stuff, I wouldn't be where I am today. So it's one of those things. I'm lucky that things all came together as they have done so far.
Immortals is in theaters Friday.
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