Producer Christopher Nolan and the makers of “Man of Steel,” which opens Friday, have invested considerable creative energy – and studio dollars – in playing up Superman as a strange, introspective visitor from another planet. They wanted a hero as realistically grounded, in his highflying way, as Nolan’s Batman.
Yet you can be sure that on some level they also wanted a charming, big blue Boy Scout. It’s a casting ideal they saw in Henry Cavill, 30, a Brit semi-familiar from roles in “Immortals” and TV’s “The Tudors,” and a candidate for a scrapped Superman project a decade ago. (Additional superheroic fun fact: Cavill’s girlfriend is mixed martial arts fighter-turned-“Fast & Furious 6” star Gina Carano, a rumored Wonder Woman casting possibility.)
“The cool thing about Henry is that he’s got a natural earnestness, and the mentality of a first responder,” says “Man of Steel” director Zack Snyder. The Globe caught up with Cavill (pronounced like gravel) by phone from Los Angeles last week.
Q. You sound really chipper, considering what your schedule must be like at the moment.
A. What, are you kidding me? I’m getting to play a character like Superman, and now I get to talk about a movie that we all loved putting together. How could I not be happy?
Q. Excited as you were to land the role, did you have any trepidation at all?
A. I can understand why people would say there should be trepidation, because of all the pressure and everything that happens afterward. But I really didn’t let that enter my thinking. It’s such a massive opportunity, playing a character who’s got so much to him, and playing him for Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan. There was no way in hell I was going to pass it up.
Q. How was it putting on that replica of Christopher Reeve’s costume for your audition?
A. You’ve gotta be trim, that’s for sure. It’s not flattering. I remember putting it on and looking in the mirror going [deflatedly], “I should have been training my entire life.”
Q. Was it tricky trying to balance the movie’s take on Superman as a lonely alien with people’s traditional image of the character?
A. Well, this is an origin story, and one that we wanted to try to present as a real-life situation. We take for granted being able to share who we actually are with a friend or a wife, but this person would never be able to do that. In time, if we do more stories, then the characters will have more of an understanding that “OK, Superman exists,” and we’ll potentially do something more traditional.
Q. What’s the most physically demanding part of playing a Man of Steel?
A. Just getting in shape. [My trainers,] smiling assassins that they are, really put me through the wringer, and completely changed my outlook. And my body. The action itself wasn’t very demanding, because it’s all superpowered, CGI stuff.
Q. What was the strangest part of the effects work?
A. Maybe lying in a belly pan, which is the mold of a human shape that we used for our green-screen flying. You feel like a bit of an idiot at first.
Q. I guess the name of the thing doesn’t help.
A. Yeah, “I’m just gonna go get in the belly pan” [laughs]. But people on the set were so into the character, they wouldn’t snicker. You’d try things out, and everyone would high-five you.
Q. Is there a particular element of “Man of Steel” that you hope becomes part of the character’s iconography?
A. One thing that’s cool is [Superman’s costume] having its origin as a Body Glove on Krypton, as opposed to a blanket that Martha Kent sews into a suit. But really we just wanted to do an origin story that was applicable to the real world, and make it our own.