LOS ANGELES Henry Cavill spent the last 2½ years knowing he had some super shoes to fill.
How would he play Superman differently from those who've donned the cape before?
It's the same question his fellow actors, the director and writers faced with "Man of Steel," the latest film incarnation based on the iconic comic book character.
Having so much time to prepare for the role allowed Cavill to think about the right way to play a hero. Cavill wanted to give his Superman more weaknesses than just kryptonite. He plays Superman/Clark Kent with a darker tone, as a man with flaws and doubts, while also having the ability to bend steel with his bare hands and leap tall buildings.
Cavill didn't turn to the classic Superman story for his inspiration.
"When you see Clark traveling through the world and trying to work out what and who and why he is, I didn't go to source material for that. I just applied my own life to that. As actors, it's quite a lonely existence unless you have someone traveling with you the entire time," Cavill says. "You spend a lot of time by yourself, and you meet new people, and you make temporary families, and you love them. Then you never see them again.
"You just apply that to the character, and that's exactly what he experiences. So it's just that lonely aspect that I apply to it opposed to any classic Superman material."
Cavill's darker take was made easier with Zack Snyder as the director.
Snyder showed in his comic book-inspired films "Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch," that he prefers to dig deeper into what makes a hero cry than what makes them fly.
He turned to David Goyer to write a script, which focuses more on the man than the myth. Goyer has had experience converting comic book characters into film roles with "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," "Blade" and "The Dark Knight."
Goyer understood that trying to tell a new version of Superman would be daunting because of all the past efforts.
"It's important to respect the iconography and respect the canon. But at the same time, you have to tell a story. And once you sort of land on who you think the character is and what his conflicts are, you have to let that lead you," Goyer says. "You have to throw all that other stuff away and not be worried about this epic responsibility or it will just crush you and paralyze you."
His version is really a story about two fathers and how their influences shaped their son's life. That approach made it easy for Russell Crowe to play Superman's Kryptonian father, Jor-El, because the Aussie actor knew very little about the comic book character.
"I didn't have any references in terms of cinematic experiences. The only Superman reference I have is the black-and-white "Superman" TV show that was on TV after school when I was a kid," he says. "So I really had nothing to draw on. The simple thing for me is I read the script and thought it was a complex and really cool story in and of itself."
Goyer also changed the character of Lois Lane, whose role has been a spunky reporter whose ambitions get her into trouble. The new Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is still aggressive, but she comes with a more practical side when it comes to danger.
"When I talked to Zack about this incarnation of Lois, what I loved was that she was still this intrepid reporter. That she was somebody that was going to be a part of the solution not just part of the problem. She was going to have more of an inner track on Clark and sort of be on the inside as opposed to be on the outside," Adams says. "I really liked that, and I thought that was a very unique idea.
"I really loved that Zack wanted it to be this really big, amazing film but was also very important to him to focus on the characters and the truth, grounding the characters in reality as much as possible in this amazing world that he created."
One other difference between past projects and this one is that Superman is played by a Brit. That was no problem for Cavill, who sees the Man of Steel as a universal icon.
"Yes, he was raised in America as a character, but I don't think the Brits see him any differently," Cavill says. "They just see him as the coolest, biggest and best superhero out there."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.