Secret Identities and the Fortress of Solitude
The Fortress of Solitude always felt a little like a redundant brand extension to me. Mythology for the sake of mythology. But that’s forgetting who Superman really is. He’s not entirely Clark Kent. But being Superman all the time would be exhausting. After all, that’s an act, too.
From that perspective, every man understands the benefit of having a Fortress of Solitude. That Superman has a place he can retire to, away from the public, away from Clark Kent and his friends, falls squarely on the “man” side of his dichotomous identity.
Like actors, superheroes create their identities, intentionally blurring the line between their public and private selves; they are living symbols. The more an audience buys into a performance, the lonelier it is for an actor. More than artistic satisfaction, the liminal loneliness of the superhero is why actors worry about being typecast, especially as heroes.
When you can’t feel pain, when we can’t understand that fear response, there’s a fine line between feeling nothing and showing a strong humanity.
It’s not that Henry Cavill sounds lonely, exactly. But, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an actor who has signed on to be Superman for at least the next few years, would feel some reticence about being too public. Consider: Superman is essentially Jesus Christ, in tights, with laser eyes.
It’s one of the challenges writers have dealt with for decades. How do you make surprising stories about someone who is essentially American Righteousness personified, and has been for the past 75 years? You have a hero like Superman descend the gritty path along with all the other superheroes, and you risk losing what makes Superman special: the idealism, the hope, the all-powerful innocence. But, if you keep him a relic of 1950s values, he won’t resonate with anyone past the age of 12. This was why Man of Steel irked some people. Superman would never allow so much of a city to get destroyed! Think of all those innocent lives! Superman doesn’t kill!
“One of the things I learned from that is priorities. You are never going to please everyone. Don’t read the Internet,” he says. Then he makes it clear that he doesn’t always follow his own advice (which is refreshing, because of course celebrities read the Internet). “Some people just want to be negative, no matter what they’re commenting on.” Some fans just want to rage. He knows. He’s followed trolls through different articles, noting the constant flow of negativity. But when a film makes as much money as Man of Steel made, sometimes the only way to assess your performance is to see what people are saying about it.
Henry Cavill exists at the same crux as Superman. And you don’t know whether it’s what qualifies him to be Superman — he’s earnest, decent, unflappably good — or whether it’s a savvy reaction to playing him. He worries about being good, without making a show of it. We want our stars to show personality. To be rogues, bouncing from interview to interview on the full-throttle power of their preternatural charm. Even the stars we admire for being down-to-earth guys best remain so whenever we’re watching. And we’re always watching. Somehow actors need to reflect the characters they portray, otherwise we don’t know how to process their performance. It’s why Ben Affleck, who plays Batman to Cavill’s Superman, has such an uphill struggle donning the cape and cowl — for all his reinvention as a solid director and committed performer, we still know the poker-playing kid from Boston, who once grabbed J.Lo’s ass in a music video, isn’t Batman.
Cavill cares so much about maintaining the plausibility of his Superman that he’s almost aloof. It’s actually heroic. Heroes sacrifice. He talks about the downside of being Superman, that he can’t just do what he wants, he can’t go out drinking, he can’t even get too lazy with his workouts. Think of the children.
But then he says, and he sounds genuinely humble and grateful, that it’s really all worth it. He gets to be Superman. To millions of kids, adults, and trolls on the Internet he is the embodiment of the greatest superhero ever created.
So what if that means staying inside, playing video games anonymously instead of swinging by the pub. He’d probably be playing those video games anyway.
In the next action packed issue!
It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Having missed the chance once, Cavill still might get to play Bond. He says he’s ready for that now, should it happen. He was only 22 last time, not near old enough to create a finessed spy. You could even call his egregiously underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. practice: the man can fill a suit. The man can be mysterious and charming. He’d make a great Bond.
But he’d also make a great actor playing Bond. We’ve seen how his natural earnestness — and impossibly chiseled features — made for a perfect Superman.
How great would it be to see that bent, just a bit. Let him let his hair down a bit. It’s telling that, while other actors seem to complain about the confines of franchises, Cavill has always sought them out. The cynic would say that he’s just chasing the money. Get a cushy gig in a tentpole series of films and you know what you’ll be doing for the next decade. And while he’s not shy about saying he appreciates the money, it doesn’t seem like his main motivation is job security. (That’s what his newly formed production company is for.) No, he wants in on the big franchises because those seem like the most fun, and the best use of his particular, easygoing charisma and talent.
Plus, there’s nothing cushy about playing Superman. That takes godly commitment. And Henry Cavill loves it.