Comics / Cult Favorite

Superman Who?

By Philip Schweier
Jun 30, 2003 - 9:05

Much hoopla has been seen in the press lately regarding the casting of the Superman movie in development. There are rumors of actors offered the role, but not ready to commit to a 10-year, 3-picture deal.

This is hardly a new situation. Back in the 1970s, a number of big Hollywood names were considered for the title role of Superman: The Movie. Robert Redford was deemed too blonde; Al Pacino, too Italian; Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner wasn't an actor.

Who should be the next Man of Steel? Ask 10 people and you'll probably get the same number of opinions. Once again, Tinseltown's A-list actors are being bandied about as potential Supermen. Some of it's rumor, some of it's true, some of it is hype from interested parties who have something to gain. An unknown actor who sends his headshot into the production could conceivably say he was considered (for about half a second) for the part.

Who can play Superman? Who should wear the super-suit? The answer to that is...anyone. Super powers aside, convincing others you're a super-hero is easy. Often it's simply matter of putting on the right costume. At any given moment while watching last year's runaway hit Spider-Man, ask yourself: Is that Toby Maguire in costume, or his stunt double?

In the case of Spider-Man, literally anyone could have played the role. The costume covers from head to toe. So why did they cast Tobey Maguire? He wasn't hired to play Spider-Man, he was hired to play Peter Parker. And he did a damn fine job.

People were skeptical of Tim Burton's choice of Michael Keaton to play Batman. But once in costume, bat-fans bought the idea, and enough tickets for 1989's Batman to gross over $430 million dollars worldwide (according to the Internet Movie Database). The super-clothes make the Superman, and if you don't believe it, try an experiment sometime. Wear a Superman t-shirt to work one day, and count how many people call you Superman. Then imagine if you wore the full get-up.

So is Superman the role to be cast? I think not. The role that requires true deliberation is that of his alter ego, Clark Kent. Since John Byrne's revision of the character in the mid-80s, it's been accepted that Superman doesn't disguise himself as Clark Kent, it's the other way around. Clark grew up as Clark, not Superbaby or Superboy. His identity is that of a small town boy with extraordinary gifts that enable him to fight the never-ending battle.

The chore ahead for the actor in question is to figure out how a person deals with this kind of power. How does one accept that not only is one adopted, but an extraterrestrial as well? How does one maintain the control to keep from inadvertently twisting a car like a pretzel while trying to get the gas cap off? How does one keep such power hidden from one's closest friends? How does one fight the temptation to use these abilities to achieve such hotly debated issues such as nuclear disarmament and wiping out social ills such as hunger and poverty?

The public perception of Superman is that he's a police officer, fireman, soldier, relief worker, space explorer, and all-around problem solver. If what he does defines who he is, then what does he need with the Clark Kent persona?

It is Clark Kent who adds the depth and scope we find in real-life everyday people. Someone once said, "Character is what we are in the dark." Take away the costume and the powers we perceive in a bright room, and we have a reporter who grew up on a farm. There may not be many of those in real life, but there are plenty of journalists from humble backgrounds, and plenty of farmer's sons.

  For the actor who eventually dons the cape, the test isn't going to be how super is. The costume and the special effects department will do that. The true hurdle to overcome is in making the movie-going public accept (if only for a couple of hours) a Superman as an every-day occurrence, and that anyone who might otherwise appear "normal" might have extraordinary gifts to offer the world.

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at

Read related articles on the Superman movies such as the Special Report: The Superman Movie, and Will Lightning Strike Twice?.

Last Updated: Jun 26, 2018 - 9:28

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