Who can play the Man of Steel?

A powerful father from beyond the heavens sends his son on a fateful journey to Earth to become a saviour for humanity.

James Caviezel starred in the Biblical version of that story in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Could he play out that premise again under different circumstances? Say, the comic-book version, with blue tights and a cape?

No superhero fits the literary Christ motif as neatly as Superman, so it’s no surprise the soulful, buff and blue-eyed Caviezel is one of the fan favourites to answer a question that has perplexed Hollywood for decades: “Who can play Superman?”

Caviezel’s manager, Beverly Dean, is familiar with the rumour, but calls it speculation.

“Would he like to do it? He loves Superman,” she said. “But the truth is there has been no offer, the script isn’t even finished—but absolutely he’d be interested.”

Bryan Singer, who directed the X-Men movies, took over the Superman project last month, refuelling the rumour machine. He is currently at work on a script, and Warner Brothers says he hasn’t begun the casting process, although it must start soon to make the target 2006 release date.

From little-known soap opera stars to familiar leading men such as Brendan Fraser, Jude Law and Josh Hartnett, it seems like nearly every actor between ages 20 and 40 has been draped with the cape at some point.

But playing someone bulletproof has many risks.

“He’s got to have all the qualities you want in your president and your father—a toughness and a sensitivity at the same time,” said Danny Fingeroth, author of the book Superman on the Couch, about the mythical public image of superheroes.

“He has a square-jawed indominatability,” Fingeroth added.
“He can be tough with bad guys, yet he’s got the ability to project sincerity and vulnerability that you want Superman to have.”

Some, such as Law and Hartnett, considered and then rejected the role, in part out of fear of sight-unseen sequel commitment. Other contenders such as Fraser and former Roswell actor Jason Behr are still interested, but not holding their super-freezing breath waiting for Superman to finally come together.

“Everybody is aware of the fact that they’ve been trying to redo that for a long, long time,” Behr told an audience two weeks ago at the Comic-Con International in San Diego. “So, you know, until things happen they happen.”

“Brendan was always interested in the piece, and at this point, with a new director attached, it’s in the hands of the film gods.

Basically they’re starting from scratch,” said Fraser spokesperson Ina Treciokas.

The Man of Steel hasn’t starred in a feature film since 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace with Christopher Reeve, despite aggressive efforts by Warner Brothers to resurrect the series.

The Reeve movies grossed a total of $318-million domestically, but each instalment had steadily diminishing returns—from $134,2-million for the 1978 original to a pitiful $15,6-million for the last gasp in 1987.

There were at least three separate films in the works at various points at the studio over the past 10 years, including Superman Lives with Nicolas Cage as the lead and Tim Burton directing before it was aborted in pre-production in 1996 over its ballooning budget.

Warner Brothers considered mixing two popular franchises with Superman vs Batman, which Wolfgang Peterson was directing before he dropped out to do Troy.

The third and current Superman project has gone through three directors over the past year.

Last month, Charlie’s Angels filmmaker McG dropped out of the movie, making way for Singer. Before that, Brett Ratner, the director of Rush Hour and Red Dragon, was signed on to make Superman but quit last year, citing “the difficulty of casting the role of Superman”.

Although it would seem to be a natural for any actor, some of the very things that make Superman an ideal role on the surface—massive worldwide exposure, guaranteed sequels and becoming the face of a pop-culture icon—can also be counted as potential drawbacks.

And if fans don’t like the movie, you become their nemesis.

Hartnett was among the final contenders who passed on the role, in part because he would have been locked in to several as-yet-unscripted sequels. “A lot depends on the screenplay and the direction—if those things aren’t good it will be hard for any actor to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or turn Kryptonite into gold,” Fingeroth said.

Anyone who accepts the role can expect to spend the next six to 10 years—the prime of a young star’s career—immersed in gruelling special-effects work, dangling from wires and fighting invisible foes. After that, an actor might spend another 10 years trying to undo their screen image as a do-gooder alien muscleman.

Reeve, who was paralysed from the neck down in a 1995 horse-riding accident, remains ingrained as the image of Superman for millions and leaves a big shadow for the next actor fill.

Reeve’s spokesperson said the actor is not involved in any way with the new Superman movie, despite internet rumors to the contrary.

Reeve has not seen a screenplay or discussed the project with the studio, and had no comment on who could be his successor.

Matt Damon was mentioned as a potential Man of Steel when Peterson was developing Superman vs Batman, but The Bourne Supremacy star was as surprised as anyone to hear that news. “That shocked me completely. I always thought of Superman looking like Christopher Reeve ... That’s not me at all,” said Damon. - Sapa-AP

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