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Up, up and away: Who can play the Man of Steel? (Smallville mention)

By Anthony Breznican

Wednesday 25 August 2004, by xanderbnd

LOS ANGELES - A powerful father from beyond the heavens sends his son on a fate- ful journey to Earth to become a savior 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 that the soulful, buff and blue-eyed Caviezel is one of the fan favorites to answer a question that has perplexed Hollywood for decades: "Who can play Superman?"

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

"Would he like to do it? He loves Superman," she told The Associated Press. "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, refueling the rumor machine. He is currently at work on a script, and Warner Bros. 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.

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

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

The Reeve movies grossed a total of $318 million domestically, but each installment had steadily diminishing returns — from $134.2 million for the 1978 original to a pitiful $15.6 million for the last gasp in 1987.

Superman has had the most success lately in a TV show, Smallville on the WB, which chronicles the pre-superhero life of Clark Kent when he was just a farmboy with strange powers.

Tom Welling, who stars as young Kent, is another actor whom fans say they’d love to see in the movie Superman — but that’s an extreme long shot.

There were at least three 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 Bros. 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 grueling special-effects work, dangling from wires and fighting invisible foes. After that, an actor might spend an additional 10 years trying to undo their screen image as a do-gooder alien muscleman.

Reeve, who was paralyzed 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 to fill.

Reeve’s spokesman said the actor, who has made several guest appearances on Smallville, 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.


A blast from Superman’s past

• Superman, 1941-1943. Animators Max and Dave Fleischer defined the Man of Steel’s art-deco look for generations with series of 10-minute short films, Superman’s first screen appearance.

• Superman, 1948. Kirk Alyn wore the cape in the first live-action adaptation of the comic book.

• The Adventures of Superman, 1952-1957. The TV series starring George Reeves, whose suicide ended the show and launched "Superman’s Curse" legend.

• The New Adventures of Superman, 1966-1969. Cartoon series with Bud Collyer as Clark Kent and Superman.

• Superman, 1978. Movie that introduced Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel.

• Superman II, 1981. Reeve returns to stop three bad guys from his home planet of Krypton from wreaking havoc on Earth.

• Superman III, 1983. More silly than super, sequel co-starred Richard Pryor as a computer-programming scientist who creates synthetic Kryptonite.

• Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, 1987. The flop that killed the franchise.

• Superboy, 1988-1992. Live-action syndicated TV series starring Gerard Christopher.

• Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, 1993-1997. Well-received ABC fantasy series starring Dean Cain as a modern-guy Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane.

• Superman: The Animated Series, 1996-2000. WB Network’s after-school cartoon series with Tim Daly voicing Superman and Dana Delaney as Lois Lane.

• Smallville, 2001-present. Tom Welling stars as farmboy Clark Kent — and the term "Superman" is never used. Kent cannot yet fly but has super-strength and is practically indestructible.