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Reinventing the steel

A behind-the-scenes report from Superman Returns
By MIKE COTTON  |  June 14, 2006

ON SET: with Superman.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Brandon Routh knew that playing the Man of Steel would drastically change his life. There was the instant celebrity when former X-Men director Bryan Singer cast him as the lead in Superman Returns. And the immediate comparisons to past Supermen, most notably Christopher Reeve. Plus a transformative diet-and-exercise routine to whip the six-foot, three-inch actor in shape. These things he prepared for.

He just didn’t count on the ruthlessness of Lex Luthor.

Reclining on a wooden bench between the sets for the top-secret New Krypton and exterior of the Daily Planet, Routh smiles modestly and speaks softy, which makes it even harder to hear him when he’s interrupted by a bellowing voice emanating from a fast-approaching golf cart.

“Superman must die!” shouts Kevin Spacey, who plays Superman’s archenemy in the film — and, from the looks of it, in real life, too. “Die Superman!” he continues, varooming in circles around his 26-year-old co-star. “Die! Die! Die!”

“He does that all the time,” laughs Routh, rubbing his neck wearily.

In fact, Spacey’s been needling the kid so intensely that the elder star’s golf cart, initially dubbed the “Lex-Mobile,” was re-christened the “Super-Buster” after the veteran actor tied a Superman doll to the back and began dragging it around the lot behind him.

“I let him have his fun because really, I’ll take care of the problem,” jokes Routh.

“Part of me wants to do more and say more to him and have that interaction, but what we’re shooting today — he’s powering over me and kicking the crap out of me — it’s pretty powerful and really pretty awesome. He has such a presence that he’s not even working. He’s just there. From an acting standpoint, it’s great. I don’t have to create anything from him. He affects me just by listening to him.”

Routh has plenty on his shoulders: he’s a Hollywood newcomer whose IMDB chart peaks at guest stints on The Gilmore Girls, trying to hold his own against Spacey’s Luthor and Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane. He’s the ante in Warner Bros’ $180 million gamble to resurrect its most recognizable character after an absence of two decades. And the movie itself is a bit of a leap: it’s neither a remake nor a true sequel. In this film, Superman has been gone for a number of years, and a lot has changed in his absence. Lois Lane is engaged and has a young son. Lex Luthor is out of prison. And the fictional populace has begun asking — as a real one certainly will before laying down money at the box office — “Do we still need a Superman?”

Singer, standing down after directing a tense confrontation between Luthor and Superman, explains the continuity of the film. “It’s a sort of sequel to the second movie without any mention of outlaws from Krypton and any of that,” he says. “We know that he came to Earth. He was known as Superman. He was responsible for putting Lex Luthor in prison and then he left. Lois’s theory is that he took off on a futile attempt to find his home world.” 

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