LOS ANGELES — For director Bryan Singer, the eyes were always the key to Superman. Not just because of their X-ray and heat vision, their telescopic and microscopic powers, or even their indestructibility, as the film demonstrates in one of its more shocking scenes. Rather, it was a quality quite the opposite, something that Singer searched for in the many actors aspiring to the part. He found it in movie newcomer Brendan Routh. “Vulnerability. It was an audition tape that had come in for a prior incarnation of the role. It was a test he’d done and wasn’t even very good. There was something about his eyes and there was something about his vulnerability.”
X-MEN MAN: Singer’s mastery of cinematic form carries the narrative.
Vulnerable, perhaps, but not blue.
“No, but they still function in a certain way. When you see Brandon, you see how dark his eyes are [not in the film, thanks to contacts], and you remember Christopher Reeve [the late actor who starred in the first four Superman movies] was blond. But there was something about his quality, his presence, his stature. And there was something about him in that tape. So I looked at another tape, and that got me going even more. And I said, I at least have to meet this guy before I go on my location scout to Australia. So I went to a coffeeshop and I met him, and that’s when the true process in my mind clicked.
“Now he’s Superman. If you didn’t use him in future Superman movies, it would be a problem. I would never make another X-Men film and have a different actor play Wolverine. It wouldn’t occur to me because he’s defined that character. Now Brandon’s defined this character, which is why they make three-picture deals! Now they exist in your collective consciousness. You don’t feel like you’re watching someone playing Wolverine. You feel like you’re watching Wolverine! You feel like you’re watching Superman. And that’s not any original wisdom on my part.”
Far from trying to be original, Singer drew on seven decades of Superman history, going back to his original incarnation as a comic strip by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in the ’30s. “My familiarity with the character began with the George Reeves television series [from the 1950s]. Then my continued fondness for the character [was] as Christopher Reeve portrayed him in the Richard Donner film. He brought more of the bumbling Clark and the awkward Clark to the office, and there was a kind of confident charm that he had in 1978. I think it was kind of my collective fan-ness for all the incarnations of Superman I tried to key off. But a lot of these relationships — Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White — have survived through the Fleischer animation and then the radio show and eventually the TV series and the movies. They really endured. So it’s the same delicate balance I had to face with the X-Men pictures, bringing something new to the universe but at the same time maintaining the things that are important, that have survived over the years.”
So, then, the new Superman is gay?
“Noooo! That’s one thing Superman has not been. In the years I’ve seen him evolve, he’s never been gay. Superheroes are always wearing tights, the X-Men were in tights. Spider-Man’s in tights. So no, Superman is a very romantic icon. He’s known for his handsomeness and virtuousness, but he’s not known for that; he’s probably the most heterosexual character in any movie I’ve ever made.”