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Fri June 14, 2013
Movie Interviews

Zack Snyder, Making Superman Over For Our Era

Originally published on Fri June 14, 2013 9:04 am

The quintessential American superhero — the one who forged the genre — returns to the multiplex this weekend: Superman. The latest big-screen iteration, called Man of Steel, explores the birth of the character (played as an adult by British actor Henry Cavill), delving into why he came to Earth, his inner conflicts growing up, and how he resolves them.

And more than perhaps any other big-screen version of the story, Man of Steel lingers on the wrenching death throes of Superman's home world — the distant planet Krypton, where his natural father (Russell Crowe) and mother work desperately not just to save their son, but to save their species.

"I have a reverence for that mythology," says director Zack Snyder, who admits to being "a slight dork" about such things. "And I really wanted to treat the experience of seeing Superman born [with care]. ... And that ancient technology ... I find fun to think about. ... Within that world, it was fun to see Jor-El putting his son into the basket and [metaphorically] sending him down the river."

Snyder joined NPR's Linda Wertheimer to talk casting choices, cutting the film down to size, and why this version of the character doesn't wear his shorts on the outside.


Interview Highlights

On how Superman's clout made casting easier

"I really credit the power of Superman himself and his mythology, because I think every one of these actors — Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Amy Adams ... Russell Crowe — [I was] just calling them and saying, 'Listen, you're on my wish list of guys I want on my movie. It's a Superman movie.' And they say, 'Let's talk about it. That sounds fun.'

"Every single one of them was either a fan or understood sort of the significance of Superman, and really wanted to participate. I think in our collective psyches, Superman has a place that is pretty strong."

On casting a serious actor as Superman's nemesis

"Michael Shannon, who plays General Zod, is just an amazing actor, and I really wanted him from the beginning. And I think the way I got him in the movie was that I explained to him that General Zod was not crazy; in the end, he's just trying to save his people. You know, it's not completely maniacal."

On having 'Field of Dreams' veteran Kevin Costner play Jonathan Kent

"Even though he's an incredibly versatile actor, I think in this setting — in a Kansas cornfield — he seems to be very much at home. [Laughs.] He's mastered the cornfield. ... You really feel that he's just trying to take care of his son and equip him for the life that's ahead of him. We've said that Superman is like the ultimate adoption story, and it really is. You know, I have adopted children, so it's personal for me — that whole interaction between Jonathan and the young Clark."

On why Superman's underwear is on the inside this time around

"It's quite a big deal! ... What we wanted to do with the costume is make it feel like it was based on this alien technology and culture; I wanted to explain the costumes through Clark's original alien culture. ... It wasn't like a thing that his [Earth] mom sewed out of a blanket or anything like that. To make it make sense, we really wanted to base it on Kryptonian culture — and [that's] a cape culture. It's cool; we should all wear capes. I think it's a fashion thing that's going to catch on.

"But look, the underwear comes from — it's a leftover from Victorian strongmen, is what they originally based the design of the Superman costume on in 1938. I feel like we've moved on a little bit from that era of modesty."

On the movie's 2 1/2 hour running time

"It's a rich and varied mythology. ... We weren't really too concerned about the length. I mean, I think my first cut of the movie was like three hours and 20 minutes long. It's hard because, of course, when I talk to the true dorks, they're like 'Why is it so short?!?' "

On the prospect of a director's cut

"I literally don't have one. I go, 'Look — that's it,' and [they say,] 'No! No Zack! Please. Please. Give us more!' I'm like 'No, there's no more. That's it.' "

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The quintessential American superhero - the one who forged the genre - returns to the multiplex this weekend: Superman. The latest big-screen iteration, called "Man of Steel," explores the birth of the character, why he came to Earth, his inner conflicts growing up, and how he resolves them.

The film's director, Zack Snyder, joins us from NPR West to discuss the film. Good morning.

ZACK SNYDER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I must say that the sort of the back story of Superman was my favorite part of the movie, especially in the scenes with Kevin Costner, who plays his earthly father, Jonathan Kent.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAN OF STEEL")

KEVIN COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You're the answer, Clark.

DYLAN SPRAYBERRY: (as young Clark Kent) Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?

COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You are my son. But somewhere out there you have another father and he sent you here for a reason.

SNYDER: Kevin did an amazing job, I thought. Even though he's an incredibly versatile actor, I think in this setting - in a Kansas cornfield - he seems to be very much at home.

WERTHEIMER: He's done that cornfield thing before.

SNYDER: He really does. He's mastered the cornfield. Also, just giving that sage wisdom to the young Superman you really feel that he's just trying to take care of his son and equip his son for the life that's ahead of him. We've said that, you know, Superman is like the ultimate adoption story, and it really is. You know, I have adopted children, so it's personal for me - that whole interaction between Jonathan and the young Clark.

WERTHEIMER: I really thought that the early Krypton scenes were some of the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAN OF STEEL")

RUSSELL CROWE: (as Jor-El) Good-bye, my son. My hopes and dreams travel with you.

AYELET ZURER: (as Lara Lor-Van) He will be an outcast. They will kill him.

CROWE: (as Jor-El) How? He'll be a god to them.

WERTHEIMER: Extraordinary. Beautiful. Spectacular special effects in that part of the movie. You know, those great balls of light that were rolling around in the sky, that skyline and the ships that were going around this planet that was about to collapse. That was amazing, and I think, richer than any version of Superman we've seen.

SNYDER: Well, I just felt like, you know, for me, I have a reverence for that mythology and I really wanted to treat the experience of seeing Superman born and that ancient technology, which I find fun to think about. And I thought within that world, it was fun to see Jor-El, like, putting his son into the basket and sending him down the river.

WERTHEIMER: The beautiful little baby ship that they send him off in.

SNYDER: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: The other thing that was interesting was the character of General Zod.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAN OF STEEL")

MICHAEL SHANNON: (as General Zod) My name is General Zod. I have journeyed across an ocean of stars to reach you. Your world has sheltered one of my citizens. Surrender within 24 hours or watch this world suffer the consequences.

WERTHEIMER: The actor who played him was just ferocious. I mean, Superman was in some danger of having scenes stolen right out from under him by that guy.

SNYDER: Well, Michael Shannon, who plays Zod, is just an amazing actor, and I really wanted him from the beginning.

WERTHEIMER: But he was very good. I loved the place where he shucked his cast iron suit and just really engaged with Superman.

That was another one of those long fight scenes, though. This movie is about two and a half hours long. I mean, did you have any concerns about that?

SNYDER: I guess at the beginning when we first started the project, the thing that no one had seen is what the real true consequences of Superman fighting within our world would be, you know, battling another Kryptonian, another superhero of his equal strength. And that's really where, sort of, philosophically, the scale of what happens, happens.

You know, we weren't really too concerned, personally, with the length. I think my first cut of the movie was like three hours and 20 minutes long. So it's much shorter.

WERTHEIMER: Whoa.

(LAUGHTER)

SNYDER: An hour shorter than that.

WERTHEIMER: So you feel like you really whacked it, huh?

SNYDER: Yeah. Yeah. It's hard because, of course, like, you know, when I talk to the true dorks, they're like why is it so short?

WERTHEIMER: Oh, god.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: So you'll have to put out the director's cut.

SNYDER: I literally don't have one.

WERTHEIMER: The Superman costume - that's always kind of an interesting thing. People talk about the symbol on his chest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAN OF STEEL")

AMY ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) What's the "S" stand for?

HENRY CAVILL: (as Superman) It's not an "S." On my world it means hope.

ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) Well, here it's an "S."

WERTHEIMER: Of course, the real change in this his underwear is on the inside of his costume.

SNYDER: Yeah. It's quite a big deal.

WERTHEIMER: I was going to say did you have lots of meetings about that?

SNYDER: You know, the cool thing about being a movie director and a slight dork, is that you get to sort of play around with a superhero - well, with the Superman costume in this case. But what we wanted to do with the costume is make it feel like it was based on, you know, this alien technology and culture. And so that when he wore it, it wasn't like a thing that, you know, his mom sewed out of a blanket or anything like that.

(LAUGHTER)

SNYDER: Which is some of the...

WERTHEIMER: Like the TV show did look like that.

SNYDER: Yeah. It's like she just sewed that - that she just whacked this costume out for him. I just felt like to make it make sense we wanted to base it on Kryptonian culture. And it's a cape culture. It's cool; we should all wear capes. I think it's a fashion thing that's going to catch on.

But look, the underwear comes from - it's a leftover from Victorian strongmen, is what they originally based the design of the Superman costume on in 1938. And so I feel like we've moved on a little bit from that era of modesty. I feel like we've moved on from that.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: It was so last century.

SNYDER: A little bit.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let me ask you about the people you had in this movie. I mean, you had some really superstar actors.

SNYDER: I really credit the power of Superman himself, because I think every one of these actors - Kevin Costner, Diane Lane...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAN OF STEEL")

DIANE LANE: (as Martha Kent) Dusty!

ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) Mrs. Kent? I'm Lois Lane from the Daily Planet and I'd like to talk to you about your son.

SNYDER: Amy Adams, all of them, just calling them and saying, listen, you're on my wish list of guys I want on my movie. It's a Superman movie. And they'd say, let's talk about it. That sounds fun. And, you know, every single one of them was either a fan or understood, sort of, the significance of Superman, and, you know, really wanted to participate. You know, I think in our collective psyches, Superman has a place that is pretty strong.

WERTHEIMER: Zack Snyder, thank you very much.

SNYDER: Thanks for having me. That was fun.

WERTHEIMER: Zack Snyder is the director of "Man of Steel." It opens today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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