Cavill reviews his rigors, months of them, calmly and dispassionately. "We did some of the first shots in Plano, Illinois," he recalls, "and they'd get me up at the crack of dawn, and we'd go to work in this tiny gym at the bottom of the very cheap motel we were staying in. We'd go for an hour, an hour and a half, and then we'd film all day in 100-degree temperatures." A later shoot outside Vancouver found Cavill, shirtless in near-freezing temperatures and lashing rain—a Seahawk helicopter pushing 80-mile-per-hour downwinds on his head—doing take after take of a scene in which Clark Kent rescues men from a burning oil rig. "He's out there for hour after hour," Snyder says, "and I never hear a peep. Not a complaint. Never 'Can we hurry this up? Because I'm freezing.' I sort of expected it, you'd expect it from anyone, but it never came. I don't think it's even in the realm of possibility for Henry. He's that dedicated. He's that strong."
It's been nearly two years since principal photography began on Man of Steel—162 days of shooting, 16 months and counting of post-production—giving Cavill plenty of time to consider whether he'll become the next big thing or the next Brandon Routh. At the moment, he's jobless—reading scripts, looking for a project, hoping the studio picks up its option on the contract he signed to play Superman in at least two sequels. "The hardest part of acting," Cavill says, "is not being guaranteed work. Every job could be your last." He gathers his thoughts, smacks his palms on the table. The right eyebrow shoots up again. "But I cannot wait for this movie to come out," he says, exuding the same kind of enthusiasm that drove him to race around his house like a golden retriever when he first got the role. "The studio just showed me the completed cut. I literally asked to watch it twice in a row. I'm so excited. I just want to show it to the world."
The battle for Smallville goes down like this: Zod tosses a truck through a house. Main Street, a U-Haul van, an IHOP, the local Sears—they're all totaled. It's bad news for America. Until a hero arrives.
In the real world, as we sit at FishBar, it's a bad day for America, too, we learn. Bombs have gone off in Boston. The screens on the walls flash images of a ruined marathon, a terrified town, blood on the concrete.
And I'm sitting with Superman.
Cavill looks away from the TV. "I just saw the explosion," he says. A plume of smoke rises and expands. Runners now race, but to escape. And some runners are down on the ground—no longer running at all. Cavill is keenly aware of the utter frivolity of a popcorn movie and his special-effects-enhanced portrayal of a superhero in the face of current events. But those events do speak to the heart of the collective mythology we've built around Superman. Cavill knows the superhero's resonance is need-based. He's studied the role, the history, the gravitas. When Superman connects with an audience, Cavill understands it's not about a fantasy but about hope, an unrelenting belief in the existence of good. It's a high-risk project and a high-risk role precisely because it carries that weight. A casual Superman, Cavill recognizes, is an ineffectual Superman. "And Henry," says Snyder, "is heart-attack serious."
"This character matters so much to so many people," Cavill says. "I want to get that right. I want to do it justice. I want people to believe in the character and have faith in the character and kids to grow up wanting to be Superman." He stands and again is transfixed by the looping footage: ambulances, injuries, that plume of smoke over and over. "Or, God forbid," he says, "there's people who are going through hardship and wishing that this character would turn up and save them."
Heading out toward the glimmering late-afternoon ocean, Henry Cavill shakes off the illusion that he—or anyone—is up to that task.