LOS ANGELES (June 19, 2006) — The Man of Steel was a paying gig for Brandon Routh even before he grabbed the lead in “Superman Returns.”
At a Halloween party at the Hollywood bowling alley where he was bartending three years ago, months before he first tested for the role, Routh won $100 for his costume. He came as Clark Kent, with a Superman shirt underneath.
“I thought, well, OK, this is an easy costume to put together because I have a Superman shirt already and I have a suitcoat, and I just need to buy some thick Clark glasses,” said Routh, who had just a few television credits behind him when the casting announcement for “Superman Returns” made him an instant celebrity.
Routh follows in the footsteps of the last big-screen Superman, Christopher Reeve, another virtual unknown who won the part for Richard Donner’s 1978 film about the superhero from planet Krypton and reprised the role in three sequels.
With his chiseled features and broad, boyish grin, the 26-year-old Routh bears a fair resemblance to Reeve, who also was 26 when “Superman” debuted.
“People had always kind of told me that I looked like Christopher Reeve, so I thought, OK, we’ll just do this for the Halloween party. And I won the hundred dollars,” Routh told The Associated Press. “And everyone, my co-workers, were kind of shocked by my resemblance” to Reeve, who died in 2004, nine years after he was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident.
“Superman Returns” has the Man of Steel and nerdy alter ego Clark mysteriously vanishing for five years as he ventures into space to see if anything is left of his destroyed home world.
Meantime, Earth moves on. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), the love of Superman’s life, has a son and becomes engaged to another man. A love triangle develops when Superman comes back to Metropolis, just as archrival Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) embarks on a scheme for world domination.
Routh’s first memory of the comic-book superhero was when he was 5 or 6 and the first “Superman” movie was scheduled to play on television.
He got pumped up with anticipation, running and jumping around the family home in Iowa pretending he was Superman.
“I made myself sick with excitement,” Routh recalled.
“Migrained, and I was sick to my stomach through half the film.
The second half, I began to feel better and watched the rest of it, then begged my parents to rent the rest of the films.”
The third of four children, Routh grew up in Norwalk, Iowa, about 100 miles from the hometown of George Reeves, who played the superhero in the 1950s television show “Adventures of Superman.”
Routh’s mother is a teacher, his father a carpenter, and both parents play music on the side. A bit of a singer, pianist and trumpet player himself, Routh initially set out to be a writer, studying for a year at the University of Iowa while modeling and acting on the side to help pay the bills.
But Routh left school to pursue acting in New York and later Hollywood, where he landed a recurring role on “One Life to Live” and had guest spots on such prime-time shows as “Will & Grace” and “The Gilmore Girls.”
“I think I initially dashed my thoughts of being an actor when I realized I lived in Norwalk, Iowa,” Routh said. “I didn’t think it was realistic. It wasn’t until I got older and some doors kind of opened and I explored a couple of paths that I realized maybe this is OK and I can give it a shot. I can always come back to school and go back to being an English major and pursue my writing career if it doesn’t work out.
“But it worked out quickly enough that I was hooked. I booked my first job in Los Angeles and I thought, this is what I want to do.”
Despite those first TV parts, Routh was just another struggling actor, taking a bartending job to make ends meet. He auditioned for director McG, who had been signed on to make a “Superman” film that later fell through.
Bryan Singer then came on board for “Superman Returns” and began a search for an unknown to play the title role. The screen test Routh did for McG caught Singer’s eye.
Routh had a mixture of vulnerability and confidence the director was looking for, Singer said. After a two-hour meeting with Routh, Singer left Los Angeles to do location scouting in Australia feeling he had found his man.
“I slept a little better on that flight knowing in my head that I had my Superman, and now I’ll go through the motions of seeing some other folks and really vetting it. But I knew with that meeting, I had already made the decision.”
It was two months before Singer told Routh he had the role, though.
“I called my mother, and she screamed and cried and did all that crazy stuff,” Routh recalled about the day he got the news.
The 6-foot, 3-inch Routh lifted weights, adding 22 pounds of muscle and bulking up to 220 pounds, and did training to improve flexibility for the hours he would spend in a harness for the movie’s flying sequences.
Spacey, who won the first of his two Academy Awards for Singer’s “The Usual Suspects,” said it was a wise choice for the director to sift through previous filmmakers’ screen tests, because he hit the jackpot with Routh.
“He kind of personifies everything that people want in their Superman,” Spacey said. “He’s a good actor, I think he’s got his feet on the ground, and I think he’s fully prepared for what’s about to happen in terms of his own anonymity. And I think if Bryan has done the job I believe he’s done, I hope he’s revived the genre and given a young actor a terrific start in a career, very much in the same way Chris Reeve did.”
Co-star Bosworth said Routh truly embodied Superman — and also the hero’s shy, clumsy alter ego.
“He’s going to kill me for saying this. I see more of the Clark Kent qualities in him,” Bosworth said. “He’s not a fumbling, awkward guy, but he’s just got this quiet humility about him. I don’t think you can fake being a good person. You can’t fake being kind. He really is that person.
“He’s very aware of people around him. He’s not selfish at all. He’s always watching other people and making sure they’re OK, which is rare, I think.”
Nothing’s definite yet for Routh’s next project, though he and other cast members are signed on for two sequels, assuming “Superman Returns” plays out as the blockbuster it’s likely to be.
“I’d like to get a few other films in for me to have other experiences before we go back to Superman,” Routh said. “It’s only going to make this character even stronger as I become a more veteran actor.”