Because you can never have too much of a good thing, we talk to Man of Steel scribe David S. Goyer, who unveils the thought processes that shaped Superman for a new generation. Meanwhile, as they like to say in the comics, the film’s beautiful Kryptonian butt-kicker Antje Traue talks about building the beatdown-giving body that’s certain to make her a breakout star (and don’t miss my chat with director Zack Snyder).
Nerding out with Man of Steel's screenwriter
So what do you if you’re David S. Goyer – the onetime comic book scribe turned screenwriter who’s had a hand in successfully bringing characters like Batman and Blade to the big screen – when you need a little break from creating The Dark Knight Rises with Christopher Nolan? You spend a little time noodling around the notion to revive the first and greatest superhero of all time: Superman. And given his track record, it’s no surprise that Goyer’s notion got Nolan excited enough to sell Warner Bros. on the idea, which became the latest Superman film, Man of Steel.
Goyer’s told the setup before, but only now delivers the kicker: what was that compelling notion that launched a multimillion-dollar franchise revival? "It was literally the idea that if the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest event in human history," he says. "Even if he had no superpowers, even if he did nothing, if the world found out he existed, it would change everything. Wars might be fought. It would challenge religions. It would challenge science. It would challenge everything.
"Lois Lane is doing an interview – the Margot Kidder Lois Lane, and said 'So, you're from Krypton, huh?' And he says, 'Yeah.' And she says – paraphrasing – ‘Cool.’ What? He's from another planet?" Goyer laughs at the casual reaction to Superman’s extraterrestrial origins. He also wanted to address another concept that had long been bugging him: "It just always bothered me, both in the comic books and in the films, that in the beginning when Jor-El's shipping his baby off, he says, 'There's this planet, Earth, and he'll be able to survive there.' And I thought, how does he know that place exists? That's huge."
Goyer layered the premise that the Kyptonians were, in fact, a space-faring race that had, in fact, dropped in on Earth ages ago and began building story elements out of the answers to the questions his idea evoked. "What if they had tried to colonize? What if Earth had originally been intended to be a colony? And what if this [spacecraft's] been buried there for 20,000 years? That was like the kernel, the starting point, and that's where I started talking to Chris about that, and the idea of nature versus nurture – that he had two fathers – and that was the beginning."
Soon enough, the film was green-lit with Goyer and Nolan producing and a major director, Zack Snyder – who as the helmer of 300 and Watchmen knew his way around translating comics to cinema – signed on.
Snyder began dropping his own ingredients into the creative recipe. "That moment when you flash back to Jonathan and Martha and they're watching their son play in the yard, and young Clark has that towel or sheet wrapped around him – that was Zack's idea," says Goyer. "Zack has an innate understanding of iconographic imagery, in that he just understands icons better than anyone I've ever met before."
Goyer drew inspiration from a variety of latter day storylines in the comic books, including the 1970s "Kryptonite Nevermore" stories penned by Denny O’Neil, drawn by longtime Superman artist Curt Swan and featuring dynamic covers by Neal Adams; the 1980s "Man of Steel" revamp helmed by writer-artist John Byrne ("I think he was the first one to suggest the idea that Kryptonians might have been genetically bred, that helped inform some of what I was doing," says Goyer); writer Mark Waid and Lenil Francis Yu's early 2000s iteration "Superman Birthright;" and writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s "Superman: Secret Origin" from later in the decade.
"And even though it's a far cry from our iteration, I really love Grant Morrison's 'All-Star Superman,’" he adds. "We definitely paraphrase a line from that when Jor-El is speaking to Kal in this film."
Goyer admits to preferring the more grounded and flawed Batman and Wolverine, but found his way into Clark Kent’s more vulnerable psyche unexpectedly. "I think becoming a father had a lot to do with it," he says. "I don't think I could have written the script before I had become a father. While I was writing the draft, my father died, I became a stepfather, and I became a father – all these things happened over the course of a single year, and it made me look at the world differently."
"There's something genetic about boys and Superman where they run around with these capes and say, 'I'm Superman,’" he muses, noting that he worked on Nolan’s Batman films when he was single "and perhaps more cynical. I think becoming a father definitely realigns your perspective in the world. There are projects now that I think that I can do that I couldn't have done before, and there are projects now that I don't think I would do anymore – I'm not sure I would write Blade anymore. And so I did feel like I had more of a responsibility."
"When I brought my boys onto the set when we were filming a few times – I timed it, of course, so that Henry [Cavill] was in the suit when they showed up – and they just looked at him with awe," he recalls of taking his sons, six and three, to set. "They didn't see Henry: they saw Superman and everything that that means. It helped inform a lot of my writing, and there are quite a few scenes in the film that are almost word-for-word adaptations of conversations I had with my boys."
Along with some surprising spins on the legend, Goyer says he, Nolan and Snyder tried to take a more subtle, subversive approach when it came to reestablishing Superman’s cultural relevance in 2013. "If you try to say, 'I'm going to take some sociological approach to this movie,' you're kind of doomed to fail – you have to approach it from the character first," he says. "But we're 12 years past 9/11, a lot of things have happened in the intervening decades and Superman hasn't been cool for kind of a long time. I do feel like this is the kind of movie the world could use right now."
(image above via Just Jared)
Antje Traue: Becoming a Woman of Steel
Unlike many of the Man of Steel cast and crew who came to the film armed with deep knowledge of Superman lore, German actress Antje Traue was pleased she was a relative newbie to the icon’s world when she signed on the play General Zod’s beautiful but deadly Kryptonian soldier Faora. "I think it was an advantage for me that I didn't know so much about it," she says. "The emotional side of it what Superman is for Americans – it's SUCH a big deal. For me growing up in East Germany, I wasn't into that at all. So I had a fresh take." Once she landed the role, she and Zack Snyder decided to work directly from the script to create her completely fresh character.
As the 32-year-old actress was measured for her war armor and the costume was form fitted to her increasingly fit frame, and her hair was cut shorter and dyed black, she genuinely felt herself transforming into the Kryptonian superpatriot. "You just slowly but surely do merge into the character, and this is such a luxury situation because usually you don't have that time to really become the character," she says. "And also the physicality of it – four months, one-on-one training every single day, a very strict diet– I mean, actually the day of an athlete, really! I felt like I could climb the Mount Everest at the end of the day."
Traue was especially intrigued by the mental change that her physical metamorphosis triggered. "You look great and you feel powerful and all that, but what mentally happens is that once you reach your potential, the best of the best Antje I can be, you stop comparing yourself to others," she observes. "You understand that your mind is pulling you through things rather than your body, and you actually feel very unique in the sense of there is no such thing than ‘I'm weaker than…’. It just stops. And that kind of feeling is addictive."
She adds that she understands how her alter ego could get a little full of herself when Kryptonian superpowers turn that confidence into cockiness. "Neurotic Faora!" she laughs.