June 5, 2013— -- Superman's superpowers and do-good demeanor, along with that red cape rippling through the air, have made the beloved superhero a pop culture icon.
For decades, Superman has been brought to life by a stream of established actors. But this time around, it's 30-year-old Englishman Henry Cavill starring in the latest Superman epic, "Man of Steel," and stepping into that familiar suit.
"That felt incredible, there is nothing quite like it," Cavill said of putting on Superman's suit on for the first time.
"It's not just a suit. It's like when someone cooks you a wonderful meal and you can taste that there's love put in the food. It's the same thing with the suit."
Rugged and freshly imagined, "Man of Steel," which premieres on June 14, tackles the Superman story head-on from a different angle -- which some might have said was a gamble.
While snarky or obsessed comic book superheroes have found 21st century box office gold -- Iron Man, Thor, Batman -- Superman, the un-ironic superhero, had not. After the 2006 film "Superman Returns" failed to launch, there were whispers about Superman's relevance. But that didn't intimidate "Man of Steel" director Zack Synder.
"Superman has always been the best and greatest superhero, because he's kind of the purest mythology of what a superhero is," Synder said.
Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel developed Superman in Depression-era Cleveland. Then, he was the car-lifting, bullet-stopping star of the now million-dollar collectible Action Comics #1. Since then, he has seen 75 years atop the superhero food chain.
Superman's image has changed overtime, with filmmakers morphing his look and ideals to match the generation. In the 1950s, Superman was a kid-friendly idol as actor George Reeves held the role for six seasons of TV's "The Adventures of Superman." By the late '70s and '80s, actor Christopher Reeve put on the red cape.
"I grew up watching 'Superman,' Dick Donner, made in 1978," said "Man of Steel" producer Christopher Nolan, known for producing the billion-dollar "Batman" trilogy reinvention. "It had an epic quality to it that seemed to befit the character, the icon."
"Man of Steel" goes back to Superman's origins, contrasting his birth on the planet Krypton and his Earth-y upbringing, thereby setting Clark Kent up for a serious identity crisis.
"I think it's the thing that's often sort of overlooked about Superman is that he is an alien, he's from another world entirely," Synder said. "He wants the acceptance of his adoptive world. That's really the journey that he's on, is to find what is the why of him on this planet."
Urged as a child to conceal his powers, this pre-Superman Clark Kent is a drifter, doing good deeds only on the sly, amiable to all, yet very much alone.
"I think we've all been there at one stage of our life, or presently, and I channeled that [loneliness]," Cavill said.
The "Man of Steel's" franchise's potential rests on Cavill's shoulders, an actor who is recognized for his role on Showtime's "The Tudors." Cavill was playing the online computer game "World of Warcraft" when the director called to tell him he got the part.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness. I'm Superman.'" Cavill said. "I didn't do anything for about five minutes, just going, 'I don't quite know what to do with myself. Did that really happen?' And so, I called round and no one picked up their phones."
But at first Cavill wasn't sure the role of Superman was in his future. During his final "Man of Steel" audition, he was asked to put on a replica of the late Christopher Reeve's Superman suit.
"I wasn't physically ready for the suit," Cavill said. "It's basically a Spandex outfit and I just thought, 'There's no way I'm getting this role.' I mean, you can act as hard as you want, but you can't act not fat."
Battered by frustration and disappointment well into his career, Cavill was once known more for the roles he had almost played -- Cedric Diggory in "Harry Potter," James Bond, even Superman in a J.J. Abrams-written version that was never shot. Cavill said he got to the point where he thought his big break might not come.
"I was getting very close to a lot of jobs, and then not getting them, and I mean, not the big stuff which we hear about. But I started to think, maybe I'm not the guy? Maybe I should leave and join the forces," he said.
Cavill's two older brothers were in the military, and it would have beat bartending. But just being in the 007 conversation -- though he lost out to Daniel Craig -- gave him the confidence to push on.
"It's incredibly surreal," Cavill said. "It might even take me months to process, years to process, but it's just great to be here."