Why is Clark Kent Changing in a Red Telephone Box?

Christopher Reeve, the iconic American Superman

The 15 ft. bronze statue of Superman that stands in front the courthouse in Metropolis, Ill., a town that’s the site of the annual Superman Celebration festival, bears the inscription, “Truth – Justice – The American Way.”

Now that English actor Henry Cavill has been cast to play the Man of Steel in a new Superman movie, that jingoistic inscription may have to change.

Jim Hambrick, the curator of Metropolis’ Superman Museum and a man who has devoted 51 of his 56 years to collecting Superman memorabilia, joked that it soon might read, “Truth, Justice and the Global Way.”

Not that Mr. Hambrick, unlike some diehard comic book fans, has a problem with Cavill stepping into the red boots of America’s seminal superhero. “Maybe that’s the Brits way of paying us back for sending Kevin Costner over as Robin Hood,” he said with a laugh, referring to the 1991 film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. “Some of these fans need to lighten up.”

Cavill, a hunk best known for wearing tights on Showtime’s The Tudors, won’t lack for company when he arrives in Hollywood.  Already having established a Brit superhero beachhead are the Welsh-born Christian Bale, who is about to begin filming his third Batman movie, and The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield, who plays web-slinging Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot due next year. Also add Scotsman James McAvoy to the list; he’s playing Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart’s role) in X-Men: First Class, a prequel due June 3. (Irish-raised Michael Fassbinder plays First’s young Magneto, the Ian McKellen role.)

If one counts Commonwealth countries, the ranks swell: Canada’s Ryan Reynolds hopes to shine bright in the title role in The Green Lantern (opening June 17); Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth is Thor in the film of the same name (due May 6); and fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman unsheathes his claws as Wolverine for the fifth time in The Wolverine, due next year.

So why are so many Brits and other non-Yanks scooping up these echt American superhero roles? Marci Liroff, a veteran Hollywood casting director whose credits include Mean Girls and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, speculated that the answer lies in Cavill and crew’s combination of talent and training. “Generally speaking, actors coming from England or Australia are better trained than American actors of the same age,” she said, explaining that they have completed programs at top-flight drama schools and had extensive stage training.

“They have the skill sets needed whereas a lot of young American actors around that age don’t have the formal training,” she said. “An American maybe decided to be an actor, came to Hollywood and took a few workshops and classes, and had a certain look and got lucky.”

Also not to be discounted is what she called the “fresh face” factor. “When you’re looking to cast a superhero, you’re looking for someone who doesn’t come with a lot a baggage,” said Liroff. “You don’t want the audience saying, ‘Oh, that’s the guy who was in that TV series’ or ‘He played a bad guy in a movie last year.’ “

It’s Hambrick, though, who offers the best argument to counter the xenophobic contention that the Man of Steel must be played only by an American-born actor. “Superman,” he points out, “was from Krypton, so who exactly do you want?”

Is there a British actor or actress you’d like to see playing a superhero? Tell us in comments.