SUPERMAN BODY PLAN
Henry Cavill Unlike his alter- ego, Henry Cavill probably can’t punch through walls. But he would give it a go. With this month’s Justice League in the can, he uncovers how steeling your focus can power up your own training. Brace for impact
The focus and workout that made Henry Cavill more powerful than a locomotive
Leavesden is not a name that’s conjured in the mind as readily as Hollywood when one thinks of film locations. But the northern suburb of Watford is where movie magic – not to mention the Making of Harry Potter tour – happens on a daily basis. The 80-hectare Warner Bros studio complex is a veritable department of mysteries, each of the anonymous hangars and workshops its very own chamber of secrets.
The first clue to the current function of workshop 11, the location for MH’S own shoot, is the welcome mat featuring five superheroic members of the Justice League, the comic book collective that is DC’S answer to Marvel’s Avengers. Front and centre is Superman, flanked by Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern. Justice League, the movie, is out this month and stars Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller as The Flash. Green Lantern is unlikely to feature, after the 2011 standalone film with Ryan Reynolds failed to light up the box office. But the involvement of Henry Cavill’s Superman has also been in some doubt, following his death at the denouement of 2016’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
A blockbuster get-together without DC’S most iconic character (sorry Bruce) is, however, inconceivable. And given the various teasers and marketing materials that have hinted at Superman’s return – to which can be added Cavill’s presence on this shoot today – it’s fair to hazard that he’s involved in some way. “You can assume whatever you want,” grins the actor, whose very British sense of humour softens the super-earnestness that helped him bag the part in 2013’s Man of Steel. It’s not always easy to tell when he’s joking.
Beyond the mat is a makeshift gym jury-rigged for the cast of Justice League. It may only be temporary, nevertheless, it’s so spacious and plentifully stocked – dumbbells, ski- ergs, sleds – that it would put most sweatboxes to shame. The floor of the free weights area bears a quotation from a Robert Bly poem: “I am afraid there will be a moment when / I fail you, friend; I will turn slightly / Away, our eyes will not meet, and out in the field / There will be no one”. Less literarily, the fingerboard attached to the rig has been graffitied with, “Flash, get some, love Aquaman” (another Justice League member, played by former MH cover star and Game of Thrones alumnus Jason Momoa). In the corner lies a Wonder Woman coffee table tome, positioned serendipitously next to a copy of Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.
It’s easy to imagine the Justice League cast all training here together, perhaps while wearing those Under Armour Alter Ego compression tops that match their respective costumes. “It happened once,” says Cavill, casting his mind back. “No, it didn’t; Ben and Gal were off that day.
“I like the gym, but I’d prefer to be sweating and breathing hard while learning a new skill”
But we had Superman, Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg [played by Ray Fisher] in the gym. That was fun.” Unfortunately they weren’t repping compression: “I wish we’d thought ahead and done that. If a Justice League sequel happens, maybe we will.”
Off- Set Action
Cavill has arrived with an unexpected mass of hair covering his top lip, and his handsome, dark-coated American akita called Kal-el. (Fanboys will recognise the name as Superman’s Kryptonian moniker.) “He looks scary, so people think that if they get into a scrap with me or I get pissed off, he may turn into some vicious attack dog – which he is, by the way,” deadpans Cavill. “You should see him when he’s angry: it’s something else. I’ve got these pans hanging above the stove in my kitchen and when he barks, they literally ring. With a hangover, it’s miserable. But you’re very brave, aren’t you, bear? You keep everyone away from the house.”
The security of a guard dog notwithstanding, Cavill appears more than capable of looking after himself. Warming to the shoot, he demonstrates sequences of martial arts punches and kicks for MH’S photographer which, more so than his bare arms, indicate that getting him even mildly pissed off would be unwise. The well-spoken, unfailingly polite former public schoolboy from Jersey (who was once nicknamed “Fat Cavill”) might not bark – at least not without provocation. But he can clearly bite.
Directing Cavill on our shoot is Wolfgang ‘ Wolfie’ Stegemann, a fight choreographer, stuntman and typically uncredited actor, who first began working with him on the sixth Mission: Impossible film. Scheduled for July 2018, the forthcoming installment of the spy franchise is also the reason for the normally clean- cut Cavill’s aforementioned facial furniture: he’s
taking over as Tom Cruise’s “right-hand man” from Jeremy Renner who, in some kind of weird symmetry, is tied up with Avengers: Infinity War, out April 2018.
While the combos look pretty impressive to these untrained eyes, Cavill is quick to downplay his apparent proficiency. “I’ve only just started with Wolfie and we’re still trying to execute the basics of technique,” he says, assessing his form critically on the photographer’s Macbook between takes. “You’ve got to lay a foundation before you can start building a house. And we’re very much in the ‘pouring the concrete’ phase.” Cavill’s girlfriend Lucy Cork, a stuntwoman who he also met on the M:I 6 set, and who is herself a genuinely proficient martial artist, swings by the set to observe quietly in the background and keep tabs.
Cavill has done what he calls “movie martial arts” before. “All you really need is to look like you can do it,” he says. “But I want to be able to actually do it. Faking it just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.” So when his (currently classified) role in M:I 6 called for at least the illusion of capability, he thought he’d fit in some extra practice after work. His motivation was partly professional, but largely personal. “It’s handy to be handy,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to protect those around you, and yourself.” And handily, martial arts training is also a kick-ass form of conditioning: “I like going to the gym, I do. But if I’m going to be sweating and breathing hard, I’d far prefer to be doing it while learning a skill, rather than just for the sake of sweating and breathing hard.”
The Taekwondo-style striking he’s practising is new to Cavill, but he’s long been a keen disciple of the grapplingbased discipline of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In fact, he occasionally rolls with the sport’s big dogs like Roger Gracie, tentime world champion and scion of the South American combat sports dynasty. Cavill now lives in London, where the Gracies run a world-renowned academy.
A legit dojo sounds like the kind of place where an actor might not dare tread for fear of a bruised ego – or worse. But, thankfully, most fight clubbers are just excited to meet Superman, not try and kill him. And it’s a culture of respect that starts with the guys at the top.
“The martial artists that I know are all very nice, gentle people,” says Cavill. “There’s nothing aggressive or fast. It’s always a big hug – not a bro hug, a twoarm hug: ‘How you doing?’ It’s like, ‘Stop. Take a breath. Let’s engage with each other. We’ll get to training. And when we train, we’ll train hard.’ Everything is relaxed and I like that. It’s enormously refreshing.” Besides, peacocking is a waste of energy: “Save it for that moment just before you have to beat the crap out of someone. Because you might need it.”
Going The Distance
Cavill is into conservation, and not just in his capacity as an ambassador for Jersey Zoo. He recounts a ribald story – told by Tony in an episode of The Sopranos, possibly Buddhist in origin – about two bulls standing on a hill, looking down at a herd of cows. The younger one proposes running down the hill and copulating with a mate of their choice; the older one counsels walking down instead and inseminating them all.
The parallel is woolly, admittedly, but Cavill applied a similarly pragmatic and paced approach to his prep for Justice League (that is, if he is in the film and did indeed prep for it). While he was “really rather strong” for last year’s Batman vs Superman, his emphasis shifted toward improving his movement and definition, both of which are more critical for looking good on camera than a one-rep max. In league with his longtime trainer Michael Blevins (@gritandteeth), he focused more on Crossfit-inspired workouts: less technical lifts for time, which might invite injury, and more “go really hard, non-stop, which is great for getting lean”.
The change-up yielded a mixed response. On the one hand, Cavill’s sessions weren’t quite as hard as before, “because I wasn’t lugging round useless weight”. On the other hand, they were still very hard: “You have to be eager to do that kind of thing, because it can be a miserable workout, it really can.” Meanwhile, the post-exercise endorphin
high – and sheer sense of relief – will only sustain you for so long when you’re putting in the hours at work and not putting much down your gullet in order to chisel off extra fat. Cavill found himself slowly ground down, physically and mentally, as if with Kryptonite sandpaper: “It wasn’t much fun,” he says plaintively.
When pizza is off limits, you get by with a little help from your super-friends. Training hard is a necessary evil for the superhero-franchise actor and colleagues tend to be there for each other – even if only in spirit. “It’s more about encouragement than anything else,” says Cavill. “Like, if you see someone having one of those tough days, it’s about giving them a quick cheer when they’re pushing that sled past you, or giving them a pat on the back and saying, ‘ You’re looking great, mate.’” His on-set conversations with Affleck, however, tended to revolve more around the complicated logistics of urinating between takes while in costume: “‘Do you reckon we have time to go for a pee?’ ‘How long does it take you?’ ‘It takes me this long.’ ‘OK, cool. Do you reckon we have time?’ ‘ Yeah, let’s go.’”
This mixture of discipline and levity is key. Now 34, Cavill has reached a point in his life where he understands the importance of balance. “My perspective has changed somewhat on the things that I want from life and the enjoyment I can get from it,” he says. That’s not to say that he doesn’t recognise the merits of “working hard and really smashing everything”. Neither are his standards any less high or his goals less lofty. But like the older, wiser bull in Soprano’s story, he isn’t going to beat the piss out of himself unnecessarily: “If I can create an aesthetic one way without destroying myself, then great. And if I can learn a new skill and get my cardio done that way, then I’ll do that. That’s just the way I see it now.”
Outside the gym and the studio, Cavill is embracing everyday life more. When
he’s not working on set or working out he’s go-karting, getting his motorbike licence or sleeping in “until my kidneys start hurting from lying on them for so long”. Last weekend, he taught himself how to cook a shoulder of lamb. “It actually went really well,” he says, surprised, although he admits the gravy could have been better. “I just added chicken stock and scraped all the good stuff off the bottom, but I should have poured out more of the fat because it ended up being quite oily,” he says. “Still, more water and a bit of red wine vinegar rescued it.”
In roast dinners, as in training and life, Cavill has realised it’s important not to overdo things. “I think I’m kind of finding my pace now in more of a lifestyle thing,” he says. “Like, I can do this training and it’ll make me look a certain way. I’ll make sure my food is right, but I don’t feel like I’m on a diet all the time. I can have three cheat days in a row if I want – and then knuckle down, be good for a while and get back to a certain point. You know where your baseline is.” This kind of intuitive approach is more enjoyable and sustainable for a hard-charging and demanding personality like Cavill’s: “I’m very single-minded and can be extremely dedicated when given a target. And if that target is constant, I exhaust myself.”
The Next Round
Comic adaptations are constantly rolling off the Hollywood – or rather Leavesden – production line. But another Superman movie is by no means inevitable. Man of Steel grossed $668m at the global box office and was largely well received; Batman vs Superman was critically bludgeoned, with the $860m haul scant consolation. “From a financial point of view, it was successful, yes. But it should’ve been more successful,” says Cavill. It also killed Superman off when he’d only just been rebooted – and after he’d been loathed by everybody for the whole film. Justice League will doubtless resurrect him, but the fear is that there won’t be room in the crowded ensemble piece to do him, well, justice.
“I think there is so much more to be told of Superman,” argues Cavill. “And especially with what’s going on in the world right now, it’s important to have that kind of outlet – that figure of hope, responsibility and good vibes.” If not, then there’s always Bond, of course – a role to which Cavill is perennially linked. He’s 20/1 at the time of writing, which seems overly generous for someone who only narrowly lost out to Daniel Craig for 2006’s Casino Royale and is a much better fit for 007’s dinner suit now than he was at 22. But, ultimately, money talks and money is what Warner Bros will listen to. Time will tell.
There’s a knock on the door and Kal’s barking shakes the whole trailer. Cavill’s lunch is served. Before it goes cold, there’s just time to ask him about working with the ageless superhuman that is Tom Cruise. “He is extraordinary,” says Cavill. “He also does all his own stunts, as we know. [At the time of writing, filming on M:I 6 has been suspended while the 55-year-old Cruise recuperates after breaking his ankle jumping between buildings.] I’m from a family of men who have done a lot of pretty cool things. Two of my brothers are in the armed forces. I’m very hard to impress. But Tom’s done some stuff on the film where I really have gone, ‘OK mate, yeah, that’s undeniably awesome.’”
Although the uncertain nature of the film industry means that he doesn’t know what will happen next week, Cavill hopes to still be able to leap (between) tall buildings with a single bound when he’s 55 – preferably without breaking any bones in the process. “You know, if I ever have kids one day, I want to be the dad who’s running round after them,” he says. “And if I do have kids, even now, it’s starting to get quite late. But I want to be a fit and healthy dad, not hobbling round like, ‘OK, I’m just going to catch a breather.’ Yeah, I’m going to take care of my body – look good, but not smash it.’ TRAIN LIKE SUPERMAN
“I’m very single-minded when given a target. If that target is constant, I exhaust myself”
So-called because afterwards you’ll feel like you’ve suffered one. Jump on the bike and pump your arms while pedalling. The harder you go, the quicker you’ll burn the calories.
MARTIAL ARTS PROVIDES THE POWER BEHIND CAVILL’S TRAINING PLAN
CAVILL WORKS WITH FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER ‘WOLFIE’ FOR MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6
“MOVIE MOVES” ARE OUT: CAVILL’S DOING THE STUNTS FOR REAL