It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when Henry Cavill’s life truly changed. Was it when the actor, still at school, was cast in 2002’s swashbuckling Count of Monte Cristo? Was it when he became a fan favourite in Showtime’s hit series The Tudors? Or was it – and yes, this is probably your best bet – when he was cast as our current Superman? Since 2013’s Man of Steel, it’s been Cavill donning that infamous red cape in a series of big-budget blockbusters. True to form, though, he remains modest about his rise.
“I don’t believe there is any one moment,” he says. “I think success consists of consistency over many moments.” This is a very Cavill answer – sensible, unflappable, as classically English as his vowels. Maybe that’s because the actor, born and bred on the small British island of Jersey, has really learned the virtues of consistency over time. For a while after Monte Cristo, he was often pipped to the post to lead roles - for Twilight, for Bond, even for Superman the first time around. Thanks to his dogged attitude, though, the frustrations of those early years have given way to a series of successes. Whether it’s in those various outings as Clark Kent, or as the mysterious August Walker in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or even as a surprisingly fun Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the handsome 36-year-old Brit has established himself as one of this decade’s great cinema stars, mixing classic action muscle with a bit 21st-century sensitivity. And if he seems almost suspiciously well behaved, do remember that this is a man who famously still does all his own stunts, even the craziest ones.
“I love it!” he says. “It’s really important for me to do my own stunts, to allow for the audience’s total immersion in the cinema experience.” The most dangerous, he says, was an infamous helicopter chase in Mission: Impossible, facing off with Tom Cruise against a backdrop of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Scary stuff, but “it genuinely is fun,” Cavill says. When you consider that if he hadn’t become a movie star, going into the armed forces was his Plan B, suffice to say that he’s a man of action both on and off screen. “That movie inspired meto finally get my motorbike license,” he smiles of Mission Impossible, “and now there are plans for more licenses in the future too!”
Few can doubt Cavill’s dedication to his craft. Mentally as well as physically, he has had to remain in peak condition to climb to the top. “I do consider myself a focused guy,” he says with typical understatement. Is it easy to maintain that discipline? “Discipline is not consistently easy or hard,” he replies. “Some days it’s a real challenge and other days it comes naturally. But almost all of my roles have had a physical component to them,” he adds, “so it’s something that I’m well practised at.”
The roots of Cavill’s success can be found in his upbringing. The fourth of five boys, he was brought up by his stockbroker father and his mum, who stayed at home when the kids were younger. Cavill is highly complimentary about both parents, explaining for instance how his dad taught him a “gentleman’s code” he has always stuck to. As for all those brothers, let’s just say things were more rough-and-tumble (“never punches in the face, though”).
It was all good grounding for when he was sent to board at Stowe, one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools. It was tough, sometimes, but it sparked the young Cavill’s passion for acting - not least when Russell Crowe came to the school to film a movie. The story is well-known to Cavill fans: the teenage Henry approached Crowe, and asked him what it was like to be an actor. A week later, he got a photo in the post, of Crowe in the movie Gladiator, along with a note: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Some 20 years later, Cavill has made quite a lot of steps; he has even ended up working with Crowe, in Man of Steel. This year promises further innovations for him, whether it be starring in a Netflix series for the first time, fantasy drama The Witcher, or featuring in the video game Squadron 42. Both projects are natural progressions for a movie star in 2019, as showbiz adapts to new technologies and new ways of telling stories. Squadron 42 was “a no brainer”, says Cavill. “I’ve always been a big fan of video games.” One of the guys behind the game created a PC game Cavill used to love, called Wing Commander. “So when I heard that the new game was being developed, I quite naturally sought to become a part of it.”
But his greatest passion right now is Kal, his dog, a huge American Akita named after Superman’s birth name, Kal-El. “He travels almost everywhere with me,” says Cavill, “and spending a quiet Sunday with him is food for the soul.”
Another thing that has kept him grounded is an article a close friend sent him a few years ago, entitled '50 points, advice from an 80 year-old’. “I spend a lot of time in self-reflection,” he explains, “and this is one of my anchors”. The article is 50 points of life advice, ranging from ‘Have a firm handshake’ through to ‘Become someone’s hero’.
“It really helps bring things into perspective,” he says, “especially when things start to get a little tense.” Tense? It’s hard to imagine Cavill ever getting tense. But when he does, you can bet he faces it down like he faces down all obstacles – calm, considered and consistent, as strong as Superman but as politely low-key as Clark Kent.