Originally created 08/15/04

Superman quest tries cape on film, soap actors



LOS ANGELES - A powerful father from beyond the heavens sends his son on a fateful journey to Earth to become a savior for humanity.

James Caviezel starred in the biblical version of that story in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Could he play out that premise again under different circumstances? Say, the comic-book version, with blue tights and a cape?

No superhero fits the literary Christ motif as neatly as Superman, so it's no surprise the soulful, buff and blue-eyed Mr. Caviezel is one of the fan favorites to answer a question that has perplexed Hollywood for decades: "Who can play Superman?"

Bryan Singer, who directed the X-Men movies, took over the Superman project last month, refueling the rumor machine. He is currently at work on a script, and Warner Bros. says he hasn't begun the casting process, although it must start soon to make the target 2006 release date.

From little-known soap opera stars to familiar leading men such as Brendan Fraser, Jude Law and Josh Hartnett, it seems like nearly every actor between ages 20 and 40 has been draped with the cape at some point.

But playing someone bulletproof has many risks.

"He's got to have all the qualities you want in your president and your father - a toughness and a sensitivity at the same time," said Danny Fingeroth, the author of the book Superman on the Couch, about the mythical public image of superheroes.

"He has a square-jawed indomitability," Mr. Fingeroth said. "He can be tough with bad guys, yet he's got the ability to project sincerity and vulnerability that you want Superman to have."

Some, such as Mr. Law and Mr. Hartnett, considered and then rejected the role, in part out of fear of sight-unseen sequel commitments. Other contenders, such as Mr. Fraser and former Roswell actor Jason Behr, are still interested.

The Man of Steel hasn't starred in a feature film since 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, with Christopher Reeve, despite aggressive efforts by Warner Bros. to resurrect the series.

Although it would seem to be a natural for any actor, some of the very things that make Superman an ideal role on the surface - massive worldwide exposure, guaranteed sequels and becoming the face of a pop-culture icon - also can be counted as potential drawbacks.

And if fans don't like the movie, you become their nemesis.