The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unknown' Fit to be a superhero
- Out of the shell, Superman returns with a new face
Reeve: Superman, then

Los Angeles, May 28 (AP): Imagine Leonardo DiCaprio as the young Darth Vader, Haley Joel Osment as Harry Potter, or Nicolas Cage as Superman (that one really almost happened). No, sometimes Hollywood needs a fresh face up on screen, like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Harrison Ford in Star Wars ' or Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.

“A known actor comes with baggage, and Superman as a character is much larger than any actor,” said Superman Returns director Bryan Singer, who settled on Routh, an actor with just a soap opera stint and a handful of television guest spots. “He looked like he stepped out of a comic book. Brandon’s an extremely fine actor, but he also needed to have the physical presence of someone who steps out of the collective perception of who Superman is.”

Borrowing from the look and style of the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise that took flight in 1978, Superman Returns also follows that movie’s pattern in casting. Reeve was an unknown who took third billing to Brando as Superman’s Kryptonian dad and Gene Hackman as villain Lex Luthor.

Superman Returns gets its star power from Kevin Spacey as Lex. Spacey won the first of his two Academy Awards for his previous collaboration with director Singer, The Usual Suspects.

Oscar winners such as Brando, Hackman and Spacey can add to the lustre of a campy comic-book adaptation. But it’s better if the guy in the cape and tights comes free of celebrity history.

“I think there’s definitely something to that. Superman is such an icon that it’s weird to even imagine myself as him,” Routh said.

A character sometimes can overwhelm an actor, even long after a film franchise has been laid to rest. Reeve took on a variety of roles to avoid typecasting, but his career always was defined by Superman.

Ford managed to break out of Han Solo’s shadow after Star Wars, but even that franchise’s creator, George Lucas, initially was reluctant to cast him as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Star Wars co-stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher never quite separated themselves from the Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia mantles.

It remains to be seen what sort of career Hayden Christensen, who shot to instant celebrity when Lucas cast him as the young Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, might carve out after Star Wars.

Christensen has taken a broad range of roles, but he may have trouble distancing himself from the Vader persona, unlike co-star Natalie Portman, who had a body of work behind her before Star Wars.

“I didn’t go from like zero to 60 in like seconds or whatever,” said Portman, who made a critical splash with her film debut in Leon, the Professional at age 13 and gradually grew into a mainstream star.

“He’s a wonderful example of someone who really dealt with it well. He’s a really, really good person with good values.”

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