Exclusive: Talking Man of Steel with Zack Snyder

For director Zack Snyder, the prospect of taking on one of the oldest existing comic book characters–one who has had a presence on the large and small screen and just about every possible form of media in the 75 years since his introduction–may have been seen as just another achievement in his burgeoning career as a director who has built a career on bringing comics to the big screen.

The resulting Man of Steel introduces British actor Henry Cavill in the role of the new Superman in what should prove to be a popular choice, as should the casting of Amy Adams as the new Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, and Michael Shannon as General Zod. Without any question, it’s Snyder’s biggest and most ambitious film to date–which is saying something when you realize how long it took for anyone to dare tackle Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. It’s also easily one of the biggest movies of the year in terms of sheer scale and the biggest movie since last year’s The Avengers–it may even be bigger, if you can believe it–which might come as a surprise to anyone who wrote Snyder off when he choose to set aside adaptations and franchise and tackle his own original idea with 2011′s Sucker Punch.

Here at SuperHeroHype, we’ve been following Snyder’s career quite closely back to when he decided to tackle Frank Miller’s 300 and through his adaptation of Watchmen, and keeping with tradition, we got on the phone with Snyder just a few days before Man of Steel‘s release to ask the director a couple of the questions we’d been pondering since we first heard he got the gig directing Man of Steel.

(Note: For whatever reason, the phone reception wasn’t great during this interview so in some cases we may have done a bit more paraphrasing than we normally like to do.)

SuperHeroHype: It’s been a few years since we last spoke so I haven’t talked to you about “Man of Steel” or Superman at all, but let’s go back a few years when you were working hard to finish up “Sucker Punch” and “Guardians.” So after those two movies, how important was it for you to go into something more high profile like Superman?
Zack Snyder:
I don’t know. I’m a bit of a fan of the character. I guess I was more looking when “Man of Steel” came along, it was more of a question of whether I would do it or if it was too big of a thing, too dangerous. I was nervous about it because I like the character and I was a bit nervous, but I asked, “What do I have to say about Man of Steel?” I don’t know. I just think in the end, what really attracted me to the project was the script and the story that Chris (Nolan) and David (Goyer) had come up with. As I spoke to Chris about it, I just thought this could be awesome, and that’s how it kind of got started.

SHH: Would you say Superman was one of your favorite comic characters or was it just among the comics you kind of read and you just knew the character and knew the mythos a little bit?
Snyder:
I’ve always been very interested in Superman as a character. I sort of was interested in a version of Superman that I didn’t know existed, but definitely he was one of my favorite characters I would say for sure.

SHH: What was your pitch to Chris once you read the script? Did he come to you first or did you have to convince him what you wanted to do or was it a mutual thing?
Snyder:
Chris came to me and asked me to come to lunch and talked to me about it. Then, I read the script and I guess my take was really… most of my movies believe it or not are very ironic and they’re meant to be ironic. My relationship with movies is that I’m constantly looking to deconstruct them within themselves, and I felt like the irony of Superman is that it was not going to be ironic. I felt like it was (interesting) for me that the most realistic movie I’d make would be about Superman.

SHH: Obviously Superman has had a lot of different origin stories over the years. Did you have a personal preference? Had David and Chris already decided how much of it they wanted to take from the different places and do their own thing? Did you have your own input on what you wanted to include?
Snyder:
Yeah, I kind of feel like that’s kind of the joy of it, is that there’s been so many that it really has become mythological. That’s kind of the great thing about having it be around for 75 years, because there’s so many takes that you literally have to screw with the mythology. It’s almost like people happen to be sitting around a campfire telling the story of Superman. It’s the equivalent of like 10,000 years of storytelling and in a way all these people have taken a shot at it, to reinvent it or to color it one way or the other. The great thing is that you have the enduring icons whether it’s Krypton, Jor-el, Lara, General Zod, Kansas, flight, heat vision, all the things. There is a canon of things that you know exists, right? I think that what was really interesting to me, rather than it being a graphic novel, it’s definitely a character. That was really interesting and I found it kind of liberating and part of why I signed up.

SHH: So you felt you could approach this very different from how you did “Watchmen” or “300″ where you had the graphic novel as blueprint that was set in stone? Is this a very different approach where you can go off the page and kind of fill in things,which may be not traditional?
Snyder:
Yeah, I think the thing for me was that I treat a graphic novel like I would a novel. If you’re doing an adaptation then it’s an adaptation of a novel and the novel was written for a reason. Even if it’s a graphic novel, the author had a point of view and it’s your job to translate that point of view and that story into a movie. With a character movie like this, it really is your job to create a world for the character through the mythos and give the character a burden or a set of problems, pressure and growth, and that’s the difference to me.

SHH: There’s been a lot of talk about the omissions like not calling him “Superman” and going against the normal traditions that come with the character, like not having some say “Look! Up in the sky!” etc… was it hard breaking away from those traditions and making those decisions knowing that some people would generally be expecting them?
Snyder:
I thought it was easy for me, because I felt like all of that stuff was in my opinion, that stuff that’s been done by guys just like me when they did the same thing–they were riffing on the character. I just feel the same way about it. I’m just riffing on the character. Someone will make a movie after me and then they’ll be going like, “Are you sure you don’t want to do it the Zack Snyder way?” because… If some ten year olds goes out to watch “Man of Steel” for their first Superman that would be great, but you know what I’m saying.

SHH: Absolutely. I wanted to talk about some of the more unconventional casting, particularly Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Jonathan and Martha. I would not have imagined Diane Lane playing Clark Kent’s mother, so can you talk about how you guys arrived at those two particular actors.

Snyder: I guess I was just really looking for… Kevin and Diane just feel like they could be a couple, first of all, so if you get Kevin, you have to get that someone who you feel could be with them. I know that sounds weird talking about Jonathan Kent, but I feel like for Martha, Diane plays different ages in the film, and she’s not afraid to be aged a little bit and make her look a little older on camera than she really is. I just think that’s really a testament to the power of Superman more than anything that these actors who are all pretty powerful in their own right all were very (open to) dipping their toes into the superhero mythology. I think that that really is more about Superman than anything that you can ask, “Hey, Russell Crowe, do you want to be in a Superman movie?” (and he says okay) that shows the great strength of the character.

SHH: This is somewhat of a weird question maybe, but considering that this is something very different from what you’ve done before, do you think it’s still very much a “Zack Snyder movie” or what people might expect when they see one? Or do you think it’s an amalgam of that and what people would expect from a Superman movie?
Snyder:
No, I think it’s a pretty Zack Snyder movie, but honestly, I don’t know how to do it any other way. You can’t make a movie where you’re second guessing–I don’t think I can anyway. When you make movies from a stylistic standpoint of view, you just gotta do it. I mean, I don’t know how to make movies that I’m not going with my gut visually and emotionally. I just don’t know how you would do it another way, so I don’t know what people will say, but I mean, to me, for sure, it fits exactly into the vernacular if you will.

SHH: I’ve always been fascinated by the marketing you’ve done for your movies because it’s always been something you’ve really excelled at, even from the first promos of “300″ and “Watchmen” at Comic-Con. I was curious how involved in the marketing this time around you were able to be and wanted to be? Obviously, it’s very interesting from Comic-Con last year to the promotions. I was curious, are you still very much involved in the marketing of the movies you work on?
Snyder:
Yeah, I am intentionally involved in all the marketing, and Jen Horvath, she basically, when we had to do the trailer, I moved her right into my editing suite. She cut the trailer with me because I really wanted to make the trailer personal to the movie and Jen is amazing. She’s cut quite a bunch of trailers for me in the past. We cut all of the trailer for “Man of Steel” in the office with me. It was definitely not the traditional like, “Oh, this must be what the trailer companies figure out for the trailer.”

SHH: The marketing’s been nothing like anything I would have expected, the way it kicked off at Comic-Con and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger and more intense with each commercial. It’s really been working.
Snyder:
I think that marketing is a really important part for me and I don’t know if all other directors are as intense as I am with the marketing, but I really feel like I want to be involved with it as much as I can.

SHH: There’s already talk of you directing a Superman sequel and I know it’s very early stages since the movie hasn’t actually come out yet. I know you were originally going to direct a “300″ prequel and you decided to do other things so are you excited for the challenge to return to the character and do more with him?
Snyder:
Well, I mean, I am very interested in sort of the “Man of Steel” universe and sort of the DC Universe in general and how he fits into it and where he is. I think that in truth I’m just really trying to concentrate on getting this movie out. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it a little bit, but I absolutely could say that I would say like, “Oh, well, no, this is a one-off Superman movie. I just wanted to make the one.” That’s crazy talk, and everybody would know that’s crazy talk, but on the other hand, I’m really flooded (with getting this movie out there).

SHH: What’s going on as far as the “300″ stuff? You’ve probably been focused more on “Man of Still” but you have more of the Chris Nolan role on that one, so is that something you’re more actively involved with as they finish up the prequel?
Snyder:
Yeah, they’re working right now to finish it up. With visual effects, I mean, honestly we moved our date to March because we literally had no materials ready to show because we were doing the visual effects and for how “300ey” it is–every single thing is green screen and there’s just nothing… Now, a lot of movies you see early footage and a lot of the stuff there’s real footage that they shot against whatever, but we just don’t have any of that, so it was really lucky that we were able to move it back to March, which is the “300″ date normally. (As it just so happens, there’s a brand new trailer for 300: Rise of an Empire ready to go, which you can watch right here.)

SHH: That’s right. March became such a hot month to release movies because of “300″ pretty much so that make sense, and now everyone wants to release their movies that month.
Snyder:
I know before that, I remember everyone was going like, “Why are we opening in March? Nothing ever comes out in March.” All our people were mad about that, and I didn’t even know that “Dawn of the Dead” came out in March. I was just like, “I think March is okay.” They were like, “No, it’s a disaster. No one releases movies in March.” (laughs)

SHH: Now that I think about it, “Man of Steel” is literally your first summer movie ever… is that possible?
Snyder:
Oh for me? Absolutely. Every single movie I ever made came out in March except for “Guardians.”

SHH: So where do you go from here? Obviously you’re finished with this movie. Do you have anything you’ve been developing over the years that you kind of really want to touch upon or at least try to jump back into another Superman movie?
Snyder:
There’s a couple of smaller movies that I’ve had that I’m looking at, and when I get back, really my priority’s going to be just to hopefully try and finish “300,” just close it down and get it all locked in. I’m going to do that for a little while and then look at what I got, if I want to do something. You know, I have a bunch of other movies that I have been developing over the years that I can take a look at.

SHH: Very cool. Listen, whenever you get back into the next Superman, good luck with whomever you cast to play Lex Luthor, because that’s going to be the toughest role to cast.
Snyder:
Yeah (laughs), but it’s going to be fun though, huh?

Man of Steel opens in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D theaters on Friday, June 14.