Superman Lives: Why Nicolas Cage would have made a killer Kal-El

The Death Of Superman Lives’ Holly Payne on why Nicolas Cage would have been a great Superman

Jon Schnepp and Tim Burton in The Death of Superman Lives What Happened (2)
Director Jon Schnepp with Tim Burton

Superman Lives was the most interesting Superman movie that never was. Directed by Tim Burton, written by Kevin Smith and starring Nicolas Cage, its take on the Man of Steel was totally unlike anything seen on screen before – or indeed, since.

New documentary The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened? journeys into the mythos behind the film, piecing together surviving artwork and interviewing the talent involved with making the film. We spoke to producer Holly Payne about the process behind making this documentary…

How did you get involved with The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

I’ve been working with Jon [Schnepp, director] – and in a relationship – for a number of years. This was something he was working on for a while, the different take on Superman, but initially it was the concept art that drew him in.

So I think that the turning point for my interest was when I saw some of the concept art, but then also our friend pitched the idea, “Have you ever thought about doing this as a Kickstarter campaign, because you’re probably not the only ones interested in this.” That’s when Jon launched the Kickstarter campaign, and we realised very quickly that we were not alone; there were different camps that were interested in this concept all across the world.

I had no idea there was that much international interest, so it was very fascinating to learn. It was buried for a long time, but nobody ever let it lie. As we started to dig deeper, we all became fixated on it.

Were you surprised at the success of the various crowd-funding campaigns?

Yes and no – initially yes, because we weren’t sure that it was something people were going to be interested in, because people can be so precious about their Superman. There could have been plenty of people who were like, “I never want to hear about this thing again,” but were in fact the opposite. Everyone came out of the woodwork and had their own reasons for wanting to support the film.

Superman Lives Production Art 2
Production art for Superman Lives

So yeah, the first Kickstarter was extremely successful, and on the second we earned even more than the first one. We ran out of money by the time we got to London [to interview Tim Burton], it takes a lot of money and time to make a film, and so when you’re building it from the ground up and having to interview all these people, all these luminaries of Hollywood, it was very hard to do.

Have you been pleased with the reception it has received so far?

Yes! We’ve been thrilled with the reception. I think the most satisfying thing has been the reception from the people working on Superman Lives that came to our premierie, and who spoke to us after and said, “You guys have done an amazing thing here’.

It’s so much more than what we expected – each one had their own piece of the puzzle, but they didn’t follow the story once they were off of it, and so once they saw the film and how far it went, there was something for everyone who worked on the film that they hadn’t previously known.

We got a really lovely email from Wesley Strick, who was one of the screenwriters on the movie, and he said he was reticent to see it, because he didn’t know what story we were telling or what we were promoting, and afterwards he said, “This is an incredible piece of work. It’s peeling the curtain back on Hollywood, exposing all the work that goes into it by all these people that you’re never going to get to see, and so basically he said you’ve done an amazing thing.

So that’s been the most valuable thing: hearing all these people who worked on it saying it’s great, and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Looking back, do you regret that Superman Lives wasn’t ever finished?

As a producer, hell no – then we wouldn’t have had a movie! [laughs] The more honest answer is yeah, I kind of do, because when you think about it, there still hasn’t been a Superman film that took that kind of a risk, that humanised Superman/Clark Kent, and made him feel relatable to someone who’s maybe not even a comic fan; to an audience who can go, “Oh, I’m seeing this character in a completely different light now.”

At that time, I could see why they were going for Nicolas Cage – it made perfect sense to me. The kind of actor that he was back then; he was different, he was vulnerable, he was exceedingly talented. People don’t remember that in the 80s he was in his heyday, he had a grasp of this character that no one had brought to the screen before, on both Clark and Superman. It might have created just a little fissure, you know what I mean, that would have let a lot of other really cool ideas through after it.

Nic Cage in The Death of Superman Lives What Happened (3)
Holly thinks Cage would have made a great Superman

So that’s what I regret; I wish that a movie like this had been made so that other superhero films follow might have taken a little bit more of a chance.

What are your thoughts on Man Of Steel?

The character of Superman in that film, it’s nothing new to me. I like that they were going for a darker tone, but I still didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen in other movies; it was the same old same old for me.

On the other hand, I’ve loved every single Batman movie there’s been – well not every one –  he’s a character I’ve always found more relatable than Superman: he’s human, he’s not magical, and he’s been through hell, and it’s been resourceful. So that on its own face value has always been more appealing, I love what they’re doing.

Some people have been giving Ben Affleck flack because he’s not our Batman, but every actor is going to get that. They’re going to get flack because people are precious about their superhero actors, but I think, for Frank Miller’s Batman, this is perfect casting. I think he’ll deliver.

Nowadays, people view Nicolas Cage as rather a left-field choice for the role of Superman. Who would your out-of-the box casting choice be?

Wow! I might need 30 minutes on that question alone! As someone who’d have that kind of depth… this is going to sound bizarre, but in that vein, as Nicolas Cage, I think Sam Rockwell would be great. He’s almost too much of a character actor, but then look at Michael Keaton and Nicolas Cage. It wouldn’t be the handsome, dark-haired, blue-eyed Brandon Routh type; it would be someone with a little more gravitas.

The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened? will be screening at MCM Comic Con from 22-23 May, and will available to download on VOD from 9 July. For more on the biggest superhero movies, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.