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Why James Gunn’s Superman Is More Likely to Be Played By an Actor in His 30s Than His 20s

“If you didn’t believe Superman could fly, then you didn’t believe Superman was alive, was real, and he was still going to be a comic strip.

“Superman has to feel, look and sound as though he’s stepped out of your collective consciousness of who that character is.

Those are quotes from directors Richard Donner and Bryan Singer on their individual criteria for casting Superman. Both times, the solution was the same: cast an unknown.

It’s an issue that James Gunn will face as he begins the casting process of who will don the red-and-blue suit and go up, up, and away to headline Superman: Legacy in July 2025.

The very definition of an “unknown” has fallen into two categories when it comes to casting this role. A complete unknown with a CV of here-and-there work but nothing substantial or a lesser-known who has certainly worked — sometimes even in big projects — but typically in supporting turns, thus not breaking the “rule” of how one casts Superman.

Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh fit the former to a tee as both worked in soap operas and guest star roles on television and theater, while interestingly enough, George Reeves and Henry Cavill belonged firmly in the latter category.

This is all déjà vu as this brings back those memories of the casting process for both Superman Returns and Man of Steel — how IGN’s Jim Vejvoda broke the story of Singer leaving the X-Men franchise to revive Superman — a decision that turned heads back in July 2004 — and Umberto Gonzalez — back during his “El Mayimbe” days at Latino Review — scooped the casting of Routh (with that Halloween costume as, who else, Superman) all in four months, much like how Deadline broke both Zack Snyder directing Man of Steel and Cavill starring in the film over a four-month span as well.

As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Between today and the announcement of the next cinematic Man of Tomorrow — which we suspect will be this fall — there will be nonstop rumors, many from grifters on Twitter and YouTube passing themselves off as “industry insiders” despite often well-documented track records of fabricating intel. These rumors should be dismissed accordingly. Even legitimate outlets like Deadline infamously put out a shortlist of Man of Steel candidates back in the day that was, ironically, missing one Henry Cavill.

Superman: Legacy
Superman image via DC Comics

Some names have, in fact, already been thrown into the rumor mill and thereupon swiftly shot down by Gunn himself — the director insistent that casting hasn’t begun, which I don’t necessarily buy. But more on that in a minute…

The Hollywood Reporter made an offhand remark about Superman being in his mid-20s in Legacy. While it was a tiny little blurb buried in an article on a broader topic, fandom — as it typically tends to do — took that singular comment and ran with it. Taking it quite literally and speculating on every 25-year-old working-class actor in the industry.

Well, when that very issue was brought up by a fan on Twitter, Gunn remarked, “All I ever said was Superman was younger than in his 40s” and further elaborated, “Nope! It keeps getting repeated but I never said that.

Maybe it’s just me, but that comment struck me as… odd. In fact, it was a little defensive and reactionary.

Respectfully, why would — let alone should — it call for Gunn to even address that in the first place given how busy his schedule is and how full his plate is as the co-CEO of DC Studios?

Well, again, according to Gunn himself, the age factor was specifically the reason why they opted against bringing back Henry Cavill. Mind you, Gunn doesn’t owe a single person an explanation for his decision.

As I said last fall in an op-ed on this very topic:

“Meanwhile, I know that many fans would love to see Henry Cavill wear the red cape again, but by the time a new Superman would be ready — 2025 at the earliest, I’d imagine — Cavill will be 42 years old. Is that “too old” to play Superman? Not necessarily, but let’s say there is a new Superman movie in 2025. That would make it eight years since Justice League. Releasing another Cavill-led Superman movie eight years after his last entry doesn’t make much sense. If you’re waiting that long anyway, just start over.”

Placing age as the sole culprit behind the decision to start anew always struck me as smoke and mirrors — an illusion to hide the truth.

Justice League
Henry Cavill as Superman/Image va Warner Bros.

Cavill was never — ever — going to be Gunn’s Superman, even if he discovered the Fountain of Youth, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Gunn simply wants to cast his own actor to make his own mark in the DC universe that he and Peter Safran are starting. Anyone still upset over that should, respectfully, get the hell over it.

The character of Superman has, and will always be, greater than any one actor, which is something Christopher Reeve — the actor most synonymous with the role and whose shadow hangs over his successors to this very day — himself knew, as he once referred to himself as “a temporary custodian” of the red cape.

So again… why the antsy and defensive recent comments from Gunn clarifying the matter?

I could be dead wrong here and be applying “1 + 1 = 11” logic… but I suspect Gunn has not only quietly met with actors — obviously not to screentest at this early stage or even read, but merely an informal “meet-and-greet” to get a feel for the guy — but they most definitely are not in their mid-20s and are, in fact, closer to Cavill’s age. Gunn is likely playing the semantics game because of the headache-inducing whining from fans that will come as a result — especially as new rumors persist that Ezra Miller — despite all their offscreen troubles — will continue on as the Flash.

When Gunn met with the press in late January, he kept describing Superman as a “farm boy.” Now, if you’ll recall, we suggested two names in our earlier editorial: Jake Picking and Austin Stowell. Both fit in the “lesser known” category we mentioned above. These two represent the exact kind of actor who traditionally nabs this role, and I see no reason why Gunn would veer away from said tradition.

Stowell, in particular, is one who I’ve long championed, believing him to be the most obvious choice. His all-American demeanor got him cast by Steven Spielberg twice — first in the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, and later in an episode of his Amazing Stories revival on Apple TV+. Not unlike Reeve, he has the heart and soul of a character actor in the body of a leading man, and — mark my words — someone is going to cast him as the lead in a big franchise one day.

The thing is, he turned 38 years old last December. That makes him just a year younger than — that’s right — Henry Cavill. Upon hearing the news that a “younger” Superman would headline Legacy, I shrugged my shoulders at the thought of Stowell wearing the red-and-blue suit and said, “Ah well, nevermind!

But those remarks from Gunn make me think Stowell isn’t out of the running, whatsoever.

Superman comic
Superman image via DC Comics

I’m not saying or implying that Stowell will be cast — Picking, who recently had supporting roles in The Greatest Beer Run Ever and last year’s hit blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick and has been championed by our big-cheese Jeff Sneider, has an even more realistic shot.

But I genuinely suspect that our next Superman could be an actor in their mid-to-late 30s which, ironically, is how the character has been traditionally depicted in the comics over the years. And so what if that’s true? Actors act. They play younger and older than their real age all the time. Respectfully, this isn’t the big deal that many will likely make it out to be.

James Bond and Superman’s onscreen BFF Batman have been routinely played by actors pushing 40. Hell, Robert Downey Jr. was 41 when he was cast as Iron Man and he successfully anchored that role for the next decade, with Marvel fans still clamoring for his return. There’s no reason why Superman can’t be a similar age.

With Superman: Legacy set to fly into theaters on July 11, 2025, we’ll be hearing more about the movie from Gunn and Safran as the year progresses. I would simply suggest to fans that they widen the age bracket of actors they’re speculating about. Gunn himself even said as much just hours before this column went to press, tweeting “We haven’t begun casting other than making lists, and it’s not limited to people in their twenties.”

Read between the lines, folks, and let’s keep an open mind regarding Gunn’s choice. Regardless of who is ultimately chosen to stand for truth, justice, and the American way, I hope fans are as non-judgmental as Superman himself.

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