LOS ANGELES—Looking past Henry Cavill's infinitely blue eyes and goofy grin, it's not difficult to imagine the 28-year-old British actor transforming into an extremely intense dude as he describes the roughest day he experienced on the "Immortals" set -- grasping the complex choreography for the film's epic final battle.
"I was literally learning it minutes before doing it," said Cavill during a recent interview to promote the mythological 3-D action flick. "That was fun and a great challenge, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I get pissed off at myself if I don't get it exactly right."
Not getting it exactly right is a feeling that Cavill, who has achieved Hollywood infamy in recent years as a runner-up for such high-profile parts as James Bond and Superman, was beginning to know too well. That's changing -- finally! -- with his starring turns as buff Grecian hero Theseus in "Immortals" and the indestructible Superman in "Man of Steel," which he's currently shooting in Vancouver.
"As an actor, when you get rejected and rejected, you start to wonder if you've got the goods," said Cavill. "People are telling me that I'm a good actor. They're saying I'm good in the room during the audition, but I'm not getting the (expletive) jobs. Either someone is lying or this industry is really messed up. I think it's a combination of the two."
In person, the stubbly, dark-haired actor, the fourth of five brothers, is equal parts gentleman, guy's guy and geek, cautiously lowering his voice when peppering his charming English timbre with saucy language and nervously chattering his gleaming white teeth before formulating responses to perplexing questions.
Tarsem Singh, the director of such visually arresting films as "The Cell" and "The Fall," selected Cavill to serve as his "Immortals" leading man long before Singh's version of the mythological demi-god was defined. Singh said he was sold on Cavill when he gave the actor a simple scene to read, and Cavill effortlessly interpreted it five different ways.
"He was just so malleable and tactile," said Singh. "When I came to the studio, I told them that the script needs a lot of work, and it's going to change, but this is the guy. He can act. He can be physical. He can do everything we need him to do. We should stick by him."
In this version of the Greek tale, Theseus is a peasant who goes in search of a powerful weapon to stop King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from awakening the Titans. Along his journey, he's aided by oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff), and he encounters such gods as Zeus (Luke Evans), Poseidon (Kellan Lutz) and Athena (Isabel Lucas).
"Immortals," opening nationwide Friday, will no doubt be closely monitored by industry watchers and Superman devotees alike in anticipation of "Man of Steel," which is scheduled for release in 2013. Until he was cast as the new Superman, Cavill was best known for playing the randy Duke of Suffolk on the Showtime period drama "The Tudors" for four seasons.
Eight years ago, Cavill was thisclose to donning Superman's red cape when director McG was working on a film about the DC Comics superhero. That project was scrapped, and director Bryan Singer later presented his take on the Kryptonian orphan with newcomer Brandon Routh in the title role. Cavill hasn't been deterred by his long route to Metropolis though.
"It's actually been proven that just because I didn't get Superman then doesn't mean that I can't get Superman now," said Cavill without sounding the least bit arrogant. "You can't let it get you down. You've got to look at the positives. I got to meet with Warner Bros. and everyone there. It's beneficial, really."
Cavill didn't read comic books growing up on the British Channel Island of Jersey, but he's quick to note that he's still "a geek but not a comic book geek," only because comics weren't allowed at his boarding school. Cavill proclaims to be an avid PC gamer, and when pressed, it turns out he's not exaggerating. He truly is an online role-playing game fan.
"The great thing about that is you're playing against real people," said Cavill, who copped to maintaining four accounts on "Eve Online," a sprawling online sci-fi game. "There's a constant evolution. You're always adapting."
Cavill is similarly undaunted by his role as the Last Son of Krypton. In preparation for "Man of Steel," he dug deep into the Superman mythos and has even been monitoring the incessant Internet chatter about the film since his casting was first announced in January.
"There are a lot of people who have dedicated their life to loving this character. ... Their opinion does matter," noted Cavill. "I've done my research on the source material. I have my opinions on the various bits and bobs, but sometimes there will be a little gem out there about one of the books, and I'll say to myself, `Yeah. That's a good point.'"
Cavill likened the "Man of Steel" version of the Superman story, written by screenwriter David S. Goyer and directed by "300" mastermind Zack Snyder, to "The New 52," DC Comics' dramatic revamping of the origins and costumes of many DC Universe titles and characters, including Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.
"When that came out, everyone went, `Arrhhh! Everything's changed,'" exclaimed Cavill. "It's part of the evolution of the character. There is a modernization to it, and certainly our style is making him easier to associate with because it's pretty tough to associate with an invulnerable alien."
Despite the intense stunt work required of his latest assignments, Cavill didn't earn any battle wounds on the "Immortals" set and has so far avoided injury while working on "Man of Steel." But he was scarred for life by a burn from a prosthetic chemical malfunction while working on the upcoming thriller "The Cold Light of Day" with Bruce Willis.
As make-up artists were applying an effect on his back that would simulate cauterizing a wound, Cavill could feel the effect's glue burning his back. Always a gentleman, he withstood the heat at first because he wasn't sure if it was part of the process. Cavill eventually relented, and the make-up artists discovered that he suffered a nasty burn under the prosthetic.
"He's got this humility," said Amy Adams, who is playing Lois Lane to Cavill's Clark Kent. "I think that's why he's so great for the role. There's this ease about him. He has this amazing effect on people. It's fun to watch."
Cavill, who bulked up for "Man of Steel" even more than he did for "Immortals," acknowledged to feeling a sense of "you like me, you really, really like me" accomplishment when fans fawned online over paparazzi snapshots of the shirtless and bearded actor filming a "Man of Steel" scene outdoors in Vancouver.
"He will deliver in spades," said "Immortals" director Singh of Cavill's latest role. "There's no drawing this guy back at this point in his life. He's so committed. ... In my film, he had to act, but he truly is a Superman."
AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang/.