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Richard Donner’s 1978 blockbuster, Superman: The Movie, convinced the world — and Hollywood — that a superhero could fly on the big screen. But after Christopher Reeve hung up the cape following 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the Last Son of Krypton was left behind in the Batman-dominated ‘90s comic book movie boom and the dawn of the Marvel age in the early 2000s with hits like X-Men. There were plenty of near-misses during that era, though. Nicolas Cage very nearly played a radically different Kal-El in Tim Burton’s abandoned Superman Lives. And in 2002, hitmaker-to-be J.J. Abrams penned a script called Superman: Flyby that upended the character’s traditional comic mythos.
Warner Bros. hired Brett Ratner to direct Flyby, and called in a crew of young actors to audition for the role. One of those performers was Brendan Fraser. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment recently, the star of the 1999 favorite, The Mummy, remembered the experience of putting on the Superman costume and staring into the mirror... where a superhero stared back. “You feel kind of invincible, [like] ‘I can fly,’” he says, delightedly. “The cape actually makes you think you have the power of flight even though you know you don’t.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Fraser also remembers really loving Abrams’s script, which imagined a world in which Krypton didn’t explode. Instead, young Kal-El is sent to Earth by his father, Jor-El, to avoid a raging civil war on his homeworld. Once he grows up into Superman, his adopted planet is then visited by a group of war-mongering Kryptonians — led by his cousin Ty-Zor — who kills the would-be champion. But the Man of Steel bounces back to life and plans take the fight to Krypton in a potential sequel. Given the radical changes in store, Warner Bros. tried to keep Flyby details from leaking to the public. “The script was printed on crimson paper with black ink so it couldn’t be photocopied,” Fraser remembers. “I was allowed to sit in an office and read it for an hour. It was like a covert operation.”
Fraser wasn’t the only one who got to try on the Flyby suit: Paul Walker, James Marsden, Ashton Kutcher and Matt Bomer were all in contention for the part. Behind the camera, Ratner left the project and was replaced by Charlie’s Angel’s helmer McG, who auditioned his own group of actors that included future Man of Steel star, Henry Cavill. Eventually, McG was replaced by Bryan Singer, who pushed Flyby to the side in favor of pursuing his own storyline, which became 2006’s Superman Returns starring Brandon Routh.
Nearly two decades after his near-miss at becoming Superman, Fraser is matter-of-fact about how things played out. “It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter the size of the movie — it all goes through some kind of development process,” he says. Funnily enough, he and Bomer are currently enjoying a second shot at comic book stardom as part of the well-reviewed DC Universe series, Doom Patrol, playing Negative Man and Robotman respectively. And he’s still proud to be part of the unofficial club of actors who got to put on the Superman suit and pretend to fly. “I’ve got that stripe! I did it.”
Doom Patrol is currently streaming on DC Universe.
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