Henry Cavill
Photo by Kirk McKoy

Henry Cavill: “We don’t play a perfect game at all times”

 Listen to Audio Excerpt Listen to Audio Excerpt
Short Profile

Name: Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill
DOB: 5 May 1983
Place of birth: Saint Helier, Jersey, United Kingdom
Occupation: Actor

Henry Cavill stars in The Witcher's second season, out now on Netflix.

Mr. Cavill, you’ve been acting for almost 20 years — what kind of personal transformations have you been through during that time?

Well, I've been been working very, very hard. And things in life and work haven't always gone my way so I've been forced to take steps within myself to grow, to have a better understanding of the environments that I find myself in, and to better execute on things that are my dreams. I think trying times are always good environments for growth so I've spent a lot of time in self-reflection. It can be easy to fall into negative places. But if you're reflecting enough, then you can try and turn into something positive.

How do you cope in those negative situations?

I think that’s just one of the facts of life, that sometimes things don’t go your way, and other times they do. I think it's when you care about something very, very deeply, and it doesn't go your way that it can last a little longer. It can have more of a psychological effect. But I've always been good at looking forward and moving forward and doing everything I can to make the best of a scenario — or leaving something behind me if it's possible to do so.

“It’s lovely to have family members who just know who you are. You can make mistakes or not make mistakes, and no one holds it as a permanent character flaw against you.”

How important is family during those trying times?

I come from a large family and we're all very close. And so naturally, even if we're not directly leaning on one another  or looking to each other for advice, we know in the back of our minds that they are there. It's not necessarily important for everyone, of course, because not everyone has grown up in the same way. But having grown up in that way, I definitely lean on my family a lot. And I enjoy enormously spending time with them, especially being in a career where one can be under the microscope a lot. It's lovely to have family members who just know who you are. You can make mistakes or not make mistakes, and no one holds it as a permanent character flaw against you. During lockdown, I was able to spend a lot more time with them, and that was really helpful and good for the psyche.

What about your recent on-set injury? That must have been a particularly difficult time for you. Apparently the hamstring tear you suffered could have almost ended your acting career.

It was very bad, it was a grade three tear. Had it been even slightly worse, it would have been a rupture, and you’re right that that can be life changing and career changing, especially in a physical career. So there was a concern, yes, but I try not to put too much worry into things. I tried to focus more on doing the right thing for the injury at the time. It was a fine line to tread because my physiotherapists had said, “Right, no more than five hours a day on your feet.” And this was after recovery, after I’d come off crutches — but production needed more than five hours a day. And so we would aim for five hours. And if they didn't get it, then they asked me for more. And there were some days where I'd push for six or seven or more. And there are other days where it was just too painful and too much.

It’s a dangerous balance: if you don’t push it enough, the film might suffer, but if you push too much, you’ll suffer.

I was thinking, “Of course I could push and maybe I won't injure myself further, but maybe I will. Is it worth it for this one shot?” And so it's about finding that balance of health and helping production.

Aside from your celebrated role of Superman, you’ve also appeared in The Man from UNCLE, and Mission: Impossible — Fallout… Are you now keen to try something less physical, maybe an intellectual behind the desk sort of role?

Now, that sounds wonderful! (Laughs) That means a lot less in the way of hours, less time doing fight choreography… I love action, I love fight choreography, I love doing that stuff. And I think if done correctly, it is an amazing way of telling story and enriching characters. But it's also incredibly hard work to do it to the level that I want to do it. And so to not do that, or for a movie or a character not to require that, I think would be wonderful. Absolutely.

“We don’t have discipline all the time, we don’t all play a perfect game at all times. But it's definitely something I’ve striven for.”

Still, you haven’t thrown in the towel on action projects just yet. Have you always had that kind of work ethic?

You'd have to ask my school teachers! (Laughs) But as a professional, I've always strived to be disciplined and to have a good work ethic — of course we don't have it all the time, we don't all play a perfect game at all times. But it's definitely something I've striven for. I think I probably got it from my parents and my brothers, I imagine and maybe some of my friends who have come along, and who have taught me great lessons in discipline and perspective and hardship.

What other lessons have you gleaned as your career has progressed?

I say something has changed recently in my professional career in a lot of capacities — but certainly, I think a successful TV show like The Witcher, for example, which is now in its second season, is a big one. When you're piecing together projects can be considered commodities, and your commodity is popular in one media, then someone else will go, “Hey, that’s a great commodity, let's put it in our project.” And then hopefully, we'll get more people to come watch our movie or our TV show. So the success of The Witcher has an effect on that side of business as an actor.

Were you expecting that kind of success?

It's always difficult to expect success — but I knew there was an inbuilt fan base, and I knew that was going to do us enormous favors. The Witcher books have a big fan base already, so I knew a lot of people were going to tune in. Luckily I love strong opinions when it comes to this stuff because I'm the same, I feel the same way about the source material that I'm incredibly loyal to. And it's something that I want to see represented in the best way possible. I can't control the storylines of my work; I can't control the plot lines, I can't draw anything, really. But I can have an influence on my character.