Brandon Routh, who played Superman in Superman Returns (2006) made an appearance in Metropolis Illinois last week for the annual Superman Celebration festival.
I was fortunate to spend the morning waiting in line for him to sign my Superman Returns poster. I’ve been to quite a few celebrity signings and meet and greet events over the years, so I know the drill. This is a business transaction; we’re not best friends now. However, I’ve also seen enough of these to recognize something different watching Brandon interact with fans.
He was visibly nervous and polite almost to a fault. He was warm and friendly, but stammered a bit, very aware that everyone in this crowded room expects something from him and that he wants to get it right. “Do you want this signed here, or over here?” “Is this color pen okay?” “Is it alright if I give you a hug?” “Would you like a picture shaking hands?” “Sorry, was that okay?”
At one point, a fan left something behind and moved on to another signing table. Brandon stopped what he was doing and jogged across the room to bring it back to him, shaking hands again smiling warmly in the process. Friends, I’m telling you, that’s not normal. That is the kind of task celebrities assign to handlers and staff, who were there and readily available.
That’s what I mean when I say something was different. He’s not too busy to stop what he’s doing and save the day for this one guy, then dutifully return to what he was doing.
Later that day, Brandon made an appearance and posed for pictures at the Superman statue in the town square, smiling and high-fiving fans. Then it was on to a Q&A session, where he talked about courage, honor, and sacrifice, and how these quantities were celebrated by characters like Superman. He also talked about growing up next to a farm in the Midwest, running through cornfields, collecting Archie comics.
I particularly liked Brandon’s defense of Clark Kent as a “bumbling” character. Clark isn’t nervous or clumsy, he explained, but “so happy to be here.” When Clark at the Daily Planet, among friends and co-workers is when he is his most human, when he can connect to people and participate in the world, rather than standing alone outside if it.
Of his current role as The Atom on the TV series Legends of Tomorrow, Brandon said he gradually began playing him less like Tony Stark (as written) and more like Clark Kent, because “I wanted to play Clark Kent.”
When a fan asked about Superman you could see his posture straighten up and his demeanor become more focused and sincere. This didn’t sound like the usual patronizing PR stuff you hear celebrities rattle off on publicity appearances. As a fan, you want to think these guys really care and aren’t just cashing a check. But it rarely seems that way. Today, it did.
I think we missed out not seeing more of what Brandon would have done as Superman, and especially as Clark Kent. He seemed genuinely humbled by the opportunity to be a part of this character’s legacy.
Or maybe he was just so happy to be there.