Years before he was cast as billionaire industrialist-turned-superhero Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr was set to play one of the biggest comic book villains of all – Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor.
At one point during the tumultuous, nearly decade-long time that Warner Brothers was actively developing a new Superman film, Charlie’s Angels director McG was in charge of the project while it was under the codename Flyby. As he told Playlist in a recent interview, “We had Robert Downey Jr. locked up to be Lex Luthor, which I think would have been extraordinary.”
Although no further casting decisions had been made, McG also stated in the interview that they he “liked Henry Cavill a lot, but we hadn’t cast him yet.” Cavill finally got his chance to play Superman in the currently in-production Man Of Steel which will be in theaters in the summer of 2013.
I think, though, that we should perhaps take McG’s words with a grain-or-two of salt until we get some further independent confirmation. It was reported that Cavill did screentest for Clark Kent/Superman, one of many at-the-time unknown actors the production was looking at for the role. But Shia LaBeouf, who was up for the role of Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen, has been quoted as saying interviews that McG had wanted Johnny Depp to play Luthor. I suppose that McG could have been interested in both and either Depp turned him down or he ultimately went with Downey as his first choice.
It should be remembered that the script that McG was working from was written by JJ Abrams, which was roundly blasted for its many deviations from the standard Superman mythos. I’ve read the script myself, and while it would have made an exciting movie, it would not have made a faithful Superman movie.
McG’s time on the project came to an abrupt end after when the studio mandated that the film be shot in Australia as a cost-saving measure and the director’s (somewhat ironic considering the subject of the film) fear of flying prevented him from going. The project was then handed off to Bryan Singer who delivered Superman Returns in 2006 and I think Downey went on to do alright for himself in another comic book franchise.