Here at A Place to Hang Your Cape, we love finding things that help us explore our love of heroes – in whatever form they take! Well, here we’ve found a book that does just that: Mark Edlitz’s fantastic How to Be a Superhero is an in-depth look at the people who portray our favourite heroes (and villains) and it’s a great read. We had a chat with Mark to find out more about the book…
A Place to Hang Your Cape: So, can you tell us a bit about How to Be a Superhero – just for anyone who hasn’t heard of it?
Mark Edlitz: How to Be a Superhero is a book about superheroes and the actors who play them. The book combines 35 interviews with actors who have played the World’s Mightiest Mortals.
I wanted to speak to a very diverse group of people. From A-list stars to performers who are often over-looked. Not only did I interview actors who have played superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Flash and Captain America but I also interviewed supervillains like Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and Catwoman (Julie Newmar). I spoke with anti-heroes like the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) and Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) and heroic women like Supergirl (Helen Slater and Laura Vandervoort) and Silke Spectre (Malin Akerman).
In the “not all heroes are super” category, I interviewed Leonard Nimoy (Spock), George Lazenby (James Bond), Roger Moore (James Bond) and Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson). I also spoke to the cast of Roger Corman’s unreleased Fantastic Four movie and Adrianne Palicki, who played Wonder Woman in David E. Kelley’s unaired Wonder Woman pilot.
Last but not least, I also spoke to a number of different “creators” including Joe Quesada (the Chief Creative Officer at Marvel), Jon Favreau (the director of Iron Man), Kenneth Johnson (the creator of The Incredible Hulk television series) and the legendary Stan Lee.
AP2HYC: I was really impressed by how thorough the book was – in terms of research and what it actually covered. How did you go about even beginning to create something like this?
Mark: Researching the book was the fun part. In preparation for every interview I would watch whatever superhero movie or TV show the actor appeared in. Of course, I had seen them all before but it was important to revisit the projects anyway. I would also re-read the original comics in which the characters first appeared.
AP2HYC: And what made you want to write this book?
Mark: I’ve always been fascinated by superheroes. I wanted to discover the truth about playing a superhero. Sean Connery said playing James Bond was both a “curse” and a privilege.” I wanted to find out if that’s how others felt.
My goal was ask the questions that the fans would want to know. What’s it like to play a superhero? How are you like the hero? How are you different? How did playing the character change your life?
I asked every actor, “How does it feel to wear the costume?” John Wesley Shipp, who played the Flash, talks about allowing himself to feel very powerful while wearing the suit. But he also says that he felt slightly diminished out of it. Adam West was initially worried that he would walk onto the set and everyone would laugh at him. I think that any fan who has ever worn a superhero costume or a t-shirt has enjoyed feeling a little of that power as well. Of course, we almost never look as good as the heroes we occasionally try to emulate.
AP2HYC: What did you find most challenging while working on the book? And what have you found to be the most enjoyable part of the process?
Mark: Talking to the actors was always thrilling and sometimes a little intimidating. My hope was that they wouldn’t feel like they were being interviewed. Instead, I wanted them to feel like they were simply having a conversation. Also, by not speaking to them while they were promoting the project, they had more freedom to talk candidly about the totality of their experiences. They also had a bit more perspective and could more accurately gauge how playing a superhero has changed their lives.
AP2HYC: Do you think that the perception of superhero stories is changing, and, if so, in what way?
Mark: Stan Lee jokes that back in the Sixties that when people found out that he wrote comics that they would run away from him. Today, he’s more popular and beloved than some of the heroes he co-created.
AP2HYC: Similarly, do you think it is a genre that needs to change to fit the modern world – in terms of the stories told, issues addressed and particularly considering the sexism that the comic world is often accused of?
Mark: Superhero stories are constantly changing to meet the needs of the times. When Superman was first created in 1938 he wasn’t the same character we see today. He couldn’t fly. There was no Kryptonite. No Jimmy Olsen. But it was necessary for the character to change with the times to mirror the current values. So, the writers and artists made some changes to the character. Ultimately, fans will accept certain changes as long as those alterations don’t betray the essential nature of the character.
Of course, there is more room and need for heroes to continue to grow and evolve. We need more heroic women. We need more racially and sexually diverse heroes.
AP2HYC: I could list multiple favourites, but two interviews I loved were Nicholas Hammond and Malin Akerman. Could name any that you were particularly excited about – perhaps some that were your personal favourites as child?
Mark: I really enjoyed those interviews too. Hammond, who played Spider-Man, had a lot of interesting insights into how playing the character changed him as a person. Truth be told, I am a fan of everyone I interviewed in the book, so they were all fun to do. Speaking to Adam West was a particular thrill for me. John Shipp, who played the Flash, had some deeply personal revelations about playing the part. Clark Gregg was very funny and wry – just like Agent Coulson. Tom Hiddleston really knew Loki’s rich history.
AP2HYC: If you were a superhero, who would you want to be? Or would you invent one yourself?
Mark: They say Superman is who we aspire to be and Batman is closer to who we actually are. I think I’d alternate between the two. I could be Superman by day and Batman by night. I’d also like to borrow Captain America’s shield.
AP2HYC: In the book, I saw some great answers of the theme of why superheroes are important, why they matter to us and what they can mean. What do you personally think is the answer to that?
Mark: Beyond just delighting and entertaining us, superheroes also inspire us and teach us important lessons. The X-Men are outsiders. But instead of being marginalized for being different they’re celebrated. But at the same time, it is fun to watch two fictional characters punch each other. So, there’s that too!
AP2HYC: How can people find out more about How to Be a Superhero?
Make sure to check out our review of How to Be a Superhero, coming soon!