It was 10 a.m. on a sunny Friday in October, one of those rare autumn days when the English capital seems to have swapped weather with Santa Monica, California, when I first spotted Henry Cavill, the British actor who has put his stamp on the Man of Steel for a new generation of filmgoers.
Military erect, his arms folded purposefully, he was standing outside Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row clothier that has been outfitting the British gentry since King George III.
Life imitating art
He was hard to miss. Regardless of one's age, gender or sexual orientation, it can be agreed that the man is a specimen, a 99.9999 percentile hunk, a super man. I pictured a hypothetical ad in Variety: "Wanted: Actor. Untitled Superman project. Must be as handsome as Ryan Gosling, as charming as Colin Firth and as ripped as any starting linebacker on the Dallas Cowboys."
He had arrived on Savile Row from his home in London's genteel Kensington district to browse for suits on the eve of the publicity blitz for Justice League, the superhero blockbuster-to-be featuring Cavill alongside Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Aside from a Superman-ish forelock that tumbled down his forehead, Cavill looked more like a romantic lead from an E.M. Forster period drama, wearing a royal blue Cifonelli blazer, a dandyish confection of curls and a distinctly retro, and distinctly absurd, handlebar moustache.
"It's for a role, Mission: Impossible 6," he said sheepishly, referring to his giant crumb catcher. "It makes me feel a little odd at times. People think I'm some crazy handlebar-moustache-growing person."
"But," he added gamely, "I'm also playing around with it now, growing it a bit longer. Why the hell not? When else am I going to grow a handlebar moustache?"
Cavill has an uneasy relationship to fame. For years, he was a Hollywood's king of the near miss. He lost out to Daniel Craig to be the next James Bond, and also to Robert Pattinson on both Twilight and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Although he has been working steadily since he was a teenager, he always seemed to receive second billing to his biceps.
But he has been flirting with A-list stardom ever since he inherited the role of Superman in Zack Snyder's 2013 franchise reboot, Man of Steel, followed by featured roles opposite Armie Hammer in Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2015 and now Tom Cruise in his latest Mission Impossible installment.
A man of manners
In person, though, Cavill comes across less like a Hollywood action hero than an English gentleman in the prewar sense, a vestige of an era when leading men were described as "dashing" or "debonair," and civility meant something.
Browsing the aisles of Gieves & Hawkes, he said that he is still trying to figure out how to carry himself like a star, or even dress like one.
"I've typically always been very classically English, and I've enjoyed that classic cut, and I thought, 'Great, well done, you found your identity,'" he said. Understated only goes so far on the red carpet, however, so lately he has experimented with dressing more like a star, including his head-turning blazer that day, rendered in a shade of blue that might be called electric. "I thought, 'Living in the world you live in, in the public eye, in Hollywood, try to be different,'" he said.
The noble class
Strolling beneath framed photos of noble and royal clients like Prince William, he paused before a glass case containing the red ceremonial uniforms and swan-feather helmets of the queen's bodyguards.
"This is the reason why I like the idea of Gieves & Hawkes, because they do so much of the military stuff," Cavill said. "The military used to be such an important part of high society. You could take prizes in the Navy and suddenly you became quite a wealthy man, because if you took four French ships, you were rolling around in gold and gems."
After an hour of suit shopping (nothing was purchased), Cavill suggested coffee at a place he knew a 10-minute stroll away.
Swapping the cape for an Aston Martin
We paused in front of an unmarked white door of a handsome town house near Berkeley Square. The door swung open to reveal Mark's Club, a storied and exclusive private retreat. "A lovely surprise," said a handsomely attired woman with a bob at the front desk.
"Lovely to see you," Cavill answered chipperly.
He looked effortlessly dapper as he settled into a sofa beside a fireplace in the drawing room, which looked like a den in a viscount's country estate with its oil portraits and crystal chandelier. I mentioned that, in this setting, he looked more like James Bond than Superman.
"When Daniel gives up the mantle, we'll see," he said with a smile, adding that he would not find it "taxing" to play both characters, should the opportunity arise. (He already owns the requisite silver Aston Martin DBS.)
Getting in the game
He certainly never expected to be called a star. In school, after all, he had been chubby; other boys called him "Fat Cavill."
Even as his profile rose, he never thought of himself as a Lothario when he was single. (He declines to "chum the waters" by talking about his current relationship, though the tabloids have him dating Lucy Cork, a 25-year-old stuntwoman.)
When he was dating, he said: "I couldn't do the whole, 'Hey, can I get your number? Cool,' and then call them a week later. When I like someone, I like someone. I don't play hard to get. I can't be texting four or five different women all at one time. I can't do my Wednesday girl, my Monday girl, my Friday girl, my weekend girl, my after-12 p.m. girl.
"To put it in simple terms, I never had 'game,'" he said. It is fair to say, however, that those days are fading quickly.