Kevin Smith talks about 'Superman Lives,' his Superman movie that never came to be

On this episode of The Never Weres, Yahoo's show about projects that almost got made, but never quite came to be, Kevin Smith talks about his experience writing Superman Lives, a Superman script that was extensively developed, but then never came to fruition.

Video Transcript

KEVIN POLOWY: We are talking about the most famous, the most storied, the most legendary-- if you will-- projects in Hollywood that never happened.

KEVIN SMITH: All right.

KEVIN POLOWY: Kevin Smith, as you live and breathe, almost made a Superman movie. And it was called, "Superman Lives" or--

KEVIN SMITH: And it died. And that's kind of what it's about, right, he dies but then he lives. And they're like, all right. Let's go with that.

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- You know there's a million fine looking women in the world, dude, but they don't all bringing lasagna at work.

KEVIN POLOWY: This was mid 90s, obviously post "Clerk's," post "Mallrats"-- like, tell us exactly where you were, at what point in your career, time in your life, when this opportunity first came your way.

KEVIN SMITH: I had just picked up a new agent, Phil Raskind. And Phil Raskind was like, Basil Iwanyk wants to meet with you. He liked the "Chasing Amy" script so he wants to talk to you about working on Warner Brothers scripts. They gave me a script to read called, "The Architects of Fear," which was based on an "Outer Limits" episode, and I thought it was one of the best scripts I'd ever read in my life.

He also said-- oh, we're working on Superman. I was like, Superman? And he's like, yeah. But like, it'd be a long shot for you on that. He's going-- that's kind of a big project. And I was like, can I at least read it? And he was like, yeah, I'll give you a copy. And so he gave me a copy to take home and read-- I read it, and he brought me back in for a meeting to talk about "Architects of Fear."

I said, but can we talk about Superman? And he said, yeah. What did you think? And I was like, it's terrible! And he was like, excuse me? I was like, oh my God! It's terrible! Like, the whole script-- like, this doesn't-- the people who wrote it don't understand Superman at all. Like, it's kind of like winking and stuff like that. Like, there's a way faithful telling of this to do, audience appreciates it being treated seriously, and stuff like that. And he was like, go on. And I told them what I thought was wrong with it, and then he goes-- let's go talk to this guy.

Eventually, I got to the head of the studio-- Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the "Transformers" man, but he was running Warner Brothers back then. So, tell him what you told us about Superman, I tell him, and then Lorenzo goes-- well, what would you do different? And I was like, oh! Well, I think you could do this, this, this, this-- and then after that he was like, all right. Well, you're hired-- go do it. I was like, do I start now?

And they were like, first you got to go talk to Jon Peters. And I was like, OK. And I knew who Jon Peters was, because my mom was a big Barbra Streisand fan, and he used to date Barbra Streisand. He was Barbra Streisand's hairdresser, then he became a producer, because he produced "The Main Event," a movie she was in and stuff-- they dated. So I go pitch to Jon Peters, and he lives in this gigantic [BLEEP] house.

He was like, tell me what you were thinking about Superman. And so I was like, all right. And I pitched him my idea for what I wanted to do for what would eventually be "Superman Lives," and Jon Peters goes-- I'll never forget, he goes-- you and me, we're going to make a great Superman. He goes, you want to know why? And I was like, why?

And he goes, because you and me-- we're from the streets, we understand Superman. And I'm like-- Superman's not from the street, he's from Krypton-- I'm thinking in my head. And I was like, you know-- I'm from the suburbs, you were a hairdresser, neither of us are from the [BLEEP] streets. But he was an interesting character, man.

And whenever I would write a draft-- an outline or a draft of the script, I'd eventually have to go back to Jon's place and read it to him. And I was like, can he not read? I asked the assistant, and they were like, no he just likes to visualize while it's going on. So he would lay down on his couch, no bull [BLEEP], and he would go like this-- Go!

KEVIN POLOWY: You'd have story time.

KEVIN SMITH: He would build a little screen with his hands, and look up at the ceiling, and then tell me to go. And so he'd be seeing the movie as I read the movie out loud and stuff. He was the guy who insisted on a giant spider in the third act-- he had gone to his kid's open house, and the teacher that day was talking about how spiders are the fiercest killers in the insect kingdom. So he was like, I want Superman fighting a giant spider. His inspiration was King Kong-- he's like, when I was a kid and I saw "King Kong," and they open those gates for the first time, and you see him-- that's what I want.

So there were weird parameters, Jon also said-- he's going like, I don't want to see him in that suit, it's too pink. And I don't want to see him fly. And I was like-- I said, why not fly? He goes, that flying [BLEEP] looks cheap to me. And I was like, all right. But that suit and him flying-- those are like the two things that really define the character. Like, you ask anybody, they'll tell you-- oh, his suit and he flies.

But for me, it was a fun of like, all right. I'm going to make it work. Like, because I always had the ability to walk away from it at the end of the day-- I was never going to direct this thing. So I could be like, Superman moves a mountain. Ha, ha, ha! Not my [BLEEP] problem! They'll figure it out. So whatever they threw at me, I was like great! As long as I can make it work in my head and heart as a comic book fan, you know, I could kind of go with it and stuff.

KEVIN POLOWY: Peters, from what I've heard, wanted Sean Penn for the role after seeing "Dead Men Walking." Did you guys actually ever talk to Sean Penn about this?

KEVIN SMITH: No. That was the first meeting I ever had with Peters. I was like, who do you see playing Superman? And he goes, if I had to cast it right now, Sean Penn. And you know, it was just after "Dead Man Walking"-- I was like, really? Sean Penn?

He's like, yeah. Did you see his eyes in "Dead Man Walking"? Did you see "Dead Man Walking"? I said, yeah. He goes, look in his eyes in that movie-- he has haunted eyes, the eyes of a killer. And I was like-- dude, it's Superman, you know.

[CHUCKLES]

Like, that's not how most people think of Superman. That was-- he never said, I'm going to-- let's call him, or anything like that-- he was still way far out. And I guarantee you, Warner Brothers would have pushed back on that in a big bad way. He wanted to reinvent it, he wanted something gritty, graphic, and grown up. He essentially wanted, like, what Zack Snyder eventually did.

- Next time they shine your light in the sky, don't go to it. The Bat is dead.

KEVIN SMITH: I was writing it for Affleck. It was very "Mallrats" inspired because my Lex Luthor was Michael Rooker, and my Superman was Ben. Because I was like, oh my God! Like, Ben was heating up, he already had-- I think he'd been hired for "Armageddon." So I was like, it could be that he'll be a legit movie star, he's got dark hair-- I'm that uncreative where I'm like-- Ben's got dark hair, Superman has dark hair, Ben's tall-- that was the thing.

Like, Affleck-- I guess people may notice from pictures, but he's a [BLEEP] giant. He's built like a super, he's built like a giant action figure-- particularly with the height, and then he puts on the muscles there too. So in my head and heart it was always Ben-- and Ben and Michael Rooker, which was a weird like "Mallrats" reunion.

- You're dead, mallrat.

KEVIN POLOWY: Was there ever sort of a memo to you that you were no longer involved? I mean, I know how tricky Hollywood can be in that regard-- or does it just sort of go away? Like, how did you leave this project?

KEVIN SMITH: You go from being the most important person in the world, to you know, just out of the loop-- just like that. And so I remember, I was doing a press tour for "Chasing Amy," and so it was going to be opening in that market fairly soon. So I was in Connecticut doing press, and my agent called me and he was like-- we were talking about things and I was like, do I have to-- when do I have to submit another Superman draft? And he goes, you're done. You did your two drafts and they're not bringing you back, Tim's bringing on somebody else. And I was like, oh! All right. And you know I wasn't like, sad.

And they spent so much money. Like, they honestly spent between $25 and $50 million developing a movie that never happened. So like, all the scripts that they paid to write-- because there were many writers before me, and there were writers after me. Tim and Nick, I think, were pay or play. When they pulled the plug on that movie, those guys got their full salaries, if I remember correctly. So much money was already on the books for "Superman" by the time they made the Brian Singer version. So that got added to their budget, as well, in terms of money that had to be recouped for a Superman project.

KEVIN POLOWY: And Peters ended up making some Superman movies. He was a producer I think with Snyder and Nolan, right?

KEVIN SMITH: If it was, he didn't have any involvement. Like, I'm sure his name was on the Brian Singer version-- and I'm sure his name might have been on all of them. But like, he was then kind of distanced from the--

KEVIN POLOWY: There's a story-- I don't know the details of it, but there's a tidbit out there that he was on "Man of Steel" and then Nolan kicked him off.

KEVIN SMITH: I'm not sitting here going, that could never happen! Like, that tracks.

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