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Why Americans Don't Play Superheroes

Some theorize that British actors enjoy the advantage of a classical training. But that isn’t true in the case of Batman Bale, who had no formal training and who also discounts any suggestion that there’s a conspiracy at work.

“Whatever one’s best for it, you pick ’em,” Bale told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday night at the SAG Awards, where he was rewarded as best supporting actor for his work in The Fighter, set in Lowell, Mass. “And that’s it. Do I think there’s a pattern? Sounds like a pattern. But to me personally, I feel like it’s going for each individual guy who has the chops for it, whether they’re British, American or Australian. I don’t think there’s anything special happening in England that’s making a lot of superheroes. To me, I’d put it down to coincidence.”

But others see other forces at work. If Superman traditionally represented America’s role as a global policeman, they argue that Cavill’s casting is symbolic of  America’s decline as a superpower. USC professor of cultural history Leo Braudy said the current debate is part of a long-standing struggle between the ideals of American acceptance and assimilation and those of American purity and isolationism. In a globalizing world, even culture has become an export.

“American heroes have become the world’s heroes," Braudy said. "They are international, not just local. We’ve merchandised out the ideas of superheroes to the world, and now they’re taking their turn."

There may be a simpler, if even more powerful, influence at work: namely, the Internet.

“The reality is that access to actors all over the world is greater because of the Internet,” says Marcia Ross, exec vp casting at Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Ross cast Cavill in his first American studio project, Disney’s 2002 adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. Thanks to the Net, Ross said, casting directors can now e-mail sides (script pages) to the most remote of locales, then record auditions they will show directors and producers.

Not only does that level the playing field, it also saves money on far-flung casting calls. “We as casting directors want to be thorough, and now we can,” she said.

Another way the world is coming to America is via YouTube and cable TV. With shows, be they English, Spanish or Indian, available on widely seen channels such as BBC America or Telemundo, foreign actors are getting more face time here than ever before.

“It’s really been in the last 10 years that we’ve expanded exponentially our pool of talent,” Ross said.