Chris Rock on his 'Superman' role that never happened: 'I was this close'

·Writer
·3 min read

Every small-screen actor aspires to one day step on a gala stage and receive an Emmy in front of their peers. Yet for some, there’s an even grander dream to which they aspire — and it involves wearing tights and a cape.

In the latest The Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion timed to the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards — taking place on Sunday, Sept. 19 — five of today’s hottest leading men are asked which role they most wish Hollywood would grant them. It doesn’t take long for Small Axe’s John Boyega to proclaim that he knows the ideal part for his fellow participants, who include Chris Rock (Fargo), Regé-Jean Page (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Bridgerton), Josh O'Connor (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, The Crown) and Jonathan Majors (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Lovecraft Country): Superman.

“I want the brother R.J. as Superman, man,” Boyega pronounces with an enthusiastic laugh. “Like, Jonathan, Superman. I want one of you guys to just go in there and fly. Just someone with knotted hair — just fly!” This bold casting idea is well-received by everyone on the panel, especially since Boyega goes on to explain that he can also see O’Connor and Rock as “messed up” villains for this modern-day take on the Man of Steel. (There are currently two projects in the works featuring Black Supermen, one is a limited series produced by Michael B. Jordan for HBO Max and the other a big-screen DC effort from J.J. Abrams written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

But the real surprise is that, unbeknownst to Boyega — who has had his own experience with franchise cinema, having co-headlined the most recent Star Wars movie trilogy — one of his compatriots has already had a brush with the famed DC comics property, albeit in a somewhat less than heroic capacity.

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To the astonishment of everyone, Rock admits that he was once set to play the Kryptonian god’s shutterbug sidekick, Jimmy Olsen, in a feature film adaptation that didn’t come to pass. “I was cast in Superman 20 years ago, when Nic Cage was going to play Superman,” Rock explains. “I was cast; I had wardrobe fittings. I saw the miniature sets, and I was hanging out with [director] Tim [Burton], and the whole thing fell apart.” 

“There’s a part of me that’s like, where’s my superhero movie? I was this close.”Chris Rock

That doomed project, which was known as Superman Lives, has become one of the great “What If” missed opportunities in modern Hollywood lore, to the point that an entire documentary (The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?) was produced about its demise. As Page points out, it’s also the subject of a beloved monologue by director Kevin Smith (who wrote an early script draft for Superman Lives), which the Bridgerton heartthrob confesses is “one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to. I listen to that once a year, just to keep me grounded on the Hollywood process.”

As for Rock, he appears to have taken the entire ordeal in stride, especially given that the character of Jimmy Olsen “doesn’t really attract me right now.” Nonetheless, he remains disappointed that his shot at Superman glory never came to fruition. “There’s a part of me that’s like, where’s my superhero movie? I was this close.”

To hear more about Rock and company’s comic-book ambitions, check out the above clip from The Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable chat. And be sure to watch the contenders at Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards.

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