Along with a new (and possibly older) Batman, Superman antagonist Lex Luthor is all but a lock for the upcoming Man of Steel sequel (or, if you prefer, Batman vs. Superman). The character was teased multiple times in Zack Synder’s Superman reboot – as the LexCorp logo appeared on the side of trucks and was featured on several pieces of Metropolis construction site signage – indicating that, even though General Zod was the main focus in round one, Luthor was already hard at work building an empire in this new Superman universe.
Since the character did not actually appear in Man of Steel, the rumor mill is hard at work churning out possible names that could be in consideration for the part – Mark Strong (Green Lantern) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) being the most recent actors that have been name dropped as possibilities. However, being up for a role (assuming the rumors are true), is very different from actually being cast. Is it possible that one of the two could eventually get the part? Yes. Is it a guarantee at this point? No.
As a result, we’ve put together a list of 5 actors (not including Strong and Cranston) that would make for an interesting Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman. Of course the list is not all-inclusive, so once you’ve had a chance to read our picks, share your ideas in the comments.
As we’ve previously discussed, the version of Lex Luthor that will appear in Man of Steel isn’t likely to pose a physical threat to Batman or Superman – though he might eventually build an Obadiah Stane/Iron Man-like suit of armor. Instead, Snyder’s Luthor will likely be using a combination of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and a charismatic public face to manipulate the people of Metropolis into turning against the big blue boy scout – helping Luthor (and LexCorp) gain power and influence.
Therefore, charm and charisma will be instrumental for this “more grounded” version of the villain – and Jason Isaacs’ past filmography includes plenty of nuanced performances that tiptoed the line between empathy and malevolence. While his high profile performance as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series allowed for some moral gray areas, it is the actor’s stellar work in the TV series Awake, along with films like The Patriot, that serve as a proof of the gravitas that Isaacs could bring to Luthor.
The actor has also sported a bald pate on screen before (in 2001’s Black Hawk Down). Meaning that superfans would have their cake and get to eat it too – since Isaacs could offer solid acting talent and wouldn’t force Snyder into compromising on the character’s iconic (read: hairless) look.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Snyder’s Lex Luthor will be bald. While the character’s hairless look is iconic, certain versions of the character have allowed for hair (and even a beard). We already know that Snyder is willing to alter key aspects of Superman characters and the larger mythos, meaning that the “would he look good bald?” question might not be a prerequisite for the director’s Lex Luthor casting sheet. If a potential actor could strike an especially convincing balance between charm and menace in the role, would it matter if he didn’t go bald?
To that point, Jason Clarke has yet to appear on screen with a shaved head but has the potential for an interesting take on Lex Luthor. Slightly younger (at age 44) than some of the actors rumored to be in consideration, Clarke would be a strong choice if Snyder wanted to portray a version of the character that’s still in the process of building his empire (and allowing Luthor somewhere to grow in future films).
Instead of an aging businessman whose evil-doing ways are sparked by the appearance of Superman (and devastation of Metropolis), Clarke’s Luthor could be a brash and inspiring neophyte on the fast track to power and success. A man who is willing to sacrifice Superman in the court of public opinion to raise his own personal profile. Not to mention someone that’s willing to resort to nefarious tactics in the process – after all, Clarke is responsible for some of the most disturbing torture scenes ever put to film (in Zero Dark Thirty).
Christopher Nolan was pretty careful about casting performers in his Dark Knight trilogy that did not fit into an established mold (Heath Ledger and Anne Hathaway, among others) – and it’s an approach that Snyder embraced in hiring for Man of Steel. Instead of seeking out potential actors known for one villainous turn after another, Snyder cast Michael Shannon as General Zod – a performer who doesn’t always play an evil psychopath. Still, it’s unfair to outright discount every actor that has already proven their mettle in a captivating evildoer role – and these days, no one plays charming but deadly like Mads Mikkelsen.
While Mikkelsen has experimented with his fair share of “normal” characters (relatively speaking), there’s no doubt he’s best known for his roles as Bond villain Le Chiffre (Casino Royal) and a younger version of the titular cannibal on NBC’s Hannibal. He might not be the most obvious choice for Luthor but Mikkelsen has won over a lot of skeptics by making his Hannibal Lecter engaging and even empathetic (to both on screen characters and outside audience members) – despite being a sadistic, flesh-eating, serial killer.
It’s a delicate balance that will be instrumental in making a more grounded Luthor work – since audiences will need to believe that the good people of Metropolis can’t see past a likable and inspiring public persona to the ruthless and calculating super villain at the center.
Easily the most famous (and probably controversial) choice on our list, Jude Law has been prolific enough that he wouldn’t be too closely tied to a well known role – allowing him to disappear into Lex Luthor without drawing comparisons to prior parts on his resume. In fact, Law’s only recurring franchise character (so far) is Dr. John Watson in Guy Ritchie’s modern Sherlock Holmes film series – a part that would be significantly different from the yet-to-be-revealed Man of Steel villain.
Still, in order to win the trust and love of Metropolis, Luthor would need to be a man of the people, a philanthropist that could stand shoulder to shoulder with Bruce Wayne (possibly cutting the ribbon at a new LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises-sponsored children’s hospital) – all while flashing an inviting smile at reporters and the assembled crowd.
Obviously, Law has the charm for the part, but he’s also no stranger to a bully pulpit, especially in the case of his venomous opportunist Alan Krumwiede in Contagion – who sacrificed countless innocents by spreading misinformation for personal fame and financial wellbeing. For that reason, Law shouldn’t have a hard time playing a convincing and captivating super villain snake in the grass – a person willing to harm others in order to advance his own agenda or an attempt to rid Earth of Superman (who a more relatable Luthor might perceive as threat to humanity).
Despite casting some big name actors in iconic roles for Man of Steel, including Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, and Laurence Fishburne, Snyder also made smart use of some lesser-known names. The Superman reboot essentially put Antje Traue (Faora-Ul) on the map and introduced casual moviegoers to Michael Shannon – even though the actor has been active on the big and small screen for over two decades.
Accordingly, it’s certainly possible that Snyder will also go with a fresh face for Lex Luthor – instead of a high profile star. If that’s the case, Matthew Rhys could be an interesting pick – since the actor has received strong critical praise for his role as two-faced KGB agent, Phillip Jennings, on FX’s critically acclaimed series The Americans.
It’s unlikely that Luthor will be treated as a one-off villain – and any antagonistic part he plays in Batman vs. Superman is doubtful to be his last appearance. Whoever is cast in the role is guaranteed to factor into the larger DC movie universe at it develops and expands – meaning that a less familiar face like Rhys could a) be cheaper and b) bring something entirely fresh to the role. Looking the part is fine, but with actors like Cranston on the rise, why wouldn’t Snyder at least consider giving a comparative unknown a shot? Especially if it would prevent comparisons between Lex Luthor and an extremely popular character like, for instance, Walter White?
That concludes our list of actors who could play Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman. It’s certainly possible that Mark Strong, Bryan Cranston, or a yet-to-be revealed name might ultimately sign-on as Luthor for the upcoming DC Comics sequel – not to mention play a large part in the longterm Justice League shared universe.
Still, you have to admit that at least a few of our picks, while unconventional, could help make Zack Snyder’s version of Lex Luthor escape the campy and one-dimensional (albeit enjoyable) iterations of the character that have been seen previously on the big screen.
What version of Luthor would you like to see in Batman vs. Superman? Are you hoping for a more traditional portrayal? As mentioned the list is not all-inclusive, so share your picks, reactions, and thoughts in the comments.
Man of Steel 2/Batman vs. Superman will be released in 2015.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future updates on Batman vs. Superman as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.