WHY: An actor from Iowa who’s often been told he looks like Christopher Reeve, Routh flunked his audition for the WB’s “Smallville” but won the coveted role of young Clark Kent/Superman in Bryan Singer’s soon-to-be-released “Superman Returns.”

POWERS: How did it feel to get the call from Singer after a rather arduous audition process for “Superman Returns”? “Relief, to be truthful. It was a long, long, long seven-month process for me.” Why does he think he got the part? “I’m from a small town and I have some of the same Midwestern values (as Superman),” Routh explains. “I think it came across in my demeanor, because I probably wasn’t as good at playing the character during the auditions. I think that’s one of the things Bryan mentioned, that it wasn’t even necessarily the casting tapes that he saw, but some tidbit of me speaking to the casting directors about myself.”

FITTING THE SUIT: So how does an actor go about tackling such an overplayed role? “Bryan and I did a lot of talking about the characters, both Clark and Superman, and the relationships each had,” Routh says. “There was a lot of (emotional) exploration. But I also had my own strong opinions about what Superman meant to me,” he says. “That informed my auditions and brought something different than somebody else who was just re-enacting what Christopher Reeve did.”

Did Routh and Singer aim for some character continuity with the earlier Reeve performances? “Not in that sense. In doing Clark, there were (times) we lowered the goofiness just a little bit … We tweaked that a little bit, so it didn’t look like a copy,” Routh says. “As Bryan said before, sometimes I resemble Chris’ performance and sometimes it’s completely different. I found myself saying something and going, ‘Oh, my God, I sound like Chris, do we need to do that again?’ When something’s already been done well, it’s hard to change it.”