With Justice League smashing onto our screens in 2017, DC is upping the stakes that Marvel laid out with The Avengers — an epic, bust-’em-up brawl featuring the heavyweights of the comic book line-up. But life wasn’t always teamwork and spandex, at least not for the cast of Justice League. In our universe, there was a time when Flash sang opera, Aquaman studied marine biology, and Batman grew up just outside of Boston … with parents.
Ben Affleck – Batman
Then: Ben Affleck took his first acting role at the age of 7, but he didn’t really consider himself an actor until he left high school, and he never thought of himself as a child actor. Whatever he himself thought, he acted regularly from that first role all the way through his teens, despite moving with his family often and living with an alcoholic father. When the Affleck clan finally settled down in Massachusetts, 8-year-old Ben Affleck became friends with an older boy who lived two blocks away in the same neighborhood: Matt Damon, who was 10 when they met and was also interested in acting. They became good friends, and Ben Affleck still credits Matt Damon and their childhood friendship as the reason he decided to become a "real" actor. After all, his mom always wanted him to do something less "frivolous."
Now: From Good Will Hunting to Armageddon to Dogma, Ben Affleck’s career slowly climbed into stardom. He transitioned from acting to directing with Gone Baby Gone, and is now slated to direct The Batman, the next standalone film starring himself as the Caped Crusader. It’s been a big turnaround for the guy whose career was looking more and more like it was going to be bludgeoned to death by the paparazzi in 2002 and 2003. But Ben bounced back from Bennifer and, more impressively, Gigli, and is still rocking Hollywood with the silver screen’s finest. After everything, he still claims that Daredevil is the only movie he regrets. Hmm. Maybe he’s never actually watched Reindeer Games.
Henry Cavill – Superman
Then: Believe it or not, Man of Steel wasn’t actually Henry Cavill’s first time in blue spandex and a red cape. He was originally cast as Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns, but due to a director scuffle and subsequent recasting, Cavill lost the role to Brandon Routh. According to MTV, Cavill had gone so far into the casting process that he’d even tried on the Supes cape. The DC universe seemed determined to keep Cavill out, but he finally got his chance to fly with 2013’s Man of Steel.
Now: With Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and the two upcoming Justice League movies (not to mention another standalone Supes flick), Henry Cavill has finally body-slammed his way into pop culture as the modern face of Clark Kent. It must feel good after so many near-hits: in addition to the above example, Cavill almost became James Bond and was Stephanie Meyers’ first choice for Edward in Twilight (although that was probably more of a near-miss for Cavill).
Jason Momoa – Aquaman
Then: Khal Drogo, commander of fishes? Somewhere, a casting director lives a quiet life of genius. Of course, Jason Momoa has gained acclaim for more than his role in Game of Thrones. Before leading the Dothraki across the plains of Essos, Momoa traveled the galaxy as the dreadlocked Ronon Dex in Stargate: Atlantis and destroyed hordes of magical monsters in the 2011 remake of Conan the Barbarian.
Now: The Hawaiian-born actor originally went to school to study marine biology before being cast in his first acting role in Baywatch, an education which is pretty damn fitting now that he’ll be donning the scaled armor of Aquaman. After the 2017 first installment of Justice League, plans are in development for a standalone Aquaman film to be released in 2018.
Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman
Then: Gal Gadot fit in pretty well with Earth’s saviors in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the decision to cast the Israeli-born model seemed to come out of left field for a lot of people. Hailing from the small city of Rosh HaAyin, Gal Gadot was crowned Miss Israel in 2004 and then spent her next two years in the Israeli Defense Forces, where she was promoted to combat trainer. While serving her mandatory army time, Maxim magazine ran a controversial cover story in 2007 showcasing the women of the IDF posing in bikinis and lingerie, a story which featured none other than the former Miss Israel. Gal Gadot found herself in the middle of a media firestorm but bounced back and spent a brief time studying to become a lawyer before landing a role in 2009’s Fast & Furious.
Now: Gal Gadot went on to star in four Fast & Furious films, then immediately transitioned to the DC film universe as our favorite Amazon warrior princess. She claims that when she auditioned for the part, she didn’t know she was trying out for Wonder Woman. All she knew was that it was a Zac Snyder film, and her first guess was that it was an audition for a new Catwoman. Questions about her physique aside, Gadot seems to be shaping up to be a solid Wonder Woman for the 21st century.
Jesse Eisenberg – Lex Luthor
Then: Jesse Eisenberg was born in New York. Growing up, his dad was a sociology professor and his mom was a professional clown — the birthday party variety, not the kind that appears in the woods on the nights you just happen to forget your taser. Self-described as anxiety-ridden, Eisenberg first got interested in acting in elementary school as a means to give him "the illusion of social interaction." The young actor landed in Broadway at age 12 and then moved up to his first film role at age 18 with the 2001 TV movie Lightning: Fire from the Sky. He melted into the trademark role of the troubled-yet-brilliant young man, gaining critical recognition without any of the public fame that usually comes with it. Be honest: you had no idea he was in The Village. But he was.
Now: Eisenberg’s first big breakthrough was the sleeper hit Zombieland in 2009. Since then, he’s starred in the Oscar-winning The Social Network, Now You See Me, and The Double, to name a few. The dude’s legit. And, of course, he’s now Metropolis’ biggest baddie as Lex Luthor in Justice League. Yeah, a lot of people had a problem with it in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But maybe he’ll come around. He has to. After all, we can’t be the generation that goes down in history for casting the best Lex Luthor in the worst Superman movie. Maybe Eisenberg will save us all.
Ray Fisher – Cyborg
Then: Born and raised in South Jersey, Ray Fisher — a Hollywood newcomer if ever there was one — started acting in high school musicals then applied to drama school on a bet. To his surprise, he was accepted, and he’s since worked mostly with the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, a massive theater company based in, well, New Jersey. In 2013, he played Muhammad Ali in the off-Broadway show "Fetch Clay, Make Man," a production which garnered him no small amount of attention across the country in Tinseltown.
Now: Justice League will be Ray Fisher’s first film. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen, but Fisher has definitely shown his skills on stage, and hopefully he’ll bring the same enthusiasm to the role of Cyborg. He’s already slated to star in a standalone Cyborg film, rumored to be coming out in 2020. And after Justice League, there’s no doubt that the 29-year-old will be getting more movie offers than ever.
Ezra Miller – The Flash
Then: Born in the suburbs of Wyckoff, a small town in northern New Jersey, Ezra Miller grew up in a family firmly centered on the arts. His mother was a dancer and his father worked as vice president of publishing giant Hyperion Books. A lot of that must have rubbed off on the young boy, who first sang on stage at the age of 6 and went on to study at the New York Metropolitan Opera. In 2008, the 16-year-old starred in his debut film, Afterschool, about a high schooler who films two girls in his class overdosing.
Now: The movie that brought Ezra Miller into the public eye was definitely 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, a bleak family portrait revolving around a boy who goes on a shooting spree at his school (played by Miller). But despite several similar low-key hits, Batman v Superman marked Miller’s first major blockbuster role. He’s since starred in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and it’s looking like he’s got a long run as the Flash ahead of him.
Amy Adams – Lois Lane
Then: Amy Adams spent the first eight years of her life as an army brat (we say that in the best way possible) and grew up in the Mormon faith. After army life, her dad became a nightclub singer and would write plays for his kids to perform at home. There were seven of them, and it was the only way to keep them all busy. That was Amy Adams’ first introduction to acting, although she spent most of her high school years yearning to be a dancer. She even worked at Hooters for a spell when she was 18 to pay for a car while she was trying to make it as a dancer. By chance, she happened to be in Minnesota taking a break from dancing in 1999 when a casting crew came through looking to fill parts in the Kirsten Dunst film Drop Dead Gorgeous. She nailed the audition and snagged her first film role in the process.
Now: Amy Adams’ first major role was as Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg, but her breakout hit didn’t come until 2007, when she starred in Disney’s Enchanted. Since then, Amy Adams has been nominated for five Oscars and moved well past the status of "rising" star. Most recently, she appeared in Nocturnal Animals with Jake Gyllenhaal and Arrival with Jeremy Renner.
Jeremy Irons – Alfred
Then: Classically trained as a stage actor, Jeremy Irons spent most of his early career on the stage before acting in his first film, Nijinsky, in 1980. He won an Oscar in 1990 for his role in Reversal of Fortune. He later teamed up with his Reversal of Fortune co-star Glenn Close again in 2010 for a Tony-winning role in the Broadway play The Real Thing.
Now: Jeremy Irons is as much a part of pop culture as he is, well, actual culture. Side by side with Shakespearean stage plays, Irons appeared in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Dead Ringers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and voiced Scar in The Lion King. He’s the perfect choice for Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth, bringing all the charm and posh dignity you’d expect in the guy who really runs Wayne Manor.