Did director Bryan Singer’s penchant for casting with the lensman in his pants influence his choice of Brandon Routh to play the Man of Steel in Superman Returns? Ever since the unknown 26-year-old actor—whose career highlights consist of a season on One Life to Live and an episode of Will & Grace —landed the part over Warner Brothers’ reported favorite Jim Caviezel, fanboy bloggers have been wondering whether the famously beefcake-friendly filmmaker’s decision had more to do with his libido than his director’s eye.

Of course, if Singer cast an object of his desire in a role, it wouldn’t be the first time. According to Alex Burton, the unknown who played Pyro in Singer’s first X-Men blockbuster, he was given the part after a hot-tub session with the director at a Hollywood party. “Bryan created that role especially for me,” says Burton, who went on to act in exactly zero films post-X-Men.

(Singer, it seems, has a thing for water. Following the filming of Apt Pupil, a number of young male extras on the movie filed lawsuits claiming that they had been bullied into stripping naked for a shower scene and that Singer had held private screenings of the wet ‘n’ wild footage at his home. The suits never reached court.)

Whether or not Routh (“rhymes with mouth,” according to Newsweek; “B.J.” to his friends, according to IMDB) knows his way around a loofah, early press on the film has only fanned the proverbial flames. As Superman Returns actress Parker Posey told Newsweek (albeit, completely out of context), “Poor Brandon. He’s got everyone touching him all the time. He’s lying on his stomach and he’s got five people coming up and pulling his underwear down, sticking their hands up the butt of his suit. I can’t imagine what it’s like.” (The article goes on to say that “the biggest issue for the studio” was what size to make Superman’s “package.”)

Further driving chatter on online message boards is the out director’s track record of putting together gay-friendly productions. Kevin Spacey, who has long ducked questions about his sexuality, was the centerpiece of Singer’s breakout film The Usual Suspects (he also appears in Superman Returns, as Lex Luthor), and the director’s two X-Men movies—about teen superheroes fighting for acceptance (and starring Hugh JackmanAlan Cumming and Sir Ian McKellan)—were widely interpreted as allegories for coming out of the closet. In fact, one particularly out-there bit of gossip making the rounds is that Singer cast Routh specifically because he wanted a closeted actor who could “come out” as a political statement-cum-publicity-stunt in the run-up to the movie’s June ‘06 premiere.

Asked about Routh’s path to the silver screen, his publicist at PMK, Simon Halls, said that while he rarely comments on his clients’ personal lives, “I think it only fair to tell you that Brandon is happily involved with his longtime girlfriend, and any claims to the contrary are just plain silliness.” A rep for Singer did not respond to calls or detailed e-mails seeking comment.