Wednesday, February 2, 2011

American Actors No Longer Manly Enough to Play Super Heroes?

That's what one talent agent says in reference to the newest actor being to cast to play The Man of Steel being a Brit (Henry Cavill) and not an American. This follows on the trend set by Welshman Christian Bale inheriting the Batman franchise (and making him much manlier than George Clooney or that other guy, what's-his-name?), U.K.-bred Andrew Garfield taking on Spider-Man's web-generating suit, Australian Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and even Canadian-born Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern.

Damn, he even looks British, if that's possible. But at least he has the requisite square jaw that defines the Super Man face.

Here is what one of the scouts had to say (via New York Magazine) about the dearth of manly leading men in America:

The ugly truth is that American leading men just aren't terribly manly anymore, says John Papsidera, the casting director on both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.

"You look at the list of American leading men, and in their twenties and thirties, they're very boylike," he says, adding, "Take Jesse Eisenberg: I put him in Zombieland, but he's not going to play Superman. He's much closer to what Dustin Hoffman turned into than John Wayne or Steve McQueen. It's hard to find movie stars that live up to the needs of the story. Leo [DiCaprio] is growing into it, but for a long time, he seemed young and boylike. Inception was the first time Leo seemed to have fully grown into a man. You need to find guys who carry that heroic-ness with them."

Of course, Papsidera acknowledges are other reasons for the decline of the American-as-superhero: Cable TV networks have defined themselves by high-quality series like Mad Men and True Blood that have taken many potential American leading men off the spandex-suit market, including actors like Joe Manganiello and Matthew Bomer, who were mentioned for Superman but already had series commitments.

But wait, it gets worse:

One leading talent agent agrees that American leading men are increasingly less than hypermasculine, but thinks that Papsidera may have it backwards: It's not that American men aren't allowed to act manly; it's that manly American men aren't allowed to act.

"By the time a kid reaches 12 or 13 in America, if he's displayed any talent for them, he's steered towards athletics in high school," offers the agent. "Kids who want to do theater, or study acting, well, they're immediately labeled 'wimps' or worse, 'fags.' Whereas, in the U.K., that's absolutely not the case: It's not considered weird to act and play soccer over there, or to sing and play rugby. And so by the time some of the more better-looking, rugged American guys who've been, say, modeling decide maybe they're interested in acting, it's too late: The U.K. guys have had so much more and so much better training, it's not even a fair fight. Our guys don't stand a chance."

Another agent argues that the real issue is the role: super heroes are commitments that many actors aren't interested in taking on, and even if they did, they don't have the "chops" to pull it off. Making the audience believe things that are not believable is a skill, it requires acting, and most of the popular, good-looking male actors have no training and little talent (OK, that's my opinion there) - while British actors grow up doing theatre and can act quite well.

When the new Superman franchise was announced last year, a neo-con blogger at Big Hollywood went all nostalgic for John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Errol Flynn, and Marlon Brando. He also trashed Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio as metrosexuals (those kind of but not quite feminine guys scare the bejeezus out of retrosexual types).

I riffed on that retro perspective back when it was posted - you can read it here. This new charge is the same basic argument - just a different angle on it.

My sense is that (1) No one wants to be Superman - you have to wear those silly tights and then you are type-cast; (2) The guys who could pull it off are busy doing other things; (3) The licensing and the special effects cost so much that there is not a big payday for the actor, and money is God in Hollywood; (4) Have you seen those tights?

The agents are certainly correct in one regard - British actors have much more and much better training that American actors. There is a real truth in the reluctance of boys to join theater classes - no one wants to get beat up and called names.

And it's a shame that we still do that to boys.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speaking as an Australian, the reason why American actors are no longer able to play "manly" roles is because of the social and cultural divide in the English speaking world, that is between the America and other native English speakers.(eg. Britain, Canada, Australia, NZ....)

Just a few points
Non American Actors are "real" actors, with good technical training and not as interested in becoming famous as a goal.To seek out fame for its own sake would be seen as being very feminine or gay. What they would value however is the respect of their peers.

Also non Americans have this European sense of public/private self. Unlike American culture which is extrovert like mad and materalistic in nature, combined with a latent puritanism makes American actors stiff, wooden, plastic in character, as well as being very adolescent. The subtext of all American Tv and Film is that it is all about high school, if fact Americans never seem to emotionally to graduate from high school. By contrast non American actors have this reservoir of an inner self, unencumbered by American social and cultural limitations, they are able to bring that "self" to the roles that they play.