Let’s start with a question: If you could choose any of these men to go out with, whom would it be? Your choices are Jack Black, Paul Giamatti and Steve Carrell.
Based on looks alone, it’s not an easy choice, since none of them are close to movie-star handsome.
But if conventional wisdom states that movie audiences want to see fantasy people – you know, the type they would like to become, or at least take on a dream date – then these actors are turning convention on its head.
Meet the new breed of leading men: Plain looking, maybe a little on the short side and whose physiques cry out “I could use a couple of months in a gym”.
The chiselled good looks of the typical movie star aren’t likely to go out of fashion any time soon, but there has been a perceptible shift in attitudes as to what makes a leading man.
When it comes to unconventional male stars, comedy has long been at the cutting edge. Comedic actors thrive on their ability to generate laughs, not smoulder on screen.
The difference now is that comedy has become a big money-spinner at the box office, which means the actors who star in such films are quickly catapulted to leading-man status.
In the past, Woody Allen was his generation’s most unconventional leading man, although the reason he ended up onscreen is that he wrote, directed and cast himself in his own films.
These days, there is a host of unconventional leading men that the studios are keen to put in their comedy blockbusters.
That is why having funnyman Black stuff his flabby physique into a spandex wrestling suit is expected to attract draw huge crowds to Nacho Libre, which is now out in Singapore cinemas.
Black’s peers include Owen “crooked nose” Wilson, the ungainly Will Ferrell – whose streaking scene in Old School is the stuff of nightmares – and Vince Vaughn, who to be fair, was a handsome young stud in Swingers until middle age caught up with him.
who’s the superhero now?
It’s not only in comedies where the unconventional leading man comes out to play.
Paul Giamatti went from indie lead in Sideways to summer blockbuster lead in director M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, which will be released here next Thursday.
And then there is the biggest breakout role of them all for an unconventional-looking actor: Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker in the mega-grossing Spider-Man movies.
As an actor, McGuire isn’t tall, looks rather plain and has a tendency to mumble. Yet he’s a superhero.
What’s behind the newly-exalted status for the unorthodox-looking actor in Hollywood? One factor is the evolving opinion on what constitutes masculinity in popular culture.
Take, for example, the slow but steady rise of “geek culture”, which began with the dotcom boom in the 1990s.
Suddenly, geekdom equalled power owing to the sheer number of so-called geeks who were getting rich because they possessed the kind of knowledge that the average person couldn’t be bothered with. When the geek became mainstream, so did their interests.
J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which enthralled fantasy fans upon its publication in the 1950s, enthralled everyone else when it became a massive summer blockbuster in 2001.
Meanwhile, The Matrix trilogy drew its inspiration from sci-fi and Hollywood studio executives are still trying to find the next big comic book to adapt into a movie.
With the geek’s ascendance, ideas of masculinity have become much less rigid: To be tough, athletic and chiselled was no longer the be-all and end-all of manhood.
Becoming the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs wasn’t such a bad deal after all.
Or one could simply be a little bit of both, like British cult author Neil Gaiman, a self-confessed nerd who looks quite at home in a leather jacket.
In fact, to be a testosterone-charged Alpha Male may even seem rather outdated. This is, after all, the era of the metrosexual, retrosexual, pomosexual (as in postmodern-sexual) and everything else in between.
In other words, there is a place for everyone, from old-school handsome Brandon Routh in Superman Returns to hound dog-looking Nicolas Cage in the upcoming World Trade Center to Johnny Depp, who inhabits an under-populated grey area of stars who are good-looking in real life but questionable-looking in films.
The move towards less gritty male leads also has something to do with a parallel shift in celebrity culture, which has caused the stars to lose much of their glitter. Where once they were in a class by themselves, these days Hollywood actors tend to resemble ordinary people going about their mundane chores, as captured by the camera lenses of the paparazzi.
Even in real life, the beauties have come around to seeing the merits of the average guy – and it’s not necessarily because of money. Mismatched couples include Heather Locklear and David Spade, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey and Christina Aguilera and Jordan Bratman.
Reel life is a mirror of real life, as they say, and the time for the average Joe to shine is now. –
Channel News Asia