Beauty of the beast
There are ample Australian blokes but few leading men, writes
WE thought we’d never say it, but testosterone is in short supply among emerging Australian actors. Producers and casting agents lament that, increasingly, genuine romantic leads and action heroes are hard to find.
Television producer Amanda Higgs, cocreator of The Secret Life of Us on the Ten network and now with the ABC, says she’s always looking to cast attractive, masculine men because romance is a staple of film and TV.
‘‘ An actor has to appeal to men and women,’’ Higgs says, citing David Wenham and Joel Edgerton. ‘‘ Men have to want to be him or be his best mate, and women have to want to sleep with him.’’ However, when she visits acting schools, she finds ‘‘ really interesting young women but not many men with that alpha- male, romantic man, feel’’.
The best- known Australian males on the international screen are Russell Crowe — yes, he was born in New Zealand — and Eric Bana. They have led the way in Hollywood for young Australian actors, who are in demand.
But Hollywood’s idea of masculinity is very different to that of the typical Aussie bloke.
‘‘ Whenever America rings to say they are looking to cast a leading man and they want a real guy, I ask ‘ Do you want a guy or a bloke?’,’’ says Sydney- based casting consultant Ann Fay.
‘‘ By that I mean: do they want someone cleancut like Pierce Brosnan, or Daniel Craig, who is a bit of rough trade in a dinner suit?
‘‘ You can see one eating oysters and the other eating a meat pie.’’
Hollywood, of course, has always had a fondness for manly, handsome actors — think Cary Grant and Paul Newman — but these days screen idols have their rough edges sanded away.
Even with tough types the face is symmetrical, the jaw square, the hair just so, the stubble exactly 48 hours old. There’s muscle but the overall look is manicured, without a crooked tooth in sight. Especially in television, actors look as if they should be hanging on a modelling agency wall, not building one.
True, Hollywood agents do look for Australians whose features aren’t quite so chiselled, who still have a crooked nose, broken in school footy. They want character: a contemporary John Wayne, not a smooth George Clooney. They remember Crowe avenging his family in Gladiator and Bana standing up to pretty boy Brad Pitt’s Achilles in Troy .
But could the predilection for beauty over brawn influence the style of actor that Australia produces? With local drama output at a dribble, there’s every chance ambitious actors will start waxing their way to Los Angeles.
Several Australians have won Hollywood roles this year. Dr Chris Everleigh was killed off in All Saints last month so actor Chris Vance could join the third season of Prison Break ( another Australian, Dominic Purcell, is already a fixture in the show). Luke Ford, a one- time cast member of McLeod’s Daughters , is playing Brendan Fraser’s son in The Mummy 3 , and there is talk of a spin- off based on his character.
Sam Worthington scored the lead role of war veteran Jack Sully in Avatar , a plum job given director James Cameron made the world’s biggest hit with Titanic. Also taking a Hollywood pay packet are Nathan Phillips in the comedy Surfer Dude and Jason Clarke on the TV drama series Brotherhood .
Butch is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but most women in their 40s would argue that no one in the above group is nearly as sexy as Mel Gibson, Bryan Brown or Jack Thompson in their prime. But maybe that’s to be expected: younger women have grown up with the metrosexuality of their generation.
Blokes, too, have noticed the shift. Former National Rugby League footballer Matt Nable has written a film, The Final Winter , in which he also plays the lead. The movie is a love letter to the brute force, spontaneity and character of 1980s rugby league. He can’t get so excited about the game these days, he says, because everything from the body shape of the players to match strategy has become just too perfect. Successful actors have a chameleon- like ability to play a variety of characters. But young men today have few opportunities to play classic lead roles: many Australian films in recent years have been about antiheroes or sensitive new- age guys. There’s hardly a war or action film to be found.
Veteran producer Hal McElroy recently auditioned 350 actors, men and women, for Sea Patrol on the Nine network. He says there has been a shortage of rugged, manly actors for years.
‘‘ It is hard everywhere because, often, if someone is masculine in real life they may not appear masculine on screen, because something happens with the camera,’’ he says. ‘‘ Also, masculinity often comes from self- confidence . . . it’s not just about possessing it; you also have to exude it and be willing to project it.’’
What is often missing is a commitment to physical fitness over mere posturing. ‘‘ A tattoo is no substitute for someone who is physically active,’’ McElroy says.
‘‘ When some of these people came ( to the Sea Patrol casting) I just thought, ‘ My God, where have you been? Where did you sleep last night? No, did you sleep last night?’ They imagine it looks sexy, but it doesn’t.’’
Chips off the old block: Clockwise from top left, Gibson, Phillips, Thompson, Edgerton, Brown, Bana, Worthington, Chittenden; Crowe, centre