Beauty of the beast

There are am­ple Aus­tralian blokes but few lead­ing men, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Sandy Ge­orge

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

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