“Jesse Eisenberg, James Franco and Justin Timberlake are better suited to playing geeks and hipsters than action heroes”
Don’t get us wrong: it’s nice that the biggest stars in the world are sensitive, talented and slightly feminine, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp. It makes a welcome change from the biggest stars of decades past – the smirking moustache of Burt Reynolds in the 1970s, the dynamo of ambition that was Tom Cruise in the 1980s, and the majestic Austrian oak that was Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990s. The new wave of American actors is promising but, let’s face it, rising American stars such as Jesse Eisenberg, James Franco and Justin Timberlake are better suited to playing geeks and hipsters than action heroes. One way to iron out the rugged naturalism of an actor is to make them star in cereal commercials and sitcoms from a young age, a common beginning for your typical American movie star, from Jake Gyllenhaal to Elijah Wood. Shia LaBeouf, for example, started his career in the Disney show Even Stephens. True, Christian Bale was in Empire of the Sun as a boy, but Steven Spielberg’s war movie was a million miles away from, say, Saved by the Bell.
The Mickey Mouse Club, a 1990s children’s variety show, involved kids, singalongs and whimsy. Many bankable young actors in the US are Mickey Mouse Club alumni, including Timberlake and Ryan Gosling. It’s not the ideal place to develop a tough persona, and it might be hard for American audiences to picture actors fighting crime when they’ve seen them warbling Disney songs while wearing mouse ears. You need someone with star quality but who’s still a fresh face for filmgoers. What to do? An obvious solution is to nab someone who’s cut their acting teeth on another continent.
It doesn’t matter to Americans that Chris Hemsworth started off in Home and Away, but it might have been an issue had he appeared in The OC or 90210. Similarly, Eric Bana started off in a sketch show on Aussie TV. Can you imagine the star of Hulk graduating from an American TV comedy? Blinding white teeth and a perfect tan are not characteristics associated with geeky Peter Parker, rugged Wolverine or reclusive Bruce Wayne, so thankfully non-American actors have (just about)
the right amount of vanity before going over the edge. Unlike Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher and Mark Wahlberg, most of the foreign-born actors on this list did not begin as models. This US phenomenon was brought to international attention by Fame. Specialist schools teach the high-school curriculum, but the students also receive training in music, dance and/or drama. And thanks to a certain TV show, we all know what a glee club is. Of course, the UK and Australia have school drama societies, but the division between aspiring sport stars and actors seems less harsh. Hugh Jackman, for instance, played rugby in school while also dabbling in theatre. Thor and Green Lantern are the most expatstuffed superhero movies in recent years, with the former boasting Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins (Wales), Idris Elba (UK) and Stellan Skarsgård (Sweden), and the latter including Ryan Reynolds, Geoffrey Rush (Australia) and Mark Strong (UK). Both films are filled with classy actors in tights and armour shouting grand speeches while striding through majestic buildings. Australia and the UK each have a rich, world-renowned theatre scene, and getting to know Shakespeare involves lots of prancing about in tights and conquering grand speeches: the perfect training ground for a superhero movie.