Hollywood is in a constant state of flux, but more so now than ever, thanks to the continuing domination of the expanded universe franchise model, a more diverse audience base that’s grown impatient of the same beige stories, the increasingly reliance on the Chinese box office, and growing fear from streaming services like Netflix. Often, that can mean that this notoriously stagnant industry becomes more willing to loosen its grip and allow for fresh new voices to bring unique perspectives to the table - from Jordan Peele to Barry Jenkins to Dee Rees. But usually, it just means the studio heads dig their heels in deeper and turn to their old book of tricks, and the same sea of faces.
We at Team Pajiba consider ourselves at the forefront of the Hollywood epidemic of men the industry keeps trying to make happen. You know the ones we’re talking about - those ruggedly handsome dudes with the same damn face, a nightmare for police line-ups, and dully similar identities. They’re muscled, stoic and ready for the latest blockbuster. As multi-million dollar explosion-fests remain every studio’s coveted tent-poles, and the hunt for intellectual properties with big name recognition widens to increasingly daft levels, these men are primed to take up the mantle of leading man, following in the footsteps of the great A-Listers of yore. The big issue here is that we really don’t need the A-List anymore. Franchises are king and the name of the film sells more tickets than the actor below the title. Even Tom Cruise can’t guarantee a hit (although Universal are banking hard on that nostalgia to bring audiences to the Dark Universe). Hell, even Brad Pitt’s gone to Netflix.
That, in a fair and sensible world, would mean that the industry would be more open to offering such financially safe opportunities to unknown actors of colour who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance. But no, we still got the white Ghost in the Shell, and we’re no closer to the multi-million dollar John Cho-led romantic action epic that we deserve.
Yet change is in the air. Audiences are less willing to accept the archaic defences of the old ways, and with more viewing options available now than ever before, from Peak TV to the rise of streaming, viewers are quicker to reject the same tropes. That doesn’t stop the industry from betting hard on its favoured mould of leading man, but their insistence on pushing someone audiences are ambivalent to has become more obvious.
In that spirit, I present to you some actors that Hollywood keeps trying to make happen. Some ground rules: I have stuck to white men here since they are the demographic most likely to be given multiple chances in the industry (and indeed life in general), and my focus is primarily on the actors who have been sold to audiences as leading men for major properties. None of this is to say that these actors cannot escape mediocrity jail at some point. Not all guys are designed for the beefcake roles, even if they’re otherwise aesthetically perfect. Alexander Skarsgard flopped as a leading man but excelled in Big Little Lies; Colin Farrell managed to shake off the weak blockbuster attempts and become one of the industry’s most fascinating actors; Armie Hammer’s long forgotten The Lone Ranger and has immense buzz around him for Call Me By Your Name; even Ryan Reynolds found a way out of the hole with Deadpool. Of course, my mercy can only extend so far.
Humanity’s purpose on this earth will be understood long before the appeal of Scott Eastwood. The great philosophers of our time will crack the code on the existence of a theistic power before Scott Eastwood’s ability to get work beyond nepotism is explained. Half Life 3 will get a release before Scott Eastwood develops a discernible personality. To call Eastwood boring is an insult to the great purveyors of boredom. He’s not even impactful enough to be dull. He’s barely there, and that wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t keep appearing in everything, leading me to a solid 20 minutes of thought trying to remember who the hell he is. You’d think looking exactly like a younger version of your dad would help, but nope, not in the slightest. Did you know he was in Suicide Squad? Can you remember who he was in it? It’s okay, take your time.
I really just feel sorry for Kitsch at this point in time. He’s been on lists like this for about a decade now, from Friday Night Lights onwards, and every potential boom quickly became a bust. Remember when he played Gambit in one of those Wolverine movies? No? How about his starring role in John Carter (of Mars)? Maybe Battleship? Or Oliver Stone’s Savages? Lone Survivor? That second season of True Detective that totally happened? I am truly baffled as to how Kitsch, as undeniably talented as he is, cannot break through with a good role. Even in strong supporting roles like The Normal Heart, he’s not who you remember. Sometimes, Hollywood has no idea what to do with certain actors, dumping them in default action man mode when no other options present themselves. Perhaps Kitsch can finally break out with a prestige TV role as David Koresh in a series about the Waco Seige?
As someone who legitimately rather enjoyed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, I remain a little baffled by Hunnam’s omnipresence in this particular genre. He’s not a bad actor. Indeed, he can be rather good, having made his name at a young age in the original Queer as Folk and offering sturdy supporting work in Crimson Peak. The problem is that he’s just not a leading man. Often, this can be overlooked if he’s surrounded by a striking ensemble - he’s easily the weakest link in Sons of Anarchy but you hardly care when everyone else is on screen, and the same goes for Pacific Rim, which at least has the decency to be aware of that fact. In King Arthur, which is a lot more fun than you think it is, his strongest scenes are where he’s bouncing off other actors in that sparky Guy Ritchie style, but the moment he’s asked to ponder about the weight of kinghood and responsibility, the snoozing starts. The Lost City of Z is easily his strongest work, but even then, there’s just something keeping audience’s adoration at bay. If he goes the Alexander Skarsgard route and finds a really good TV role that plays to his strengths, he’ll flourish. Just get him away from leading stud parts.
I can already hear the rumble of the Jai Courtney Defence Bloc rumbling, so hear me out. I’m not anti-Jai. I’m anti-Jai misuse. Generally, I’m ambivalent on him, but I’m all for a non-Hemsworth Aussie breaking into the mainstream. This is another flagrant case of an industry seeing a type and refusing to deviate from it, leading to a sea of forgettable roles in mindless action fare. Nobody came out of Terminator Genisys looking good, but Courtney in particular felt like a lead weight of anti-charisma. Ironically enough, the best opportunity he’s had to let loose and show some range was in Suicide Squad, a film so aggressively bad that it beggars belief, yet Courtney’s clearly enjoying playing the dirty skeeze. I’d say things were looking up for Jai, but his next movie is a “romantic drama” where he plays a Nazi soldier love interest. Yeah, there’s a demographic that needs some loving.
I’ve been informed by Scandinavian friends that Joel Kinnaman is actually a very good actor in Swedish stuff. I’ll have to take their word for that because I’ve yet to see him in an English language film that didn’t leave me perplexed as to who the hell he was and why he was there. From the staggeringly generic Robocop remake to a couple forgettable action movies to the soul killing Suicide Squad (boy, there’s a lot of these men in that film), Kinnaman often just seems to be there, attempting something that resembles emoting, but falling short. Kinnaman seems like the go-to Swede when every Skarsgard is unavailable. Next for him is the Netflix series Altered Carbon, where he’ll play detective Takeshi Kovacs. Yup. No bigger sign of desperately trying to make someone happen than a spot of white-washing.
Yeah, fuck this guy. It’s clear that Hollywood has already made this guy happen, and once upon a time, that seemed like a good idea: The eternally ageless bit-part actor who rose to fame through a cult TV drama and supporting roles in a variety of films, turned rockstar and eventual Oscar winner. It was easy to overlook the tedious “Method acting” nonsense of failed vanity projects like Chapter 27, a.k.a. the Mark David Chapman movie co-starring Lindsay Lohan that Leto gained close to 70 pounds for, because they didn’t make much of an impact on the wider cultural narrative. It wasn’t until his narcissistic Oscar campaigning - and the act of dragging up to play a trans woman - for Dallas Buyers Club that the full weight of his ego struck (oh god, that Golden Globes speech). Then came The Joker. There seemed a time during the year leading up to the release of Suicide Squad that you couldn’t escape gossip over Leto’s ever so frightening Method routine to get into character as one of the medium’s greatest villains. There were stories of refusing to drop character on set to the point of being genuinely frightening, “gifts” left for the cast including a dead pig and used condoms, making late night calls to cast and crew, and generally being an inconsiderate dick-muffin. None of this would be justifiable even if the performance were good, but for it all to be in service of 12 minutes of Juggalo gurning that evoked memories of Old Gregg from The Mighty Boosh felt particularly egregious. And just to remind you all that shitty men never face consequences for treating others like dirt, Leto’s set to appear in the Blade Runner sequel as well as make his directorial debut and take over as chief creative officer of Fandor. He’s your bloody problem, Hollywood.
This week, it was announced that Universal’s much lauded reboot of their iconic Monsters franchise would take the form of a Marvel style shared franchise called the Dark Universe. Starting with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy - yes that is still happening - the series will follow the iconic monsters of the golden age of cinema in an action-adventure mish-mash of sorts. Joining the team as the Invisible Man? Johnny fucking Depp. Dishearteningly, I never expected Hollywood to show any form of retribution towards Depp regarding the allegations made against him - and the shit-load of evidence provided - by his ex-wife Amber Heard. We know Hollywood doesn’t care about that. Yet I held a glimmer of hope in my hear that maybe, just maybe, his series of under-performing films would open up a few eyes. Alas, that “goodwill” extends to allowing Depp multiple chances to lose various studios screeds of money. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean film grossed $80m in its opening four day weekend: Hardly a flop, mind you, but only a month ago that projection was at $115m. Then there’s the bloated scarf wearing elephant in the room of Depp’s much reported shitty behaviour and constant lateness on-set, his Brando-style spending habits, and news he rejected a version of the script for having a female villain. It’s bad enough when Hollywood tries to make men like him happen, but when they continue to aid and abet them, long after their shelf life has expired, it’s especially aggravating because now more than ever, Depp is inescapable. He is in three major franchises now. Depp has had too many chances. Someone show him the door.