The X Factor: the Stars of Tomorrow?
Vaughn – who started out as Guy Ritchie’s producer and who can take some credit, I guess, for spotting the star potential in Jason Statham, Tom Hardy and Vinnie Jones – has assembled a mighty hip cast. It includes Winter’s Bone sensation Jennifer Lawrence (as the young Raven/Mystique), January Jones from Mad Men, Zoe Kravitz, Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man), Alex Gonzalez (Milk), and such relative oldsters as Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt and Jason Flemyng.
A couple of years ago Jerry Bruckheimer blamed the relative failure of the Michael Bay sci-fi drama The Island on two leads – Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson – who were undoubtedly hot, but not yet stars. At least not in the way that guarantees a worldwide box office in the half-billion dollar range where Bruckheimer likes to operate. In other words, in the producer’s opinion, if they had made the same film with Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis, The Island would have been a hit.
The trouble is, as Bruckheimer knows very well, Cage, Willis et al aren’t getting any younger (or cheaper). The movie business needs to keep replenishing its roster of bankable stars; teenage boys can’t be expected to keep watching Harrison Ford forever. And that means taking a chance on the youngsters.
If you have a vehicle where the concept is bigger than any actor – like Transformers, for instance – then you can get away with Shia Labeouf and Megan Fox or whatever attractive girl you want to put up there. But take away the robots, it doesn’t follow that the audience will be there for Shia or Megan’s next movie.
For whatever reason, men in the 30-50 age range have always been the most bankable commodities in the star system. The biggest post-WWII star was John Wayne, succeeded by Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, then Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and more recently George Clooney.
We can probably agree those aren’t necessarily the greatest or most versatile actors, but in their own different ways, they are all performers who embody virile, handsome and accomplished men, alpha males that men and women alike respond to.
Intriguingly, while almost all of them were leading men from a young age, they didn’t graduate to the A-list until after they hit 30. Look at the early films by any one of them you might be hard pressed to spot the star potenial (for Newman it was The Silver Chalice, for Clooney Return of the Killer Tomatoes, for Eastwood it was Francis in the Navy, playing third banana to Francis the talking mule). The most notable exception I can think of would be Tom Cruise, who became a star at 21 with Risky Business and has stayed at the top ever since. But he’s unusual.
In other words, for Messrs McAvoy and Fassbender, as well as James Franco, Tom Hardy, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Reynolds and Cillian Murphy – all of whom are in their early to mid 30s – this is the time to step up and make their mark, if they’re hoping for the kind of career that Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp or Russell Crowe have enjoyed for some time now, as opposed to, say, Tobey Maguire’s, or Guy Pearce’s, or Luke Perry’s for that matter.
Which of them has what it takes? I reckon Ryan Gosling already has it made, and I’d be amazed if he wasn’t one of the top A-list stars by the end of decade. James Franco is also right up there, and if he doesn’t burn out or decide that stardom isn’t the most interesting thing in life, he could still be a major star in 20 years time.
After that, it’s wide open. Channing Tatum doesn’t get a lot of respect, but he seems to me to have the presence to make an impact – he also has a movie coming up with Steven Soderbergh, another filmmaker with a sharp eye for talent.
But after seeing the forthcoming Jane Eyre, I’d say Michael Fassbender may be the most exciting prospect of the lot. For an actor whose movie career is only five years old he’s already demonstrated astonishing range. He’s a tall, commanding leading man, capable of being sensitive, sympathetic and creepy all at the same time (in Fish Tank). His performance as Bobby Sands in Hunger was rightly praised for its physical commitment and for its conviction. Then there was the English spy in Inglourious Basterds, a lovely, deft piece of acting. And he’s the perfect Rochester: troubled and brooding, arrogant, but also vulnerable and kind.
There are many other actors out there who would dearly love to stake a claim for one of those top spots of course, and only a few will get the luck and opportunity to show us their true worth. It will be fun to check back in five or ten years’ ten and see where these guys stand then – and whether the success or failure of X-Men: First Class counted for anything at all.
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