Young, gifted and British: the new crop of Brit actors seems to have been cast in the mould marked “Good-Looking — But In An Unconventional Manner”. And there is nothing the film industry likes more than faces that stick in the mind long after they’ve smiled or scowled their way across a screen.
As careers progress and profiles are raised, so the lure of Hollywood — the money, the agents, the exposure, the opportunity to work with some of the world’s most celebrated film stars — shifts from the stuff of dreams to the hard core of reality. Every generation of British actors yields a crop who go large in Hollywood: check out the CVs of Sean Bean, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, Jude Law, Jonny Lee Miller, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Vinnie Jones. Now there is a new bunch of boys-most-likely to storm the Hollywood citadel. Names like Ioan Gruffudd, James Frain, Matthew Rhys and Dominic West are straining at the leash, checking out the flight schedules between Heathrow and LAX for those all-important meetings.
A lot has changed in the past few years. Time was when an actor took his credibility in his hands by crossing The Pond to exchange his battered Morris Minor for a Porsche, albeit a rented one, in which to cruise down Sunset Boulevard waving at the crowds who, one day, it was hoped, would wave back. With the exception of a few maverick talents — such as Anthony Hopkins and Steven Berkoff — very few Brit actors could cross over to Hollywood for a spell, then step back into their home environment without the taint of Hollywood sell-out attached to them like a foul stench. Now, it is perfectly acceptable practice for the exalted likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Hawthorne and Patrick Stewart to strut their stuff in big budget blockbusters, adding a little theatrical class to the slick movie-star ambience and SFX stunts that typify such productions. It is well known that whenever studio executives want a class act to pep up their banal scripts or bolster the egos of their overpaid stars, they get on the phone to British agents.
The new breed has come out of the closet, ambition-wise. “People are slowly admitting that we do want that dream,” says Ioan Gruffudd. “It’s not a cool thing to admit, but we all have it in our heads.” When asked if he would turn down the opportunity to play a villain in the next Mission Impossible movie, Matthew Rhys, says: “Absolutely not. I’m a bona fide tart.
” All of which suggests a shameless and refreshingly honest attitude about a business that has traditionally been riddled with deception, peer-group pressure and fear of ridicule. In addition, the new kids on the block are in line to benefit from a more liberal attitude to casting. They will certainly not suffer as much as their predecessors for taking the Hollywood dollar. And the really good news is that they will have had a chance to make a few movies on their home turf, as opposed to shuttling between a local rep and a few telly parts with the occasional film role thrown in. The growth spurt in British movies (whatever their quality) and the changing face of the industry mean that most young actors will have had enough movie experience to prevent the potential intimidation of the leap from small screen to large.
There is another change: more and more British actors are being called on to play Americans — a situation that proves the cross-fertilisation between US and UK is far healthier than it once was. We may thank the likes of Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Tim Roth and Daniel Day-Lewis for exploring this particular frontier and establishing a bridgehead in the studios and the audiences of America. Oh, and not forgetting our very own Kenneth Branagh. So who are the next Brit Brat Packers flitting across to the States for breakfast meetings and casting counselling?
Here is a selection of the hottest-to-trot male stars who are likely to give the Yanks a run for their money. Tomorrow’s stars today.
Ioan Gruffudd (26)
The charming tousle-haired hero of television’s Hornblower has also served aboard James Cameron’s Titanic (as Fifth Officer Harold Lowe) and suffered at the hands of Disney dominatrix Cruella de Vil in the upcoming 102 Dalmations. Regularly shuttles across to Hollywood for meetings, following the success of Hornblower on US television.
Dominic West (29)
Declared intention to be the “next Cary Grant”. Hot in the States due to his charmingly lovelorn Lysander in Michael Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Went on to star opposite Sandra Bullock — a traditional rite of passage for young Anglos in Hollywood — in 28 Days. Currently engaged in the new Stephen Herek film with Jennifer Aniston and Mark Wahlberg.
Stuart Townsend (27)
Billed as “the boy most likely” following his roles in Shooting Fish and Resurrection Man, Dubliner Townsend is honing his Natural-Born-Killer looks for another shot at the Hollywood title with The Venice Project, alongside boffo veterans Lauren Bacall and Dennis Hopper. Still takes time out to return to the theatre and can be seen on stage at the Donmar in Orpheus Descending.
James Frain (31)
Lively Yorkshire lad with a good track record in Brit telly and films who looks like a cross between Patrick Mower and Rufus Sewell. Made a tactical error by appearing in John Frankenheimer’s lamentable Reindeer Games, but has recovered nicely with a blazing performance in Julie Taymor’s ferocious Titus with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
Daniel Craig (32)
Strong-featured, ultra-masculine actor who stormed off the television screen and into movies with an impressive demonstration of strength and versatility in Elizabeth, Love is the Devil and The Trench. Particularly good at playing military blokes, he has a solidity and pugnaciousness that will see him headbutt his way into Hollywood. Has shared the screen with Kim Basinger and lived. Latest project is Tomb Raider opposite Angelina Jolie.
Matthew Rhys (27)
Another Welsh wizard who is making regular trips across The Pond for encounters with studio executives. Profile skyrocketed when he won the part of Benjamin in The Graduate starring opposite Kathleen Turner. Another Titus contributor and the first recipient of the Patricia Rothermere Scholarship, which was presented to him at the 1993 Evening Standard Film Awards.
Damian Lewis (28)
Currently working on Dream-Works’ 10-part WWII series Band of Brothers, Lewis numbers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks among his associates, who are the right kind of guys to hang out with for a Hollywood wannabe. His old-fashioned good looks give him an edge in period casting.
Kenny Doughty (25)
Another participant in Titus, the Brad Pittish-Doughty combines youthful roguishness with a Brit slacker style. His brief but impressive CV includes the role of Sir Thomas Elyot in Elizabeth and Young Scrooge in television’s A Christmas Carol. One to watch, even if (or possibly because) he looks like he’s just fallen off the back of a boy band.