Thursday, May 03, 2012

Three to Watch: My British boys of summer

Every year or so, I "adopt" a promising young actor whom I've mentally marked as One to Watch, which is to say I begin monitoring his career and developing a personal attachment to him - as much as I can get attached to someone I've never met. The One to Watch isn't always obvious leading man material. His appeal lies in some combination of outstanding acting talent (the first and biggest draw), charm, and a look that's more often interesting than handsome. Before I know it, I'm mildly obsessed - though in my defense, I'm generally much more invested in his work than his personal life.

Last year's One to Watch, for me, was Michael Fassbender, whom I first spotted in "Inglourious Basterds" and who's since graduated to the big time. But there are three more prospects - all from across the pond, like Fassbender - who've been coming up close behind him and now stand poised for a major breakthrough. They aren't quite there yet, so for the time being, I'm still calling them mine. Allow me to introduce them.


You may know him from: "The Social Network," as Eduardo Saverin, the friend Mark Zuckerberg betrayed.

I first noticed him in: "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," where he played a charming vaudeville performer and managed to steal the show from Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell.

Other noteworthy work: "Never Let Me Go"; the "Red Riding" trilogy; "Boy A." Recently nominated for a Tony for his performance as Biff Loman in the current Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman.

Upcoming big break: Duh, he's the new SPIDER-MAN!

When I knew I was obsessed: When I went to New York to see him, and not Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Death of a Salesman. (Not so obsessed that I couldn't tell he was somewhat miscast, and not the most experienced stage actor, but he acquitted himself well.)

Why he's swoonworthy: Those dark, soulful eyes. That slightly diffident boyish charm. There's a kind of vulnerability and fragility about him that doesn't slide into weakness. Plus he has great hair. And he's dating Emma Stone! (Also, physically he reminds me a little of an old ex-boyfriend.)


You may know him from: The BBC TV series "Sherlock" (the modern one)

I first noticed him in: "Sherlock." The show is great, and he's the best thing in it.

Other noteworthy work: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (as Smiley's loyal right-hand man); small part in Spielberg's "War Horse"; Sir William Pitt in "Amazing Grace"; both lead roles (alternating with Jonny Lee Miller) in the National Theatre of London's highly acclaimed, Danny Boyle-directed production of Frankenstein last year. Also played Stephen Hawking in a BBC TV movie.

Upcoming big break: He's reprising the role of Sherlock for a third season (season 2 premieres in the U.S. on PBS's Masterpiece this weekend), voicing Smaug the dragon and the Necromancer in "The Hobbit," and has been slated for a major role in the next J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" movie.

When I knew I was obsessed: When I ordered tickets to National Theatre Live's re-screening of Frankenstein - BOTH casts/versions - four months in advance. Also when I realized I'd watched the trailer for Frankenstein multiple times...and it wasn't for Jonny Lee Miller.

Why he's swoonworthy: Without question, he's an odd-looking man. You wouldn't be off base if you called him ugly or horsey-faced. But he's got a presence, which you can really see in the "Sherlock" series. And THAT VOICE. Rich, deep, buttery, toe-curling (you can hear some of it in that Frankenstein trailer, though it's interspersed with Jonny Lee Miller's). Besides, how can you not love someone named Benedict Cumberbatch who can say, about that name, "It sounds like a fart in a bath, doesn't it?"

TOM HIDDLESTON - yes, I chose that picture because it includes Mark Ruffalo (a "one to watch" emeritus)

You may know him from: "Thor" (as Thor's cunning brother Loki) or maybe "Midnight in Paris" (he played a debonair F. Scott Fitzgerald)

I first noticed him in: "Thor." Chris Hemsworth was quite good as Thor, but somehow the cadaverous, stringy-haired Loki ran away with the show - Hiddleston did a terrific job investing him with nuances you don't usually see in a superhero movie villain.

Other noteworthy work: "The Deep Blue Sea" (the romance with Rachel Weisz - not the one about the genetically engineered sharks); "War Horse" (first casualty of what I jokingly call the "Death Horse"); TV series "Wallander" with Kenneth Branagh (who liked him enough to cast him in "Thor" - the best decision he made in an otherwise mediocre movie).

Upcoming big break: Reprises Loki in "The Avengers." I'm a little worried they've turned him into a less complicated, more out-and-out "Evil" villain in "The Avengers," but I trust TH will find a way to make him compelling.

When I knew I was obsessed: When I got upset that "The Deep Blue Sea" had left local theaters before I'd had a chance to see it.

Why he's swoonworthy: He isn't shown to particular physical advantage in "Thor" (especially opposite Chris Hemsworth), but cleaned up he looks like Michael Fassbender's younger brother - tall and slim, with a lovely boyish grin and deep blue eyes that can be alternately tender, opaque, and cold as ice. He also graduated with a double first in classics from Cambridge - so he's smart as well as good-looking! Now that's sexy.

Honorable Mention/"Bubbling Under": TOM HARDY

By all objective criteria, Tom Hardy is definitely One to Watch: he's sneaky-hot and extremely talented, and his movie stock is rising fast, with memorable turns in blockbusters ("Inception") as well as more indie fare ("Bronson," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"). He's continuing that double track to stardom this summer with major roles in both "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Lawless" (f/k/a "The Wettest County in the World"). He's even done a rom-com with Reese Witherspoon! (Ok, that last one's best forgotten.) But he hasn't quite crept into my heart the way the other three did. (Evidence: I didn't go see that awful rom-com with Reese Witherspoon.) Not yet, anyway. He may still get there, with the right role in the right movie.

So if you're wondering why I'm showing off my latest actorly pets, it's for two reasons that either complement or contradict each other, depending on your point of view. One: I think they deserve to be more famous. Two: I want this post to be a testament to the fact that I loved them before they became famous. I'll be proud and glad for them if that happens, but in some sense I'll feel like I've lost them to the multitudes. Such is the price of stardom.


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