Actors born or raised outside of the United States seem to be getting cast in seemingly every iconic American superhero role nowadays. Henry Cavill as Superman just joined Christian Bale’s Batman and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man to make it a trifecta: three actors born or raised in the U.K. are suiting up as the three most iconic American superheroes in movies due out next year. And because this happened three times, it is immediately a trend and you will hear about it roughly 12,000 times over the next 22 months.
It’s even happening with lesser superheroes, as non-stateside actors are also netting those roles: Canadian Ryan Reynolds and Aussie Chris Hemsworth will play the Green Lantern and Thor this summer. So Vulture spoke to some agents and casting directors, and they said it’s because American actors aren’t “manly” enough.
While this sounds nice in theory, it’s pretty specious reasoning. For one thing, have you looked at Andrew Garfield? Nobody saw the guy in “The Social Network” and left the theater thing, “Man, that Andrew Garfield could certainly handle himself in a fight.” He looks like 83 percent of his body weight is in his hair. For another thing, the biggest actor in the world right now is Philadelphia native Will Smith. The guy (believably) played Muhammad Ali. I don’t think anyone is questioning his manliness; ditto Brad Pitt and George Clooney and Matt Damon (who I’m pretty sure learned on the “Bourne” set how to beat you to death with a rolled-up magazine, and not one of those special issues of Vanity Fair, I’m talking a Time-sized mag).
The first casting director quoted in the story specifically cites American actors in their 20s and 30s like Jesse Eisenberg. Okay, that’s a fair point. Many from the up-and-coming crop of young actors nowadays look pretty boyish; Eisenberg, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Garrett Hedlund (“Tron: Legacy”) and the amoebic Shia LaBeouf all look young. That’s because they are young. Not all young men look inherently manly, and not all guys look more manly or tough as they age; I speak from experience on this, because no matter how hard I try I’m probably never going to grow a mustache.
The first casting director quoted (who worked on “The Dark Knight” and is doing its sequel) does make an excellent point when he says that it’s not that American actors can’t act manly, it’s that manly-seeming kids in this country are often steered towards athletics and derided if they want to play football and act in the school play. That’s not the case in the U.K., he says. So if it’s a cultural thing that is causing manly young men like Cavill, Hemsworth, the late Heath Ledger and “Avatar” star Sam Worthington from other countries to give acting a go, that makes sense. But the States are still churning out the occasional young man with grit and hustling them into the pictures, like “Star Trek” star Chris Pine, Honolulu-born Jason Momoa (starring in the upcoming “Conan the Barbarian” remake, so he’s an odd addition to this list, but hey, it counts) and Chris Evans (the star of this summer’s “Captain America”). And other countries are still producing male actors who aren’t exactly paragons of manliness, like Garfield, Orlando Bloom, Daniel Radcliffe and Robert Pattinson. (Let me put it to you this way: If some of those four franchise stalwarts were put into a fight against young American would-be franchise anchors like Evans, Garrett Hedlund and Chris Pine, would you immediately take the Brits?)
I’d also note that complaints about this casting seem decidedly one-sided. Hugh Jackman, an Australian, has played the most famous Canadian superhero ever in four movies now. James Bond is currently played by a guy born in Cheshire, while the actor before him was Irish and the iconic first guy was Scottish. (Also, on a related note, you should watch this.) “The Adventures of Tintin” comics are huge in Europe, and less so here; but it’s an American director named Spielberg who is directing the first film. J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa, and his epic Lord of the Rings books were set on Middle-Earth, yet why didn’t casting directors take the time to find Elvish actors to play those roles? Wait, hang on, I’m getting away from my point.
Oh, right: who cares? Did anybody out there think twice about seeing “The Dark Knight” because a Welshman and an Aussie were playing Batman and the Joker? Of course not, because it doesn’t matter where someone was born in order to pretend to fight crime dressed as a giant bat. Ditto Superman. It’s nice that Superman is an American creation, and that he fights/fought for Truth, Justice and the Amurrican Way (it remains to be seen if the line survives into the upcoming reboot). A guy born on the Channel Islands is just as capable of pretending he can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes as a guy who literally grew up in Kansas.
It could be that American icons like these have long been international properties, and the casting is just catching up to it. (After all, Christopher Nolan was born in London, “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh is terribly British and Martin Campbell, director of “Green Lantern,” was born in New Zealand.) It could be that audiences are increasingly drawn to representations of a globalized world, or some nonsense like that. Or it could be that the manly American stars like Will Smith and the like are too big and too expensive to make comic book movies, which is why comic book movies often cast young and cheap quantities. There’s also the fact that many comic book movie storylines require people who aren’t physically imposing (like Hulk, Iron Man and Spider-Man).
Or, and this is just a theory: It could just be a combination of factors like right time, right age, right place and right price. That seems the likeliest explanation. It’s not so much that these dang foreigners done took our jebs, nor that they are the dream guys for any of these roles (I mean, look at Jon Hamm’s chin, the guy was born to be Superman). These are the guys available when they were casting the movies. A lot of this is just a weird coincidence of timing, and it becomes even more obvious because all three characters (Spider-Man, Batman and Superman) have movies coming out next year (for the time being; the Superman movie could still get bumped to the following summer, which wouldn’t surprise me). Dressing it up as a trend because these are the three superhero icons of page and screen is interesting, but it’s not really indicative of any actual trend.