These "wishlist" stories, as we like to call them, are a relatively recent phenomenon. It seems like even a year ago, you'd generally hear of one or two names up for the same part, but rarely six or seven, or even the dozen names linked to "Gravity" or "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" over the last six months.
It's unclear exactly what's caused the change in the climate, but it seems studios, agents and publicists (or those connected to them) are more eager than ever to stoke fan interest at the earliest stages of a tentpole development. That, combined with making sure their clients get as much heat behind them as possible as filmmakers choose who will play what highly sought role is in contention has led to a culture of wishlist reports that change week to week or at its worst, the "about to be offered" story. And every movie site participates in the process to some degree, even as tiring as it can be at times. And we can see why: the casting process is legitimately fascinating, one of the reasons we run our suggestions for "Spider-Man" and "Superman," where we try to think a little outside the box and come up with names that aren't necessarily the most obvious. But those articles are speculation, for fun more than anything else, and reporting the same names over and over again as news seems counterproductive.
Because make no mistake, these are the same names that keep recurring, and in all likelihood, they're the same names that almost every project in the right age-range are after. The process is no different now -- 15 years ago, the lists would have included Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and, believe it or not, Val Kilmer -- but it's more public now, and it can't be conducive to the filmmaking process.
It also coincides with something of a changing of the guards in the star system -- most of the legitimate A-listers: Cruise, Hanks, Pitt, Will Smith and Denzel Washington, are less reliable, box-office-wise, than they were back in the day, and settling into more middle-aged roles. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. are arguably the biggest stars around now, but even they are in their 40s.
Today, we’re examining the men in Hollywood whose names come up for hot projects like "This Means War," "Safe House" and "Green Lantern," and it will be interesting to come back to this list a year from now and see who has risen in the ranks, and who has fallen behind.
Like the producers of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," we decided there was too much to fit into only one entry, so we'll be back next week to look at the women that everyone wants to cast (we won't confirm or deny that part 2 will be in 3D), as well as another On The Rise piece looking at our favorite young actresses. So with no further ado, and in no order other than alphabetical...
What Made Him In Demand: If we were writing this list in, say, 2001, Farrell would have still been on the list -- with a scorching performance in “Tigerland” -- evidently everyone from Ridley Scott to Martin Scorsese stopped by the Joel Schumacher editing bay to see what all the buzz/fuss was about -- the Irish actor looked like the next big thing with roles in “Minority Report” and “Phone Booth” on the way. But the actor partied a little too hard, and had one too many “Alexander”-sized flops, and fell out of favor briefly. But he sobered up, settled down and got his mojo back in a way with “Ondine,” “Crazy Heart” and “In Bruges,” the latter being by far his best performance to date. Farrell may be about to disprove the maxim that there are no second acts in American life.
What Keeps Him In Demand: Farrell’s been away from the studio world for a while, (“Pride & Glory” being his only studio film in the last five years), but he’s making a return with a couple of juicy supporting roles, as the vampiric villain in “Fright Night,” and sporting a terrible comb-over as one of the titular “Horrible Bosses,” both of which have the potential to be major sleeper hits next year. He’s always had great screen presence, but his acting chops have finally caught up with the rise of his star.
Where He’s Going And What’s Next: Farrell’s currently in negotiations for Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall” -- maybe not a project we’re particularly psyched for, but taking the lead in a tentpole (and one that the likes of Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender were in contention for) can only be a good career move. And he’ll be seen in more respectable form in Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” which looks better and better the more we see of it, before the end of the year.
What Made Him In Demand: Arguably the strongest actor on the list (although Tom Hardy probably has something to say about that...), Irish-German Fassbender is a graduate of “Band of Brothers” (but then, every European actor in their 30s is, more or less) who worked solidly in British TV before making a strong impression in a little role in “300.” 2008 brought both the above-average slasher “Eden Lake” and his stunning performance in Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” while he cropped up last year in both “Fish Tank” and “Inglorious Basterds.”
What Keeps Him In Demand: Sure, he’s had a patchy 2010 (to appear in “Centurion” is unfortunate, to do that and “Jonah Hex” looks like carelessness), but next summer sees him opposite James McAvoy as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” and Ian McKellen’s already proven that it’s the kind of supervillain where the acting is foremost. That should easily see him cement his name on the A-list, and another action-oriented role in Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” won’t hurt.
Where He’s Going And What’s Next: Fortunately, Fassbender’s also got plenty of more serious fare on the way, with David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” and a reteaming with McQueen on the sex drama “Shame” in the works, plus a chance to be the brooding period pin-up in Cary Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” and a possible collaboration with Jim Jarmusch. We’re only concerned that his rumored participation in “The Hobbit” would tie him up for too long, unless the role was very small -- if we were Fassbender, we’d probably give that one a miss, as he doesn’t need the boost.
What Made Him In Demand: Hardy’s had high-profile roles going back a decade, cropping up in “Band of Brothers” and “Black Hawk Down,” and as the villain in “Star Trek: Nemesis.” He went a little off the rails in the mid Noughties, but still appeared in “Layer Cake” and “Marie Antoinette,” as well as a ton of British TV work. But it was the astonishing performance in 2008’s “Bronson” which saw Hardy grab everyone’s attention.
What Keeps Him In Demand: Well, not everyone’s attention -- that came with this summer’s “Inception.” The whole cast of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic were very strong, but Hardy was having the most fun, as louche ‘forger’ Eames, walking away with the film. Almost immediately, Hardy became a hot property -- he’d already signed to play Mad Max in “Fury Road,” but his immense versatility, along with the action chops he showed in “Inception,” have seen him linked to almost everything from “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” to yes, “Safe House.”
Where He’s Going & What’s Next: First up in 2011 is the long-delayed MMA drama “Warrior” opposite Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. The end of the year will bring a small role in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and a lead in action comedy “This Means War” opposite Chris Pine, while he’ll spend the summer reteaming with Nolan in a still unknown role, possibly villainous in nature, on “The Dark Knight Rises.”
What Made Him In Demand: Hedlund’s actually been around for a while, having been plucked from obscurity to play Patroclus opposite Brad Pitt in Wolfgang Petersen’s “Troy.” Since then, he gave a strong performance in the original “Friday Night Lights” film, and was one of the titular “Four Brothers” in John Singleton’s revenge flick.
What Keeps Him In Demand: Hedlund’s boyish looks (he’s only 26), and laidback charm made him a natural decision to play Jeff Bridges’ son in “Tron: Legacy.” Not only that, but he’s managed to land a role that actors have been dying to play for half a century: Dean Moriarty in Walter Salles’ adaptation of “On The Road.” But having said that, we’ve rarely been impressed by him, and there’s some fairly poisonous buzz about his performance in “Tron.”
Where He’s Going & What’s Next: It all depends: he’s still busy with “On The Road,” but he was linked to both “Safe House” and “Captain America” earlier in the year, so if the word on “Tron” turns out to be incorrect, and he convinces as a full-blown hero, expect to see much more from him. He’ll also stretch his dramatic chops in the Gwyneth Paltrow country music flick “Country Strong” before the end of the year.
Who: Chris Hemsworth
What Made Him In Demand: Like fellow Australian Isla Fisher, both veterans of the long-running soap “Home & Away,” Hemsworth made a strong impression in 2009 with a brief role as the father of James T. Kirk in the opening five minutes in “Star Trek.” Despite little screen time, Hemsworth demonstrated impressive charisma and leadership, giving Chris Pine a hard to act to follow in the rest of the film. That role, plus simply his good looks and leading man build that Hollywood knew they’d be able to leverage, led to lead roles in Joss Whedon’s “Cabin in the Woods” and the remake of “Red Dawn” -- while both are stuck in MGM’s financial limbo, both should see the light of day in 2011.
What Keeps Him In Demand: One word: “Thor.” Hemsworth was picked over such actors as Charlie Hunnam and Alexander Skarsgård to play Marvel’s Norse god in Kenneth Branagh’s imminent big-budget blockbuster -- and at 6’3, he’s got the kind of man’s man build that’s so rare for a movie star. If he can pull off the superhero epic, the world’s his oyster. But having said that, he’s still something of an unknown quantity, and if he turns out to be a bland himbo, he’ll disappear fairly quickly.
Where He’s Going & What’s Next: Even if “Thor” tanks, “The Avengers” starts filming in April, and that’ll keep Hemsworth busy for much of 2011. Aside from that, there’s nothing else on his dance card, aside from “Thor” sequels, assuming the first one’s a hit.
What Made Him In Demand: Another graduate of “Friday Night Lights,” this time of the critically-acclaimed TV version, Kitsch also cropped up in “The Covenant” and “Snakes on a Plane.” But his biggest exposure came as fan-favorite Gambit in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” which, despite being almost entirely extraneous to the ridiculous plot, saw Kitsch take up a prominent place in the film’s marketing.
What Keeps Him In Demand: Kitsch is following what we’re calling the Sam Worthington career path: being cast in multiple tentpoles before Joe Public has any idea who the hell he is. First, he landed the lead in Pixar alumni Andrew Stanton’s adaptation of pulp classic “John Carter of Mars” as the Civil War soldier who finds himself transported to the red planet. That’ll be followed swiftly by another military role with the lead in Peter Berg’s “Battleship.” Kitsch’s got momentum behind him (like virtually every man on this list, he was in the running for “Safe House”), but the problem is, neither of his big parts are out for another 18 months, and could find that studio execs want to wait and see if he’s a box office draw.
Where He’s Going & What’s Next: Kitsch’ll next be seen alongside Ryan Phillipe in the war photographer drama “The Bang Bang Club,” and could probably do with spending the next year taking similar indie-type roles, and even comedies, so he doesn’t just seem like the go-to military guy come 2012.
What Made Him In Demand: Another slow-burner, McAvoy’s been a fixture on British TV for a decade, appearing in the original versions of “Shameless” and “State of Play,” and, yep, "Band of Brothers," before cropping up in significant roles in “The Last King of Scotland,” “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe,” “Wimbledon” and “Starter For 10.” He’s always had the charisma to become a big star, but the one-two punch of “Atonement” and “Wanted” (the latter of which he was the best thing in by a mile) that moved him on to the A-list.
What Keeps Him In Demand: McAvoy’s had a quiet few years (welcoming his first child with wife Anne-Marie Duff earlier in the year), but that’s going to change in a big way in 2011 with animated flicks “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Arthur Christmas” and, most importantly, the role of Professor Charles Xavier in Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class.” His absence made him something of a borderline case for this list (and dropping out of the Seth Rogen comedy “I’m With Cancer” at the last minute may have hurt his stock, although we’re told there were very good reasons for that), but if he wants it, the sky’s the limit.
Where He’s Going And What’s Next: Nothing’s confirmed after “X-Men” (although we’re sure he’s contracted for sequels there), and it looks very unlikely that “Wanted 2” will ever materialize, thank Christ. He’s attached to the Tom Twyker/Wachowskis adaptation of “Cloud Atlas,” but most enticing of all is “At The Mountains of Madness,” Guillermo del Toro’s passion project, which the director is said to favor McAvoy for above Tom Cruise, although there’s been no further word since the summer.
What Made Him In Demand: While “Star Trek” put him on the map, something had to get him the coveted lead role of James T. Kirk in a prequel reboot of the beloved Gene Roddenberry sci-fi series, no? That something was a confluence of many small roles (“Just My Luck” with Lindsay Lohan in 2006 and “The Princes Diaries 2” with Anne Hathaway were just two), but also prescient foresight on the part of casting directors and filmmakers who know how to spot a potential leading man and can sniff out that combination of looks, build, talent and innate star charisma appeal. First to spot him arguably was Joe Carnahan who cast him in a small role in "Smokin' Aces," and then soon after cast him as one the lead in "White Jazz" and slotted him for a "Killing Pablo" role. Both films, of course, never got off the ground, but clearly Carnahan had an eye for talent and others couldn't help but notice the unknown kid Joe Carnahan was championing for all his films. J.J. Abrams bit and good foresight helped put the young actor in a plum role.
What Keeps Him In Demand: "Star Trek" fumes still have a high premium and his role in Tony Scott's "Unstoppable" alongside Denzel Washington proves that he's perfect in the role of the young, good-looking and arrogant upstart (the same role he played in "Star Trek" essentially). His trajectory has been kind of crazy, though from 2006-2010 he’s only had three roles that have at all mattered, “Smokin’ Aces,” “Star Trek” and “Unstoppable” (eight pictures in total and five others you can barely name).
Where He’s Going & What’s Next: So that's only two mainstream roles to speak of, but it’s a testament to his Hollywood-appeal that he’s almost always on a wish-centric shortlist when it comes to roles that ask for that irreverent leading man with a chip on his shoulder. While he was rumored for the role, it’s surprising Pine didn’t land deeper into the "Green Lantern," casting process but "Star Trek" may have taken him off the sci-fi tentpole market for a beat. Next is a role opposite fellow go-to guy Tom Hardy in McG's action rom-com "This Means War," then comes the gestating Jack Ryan film reboot film, "Moscow," if and when it's ready, and finally "Star Trek" writer Alex Kurtzman's un-sci-fi family drama, "Welcome To People" co-starring Elizabeth Banks. He’s also been one of the names rumored for John Hillcoat’s “Triple Nine” with Shia LaBeouf. "Star Trek" earned him a lot of Hollywood goodwill, and its upcoming sequel will ostensibly only fan that flame, but we'd like to see what he can do with it and if he can surprise us. Frankly, 'People' will probably be the true best test of his abilities.
What Made Him In Demand: Three words: “The Hurt Locker.” While Renner is closing in on 40 and essentially has a 15-year acting career under his belt (not not as active as some) including good turns in “S.W.A.T.” (a terrible movie, but he played a great villain), “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “28 Weeks Later,” it wasn’t until he scored an Academy Award Best Actor nomination for his starring role as a half-cocked leader of an explosives ordinance disposal unit in the 2009 Iraq war thriller “The Hurt Locker” that he turned heads in Hollywood. Renner will surely be thanking director Kathryn Bigelow for the rest of his career and don’t be surprised if he jumps immediately if and when she ever asks him to appear in another one of her films.
What Keeps Him In Demand: “The Hurt Locker.” His striking turn as the adrenaline-junkie like EOD expert was contained, yet intense and riveting; much like the film. A short month after the Oscars he was offered Universal’s mega-expensive flagship tentpole “Battleship” (he turned it down) and the lead in Paul Thomas Anderson’s gestating Scientology film opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman (still gestating unfortunately). “The Town” certainly only adds fuel to the Renner fire; once again the actor was intense and basically stole every scene in the film as the intemperate Boston gangster almost willing to kill his best friend (Ben Affleck) if it comes down to it.
Where He’s Going And What’s Next: He’s quickly rising to the top of the A-list and soon he’ll be reaching that stratosphere where he’s not on every shortlist because he costs too much (though Worthington and Cooper are still ahead of him here). He’s got three films in the works. Arguably the biggest is his turn as Hawkeye in “The Avengers.” It’s a smaller part, but it’s Renner aside Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and the rest of the team assembled by director Joss Whedon. Then we'll see him alongside Tom Cruise in Brad Bird's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" which is probably no bigger indication of Renner’s rising star power because the film ostensibly (and reportedly) sets him up as the “owner” of the franchise should Cruise get too old and bail (read: if his star power does indeed fail as has been posited this year. There’s also "Better Living Through Chemistry" opposite Jennifer Garner and a rumored/early discussions role in Tommy Wirkola’s Adam McKay and Will Ferrell-produced "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," next to on-the-rise starlet Noomi Rapace. It also speaks volumes that beloved auteur PTA basically rethought the younger lead role for "The Master" for Renner, as originally it was reported that the filmmaker thought he was too old for the role (a rewrite is perhaps why the film is taking so long).
What Made Him In Demand: What, you never listened to an ‘N Sync record and thought ‘that guy’s going to be a big movie star?’ No, us neither. But Timberlake’s been neglecting his solo musical career in recent years to focus on acting, to decidedly mixed results -- he was fine in “Alpha Dog” and “Black Snake Moan,” not so much in “The Love Guru” or “Southland Tales.” But David Fincher’s risky decision to cast him as Napster founder Sean Parker in “The Social Network” paid off with a terrific, layered performance, and it looks like he’s here to stay.
What Keeps Him In Demand: Aside from a considerable in-built female fanbase, Timberlake also showed excellent comic abilities on various “Saturday Night Live” hosting gigs, and he’s putting those into good use next year with the Cameron Diaz comedy “Bad Teacher,” and the promising casual sex comedy “Friends With Benefits.” And it’s probably only a matter of time before he lands a big superhero gig, or something similar -- along with Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper, he was down to the last three for “Green Lantern,” and is probably thanking his lucky stars he didn’t get it...
Where He’s Going And What’s Next: The biggest indicator of where Timberlake’s career is heading is probably Andrew Niccol’s dystopian sci-fi “Now,” which sees the star topline a strong cast also featuring Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Vincent Kartheiser, Johnny Galecki and Cillian Murphy. If he can pull that one off, along with the aforementioned comedies, he could be the rare musician-turned-actor who works out.
Honorable Mentions: There are a handful of names that a year ago, would have easily made this list. But crucially, the 10 names above are all relatively cheap, and the following three actors have probably reached a point now where their quotes have risen enough that they're on the next tier. Sam Worthington proved that "Avatar" wasn't a box-office fluke by taking "Clash of the Titans" to an impressive haul, and he's probably the go-to lead for your average effects-driven blockbuster. We'll see next year, with "Man on a Ledge," if he can carry a film without the 3D bells-and-whistles. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper and Ryan Reynolds were allegedly battling it out to play the Green Lantern. Reynolds won out, and he's attached to virtually everything going, finally elevating him to the movie star he's looked to be for years. Cooper's not doing too badly though -- the success of "The Hangover" pushed him on to the A-list, and the 35 year-old has his first solo lead in a serious picture in next spring's "The Dark Fields" opposite Robert De Niro. Meanwhile, Shia LaBoeuf, Zac Efron, Channing Tatum and Jake Gyllenhaal were all on the "Safe House" list, but again, all are probably on the more expensive end of their age-brackets. Seth Rogen's also still a hot name, and should have an interesting 2011 with actioner "The Green Hornet" and forays into dramedy "Take This Waltz" and "Live With It" both hitting, but for now he's only go-to in the comedy world.
In terms of younger, rising stars, there's a few names that aren't quite go-to yet, but could be within a few years. Anton Yelchin and Aaron Johnson are both charismatic young leads with blockbuster experience (in "Star Trek" and "Kick-Ass," respectively), and both were on the list to play "Spider-Man." Yelchin's got "Fright Night" next year, and Johnson will have Bryan Singer's "Jack the Giant Killer" in 2012 -- if either connect, expect them to make the step up. Meanwhile names like Mike Vogel, Scott Porter and Sebastian Stan were all up for Captain America (the latter eventually landing the role of sidekick Bucky), and could well be ones to watch in the future, while John Krasinski was rumored to be a front-runner at one point: even if fan outcry put paid to that, convincing in more serious fare could stop that from happening in future. The Twilight crew, including Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, are also hot properties, but frankly we couldn't bear to include them...