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Manly Movie Stars: Rodrigue Talks the Evolution of Masculinity in Film

by Sophia Savage
August 12, 2010 8:28 AM
21 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

Almost two years ago, Anne Thompson asked "Where have the manly movie stars gone?," and investigated the entertainment industry's ongoing search for traditional male leads that aren't borrowed from the UK, Australia or Europe to commandeer Hollywood's most testosterone-needy films. While America lays claim to the boy-men niche with the likes of Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Jake Gyllenhaal and any male in a Judd Apatow film, Hollywood's most- masculine male leads are more often than not played by foreigners; Christian Bale (a Brit) and Heath Ledger (an Aussie) were case-in-point as the stars of 2008's highest grossing film, The Dark Knight.

Thompson on Hollywood

Two years later the search continues. Foreigners still dominate Hollywood's top male leading roles. Aussie Sam Worthington scored the leads in Avatar, Clash of the Titans, and Terminator: Salvation (with Bale), while his countryman Russell Crowe headlined Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (an attempt to follow-up their successful teaming in Gladiator). Britain's Gerard Butler flexed some muscle in Gamer and Law Abiding Citizen (and made some of us cringe in a handful of dreadful rom-coms) while Brit Jason Statham continues his testosterone binges on the Transporter and Crank franchises. Spain's Javier Bardem is the epitome of intoxicating masculinity in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Eat Pray Love. Of course, certain trusty go-to American actors (Will Smith, George Clooney and Denzel Washington to name a few) continue to deliver, but they can't star in everything. Which up-and-coming Americans will fill that need? And why is their masculinity so often so different from that of their foreign counterparts? How has American masculinity evolved from the likes of screen legends Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and James Dean?

Jean-Louis Rodrigue, a teacher at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, the Larry Moss and Howard Fine Acting Studios, and coach for numerous film and theater actors, is an expert in the Alexander Technique (he is a founder of the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles) and a "movement specialist." He recently worked with Chris Pine for his physically demanding role in Martin McDonagh's play The Lieutenant of Inishmore at LA's Mark Taper Forum, and helped Josh Brolin to prep for the title role as George Bush in W.. Rodrigue has made a study of the evolving role of masculinity in film. We talked at length about how our shifting culture is changing the way male characters are written and portrayed, and what it means to be an American Man in 2010.

The allure of a great actor, Rodrigue believes, comes down to the fact that "nothing is more attractive than clarity." It's particularly tough for a man to have clarity (in himself, what he wants, and where he is going) in this tenuous cultural, social, economic and political climate (which has been called "the end of men"). That clarity is essential for the wide-appeal movie stars that ambitious actors want to be. Below, Rodrigue discusses the state of American men on film:

PART 1: He introduces his work and discusses the evolving identity of men in society and on screen:

PART 2: The actors he has worked with, including Pine and Brolin; and the "expression of a man":

PART 3: The men on screen today; DiCaprio (Inception and Shutter Island), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), John C. Reilly (Cyrus), Robert Pattinson and vampire males (Twilight), Jon Hamm (Mad Men, The Town) and the old school leading men - Grant, Dean, et al:

PART 4: The lack of American actors who can channel traditional masculinity, and why foreign actors dominate masculine roles (Crowe, Clive Owen, etc); how Americans Pitt, Clooney and Damon differ; and how Newman and Dean shifted into a new masculinity:

PART 5: How action films and their stars have changed (Sam Worthington in Avatar, Angelina Jolie in Salt); the balancing of men and women; maintaining a balance of characters:

PART 6: On our changing culture, Josh Brolin, Taylor Kitsch, the femininity and worship of Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Zac Efron, and the biology of attraction:

21 Comments

  • davo | March 3, 2011 5:43 AMReply

    hey a bunch of nerds arguing on the internet! how refreshing!

  • @TD | March 3, 2011 12:44 AMReply

    Okay, @@TD, you're right, I did get off topic (although, really, what topic? Am I right? I mean, I think it's pretty obvious based on every other comment left here that this article is severely lacking in sustenance). And it's not as though by posting your comment you addressed the post either. So perhaps I'm not the only asshole here. Oops, them's fightin' words. Well, we could go out back and figure this out like real men... and with that I successfully drew us back to the original post, and made you happy. BAM!

    PS: I lied, I don't want to go out back and figure this out. I'm really just a skinny nerd that would get his ass kicked. I just wanted to have some fun and make this string of comments a little fun.

    PPS: I am an asshole. Still, what's so wrong with using a dictionary from time to time? I bet Gregory Peck did.

  • SonofV | March 2, 2011 11:33 AMReply

    I think it is worth pointing out that many of the foreigners who portray these 'masculine' roles are doing so as American characters (Jason Statham being a strict exception). Also it is important to note that the male/masculine identity must evolve over time just like the feminine has as well. People praise Sigourney Weaver as Ripley but bringing back a Jane Mansfield type actress would be more for parody.

  • JOSHUA ANDERSON | March 2, 2011 10:40 AMReply

    I love when people put Cary Grant on a list of 'American' actors...does everyone forget that he is from Britain? He might have naturalized over the years and did live here for the majority of his life but so have many of the people on the list.

  • @@TD | March 2, 2011 9:53 AMReply

    Hey "@TD", you really addressed the content of the post. Good job. Spelling aside, the blogosphere apparently has no shortage of assholes.

  • Ruth | March 2, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    "Foreigners still dominate Hollywood’s top male leading roles." I have no qualms about this one and I for one find Aussie/British men a whole lot more masculine for my taste. 'Masculinity' is so subjective, that's why I like to use the word 'rugged' So true that the search continues, I wrote a similar article two years ago as well, which practically still applies today: http://wp.me/pxXPC-8B

  • @TD | March 2, 2011 8:24 AMReply

    @TD:

    Spell check = dictionary. Genius.

  • 76United | March 2, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    Shouldn't it be the "devolution" of masculinity in film? Hollywood men nowadays are a bunch of asexual, touchy-feely, softees.

  • TD | March 2, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    I enjoyed and agree with John Bohl's article, but it really addressed a different set of issues - CGI vs Live Action and unrealistic, stylized, highwire kung fu vs old school bare knucke brawls. Regarding, Ms. Thompson article, I still believe we have lots of current stars that are plenty masculine. James Dean wasn't exactly muscle bound. He did not really beat up a crowd of bad guys in Rebel Without a Cause. If you prefer John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds to current action stars, thats fine -I do too. But its not fair to say Vin Diesal, Dwayne Johnson and Nick Cage are not masculine, just because the way action movies are made has changed for the worse. Incidentally - I loved Taken - which speaks more to Mr. Bohls article - even though I may be making Ms. Thompson's point about foriegn actors being more masculine that the big American stars.

    I am not a frequent poster, so I don't know how to spell check this - sorry.

  • EddyL | March 2, 2011 7:29 AMReply

    Moronic premise here. A man is a man no matter how his "masculinity" is judged. There's more than one way to be "a man." I mean the John Wayne "masculinity" is no more valid than the Rudolph Valentino "masculinity." Seeing Wayne as masculine and Valentino as not is just plain stupid. I think we're a more complex species that this sort of cheap veneer.

  • craig | March 2, 2011 7:16 AMReply

    cary grant was british

  • John Boy | March 2, 2011 6:45 AMReply

    I actually wrote an article about this subject last year. If you're curious, you can read it at http://hollywoodbohl.blogspot.com/2010/10/violence-isnt-pretty.html

  • Mikke | March 2, 2011 6:20 AMReply

    I would also like to know, how can Heath Ledger be an example of masculine male lead? I don't think he was any more masculine than Brad Pitt, Matt Damon or Johnny Depp.

  • Felonious Punk | March 2, 2011 4:51 AMReply

    Women have always been interested in the "fluid, liquid, feminine, softer" male actors. Look at Rudolph Valentino. This is nothing new. Look at Paris of The Iliad. There has always been a duality to masculinity.

  • TD | March 2, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    Why is this very feminine man telling us about want it means to be masculine. Is he saying James Dean and Marlin Brando never played conflicted or emotional characters? Vin Diesel is not masculine? Cam Gigandet is not masculine? Mathew McConaughey is not masculine? Hogwash!

  • TD | March 2, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    Hogwash! You pick only examples to make your point. I could do the same. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Reynor (not sure of his name) in the town. Dwanye Johnson in Faster. Tim Olyphant in Justified. Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin in True Grit - Matt Damon for that matter. Chris Pine, Chris Evans, on and on and on. Your primary premise is just made up.

  • AitchCS | March 2, 2011 2:39 AMReply

    I would like to find the previous article written by Anne on this topic

  • Anton | March 2, 2011 12:59 AMReply

    Carry Grant was English so cannot be an example of "American masculinity".

  • TorontoM | February 28, 2011 7:46 AMReply

    On Keanu Reeves and Judd Apatow movies you're talking about Canadians:

    Keannu Reeves, Michael Cera, Jay Baruchel, Ryan Reynolds, Michael J. Fox, Ryan Gosling, Keifer Sutherland, Haydon Christianson are all Canadian.

    That is not to mention: Mike Meyers, William Shatner, Dan Akroyd etc. who are all known as Canadians.

  • William | August 15, 2010 10:21 AMReply

    I found these interviews very, very interesting. As a student of the Alexander Technique myself, I'd say that lessons in the Technique do in fact allow whatever innate qualities you have to express themselves. I'm not an actor or "performer" of any kind, but in a sense we're all performing as part of life. And while I originally took lessons because of low back pain (which cleared up after a few lessons), I found the most important benefit was in fact the ability to move through life with greater ease, being my true self.

    I realize that for someone who has not had lessons, this may all seem a bit far-fetched - but if you're even a bit curious, take a few lessons and see for yourself. Their site at http://alexandertechnique.com has all the information you need to get started, including how to find and choose a teacher in your area.

  • SteveW | August 13, 2010 8:44 AMReply

    I think your whole premise is 180 degrees wrong. DiCaprio wasn't a manly man in "Shutter Island" or "The Departed" or "Blood Diamond"? Will Smith wasn't a manly man in "The Pursuit of Happyness"? Matt Damon wasn't manly enough in the Bourne films? What about Joaquin Phoenix in "Two Lovers"? Josh Brolin in "No Country for Old Men"? Are these really "boyish" performances? Nonsense. Sure, a lot of these characters were tortured/tormented, but so too were the men played by icons of the past, like Marlon Brando, John Garfield, Robert Ryan, William Holden, etc.

    I'd say we're in a golden age of on-screen masculinity, compared to, say, the 1970s, when actors like Newman and Redford DID play smirking, goofy, juvenile boy-men in their most famous pairings, "Butch Cassidy" and "The Sting."

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