What Does It Take to Be a Leading Man These Days?

May 4, 2014

So, you want to be a big star of the stage and screen? Clockin’ millions of dollars on ubiquitous action-packed franchises? Well, you better get to work. And I’m not talking about your acting chops; I’m talking about your pecs, and biceps, and buttocks! The Men’s Journal Magazine reported this week in their Building a Bigger Action Hero article that “Acting skill – even paired with leading-man looks and undeniable charisma – is not enough to get you cast in a big-budget spy thriller or a Marvel Comics franchise.” Now, you may not be interested in these kinds of films, but the world certainly is interested in these pictures.

Bradley Cooper represents but one example of an actor who didn’t rely on his steel blue eyes and classic movie-star features to land him roles. Rather, he adapted to the new-age male-physique rage. To get in incredible shape for The A-Team, he started grueling daily workouts with a trainer six months before shoots began as well as during the shoot. He also cut out sugar, salt, and flour. He worked so hard on his physique that he even surpassed his own expectations, saying:

“As the movie progressed, I got in increasingly better shape. There’s this one fight scene with Liam Neeson toward the end, where it’s, like, the apex of the work. We finished and Joe Carnahan’s like, ‘Brother, come here, look at this,’ and he played it back, and I swear to God, it looked like my head was digitally superimposed onto someone else’s body. I was like, ‘This cannot be me-that’s the way I look?’ It was so f— surreal, ’cause as a kid I only fantasized about looking that way. Remember Soloflex commercials? That was huge when I was a kid. It was like, ‘I wanna be the Soloflex guy. Mom, can we get the Soloflex?’”

Is it any surprise then that he’d be considered to star alongside Jennifer Lawrence in Serena, American Hustle, and Silver Linings Playbook–and has been named “The Sexiest Man Alive” by People Magazine? On a similar note, actors like Ryan Gosling who is a prominent indie-actor guy has likewise adapted to the new physical requirements of the job with the understanding that it’s just what it takes. 

Indeed, even for non-superhero roles, male actors need to be primed and ready to take their shirts off at some point in the storyline like never before; the MTV Movie Awards has a Best Shirtless Performance category for men, awarded most recently to Zac Efron whose shirt was ripped off when he was given his award. And consider that it’s male actors’ nude buns that are more commonly being shot during bedroom scenes. Men’s bodies are being scrutinized as never before, and countless are the ways in which a man’s physique will be weaved into the plot these days.

The most-coveted, well-defined male torso of the day is exemplified by actors like Brad Pitt’s extraordinarily lean-yet-muscular physique in Fight Club. This highly sought-after build often requires highly specialized trainers, nutritionists, and chefs to pull off. Intensive training once or twice a day is one thing, but pulling it off over a six-month period of time is abnormal, and can take a serious toll on the human body. Even more intense regimens can include intentionally dehydrating an actor through reduced levels of sodium as well as carbohydrates while getting dosed with diuretics and high-sweat cardio exercises…all in the name of muscle definition to feed the global audience’s voracious appetite for beautiful bodies. Maintaining such absurdly low BMI’s can cause fatigue and affect mental clarity, and more importantly, can potentially damage internal organs including the heart. Sadly, the next level of the game to achieve the desired physique includes the use of  drugs: testosterone, human-growth hormone, and steroids–each of which has its own side effects.

Regardless of how superficial or foolish you think this trend is or might be, the reality is that it is a reality. Just look to your local multiplex; Marvel Comic Book movies and action films dominate the day. Considering you have to be in shape to a certain degree to even be considered for these roles, what is your level of commitment to attain them?