Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in ‘Magic Mike’/Photo © Warner Bros.
Though a certain baseline of hotness is a non-negotiable prerequisite for aspiring actors interested in seeing their name in bold print and on movie posters, even in hedonistic Hollywood there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. For instance, being too easy on the eyes often means not being considered for meaty roles or being relegated to eye-candy status. Ambitious stars cursed with an excess of good looks often have to work harder if they're looking to provide something more fortifying than the empty calories of cheesecake and beefcake roles. Charlize Theron packed on thirty pounds and donned a mullet to embody the "Monster" serial killer that enabled her to transcend her angelic appearance. Johnny Depp became Tim Burton’s ghoulish muse. Robert Redford founded a film festival that spawned a counter-culture movement. Brad Pitt has spent the past two decades camouflaging his golden glow with errant brambles of facial hair.
Now, we’re not suggesting anyone pity the pretty people. But it’s worth nothing that those actors likeliest to be short listed for People’s Sexiest Man/Woman Alive often spend much of their careers fighting an undertow of doubt about their acting chops. All of which makes Channing Tatum's cunning escape from the matinee idol ghetto all the more impressive for its meta implications: With the success of "Magic Mike," he erased any doubts that he had more to offer beyond a chiseled Roman gladiator physique by playing a soulful, six pack-endowed male stripper.
The ingenious irony of Tatum's game-changing move was likely not lost on Tatum's "Magic Mike" co-star, Matthew McConaughey, the subject of yesterday’s moony-eyed New York Times profile, who has spent the past two years quietly stockpiling an arsenal of concussive, head-turning, non-ab-bearing performances in audacious films by acclaimed directors like Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike”), Jeff Nichols (“Mud”), and Lee Daniels' adaptation of Pete Dexter's The Paperboy.
McConaughey was a particular bright spot in "The Paperboy," which divided critics when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. McConaughey is winning raves for his performance as an enterprising small-town journalist who wades into the messy details of a murder case and becomes convinced that the wrong lowlife (John Cusack) has been convicted. McConaughey has now made clear that he has been hiding some serious acting muscle behind the ones that make up his torso.
McConaughey is far from the only actor smuggling untapped talent into paycheck roles. Hollywood has a long history of luring those blessed and cursed with physical beauty and untold depths blockbuster roles that end up stranding them on a narrow strip of professional real estate where they’re stuck playing the same roles over and over again. With that in mind, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to offer the geographic coordinates for some of the stars who remain stranded on Hollywood’s A-list, cut off from the kinds of roles that would allow them to exercise their gifts.
1. Mark Wahlberg wrote the playbook for guys like Tatum. He has been more than the sum of his parts ever since he shed his nom de rap (Marky Mark), and stopped baring boxer briefs in those iconic Calvin Klein ads and began bringing his captivatingly guileless swagger to the alpha male innocents at the center of auteur-driven projects, like Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" and David O. Russell's "Three Kings." Still, somehow critics and moviegoers renew their surprise each time Wahlberg reveals a new dimension, dramatic ("The Fighter") or comic ("Ted").
2. Rashida Jones: After establishing a sub-niche playing good-natured, responsible careerists in such odes to the man-child as "I Love You, Man" and "My Idiot Brother," the Harvard-educated Jones is more than ready to graduate from funny foil to more complex characters. She has a natural grace and maturity many other actresses in her age range lack and we'd love to see someone like David Fincher, who cast her as Mark Zuckerberg's lawyer in "The Social Network," throw her the porterhouse steak of a role she deserves.
3. Blake Lively: There is a kind of stark poetry to Lively's emergence as a true talent with legitimate leading lady potential given that she is still best known to many teenagers as Serena from "Gossip Girl." But beginning with her role as the spirited libertine in "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," Rebecca Miller's under-seen coming-0f-age-at-any-age drama, Lively has revealed untold depths and range playing pivotal parts in Ben Affleck's "The Town" and Oliver Stone's "Savages." If she plays her cards right, we wouldn't be surprised to see Lively in Oscar contention at some point in the next decade or so.
4. Bradley Cooper: Until further notice, "The Hangover" continues to serve as Cooper's defining credit, reminding moviegoers that he was the callow/funny/handsome jackass in the franchise built on the evergreen trope involving stupid dudes doing stupid things to the chagrin of their not-s0-stupid spouses. But Cooper, who has spent much of his career playing a gallery of rogues with names like Sack Lodge ("Wedding Crashers"), Demo ("Failure to Launch") and Cowboy ("The Comebacks"), has radically changed tack, cashing in his post-"Hangover" clout on character-driven roles in films more likely to play the art house than the frat house. We're particularly excited to see what he does with the lead role in David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," based on Matthew Quick's novel about a teacher attempting to piece his life back together after a stint in a mental institution. Bonus points: He stars opposite Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines," Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to "Blue Valentine."
5. Salma Hayek: Admittedly, ever since Hayek picked up a Best Actress nom for playing the title role in "Frida," it's tough to make the case that her talent has gone unrecognized. And yet, in the nine years since "Frida," Hayek has struggled to find a place for her talents playing anything but exotically accented temptresses or exotically accented saintly spouses in little-seen indies. But this has been a breakthrough year for Hayek, who elevated "Puss in Boots" with her sultry spunk and added her first bonafide blockbuster to her credits. And just this week we get a glimpse at Hayek's untapped combustible screen presence with the explosive menace she brings to the drug kingpin she plays in Oliver Stone's "Savages." Here's hoping she continues to find new opportunities to detonate at full power on screen.