While I like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Michael Fassbender as much as the next girl, the current batch of rising stars in Hollywood are starting to look even more homogenous than usual. Put Sam Worthington, Chris Pine, and Andy Whitfield in a line, I’m not sure I could tell them apart. Let’s not even get started on Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg – their own mothers would confuse those two. We’ve heard that variety is the spice of life, but Hollywood doesn’t seem to be taking that lesson to heart. Here are some alternatives to the usual leading men of the big screen who we think could make the next great action stars.
The native Hawaiin star of Conan The Barbarian might not be a household name yet, but he’s on his way. Despite being consigned to generic beefcake (not that we mind beefcake) roles in Stargate: Atlantis and Game Of Thrones, Jason Momoa’s natural charisma made those roles memorable. Plus, at the young age of 32, he’s already achieved the platonic ideal of beefcake masculinity by filling Arnold’s sandals in the Conan The Barbarian remake. Of course, Momoa is more than just a pretty face (and abs) – the actor is currently writing the script for a Conan sequel. Momoa’s a representative from an older, 1980’s school of movie stars, which makes him unique in a land filled with Michael Ceras. Since Sylvester Stallone isn’t getting any younger, and Dwayne Johnson seems to have gotten distracted by stuff like Tooth Fairy, Momoa could be the next big action star.
2. Idris Elba
You can’t talk about Idris Elba without talking about Stringer Bell. Elba was riveting as Bell, The Wire’s most complex criminal; a man who could order a beloved character’s death without remorse but was still a model student in his Econ class at the local community college. Since his heralded Wire role, Elba has gotten more mainstream exposure, leading his own BBC cop drama Luther, appearing on The Office, and nabbing a supporting role in Marvel’s Thor film. Anyone who can wear Heimdall’s golden disco-suit and still look badass certainly has enough charisma to lead a film. Fortunately for Elba fans, he’s set to star in Guillermo Del Toro’s science fiction epic Pacific Rim. Stringer Bell working with genre legend Del Toro, fighting space aliens in a giant robot suit? Legendary Pictures, you can shut up and take my money. To make the wait for 2013 more bearable, he’ll also be appearing in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, due out next summer. While The Wire’s alumni have had mixed levels of success (ranging from solid lead roles to drug arrests), no one deserves mainstream success as much as Elba. Well, except Michael K. Williams.
3. Asano Tadanobu
Most Americans haven’t heard of Asano Tadanobu, but that’s likely to change over the next few years. The Japanese movie star has recently started to make international waves. His starring role in Mongol garnered critical praise in the west, showing that he can carry an epic (and one in a different language, to boot). Since then, he’s started taking smaller roles in Hollywood films, appearing in Thor and the upcoming Battleship. He’ll also star alongside Keanu Reeves in the American remake of the 47 Ronin. Plus, he’s already got his cult street cred down, from his role as scarred, blond badass Kakihara in Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer. It can be difficult to break into Hollywood as an international star, especially one who doesn’t speak English as his first language. But action films tend to level the playing field slightly, since dialogue isn’t as important as ability to look awesome with a sword in one hand and a blonde in the other. If Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan can do it, why not Tadanobu?
4. and 5. Don Glover and Danny Pudi
We’re grouping this Community duo together because, honestly, we’re not sure if we could stand separating BFF’s Troy and Abed. While Community has one of the best ensembles on television at the moment, Danny PudI’s pop-culture fixated Abed and Donald Glover’s overenthusiastic Troy stand out as the funniest members of a painfully funny cast. Comedy and action cross over all the time – just look at Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express – and either of these actors could make an ideal transition. (Community’s zombie outbreak and paintball showdowns already serve as mini action films in themselves.) Pudi’s already branching out a bit, taking a role in supernatural LARP comedy Knights of Badassdom, and appearing alongside genre-crosser Seth Rogen in My Mother’s Curse. Glover’s internet campaign to play Spider-Man in the new film didn’t make it off the ground, but that doesn’t mean that other action roles won’t swing his way.
6. Dev Patel
Poor Dev Patel didn’t get his action career off on the best foot. After gaining international attention for his role in Slumdog Millionaire, Patel appeared in the dismal M. Night Shyamalan adaptation The Last Airbender. While it may have been a bad career move, we can’t really hold his acting against him since Shyamalan has managed to make even established actors like Mark Wahlberg, Paul Giamatti and Joaquin Pheonix look silly. Patel’s got the charming everyman quality that Shia LeBeouf always seems to be trying for, but without the baggage of being involved in Transformers or Indiana Jones 4. His next major role, in English Oscar-bait flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t a step in the action direction, but should gain him back some critical cred after Airbender.
7. Gael Garcia Bernal
Go find a twentysomething year old woman. Go on, I’ll wait. Now ask her what she thinks of Gael Garcia Bernal. I’ll assume that you’re reading the next paragraph a couple of hours into the future, because I’ve yet to meet a woman who wouldn’t talk for ages about this guy. Maybe it’s his homoerotic role in Y Tu Mama Tambien, or his passionate turn as a young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries. Or maybe it’s just his dreamy hazel eyes. But whatever it is, it makes him ideal as an action star. Women watch action flicks too, and it helps to have a hero who’s appealing to that demographic (think about Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, or Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, for instance). Bernal’s next few projects include starring with Al Pacino in Hands of Stone, and alongside Daniel Day Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s Silence – which is very impressive company for a young actor. It seems like Bernal is being groomed to join the Oscar-winning elite, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t slum it in an action film from time to time.
8. Chiwetel Ejiofor
Odds are, you’ve seen Chiwetel Ejiofor in something, be it as one of the five hundred characters in Love, Actually, the chilling Operative in Serenity, or the drag queen star of Kinky Boots. Ejiofor isn’t afraid to play outside the box, choosing roles diverse enough to rival Gary Oldman, and executing them all with flair. We know that he can pull off supporting action roles, from watching his thrilling turns in Serenity and Children Of Men, but Ejiofor has a unique, contained charisma that would make for an interesting action hero. He’s next appearing alongside James Caviezel in Savannah, and in historical drama Twelve Years A Slave, which should only improve Ejiofor’s exposure. Soon, he may stop being a “hey, it’s that guy” kind of actor and start being a “hey, it’s that awesome guy!” kind of actor.