Then (and now), Sturgess seemed much more interested in the moviemaking-as-experience idea rather than career (or star) building. As an actor and a person, he wanted to live another life—to soak up and become one with the atmosphere of Vegas, Eastern Europe, Belfast, or wherever the film world took place. “Some people have snapshots,” he told me. “My postcards—my gifts—at the end of these trips are the films.”
Which is why I was secretly thrilled to see Sturgess in One Day (see “On Set,”) as the romantic lead opposite Anne Hathaway. Although the film has a melancholic undertow, it re-establishes Sturgess as a potential movie star. Based on the best-selling novel, One Day follows a couple that meets on the same day for 20 years. Sturgess plays Dexter Mayhew, who starts out callow and effortlessly charming and, as he ages, becomes lonely and adrift. It’s a subtle performance—complex and haunting. “I thought Dexter would be a really fun character to play,” he said. “He’s vulgar and obnoxious, and that’s fun. But he was a lot more tragic and desperate than I thought. Truthfully, I spent a lot of my time being miserable.”
He’s not alone. Sturgess may have started a non-movie-star movie-star movement: In today’s Hollywood, the most interesting actors are reluctant leading men, more interested in character than close-ups. For instance, Armie Hammer may be model-handsome, but there’s a warmth and humor to his portrayals that counter his all-American perfect looks. In The Social Network, he played both Winklevoss twins and imbued each with a distinct personality and an intriguing mix of entitlement and generosity. He is about to take a chance by playing the entirely unsympathetic Clyde Tolson in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic. Tolson was rumored to be both Hoover’s longtime lover and henchman—hardly a safe part guaranteeing leading-man status.
Similarly, Joel Kinnaman lost weight and obscured his appearance to play a secretive recovering–meth addict detective in The Killing on AMC. A star in his native Sweden, Kinnaman is attracted to outsiders rather than conventional heroes. Joel Edgerton also has affection for darker characters—he’s gravitated toward playing men who are motivated by their volatility: the mixed–martial arts athlete in Warrior, which premieres September 9, and Tom Buchanan, the rampaging id who drives the conflict in Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D version of The Great Gatsby, filming this year.
Like Edgerton, Oscar Isaac combines a kind of muscularity with sensitivity in Drive, out September 16, in which he is fascinating as a doomed ex-convict. Isaac is good-looking enough to coast on his appearance, but he gives his characters—particularly the tricky role of Joseph, the human father of Jesus in The Nativity Story—a complicated individuality.