What is royalty in this day and age?
W's Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg posed this question in the introduction to our very first Royals issue, in October 2014. The definition she arrived at was this: Today, royalty is not a birthright but it is achieved. Through creativity, greatness, and originality, one can — especially if one goes about one's business with a certain sense of flair — be crowned a Royal.
As with years past, when we've saluted the likes of Julianne Moore and Naomi Campbell, there is a force of consensus behind the Royals in film, television, fashion, and society we have chosen this year. In each category, there is a Classic Royal and a New Royal — two men or women at different points in their careers, but with a shared view of what it is to be great in their field. (And if they happen to have a famous lineage, we won't hold that against them, either.)
This distinction is by no means an indicator of age. Take Elle Fanning, who is still only a teenager but who was raised on movie sets before breaking through, at the age of 13, with astonishing grace in Somewhere. That film was small but finely-tuned, as was The Witch, a low-budget horror movie that has turned everyone onto Anya Taylor-Joy, our new indie queen who has a similar sense of poise.
Ethan Hawke has been an indie film hero ever since Dead Poets Society. There are enough cult landmarks on his resume to ensure his stature among several generations of cinema-goers, whether your emotional investment is in Reality Bites, Before Sunrise, or Boyhood. Hawke's prolific pace might only be matched by another Texas boy, Tye Sheridan, who at age 19 has already worked with Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols, and David Gordon Green, to great acclaim.
Like most promising actors, Sheridan has succumbed to the lure of the superhero movie, as Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse. A longtime anchor at that end of the movie spectrum, Chris Evans has been Captain America in multiplexes nearly every year since 2011 — that's five Marvel movies in six years. In between, he has made interesting choices that dirty up his squeaky clean sheen: as a conflicted killer in The Iceman, or a rebel leader with a horrible secret in Snowpiercer. Chiwetel Ejiofor, a classically trained actor whose humanity and restraint has grounded films like Children of Men and 12 Years a Slave (for which he was nominated for an Oscar), is new to Marvel; he will debut as Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, out next month. With these actors in the comic-book movie universe, our superheroes will continue to have a third dimension.
Of course, superheroes now come in different types, shapes, and, yes, genders. Halle Berry was one of the original female stars during the first wave of comic-book movies, when she cast thunderbolts as Storm in the first X-Men movie in 2000, a year before she won an Oscar for Monster's Ball. That lineage can be traced all the way to Melissa Benoist, who starred on "Glee" before donning a cape as the star of the new hit CW series "Supergirl," which is returning for its second season.
Another TV heroine is the stalwart Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is once again the star of what might be the funniest show on television, nearly two decades after "Seinfeld" went off the air. Her unconscionable maneuvering as President Selena Meyer on HBO's "Veep" was the highest, and most accurate, form of political satire until this election. In India, the Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra is even more of a household name than Louis-Dreyfus is here, and Chopra's recent star turn as a FBI trainee in the ABC procedural "Quantico" should make her famous in America, as well. She's already a fashion week favorite.
But as with film, in television the strongest returns lie with the big and the small, not the swollen middle. There is the enormous, costly cultural force that is HBO's "Game of Thrones," starring Kit Harington as the noble Jon Snow. It is perhaps the last universally-loved, universally-watched show in America, and it is shouldered valiantly by Harington, who was just an unknown stage actor in London before becoming a sex symbol when the fantasy series exploded. Rami Malek, too, was largely anonymous before his mesmerizing turn as the hacker Elliot Alderson in USA's "Mr. Robot," a niche, off-kilter series with an unusually engaged fan base — making it the ultimate modern TV show, and Malek our new TV Royal, not to mention a sex symbol in his own right.
Despite appearances, not everything is polarized and partisan. The idea of the Renaissance man or woman is still very much in play. Take Sofia Coppola, our new Renaissance Royal: She writes, she directs everything from films to opera, she designs for Louis Vuitton, and she has elevated her own impeccable taste into yet another profession. She follows in the footsteps of Jodie Foster, who has overachieved in every facet of the film industry since she was 14 — in that year, she appeared in four films, including Taxi Driver, for which she won the first of two Oscars. She has gone on to direct four features of her own, including this year's income inequality parable Money Monster, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
And who has their hands in more places than Kanye West? He is making music, fashion, merch, art, and breaking exciting new talents like Desiigner via his own record label. His Yeezy shows are among the hottest tickets at New York Fashion Week; his Pablo tour is among the hottest tickets in arenas around the country; he even staged an exhibition of his own art at a major gallery in L.A., which he was too busy doing other things to attend. West has kept this manic output up for years now, which is why he's a classic Renaissance Royal.
Like his friend Kanye West, Riccardo Tisci, who has been head of Givenchy since he revived the Parisian house in 2005 with his provocative, sensuous collections, is not easily labeled. By now, the fashion designer has become a cultural and social arbiter, aligning himself with the likes of West and Kim Kardashian, Jay Z and Beyonce, Madonna, Marina Abramovic, and Nike, and in doing so re-mortgaging their cultural cache. All of which makes him a modern creative director, an idea made possible in part by Calvin Klein, who not only defined American fashion for three decades but redefined what it meant to be a designer, revolutionizing the fashion advertisement along the way.
Irina Shayk, who counts Tisci among her many fans, is the ideal supermodel of now: She is slender but undeniably shapely, during a moment when proportions are constantly being redefined by pop culture and fashion. Of course, Shayk owes much to Cindy Crawford, who has done as much for the modeling industry — and for hips — as anyone, transforming the notion of supermodel from a girl who just showed up for fashion shoots to a woman with her own business empire. In the '90s, Crawford became Cindy, Inc. — and even today, she is still causing a fuss at fashion week, along with her daughter Kaia Gerber, who is following in Mom's footsteps. Crawford is here to stay.
In the end, that is what a Royal is all about. To be royal, really, is to be undeniable.
Elle Fanning's expert tutorial in opening up W's first-ever his-and-hers issue (subscribe to get it for yourself: www.wmag.com/getw).