When Paramount Pictures decided to remake Footloose, the 1984 teen romance that made a young, lanky actor named Kevin Bacon famous, the studio looked to Zac Efron of the High School Musical trilogy. He could sing. He could dance. And most importantly, he could summon the teenage girls to theaters with one strategic toss of his swoopy hair.
But then Mr. Efron abruptly ditched the picture. He didn’t want to be typecast as the guy who does musicals, he said. The suits at Paramount barely flinched. There were no threats of delaying the filming, set for next spring. They simply found a quick but suitable replacement—another swoopy-haired, pretty-faced actor, named Chace Crawford.
Mr. Crawford, 23, bears a remarkable resemblance to Mr. Efron, 21. In fact, these men are perhaps the youngest incarnation of something eerie that’s been happening in Hollywood. Male actors have become increasingly indistinguishable. And not only are they all starting to look alike; but they also sort of act alike, too.
Here’s a fun experiment. Turn on the TV, flip through the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, take a trip to the Union Square Cinema and try telling the young men apart. Having trouble? Don’t feel bad. Even that typically pop-culture-savvy friend of yours has been referring to them as “that guy” from Twilight or Gossip Girl or Star Trek for months. Not only do Mr. Efron and Mr. Crawford resemble each another, but they both look a lot like Ian Somerhalder (Lost), who sort of looks like Chris Pine (Star Trek), who sort of looks like James Marsden (Hairspray, 27 Dresses), who sort of looks like Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal and the guy who married Scarlett Johansson), who sort of looks like Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), who sort of looks like Robert Buckley (Lipstick Jungle), who is a downright doppelgänger for Scott Speedman (Felicity). (Slideshow here–it might help.)
Let’s call it the New Male Beauty: those wide-set eyes, the narrow nose that flares up at the tip just so, the childish puffy cheeks and the not-too-rugged jaw lines, topped with carefully placed strands of layered hair. It’s a face that used to be found in Tiger Beat, fold-out pages to be tacked onto a petal-pink wall. Now it dominates the weekend box office.
“We talk about this all the time!” said Randi Hiller of the Randi Hiller casting agency in Los Angeles. “If you go back to these iconic movies, everybody wasn’t super-beautiful, but a lot of them were sexy. But there’s also something about young women today being more comfortable with a boy-man; they’re less threatening sexually than a man-man.”
Ms. Hiller, who has worked on films like Iron Man, Pride & Glory and Fast & Furious and has auditioned a lot of these actors, said that a few years ago, audiences were complaining about not being able to distinguish between Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and Hugh Dancy, who all shared the tall, swarthy look in the ensemble piece Black Hawk Down. But the New Male Beauty is different. In fact, it has a precise science.
“They all have a nose with a slight hump and then a minor depression and then a prominent tip—not big, but just a gentle S-curve, and the tips are slightly broad,” said Dr. Steven Pearlman, former president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “If we had this conversation a couple of years ago, we’d be talking about Orlando Bloom, Justin Timberlake and Leonardo DiCaprio.”
Indeed there seems to have been a slow but steady evolution of the New Male Beauty. In 2001, the cover of People magazine’s Hottest Bachelors issue featured Matthew McConaughey; in ’03, it was Ashton Kutcher, arguably the forefather of the look; in 2005, it was Orlando Bloom; in ’07, Adrian Grenier and Justin Timberlake topped the list. But even Messrs. Grenier and Timberlake had a certain distinctive, grizzled appeal. The same can’t be said of the purported Hottest Bachelors of ’09: the bland, smooth Mr. Crawford, Mr. Pine and Shia Lebouf.
“Everyone has a little bit of facial asymmetry, but these faces barely have any, which is very unusual,” said Dr. Minas Constantinides, the director of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at N.Y.U. Medical Center, Google Image–searching while on the phone with The Observer. “They don’t have features that can be distracting, like a strong jaw line, so we spend a lot more time around their eyes and mouths when we’re looking at them.
“There is a trend towards a softer look with younger guys,” Dr. Constantinides continued. “Chace Crawford, Shane West, Ryan Reynolds and Zac Efron all share an interesting set of features: heavy upper eyelash and eyebrows, not super-strong cheekbones and very soft jaw lines, which is what really distinguishes them from someone like Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Scott Speedman and Chris Pine have stronger jaw lines, but neither have particularly strong cheekbones.”
Historically, male sex appeal used to be about just the opposite.