Making a Leading Man
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Hollywood may have long ago left behind its studio system days, when leading men were manufactured on assembly lines, but star-making has changed less than you think. Behind every ascending actor is a team—usually an agent, a manager or two, a lawyer and a publicist—that obsessively works to build their client into the next Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise or Will Smith.
Channing Tatum, one of moviedom's best hopes for a new male superstar, is no exception. A former Chippendales-style stripper, Tatum, 31, will next appear in the comedy 21 Jump Street. But leading-man manufacturing has changed in one very important way: The success rate has plummeted. For over a decade now Hollywood has failed to mint a new heavyweight, the kind of actor who can anchor a blockbuster and repeat that feat over a prolonged period. Today's A list includes Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Adam Sandler, all of whom climbed into the cultural firmament 15 or more years ago. Daniel Craig may come the closest. Bond made Craig a star six years ago, but his movies outside of that franchise (Cowboys & Aliens, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) have been box office disappointments. In the last decade or so a cavalcade of men reached for the stratosphere and stalled: Orlando Bloom, Edward Norton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Hartnett and Tobey Maguire.
What's wrong? And does Tatum have any shot of beating the odds? Tatum, the Alabama-born son of a building-supplies salesman and an airline lost-baggage clerk, is practically living in multiplexes this year. In January he appeared in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, which was a hit with critics if not audiences. Recently, Tatum starred as a husband trying to win back his wife in The Vow a smash with more than $142 million in global ticket sales. Next comes 21 Jump Street, which stars Tatum and Jonah Hill as blundering undercover narcotics cops. And Tatum plays a lead role in the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which arrives in June.
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