The Hollywood machine isn't the studio-based system that it was in the mid-20th Century. An almost conspiratorial corporate entity that would spend years cultivating and curating movie stars. But, to some extent, it still exists in 2014. Through publicists, agents and even studios, the industry still tries to “create” new stars. And, for better or worse (depending how you see it), it's mostly male actors that get this treatment today (although any leading lady in a Michael Bay film may qualify outside of Scarlett Johansson). Some happen almost by accident (Robert Pattinson), some have delayed debuts (Chris Hemsworth), many aren't worthy of the hype (Alex Pettyfer) and a few may take decades before they are deliver on their potential (Matthew McConaughey). Next weekend the big screen adaptation of “Divergent” is hitting theaters and, all of a sudden, people are going to start talking about Theo James.
Granted, James isn't new to Hollywood and, theater school degree aside, it's sort of why he qualifies. The 29-year-old was the star of the CBS and Warner Bros. TV series “Golden Boy” in 2013. But, like Hemsworth, he was first seen in British television by American agents, casting directors and producers who immediately caught that “movie star” quality in him (Hemsworth was seen on the Aussie small screen). That label is sometimes liberally thrown around with young or new actors, but a true movie star has a charisma that can transcend the material on the page and connect with people. And, I don't say this rashly, James is going to join that select club.
Let's also be clear, this isn't because James is another pretty face. That genetic trait hasn't worked out for Pettyfer, Hayden Christensen or Taylor Lauther, has it? No, James displays an unexpected combination of intelligence, wit, sensitivity and strength in “Divergent” (and some of my TV colleagues might say in “Golden Boy” too). He doesn't have the goofball charm and sincerity of Channing Tatum or the sexy cockiness with a dark side of Ryan Gosling. It's a little more classic Hollywood and any director who catches Neil Burger's flick will instantly believe James could jump into a hardcore action flick, star in a romantic comedy or clean up in a period drama (hell, he already appeared in one episode of “Downton Abbey”).
Again, prepare yourself for James' being thrust into the paparazzi mix. Get ready for the People magazine follow up features after “Divergent's” expected big opening. Wonder why E! is wondering who James is dating next. Most importantly, look for James to finally land those big studio roles he's lost on auditions to some of his more well known peers. Trust, it's going to happen.
James sat down last week to talk about “Divergent” where he plays Four, a top agent in the Dauntless faction who realizes his post-“something” (apocalyptic just isn't the right term) world just isn't right. Moreover, his director, Burger, had a tough task transforming that futuristic Chicago from Veronica Roth's novel — which can't even be explained in two sentences – into something believable. As he's already on board for the expected sequels “Insurgent” and “Allegiant” it was clear James was relieved this alternate reality actually worked on screen.
You can watch our interview in the embedded video at the top of this post.
If you do check out “Divergent,” come back and share your opinion. Is James headed for bigger and better things or do you think he's just another flash in the pan?
“Divergent” opens nationwide and in IMAX on Friday.