Soul searching in Hollywood as America’s stars fail to measure up for major movies

Actors have always crossed the Atlantic in search of fame and fortune, but the recent slew of plum roles for British stars has led to a crisis. Where are America's leading men who can reclaim the silver screen?

The invasion of British and Irish leading men in Hollywood has now gone beyond a joke for many in the American entertainment industry. First noticed some time in 2011, the trend was initially dismissed as a novelty: an interesting phase that would pass, rather than as a threat. But now actors and directors are calling for action to mobilise American drama teachers and schools to counter it.

In Britain, of course, the same trend is greeted gleefully as another chance to cry out, "the Brits are coming!" One by one, each wave of the invasion has been characterised and cheered off at the dock.

First, a group of talented black stars, including David Harewood, of Homeland, and Idris Elba, of The Wire, felt they had a better chance of good roles and good pay in Los Angeles. Then, a slew of superhero signings was spotted; the British-raised Andrew Garfield was cast as Spider-Man, Welshman Christian Bale as Batman, and the Stowe-educated Henry Cavill as Superman.


Next, came a third onslaught of what might have sounded like the posher, officer class; the old Etonians: Hugh Laurie, in House, Dominic West, in The Wire, Damian Lewis, in Homeland, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in the Marvel comic book films - except, of course, these well-heeled English actors' tough American accents and stateside machismo were faultless when required.

Then, the Welsh infantry arrived, with prominent roles going to Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex and Matthew Rhys in The Americans. Four years on, it turns out that this was not a shortlived fad. Britain is still sending regular reinforcements across the Atlantic, from the new Spider-Man signing (Tom Holland from Surrey), to the actors who have recently snatched real-life national archetypes like Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) from the grasp of US stars.

And that is to say nothing of the upcoming movies in which Irishman Michael Fassbender will play tech-guru Steve Jobs, Hiddleston will play country singer Hank Williams and Bedfordshire's Ben Whishaw will play Herman Melville, author of America's most revered novel, Moby Dick.

A serious backlash has started in America, with film-making heavyweights such as actor and producer Michael Douglas and director Spike Lee calling for an urgent rethink in the industry. Both have asked why their country is failing to produce male stars with heft enough to tackle major roles.

The resistance movement has been growing since January when Richard Hicks, president of the Casting Society of America, pointed out that a search for new faces had become an epidemic. "I went to see a movie," he told Entertainment Weekly, "and four casting directors were sitting around talking about, 'What's up with all the Brits and Australian actors snagging all the leads?'"

Hicks and his colleagues put the problem down to a failure to train American actors in character work. In answer to the dearth of substantial male talent, his fellow casting directors cast their net wider, giving serious roles to actors who had picked up technique in comic roles. So Steve Carrell was cast in Foxcatcher, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and Funny People, Ben Stiller in While We're Young and now Vince Vaughn stars in the bleak second season of the hit television series True Detective.

Hollywood has always been refreshed by British leading men. Even Eltham-born Bob Hope, the quintessential wise-cracking American star, used to recount that he had made his way over to the US by boat at five years of age because, "I felt I wasn't getting anywhere in England."

- Observer