Ever since the release of the 2017 film Ladybird — in which Chalamet plays the stereotypical “bad boy” — Hollywood has had one name in its mouth: Timothée Chalamet. The 26-year-old actor’s career seems to have grown exponentially, and in merely a couple of years, his popularity is nearing that of actors like Matt Damon and Johnny Depp. His success story, however, is not as unique as it may seem and instead reflects the continuation of a trend that began in the late 1980s.
Around the late ’80s and early ’90s, seemingly unlimited swarms of starlings were rising from the depths of Hollywood’s studios. Among these were actors such as River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke, and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few. These stars appeared in a variety of movie genres but all seemed to be universally doted upon, stereotypically by young women.
Seeing this same pattern in the 21st century with Chalamet prompts us to ask the question: What factor ties all these seemingly different men together, so that they have consistently appealed to the same audience, decade after decade?
When it comes to Chalamet, there’s a high level of unity between fans and critics. Most would agree that Chalamet is a good actor who’s here to stay. This kind of solidarity is uncommon in the world of teen idols, who are usually labeled eye candy and then dropped after a few films. Chalamet, however, appears to be en route to the same kind of success his ’90s counterparts experienced. This smooth career path is an unfamiliar narrative in the acting world, especially for younger actors, who are often forgotten once their target audience grows up and moves on to more “mature” content. So what quality has perpetuated the success of these men through the constantly fluctuating trends of Hollywood?
We can turn a blind eye to many things, but imagining a world where raw talent is the only thing that factors into acting success is impossibly idealistic. If there’s any sort of circle we can draw around these men, it’s their physicality.
Like Chalamet, Hawke, Phoenix, DiCaprio, and others all sport a more gangly, unathletic look than is typically seen as the standard of attractiveness for men. They all have somewhat delicate features and tend to abide by a more feminine standard of beauty. Fans’ response to the attractiveness of these men signifies an interesting shift in society’s gender ideals.
Before the “charm over chiseled” trend took root in the film industry, the ideal beauty standard for men was a muscled, stoic look. And while this still holds true in many sectors of our gendered society, today’s mainstream media is much more transparent about what people find attractive in men. These characteristics are embodied by Chalamet, who exhibits a mosaic of femininity and masculinity, fusing confidence with fragility.
In Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet plays a well-read, eloquent teen having an affair with an older man. In Beautiful Boy, he depicts a drug-addicted son living with a conflicted father. Even his portrayal of Paul Atreides in Dune is nuanced, adding on layers of emotional subtleties that aren’t typical of the classic, manly “hero.” In all of these roles, Chalamet displays a profound intelligence while simultaneously acting instinctively.
Though Chalamet is today’s symbol of a more fluid manliness, the popularity of his androgynous predecessors signifies that androsexuals — those attracted to masculinity — have been ready to move on from the hypermasculine standard for decades. By celebrating less stereotypical gender expression, it is possible both to deconstruct norms that exist today, and to pave a path for even more radical and authentic forms of gender expression in the future.