40 shades of brilliant; the eight best actors under the age of 40 right now 9 years ago

40 shades of brilliant; the eight best actors under the age of 40 right now

Being a leading man in Hollywood is a tough business. Sure, the lads that hit the big-time and manage to headline successful blockbusters certainly have a life that most men would sell their first born for. But staying there is a different story all together.

Every established actor who is money right now in Hollywood did the grunt work in their late 20s or 30s. Essentially picking the right roles and giving the absolute best performances they could while they had the chance. Think George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington… men that are where they are now because of the quality of their work over a long period of time.


So we thought we’d list eight of the guys, who for a vast concoction of reasons, we feel that are the best of the best under 40 in Hollywood right now. But the main one is they are undeniably movie stars who continue to challenge themselves in roles that defy public expectation of what monetary success in movies means.

Michael Fassbender


The only Irishman on the list (we know he was born in Germany, but he grew up in Kerry so hush now), but that could change if Jack Reynor and Domhnall Gleeson continue to ascend at the rate they’re currently moving at.


Fassbender had a great reputation amongst directors and producers before he was remotely near becoming a household name. Popping up in 300 and Eden Lake in supporting roles before knocking it out of the park in his first collaboration with director Steve McQueen, Hunger, he’s now seen as one of the most well-respected thespians on the planet.

What’s most staggering about Michael Fassbender is his versatility. He has the looks and presence of marquee name, but has genuine balls when it comes to his choices. His work in Shame and 12 Years a Slave are truly stunning; vastly different, disconcertingly dark characters that he simply gets lost in. The litmus test of all great actors is you forget someone is acting.

Then slap him in a Tom Ford suit and hand him a gun and he’s James Bond. Few would argue he’s the natural successor to Daniel Craig’s brilliant run as the world’s favourite Secret Agent. That, folks, is versatility.

Ryan Gosling



While his most recent choices and work are far from his smartest or best, Gosling has become so much of a pop culture icon of late it’s probably a little too easy to be dismissive of his excellent work.

Drive will be the benchmark for wannabe leading men for years to come. But Gosling doesn’t pander to the Hollywood machine and obviously rarely picks roles for the cash or box-office prospects (OK, Gangster Squad was a pile of shite, but at least he got to work with Sean Penn).

For those really familiar with his work they’ll know the pure power behind his layered, beautiful performance in Blue Valentine; or his Oscar nominated belter of a turn in Half Nelson. There are genuinely too many to list.


When he deviates from the maybe slightly quirky, he looks every inch the movie star. Delivering comedic moments beautifully in the hugely underrated Crazy, Stupid, Love and bouncing off of an improvisational master in Steve Carrell like a natural.

He’s certainly at a crossroads in his career; he was outshone by Bradley Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines, and Only God Forgives was about as entertaining as a kick in the balls from a toddler on steroids. But he’s capable of brilliance, and he’s shown that more than once.

Tom Hardy


A different kind of actor than most of the other guys on the list, Hardy was very much a bit part player until he absolutely burst on to the scene with the superb Bronson. An outside of the box, engrossing performance that won him deserved plaudits.


He followed it up by gradually gaining momentum towards becoming a stellar leading man with strong work in Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. Despite not being the protagonist in those films, they were both enough of a success for the powers that be in Hollywood to take notice.

Then along came one of the most underrated films of damn near the past decade, Warrior. Initially a huge underperformer at the box-office, it has since gained a far broader audience and Hardy’s work is pure, brute force with a hint of hurt amidst a sea of fractured family issues. He offered a similar tough, but sensitive turn in another gem from a couple of years back, Lawless.

While he’s yet to prove he’s box-office on his own name, his lead turn in the new version of Mad Max should change that.

Bradley Cooper


Few people would’ve envisioned that the guy in the friend zone for a couple of seasons of Alias would become a huge movie star and end up nominated for a couple of Oscars… apparently all it took was a hangover.

The global box-office success of The Hangover afforded Bradley Cooper the opportunity to have options; after a misstep with The A-Team, he had box-office success on primarily his name when Limitless hit, both critically and commercially.

Cooper seemed like just another good-looking, crowd-pleasing movie star who maybe wasn’t willing to maybe take the more uncoventional roles. But the 39-year old just needed a chance, and that was working with David O Russell on Silver Linings Playbook and producing and starring in another of his darlings, this year's American Hustle. He also had the humility to take a smaller role in that lauded production.

If the success of the men on this list is anything to go by, having the humility to take smaller roles is absolutely key, and Cooper certainly appears to have that down.

Jake Gyllenhaal


At 33, Gyllenhaal is one of the youngest on the list but has had the most leading roles, averaging at least a couple of films a year since bursting onto the scene in 2001 with the modern cult classic, Donnie Darko.

He was somewhat of an quirky, indie darling for a large part of his career, occasionally dabbling in the mainstream with the likes of The Day After Tomorrow and Prince of Persia; but he’s really hit his stride lately with fantastic work in End of Watch and Prisoners – two films that should’ve seen him on aul’ Oscar’s list.

Another actor with movie star quality who has the humility to take smaller roles, he may have just found his directorial soul mate in his Prisoners helmer Denis Villeneuve, who has apparently done his best work to date with in the upcoming Enemy.

Expect Gylenhaal to continue to mix it up.

Joseph Gordon Levitt


Not many child actors graduate to the career that Levitt has carved for himself. While not afraid to take the darker roles, he seems to excel when starring in slightly lighter fare, managing to give what could’ve been an annoying as shit character in 500 Days of Summer an almost inexplicable likeabilty.

Levitt is in a position now where directors will try to attach his name to productions to underline the credibility even before a camera has rolled. He’s also in a position where he’s able to turn down those offers if he doesn’t feel they are right.

Now a director and owner of his own (very cool) interactive production company, Hit Record Joe, he’s got the talent, profile and potential to do something very different and very special.

He also rocks the fuck out of a three-piece suit does Joseph.

Leonardo DiCaprio


There are very few actors on the planet right now that can pretty much guarantee a hit film with their presence. Di Caprio is one of those actors, and does it (unlike say Will Smith) by making often bold, challenging choices in films that certainly wouldn’t get the hefty backing they did without him starring in them.

After Titanic become one of the biggest films of all time, Leonardo DiCaprio could’ve dined out on his looks and charisma. Instead he made a long-term plan for his career and at the moment is arguably the most successful, respected actor on the planet.

Inception is an incredible piece of work; notable for how cerebral it manages to be on such a huge scale; Shutter Island is an endlessly entertaining gem; The Departed a modern classic; Catch Me If You Can is a caper unrivalled in terms of pure joy. We could go on and on. Even with the Scorsese collaborations aside this man is hurricane of quality.

The difference between most other successful stars and DiCaprio is he does it with style and inherent class – constantly.

Christian Bale


Simply the best actor working today. Yeah, we said it! This year alone Christian Bale has two vastly different, equally impressive performances in American Hustle and Out Of The Furnace. The former a bravado, fun critical darling, the latter a darker, downbeat character study that deserved more credit than it received after a stoic American release.

Another child actor who kicked on to a stratospheric level, Bale throws himself into a role both physically and mentally. Losing vast amounts of weight for The Machinist and Rescue Dawn was obvious, but he’s never less than impressive and often staggeringly good.

American Psycho, The Fighter, The Prestige, The Dark Knight Trilogy… it’s difficult to imagine anyone in any of those roles giving a better performance. Bale is a gifted thespian, without a doubt, but he also never takes that talent for granted, working his ass off to make sure the role is played to perfection. That is where the weight loss for roles comes from - he's a perfectionist.

A few weeks shy of his 40th birthday, the best is yet to come from Christian Bale. And his prime may just raise the bar again.