Lead roles sneaking up on `Stealth' star Lucas

Actor, 34, is ready to ascend to the top

August 03, 2005|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

MIAMI - It's happening for Josh Lucas right now.

He's making that jump from supporting player to leading man, from really, really good-looking villain to romantic hero.

Right this instant.

OK, maybe not right this instant. Sure, he has the lead in Wolfgang Petersen's blockbuster remake of The Poseidon Adventure, titled Poseidon. But that's due out next year.

He's starring in An Unfinished Life with Jennifer Lopez and Robert Redford, due out this year. Redford is known for passing that leading-man torch.

And Lucas stars in Glory Road, a now-finished 2006 release, with the plum part as legendary basketball coach Don Haskins, who led Texas Western to the 1966 NCAA championship with an all-black starting lineup. It was a role Ben Affleck had to give up.

But his first true leading-man turn is in Stealth, a flawed but fun summer sci-fi action film that opened Friday.

"He's this tall, fit, manly guy, best blue eyes since Paul Newman, great manly voice," says Stealth director Rob Cohen. "Josh is the whole package. ... Hollywood desperately needs new leading men. Brad Pitt can't do everything."

Lucas has that classic all-American look that has turned actresses such as Heather Graham and Salma Hayek into girlfriends. He has a million-dollar smile, the sparkling light-blue eyes, and enough ruggedness to shoo away any "not macho enough" talk. There's a scar that slices down over his right eye, brow to lid, cowboy boots (he's from Arkansas) and an omnipresent stubble.

"Maybe he wasn't ready before now," says Lucas' Stealth co-star Jessica Biel.

And maybe it hasn't happened before because Lucas, 34, hasn't wanted it to.

Look at the sorts of things he does. He just finished a Broadway run with Jessica Lange in The Glass Menagerie. He took supporting roles in films such as A Beautiful Mind and Around the Bend. He was the heavy in Hulk, and Reese Witherspoon's Mr. Right in Sweet Home Alabama.

He was in last year's Undertow and Coastlines, The Weight of Water and Wonderland.

"One of the reasons you do a movie like Stealth is so that those smaller ones can find an audience," Lucas says. "It's pretty clear to me that the passion and soul you bring to a movie mean nothing if you can't get the movie seen. Undertow doesn't get seen unless you've made enough of a marquee name for yourself beforehand."

He's ready to play that one-for-the-studios, one-for-me game now. And if he's a natural leading man, then that's what he'll play when the big boys come calling.

"I just wanted to make sure I was ready in as many ways as I could," he says. "I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to take fame very seriously if it came. I wasn't going to let myself be devoured or demolished by it.

"But, if at a certain point, you've done it long enough that you figure out, `I can survive this,' and that I can bring the intensity to big pictures that I try to bring to indie films, or the stage, then you're ready."

Lucas took Stealth because he grew up in a family that had that bumper sticker that hails the day when schools are better funded "and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy another bomber," Lucas says with a chuckle. "This movie is about removing the human element from war. It's happening, with technology. And I think it's dead wrong."

He did The Glass Menagerie "as a reaction to Stealth," to get the action movie out of his system.

He takes "the work" pretty seriously, say those who act with him. He takes chances, playing a victim to Christian Bale's American Psycho, the bullying gay lover of Tilda Swinton's son in The Deep End and truly out-there villains in Wonderland and Undertow.

"Integrity" is a word Lucas likes saying. He doesn't oversell this movie or that one, blubbering with the fake enthusiasm actors use to promote their wares. He does the work, and if it takes him to leading-man land, so be it.

And if the reviews don't sing?

"If you do a job for money and you can't handle a few bad reviews, that's your own problem."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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