ARTICLE LOGAN HILL
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBERT NETHERY
STYLIST KRIS ZERO
JAKE ABEL AND MAX IRONS, STANDOUT STARS OF THIS SPRING'S YOUNG ADULT ADAPTATION THE HOST, EMBRACE THE UNRELENTING MENTALITY THRUST UPON TODAY'S YOUNG ACTORS BY THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIO SYSTEM: IT'S Y.A. OR THE HIGHWAY
“Nobody’s a star until they’re a star,” says Jake Abel, accurately coining a catchphrase for contemporary celebrity. “Everyone’s a Joe So-and-So and everyone’s a hack, until they’re not. You see all the guys you’re competing with, and suddenly you’re in a franchise that’s being compared to Twilight.”
Jake Abel, 25, and Max Irons, 27, aren’t A-list stars yet, but the moment they scored lead roles in The Host, they got their feet in the door. The film is Stephanie Meyer’s first since her girl-thrilling, skin-sparkling Twilight franchise, and it’s likely the first film of a new trilogy. As in Twilight, an intense young woman (Saoirse Ronan, of Hannah and Atonement) must choose between two handsome men vying for her attention. But, in The Host, directed by sci-fi auteur Andrew Niccol, the action unspools on a post-apocalyptic, alien-invaded Earth. Ronan plays Melanie, a woman whose body has been inhabited by an extraterrestrial intelligence named Wanda. Irons plays Jared, the rough-hewn romantic who loves and has seemingly lost the human Melanie. Abel plays Ian, a more sensitive soul who falls for the alien Wanda. “It’s more a love box than a love triangle,” says Abel. It’s also a huge opportunity.
“I remember clearly my parents’ first piece of advice,” recalls Irons, the son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack. “They said, ‘Don’t look at us and think it will be the same for you. We are the one percent who are doing very well, but the odds are against you. Be prepared for a life of financial instability, fear, paranoia, and rejection.”
But so far, Irons and Abel have been among the lucky ones too. After small film and TV parts, Irons landed a plum role opposite Amanda Seyfried in Red Riding Hood. Abel has scored roles in everything from Percy Jackson and I Am Number Four to Supernatural and The Lovely Bones. With this film, they both enter that small pool of actors who have a shot at becoming the next Pitt or Depp. But these days everyone is asking, Can you become the next Robert Pattinson?
“It’s a very lazy comparison, because Twilight was a phenomenon unto itself,” says Irons. “Pattinson was chased down the streets of Paris before the films even came out. And he is doing well for himself. He has about five films with acclaimed directors lined up.”
Abel, too, is generous with regard to both Team Edward and Team Jacob. “A lot of people expect us to knock the Twilight cast,” he says. “But Taylor Lautner is a really nice kid. Rob Pattinson, I couldn’t imagine the tremendous amount of pressure he was under—and he earned my respect when I saw him fight for certain projects. Water for Elephants is a great novel, the movie was what it was. That’s not his fault. That’s the risk: we’re the face of projects.”
Both actors may wax complimentary toward the other men in Meyer’s life, but they’re also savvy about learning from the way those who came before them have navigated Hollywood. Once upon a time, actors made their name in small parts andstages. Today, fresh faces who get thrust out onto 3,000 screens before you even know their names either sink (Taylor Kitsch) or swim (Pattinson). As for today’s hottest young actors, a landscape dominated by franchises and sequel-stretched brands is just reality—even for the biggest new fish (Hemsworth(s), Radcliffe, Gordon-Levitt), this is the only water they know. Abel and Irons weren’t just born after Jaws and Star Wars, they were born after Return of the Jedi, Superman III, Rocky IV, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s a very different business than the one that made stars out of Pacino and Nicholson, Redford and Newman.
“A young person like myself,” says Irons, “I look at the actors I respect, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and you track back through their careers: They did small parts with good directors and good scripts, laying a foundation of good solid work. They worked their way up.”
That’s not how it works in 2013—especially if you are as handsome as Irons and Abel. If you blow up young, you don’t just have a better chance of buying a house in the Hollywood Hills, you have a better shot at getting great parts. Or flaming out entirely. “Now some young people shoot up in terms of fame and pay and notoriety, but they aren’t necessarily ready for it,” Irons says, declining to name names. “There are few who are ready, lots that aren’t. That’s a scary model. You only get one shot. It’s difficult. Instant megastardom? That’s a dangerous way to do it.”
Abel and Irons talk about actors like Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender who have managed to balance the big Hollywood flicks with riskier indies. Abel writes screenplays and directs short films on the side. Irons is acting royalty, schooled in theater. Both name-check highbrow directors and repeatedly mention how Twilight paved the way for Pattinson to work with David Cronenberg on Cosmopolis and how The Notebook allowed Ryan Gosling to do, well, whatever the hell he wants.
“I knew Red Riding Hood, my first major role, might not be the greatest film ever made, but you have to take a chance in order to get your foot on the next rung of the ladder,” says Abel. “It’s not necessarily the only way—but it’s a way. But if you play that card too strong, the minute you fail there will be someone to replace you.”
In a new Hollywood scene where the box office is built more on established brands than A-list talent, Irons and Abel know it’s not going to be easy. They talk earnestly about their desire to back up the big franchise parts with steady, quality work over years. Only time will tell. Until then, both actors are aware that, just as they battle for Saoirse Ronan’s heart in The Host, they’ll be fighting each other for parts—probably sooner than later.
“Whoever I compete with, I’ll take jobs from them and they’ll take jobs from me,” says Abel. “Max and I will compete! It’s the way it is. And the ones of us who take it seriously are going to get the work. It’s Darwinian.”
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