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“The whole thing was always simple to me,” says rising Aussie heartthrob Brenton Thwaites. “I wanted to act, and I told myself, ‘I’m going to be an actor.’ And then it happened.”
It sure did. After nabbing roles in two big TV shows Down Under, he was soon snapped up by Hollywood, which clearly sees him as the latest in a long line of ruggedly bankable Australian actors, from Mel Gibson to Sam Worthington. Whether cast as a troubled hacker in The Signal or as the romantic Prince Phillip in Maleficent, Thwaites exudes an unself-conscious virility while still being able to plumb darker emotions. The 24-year-old ventures his most challenging role this August in Phillip Noyce’s The Giver, based on the best-selling children’s novel. Starring alongside Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Taylor Swift, he plays the naive young hero, Jonas, who discovers the malignant truth about his supposedly utopian community. “Everybody asks if Angelina Jolie was intimidating,” he tells me from Sydney, where he’s shooting the epic Gods of Egypt, “but she was nice, not scary. . . . Having to do scenes with Jeff [Bridges]—now, that’s intimidating.”
Thwaites says he’d love to have a career like that of Hugh Jackman (“He’s my all-time superhero of a guy!”), which would let him shuttle between event films and smaller character roles. Indeed, he knocked himself out to land his starring role in the upcoming Ride, in which he plays the overintellectual son of writer-director Helen Hunt who breaks free of his egghead mom and heads west to go surfing.
“Brenton came in to read for me,” says Hunt, “and he was one of those people who’s obviously a movie star. He was also utterly wrong for the part.” She cast him anyway. “I loved that he was brave—with no ego or false humility—and would do whatever it takes to play a character so different from himself.”
Thwaites appears to bring the same headlong spirit to everything he does, whether approaching a role (“Playing a new character is exciting, mate”) or pursuing his passion for seeing the world. “Australians are the kind of people who, if you’re just standing around, somebody will say, ‘Does anyone want to go to Tanzania tomorrow?’ ” He laughs. “I’m the kind of guy who says yes.”
As male ingénue parts go, few rank higher on the scale of infamy than the lead in The Blue Lagoon, the role that brought the lithe, beach-permed Christopher Atkins a depressing sort of immortality and, in 2012’s remake, launched the film career of 25-year-old Brenton Thwaites, an easygoing former soap actor from Australia who was last seen (as Prince Phillip) with Angelina Jolie in Disney’s $200 millionMaleficent. Fairy-tale-prince looks and the ability to carry off a loincloth scene could be characteristics sufficient to rocket Thwaites to stardom, but the Cairns, Queensland, native has serious parts in his sights, and one under his belt: he has the lead in Phillip Noyce’s screen adaptation (out this month) of Lois Lowry’s futuristic novel The Giver. Thwaites plays Jonas, whose life of Utopian conformity is rocked when he is endowed with all the memories of the world. Thwaites’s co-star, Jeff Bridges, struggled to get the project made for nearly two decades, and the younger man says that Bridges was “very supportive and very kind, considering it was my first big-league role.” Thwaites describes director Noyce as “kind, but with tough love, which I needed…. I have been very lucky with the films I have been dealt.” He wouldn’t mind mirroring the career of a fellow Aussie. “My favorite actor would have to be Hugh Jackman,” he notes. “I love how he can do X-Men and then come back and do a heavy dramatic part like the one in Prisoners.”