When it comes to men on the big screen, small screen, and airwaves, I’m partial to the men a generation or so above me. The obvious dudes? I can’t stand Brad Pitt. He ruins all that he touches, I think, including casting directors’ sense of decency. Jon Hamm does what he’s supposed to, yes, and young men are alright. Some of them have swagger, but none of them can back it up with anything except an idea, an aspiration toward maturity and experience. And, hugely, Heath Ledger left a gap that no young man has yet filled (though Gosling is getting there). Enter the men of a certain age (specifically my dad’s): they have lived! And it shows in pretty much everything they do.
I may actually mean Roger Sterling when I say John Slattery, but something tells me Slattery and his likeable ladykiller on Mad Men are proximate to each other; his brief appearance on Sex and the City seemed to be his tryout for this role. He is so effortless, it’s hard to believe he ever messes up his lines: flirting over the phone with a coat girl from Long Island “or Rhode Island” in Season 5, gazing at Joan’s son as if he really, deeply cares about the boy, but not enough to get sentimental about it. He makes the show. He’s the only consistent source of joy, as icky as that joy somehow feels, and he is so good that I can forgive him for treating every woman he meets like a child.
Alberto Salazar, apart from being a star marathoner in his day (he won the New York Marathon three times in a row), is one of the top running coaches in the world. Proof: over the weekend, two of his current male stars, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, qualified for the Olympics in the 5000m (Farah won the race, Rupp came third). Salazar, who is 53, suffered a massive heart attack in 2007, after which he had no pulse for 14 minutes. Somehow, he survived to continue coaching some of the best distance runners the U.S. has seen in years. As a runner and complete nerd, I’ve spent hours watching videos of Salazar track workouts and interviews. He’s this perfect combination of tough coach and, well, tough dad. And he has some serious sass on him, as his old rival Amby Burfoot writes at the beginning of an interview he did with Salazar months after the heart attack:
“After an indoor meet at Madison Square Garden in the early 1980s, I asked if [Salazar] wasn’t perhaps racing too much — indoors, outdoors, cross-country, and marathons. He gave me a harsh stare and a smart-aleck answer: “Well, I’ve been doing pretty well at all of them, wouldn’t you say?”
Part of the reason I love Ryssdal, the host of the financial radio show Marketplace, is because he’s a runner (um, what? Another nerdy runner?) who has three young kids and somehow finds the time to run five times a week, very early in the morning, in Los Angeles, no less, while wearing a headlamp so he can see in the dark. Ryssdal is the only person in news, I would say (except Rachel Maddow) who can be lighthearted about bad news and still do it in a respectful way. What’s his secret? His voice? His delivery? It’s some Ryssdalian ventriloquial move, and it’s the only way I can be made to care about financial news. Above, Ryssdal “does the numbers” for some uninterested children.
Nobody in the U.S. knows who Jon Snow is, but he’s a longtime English news correspondent who delivered the news to my family every weeknight for ten years as host of Channel 4 News. Snow’s tie was like a co-anchor unto itself: he basically never wore the same tie twice, and they were always vibrantly colored. When I was too young to keep details of the Cold War straight, I looked forward to the news just to see what Snow’s tie would look like, and as a consequence I’d be forced to learn something. Seeing Jon Snow is like seeing my television father, or a more world-weary, British Mr. Rodgers. Snow once took a plane with Ugandan president Idi Amin and said, in this excellent BBC interview in which he shares his desert island records, that while Amin was sleeping he fantasized about taking his revolver and killing him.
Enough about my Bruce Springsteen Problem, but the problem definitely took on a new force after I watched the documentary The Promise, which is about the making of 1978’s Darkness On the Edge of Town. Documentaries (and concerts, for that matter) have a funny way of endearing you to an artist you previously knew nothing about (or turned a blind eye to for whatever reason). In The Promise, Springsteen lets us in on the incredibly productive period of his late 20s, when he would fill entire notebooks with pages of lyrics before getting to the final song, and wrote so many songs that he ended up with several albums worth of unused material (much of that material would end up on the demos and b-sides album Tracks, released in the 80s). Above is a great clip from the documentary.
I fell asleep watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but this does not mean Gary Oldman isn’t a gift from god. Anyway, that role required Oldman to be understated and mysterious and “meta” about everything, because the book is. One of Oldman’s best (and, to us, most recognizable) roles is as Detective Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. But he also has an impressive stage resume, and like so many English actors of a certain age, he’s been in too many films and TV series to count. He was Sid Vicious in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy. He was Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK. He was in Fallen Angels. He played Pontius Pilate in a TV series called, simply, Jesus. He also wrote the screenplay for the film Nil By Mouth. He’s Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films, and on and on and on. So far he’s only been nominated for one Oscar (for Tinker), but he was born to bust out of nowhere and win five in a row. Here’s hoping. Above, part one of Oldman’s recent interview with Charlie Rose.
Another Gary. Gary Cole is known to most of us as the boss from Office Space, but he also has a recurring role as Diane Lockheart’s love interest Kurt McVeigh on The Good Wife. Kurt is a nature-loving Republican ballistics expert who at various times saunters into Diane’s office in cowboy boots in an attempt to get her to stop working so hard, etc. It’s a bit of a ridiculous setup, but when this show starts to drag, Gary Cooper tends to appear and all is well again. Above is an absolutely ridiculous Diane-and-Kurt highlight reel that someone made and set to a Bruno Mars song.
Edward St. Aubyn
OK, some of these guys aren’t even that old: St. Aubyn, the delightful British novelist, is only 52. St. Aubyn has had a difficult life, to say the least: his father sexually abused him when he was a child, which led to heroin and alcohol addiction as a young man. St. Aubyn is now clean, as well as married and a father. He’s the author of a quintet of short, hilarious and at times harrowing novels collectively known as the Patrick Melrose novels, named for their protagonist, who is drawn from St. Aubyn’s life experiences. St. Aubyn is one of the funniest writers alive. His books are about the ridiculous, seemingly low-stakes world of the British upper crust. But under the pleasant film of alcohol and drugs and awkward, tension-filled dinner parties in the country lies some truly disturbing stuff…which St. Aubyn frequently relieves us from dealing with by making jokes. In what universe is it possible to be funny about pedophilia and heroin addiction? Only if you’ve lived through it yourself.