Hollywood's Leading Men Get Larger

"It's different from Val Kilmer just pigging out on the potato chips," he added. "Travolta does something with the weight as an actor. He makes himself more quirky, more lovable."

But in his new film with Washington, Casablanca said the jury is still out on how it will do at the box office. Audiences are not used to seeing a heavier Washington, who was once People's Sexiest Man Alive.

"That's not how we know him, that's not how we like him," he said.

In the past, leading men, like Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart, maintained their svelte figures well past middle age. It was due in part to the studio system, which had these stars under contract.

"You had to look good, you had to take care of yourself," Gehring said. "They would fine you if you didn't maintain a certain weight."

Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who became actors at the tail end of the studio system, nevertheless maintained their trim physiques. They also tended to maintain a certain persona no matter what role they played.

Comic Actors Cut More Slack

Actors since then have used so-called "method acting" to justify gaining or losing weight for a role. But in some cases, like when Shelly Winters added substantially to her frame for "The Poseidon Adventure," the actors never slim back down.

Actors playing comic roles, like Travolta and Vaughn, get more leeway from audiences for being heavy.

"Comedians are supposed to look funny, think Laurel and Hardy," Gehring said.

But these days, Hollywood may just be reflecting America.

"Out here in the hinterlands, much of America is huge," Gehring said. "There might be a lot of obese men."

"The dude factor is the trend right now, that's very middle-America right now. Metro-sexual is out," Casablanca said. "Go around the country on a date night and the chicks are super-thin in short skirts, and their boyfriends are wearing un-tucked T-shirts with flab around the middle. I think Hollywood reflects that. It's almost seen as gay to be too trim and have too much of a physique."

Think Hugh Jackman, said Casablanca. The "Wolverine" star and current People's Sexiest Man Alive has been dogged by gay rumors.

"Vaughn, we will forgive him for being too chubby, but he has to have the super thin chick," Casablanca said. "It's a very American thing right now. But Hollywood has to watch it. We're going to go with it only so far and Russell Crowe has gone too far."

Fortunately, Crowe is already shedding the pounds for his current role as Robin Hood in a new film for Universal. Got to look good in those tights.

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