There’s a certain undeniable allure to Jeremy Allen White, the recently award-winning star of The Bear and one of the internet’s newest sex symbols in the wake of a particularly eye-catching Calvin Klein ad. I say ‘new’ but the truth is White’s stardom has been steadily on the rise for a long time now, so much so that the introduction of this article has been revised many times to include the latest thing he is in the headlines for.
In a fascinating profile for GQ, he reflected on the conflicted nature of being so present in internet gossip and tabloid headlines. The actor explained, “It’s such a weird aspect of this thing that I truly never thought I would ever deal with whatsoever.”
Since the birth of Hollywood, the idea of stardom has sat a little uncomfortably alongside the goal of certain actors to ‘disappear into a role’ or ‘inhabit a character’. This has only become more prominent in the age of the internet where the news cycle is constant and people can be exposed to the thoughts of thousands of strangers daily with the click of a button.
It is inevitable for audiences that this off-screen persona of an actor often carries through into a film, the ‘nice guy’ persona of Tom Hanks is not only developed through the types of roles he chooses but also the way he conducts himself in interviews etc. So what lies at the heart of the appeal of Jeremy Allen White and what do his recent projects tell us about his emerging identity as an actor?
Jeremy Allen White and the notion of the ‘Average Guy’
White’s career trajectory is a somewhat unique one. For most of his twenties, he played Lip Gallagher on the US version of Shameless. Yet, only recently has White begun to cultivate an image for himself outside of that character. Beyond The Bear, his most prominent and popular role, White appeared in two feature films last year and is due to star in the upcoming A24 wrestling drama The Iron Claw.
In Fremont, he plays a car mechanic who helps the protagonist along the way and acts as a reluctant outlet for conversation. Fingernails similarly sees White in a supporting role, this time as a guy who has a sincere interest in nature documentaries and is ultimately discarded by his long-time girlfriend. In neither film is his character fleshed out in too much detail, but it’s understood that he is a stand-in for a seemingly average guy who always has a sincere, deep interest in his hobbies or profession.
These roles are really not too far from the obsessive and at times destructive passion of Carmy in The Bear. There’s an almost ‘American dream’ aspect to somebody like Carmy, a hard-working attitude which is seen both on-screen and off and is something which I think has become part of the allure of White’s stardom. There’s a strangely ‘self-made’ aspect to it all, whether or not it’s the way he dresses which is mostly an elevated casual style, at once both caring and effortless, or if it’s the way he speaks in interviews with genuine passion and thoughtfulness.
There’s something relatable and admirable to his stardom which keeps him grounded in our minds. He’s previously been dubbed by the internet as ‘the working woman’s Timothée Chalamet’ which also plays into the idea that he is somehow more down-to-earth than other stars of this era. Nevertheless, there’s a potential darker side to this relatable coin which lives in the way he embodies a certain kind of loneliness in his roles and speaks to a modern masculinity which is lost.
Jeremy Allen White and lonely masculinity
Many comparisons have been made between White and a young Gene Wilder but unlike the spritely energy of Wilder, White exudes something more profound and upsetting in the roles he picks.
There is something tragic to his character in Fingernails whose most fatal flaw is being comfortable with routine and perhaps even verging on comfortability with boredom. Indicative of this is a scene where he’s watching a nature documentary about caribou and says to Jessie Buckley’s Anna: “These things always make me cry.” The way White can deliver a line like this with the utmost sincerity highlights his particular skills in crafting the lightly tragic figure of the average modern man.
This somewhat builds on a previous role he had in the 2020 film The Rental where he is similarly cheated on by his partner and plays the mostly innocent role of the naïve younger brother. That film, although tonally very different, prefigures the kind of emasculation typical to White’s roles post-Shameless. Funnily enough, this naïve younger brother look is of course present in The Bear too. Whilst his character in Fremont is much less fleshed out, what is distinct is that he leads a solitary existence – working alone all day at his garage.
In the previously mentioned GQ profile, White commented on this tendency towards loneliness in his roles, stating “I feel very close to it all the time,” and going on to express the “bleed-over” of playing such heavy roles into his personal life. For better or for worse though, this certain style of lonely masculinity is relatable for many and has become almost indelibly associated with the image of White. Throughout his projects, he seems to sit somewhere between the traditionally crafted male ideal and the depressed loner.
In The Bear, for example, Carmy seems uncomfortable around the idea of ‘bro culture’, often being overpowered by the more boisterous cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) or overshadowed in flashbacks by his older brother Mikey (Jon Bernthal). Nevertheless, Carmy is equally seen bottling up his emotions, tending towards isolation and using anger and verbal abuse as an outlet. He embraces a somewhat healthier version of masculinity whilst holding onto the vestiges of the more toxic style too. In this sense, within this role in particular, the idea of masculinity is simultaneously being heralded but also deconstructed.
Upon a closer look, many of White’s roles deal quite directly with masculinity and the idea of loneliness – a trend that looks like it will continue in The Iron Claw. Nevertheless, the more fame he amasses, the more possible baggage that people bring into a screening and the less grounded his image may become.
I just hope that his roles continue to be challenging and that the Calvin Klein ad is not a sign of things to come. In recent years, far too many talented actors have been sucked up by the Hollywood machine, drawn into a superhero role or the latest uninspired biopic. I don’t blame them but, at least for the moment, White stands out from the crowd.