5 Tough Guy Actors Who Aren’t Really So Tough
A lot of actors make a living kicking alien butt, or terrorist butt, or each other’s butts on camera, all while we cheer and wait for new tactical weapons to be developed so our heroes can blow up cities in a more creative yet efficient manner. And some stars, like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, have become synonymous with the idea of tough guy action hero. But we need to remember that acting is acting, and just because someone looks like a badass on screen doesn’t mean they really are in real life.
Few stars are bigger right now than Vin Diesel, who’s got Riddick, the Fast and Furious, and now the Guardians of the Galaxy as ongoing franchises that include him in action-packed roles. Even his name sounds like an action hero from a movie. So it’s kind of surprising to hear from the man’s own mouth that while he may look like a superhero come to life, in his downtime he’s an epic nerd.
Diesel has proclaimed his love for roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons on more than one occasion. And it’s not just a “when I was a kid” type thing—he actively plays the game all the time. He taught Dame Judi Dench how to play on the set of Riddick. It’s just what he does when he’s not acting. And he’s done it for over 20 years. How many other people do you know who can commit to 20 years of stereotypical nerdery?
When Hugh Jackman first appeared as Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, fans were blown away by the performance, he was as perfect a Wolverine as we could have hoped for. Since that first movie, he’s owned the character so thoroughly that it’ll be hard to imagine anyone else taking the role when the actor eventually has to retire it. He’s just that good, and his sideburns are second to none.
Jackman is so good at playing the ferocious mutant Wolverine that it’s hard to wrap your head around basically the entire remainder of his career. When not sporting adamantium claws, Jackman is mostly a song and dance man tearing up the stage on and off Broadway. Throughout the 1990s, Jackman earned his keep by performing in stage musicals, something he still does to this day when he’s not in Hollywood blockbusters. Not only has he won Tony Awards for his stage work, he’s hosted the awards on numerous occasions as well, and he’s about as big a star in the world of musicals as he is in action films. Try picturing Schwarzenegger doing that.
Though he’s been acting in some big roles for many years, it was the Taken series of movies that really cemented Liam Neeson as a man you do not want to mess with. Something about his cold, calculating delivery and his badass, no nonsense takedown of evildoers created a kind of latter day James Bond vibe that audiences loved. Neeson’s calm demeanor and gritty voice sold it.
While he sounds good threatening punks over the phone, apparently in real life all you need to do to overcome Neeson is put something he wants on top of a ladder. According to Neeson, his fear of heights is pretty intense. “Somebody might freak out over a snake or a spider. I don’t—I pick spiders up and put them outside and stuff,” he says. “But put me on a chair to fix a lamp or something and then, boom.”
Samuel L. Jackson
Few actors have had a more prolific career than Sam Jackson. In fact, Jackson now ranks as the actor with the highest grossing film total ever—movies in which he has appeared have grossed over $7 billion, which is mind-blowing. So it’s safe to say the man doesn’t just pick a lot of roles, he picks some damn good ones, with iconic characters like Nick Fury, Mace Windu, Shaft and Jules Winnfield. On screen, Jackson is often known for his badass attitude and a menacing stare that could make the best of us feel uncomfortable.
In real life, Jackson has had his past troubles, but he’s also been a staunch civil rights activist and hardcore golfer. In fact, his contracts generally include clauses that allow him time to golf during whatever film he’s making. And he doesn’t just play golf, he goes full throttle wearing the ugliest of checkered golf pants and matching vests and hats, often in pastel colors and patterns you could see from space. His wallet may say he’s bad, but his wardrobe and hobbies certainly belong to a guy who just wants to relax with your grandpa and chill out all day.
Few tough guy actors have as sketchy a reputation as Steven Seagal. From singing with Panda Bears to pretending to be a cop on a reality TV show, the man’s been a bit odd for years now. John Leguizamo famously included a bit in his standup routine about the movie Executive Decision he made with Seagal. He claims Seagal came onto the set and told everyone he was in charge. Leguizamo laughed because it sounded stupid and Seagal attacked him out of nowhere. Other stories also agree he’s a bit of a bully and is known to attack stuntmen without provocation by kicking them in the groin or dislocating joints to the point that they need surgery. So all of this proves he really is tough, if somewhat jerky, right? Well, maybe not.
Over the course of his career, Seagal has claimed to have trained CIA operatives, fought the Yakuza, and was trained by the founder of Aikido—a man who died in 1968 when Seagal was still living in California. But more than that, one story best exemplifies how Seagal’s career as a tough guy is mostly just bullying and bluster. That tale is the Gene LeBell story.
Legend has it that Lebell was a stunt coordinator on the Seagal movie Out for Justice. At this time, Seagal already had a rep as a guy who would kick you in the nuts without warning, so most people just didn’t like him. But he came on set one day and told LeBell, who was 58 at the time, that as an Aikido master he was immune to choke holds. Why? Who knows? Just tough guy talk. But LeBell took him up on it and promptly choked Seagal out on the floor. And not just that, he choked him out so badly Seagal lost control of his bodily functions. Ever gracious, LeBell refuses to talk about the story to this day—but he never denies it either.