Tough Guy Actors Who Aren't Really So Tough

A lot of actors make a nice living portraying big-screen action heroes. Like some kind of modern, celluloid equivalent of ancient Roman gladiators or the pantheon of the indestructible Olympians of Greek mythology, they portray the chiseled good guys who always defeat the bad guys and restore order to a world gone crazy (and they often make a witty quip when they throw the main bad guy, alien, or terrorist off of the skyscraper or whatever.)

A very small handful of stars, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris, have become synonymous with the idea of the tough-guy action hero. But let us not forget — acting is just acting. Just became someone looks like an immortal, perfect specimen of humanity who can kill villains with only their fists and maybe some grenades, it doesn't mean they're super-macho-manly-toxically-masculine in real life, you know. Here are some tough guy actors who aren't really so tough, and by the way, that's not a bad thing.

Another charisma spell from Vin Diesel

In the 21st century, there's no bigger old-school action star than Vin Diesel. He's got the Riddick movies, the everlasting Fast and Furious, and Guardians of the Galaxy (He is Groot!) that provide him with action-packed and butt-kicking roles. He's such an action hero that his name sounds like it belongs to a character that Vin Diesel would play in 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 into what could be called "nerd stuff." (Also, his real name is Mark Sinclair, not Vin Diesel.)

Diesel absolutely loves Dungeons & Dragons. He's such an authority on the classic, fantastical role-playing game that he wrote the foreword to the book 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. And the next time you fire up your Blu-Ray of xXx, check out Diesel's "Melkor" tattoo — that's his old D&D character name. In 2014, Diesel revealed on The Tonight Show (via The Tolkien Society) where he got that name. "I went into the glossary of The Silmarillion," he said, referring to a relatively obscure tome by The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien. Now that is a deep cut.

Wolverine...The Musical!

When Hugh Jackman first appeared as Wolverine in 2000's X-Men, the little-known Australian actor was a revelation as the brooding, funny antihero with those killer claws. He was as perfect a Wolverine as anyone could have wanted. He owned the character thoroughly, playing the world's toughest Canadian until 2018's surprisingly affecting Logan. (Also, his sideburns game is on point.)

Jackman is so good at playing the ferocious mutant Wolverine that it's hard to wrap one's head around the rest of his career. When not sporting adamantium claws, Jackman is a true song-and-dance man tearing up any stage that will have him. His starring role in a 1998 London revival of Oklahoma! was so good that it made the cut on PBS's Great Performances. He's since ingratiated himself to the Broadway community with a Tony Award-winning role in the musical The Boy From Oz and by hosting that very ceremony four times. He's also hosted the Academy Awards, and you can be sure that those ceremonies included a musical number or two. Just try picturing "Ah-nold" doing any of that.

The 'L' in Samuel L. Jackson stands for 'let me golf'

The man who likes tasty Big Kahuna Burgers almost as much as he would like these snakes removed from that plane is not only a prolific actor, but he's an astronomically successful one. He's appeared in so many movies, particularly big ones such as The Incredibles, Marvel's The Avengers, Jurassic Park, and a couple of the Star Wars prequels, that he's become the highest-grossing actor in the States with a total haul of more than $5.7 billion, according to a 2018 ranking on Box Office Mojo. On screen, Jackson is often known for his intense attitude and a menacing stare, but in real life, he just wants to play golf. In fact, his film contracts generally include clauses that allow him time off to hit the links twice a week. And he doesn't just play golf, he goes full throttle, wearing the ugliest, most aggressively checkered golf clothes, just like your grandpa.

Yo, Adrian, Sylvester Stallone isn't stupid

For more than 40 years now, Sylvester Stallone has thrilled and delighted filmgoers with all kinds of movies, from buddy flicks such as Tango & Cash to dramas like Copland and comedies such as the unassailable classic Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. But his bread and butter is in action movies, where he plays title characters with sturdy names: Rocky, RamboCobra. 

Stallone's thick voice may suggest that he's not the brightest of guys, but consider this: Could a dumb guy have written Rocky, a powerful story of human triumph that was nominated in the screenwriting category at the 1977 Academy Awards? According to The New York Times, Stallone was broke and struggling to land good acting work when he was starting out in the mid-'70s, so he wrote Rocky, which became the franchise that made him a legend. (Time it took to pen Rocky?  Three and a half days.) 

Further poking holes in the common perception of Stallone as just a meathead: He's a lifelong aficionado of polo, the fanciest of all sports.

It's like we Hardy know him

Tom Hardy has unsurprisingly parlayed his tough guy looks into a career as a thinking man's action star, choosing to play weirdos and cracked villains in bewildering (but action-packed) thrill-fests such as Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight (he's the guy playing Bane under that mask), and Venom. 

But take away the muscles that he packs on for those roles, and Hardy is just a swell and sensitive guy. In 2017, he appeared as a very special guest host on the BBC children's show CBeebies Bedtime Stories. The actor read a story called You Must Bring a Hat, which is about a character picking out the best hat to wear to a party. (And he did it the right way, creating different voices for all of the characters.) Hardy really set the mood, too, reading from a couch covered with stuffed animals and his dog, Woody, sitting in his lap.

Also, before he found his calling in big and loud movies, Hardy did quite well on the British stage. In 2004, he was nominated for an Olivier Award (the British Tony) for his work in the play In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings, which you certainly caught during its run at the Hampstead Theatre.

Liam Neeson has a particular set of coping skills

Though he's been acting in 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, in real life, apparently 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 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 told People. "But put me on a chair to fix a lamp or something and then, boom."

There's also the matter of Neeson's workaholism. Between 2009 and 2014, he made nearly two dozen films. The reason is heartbreaking: It's a form of therapy to cope with the death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson. "I'm not good with — without work," he told Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. "I wallow too much. You know? And I just didn't want to, especially for my boys, to be — to seem to be wallowing in sadness." (Oof. You can cry now.)  

Jason Statham took the plunge

The sneering, no-nonsense Jason Statham represents a new breed of action heroes: athletic, but not comically covered in muscles like your Stallones and Schwarzeneggers. He's quick and agile, but still strong and super-violent in manic action movies such as Crank and The Transporter.

Back before he rocked the bald look to be both intimidating (and to vaguely resemble Pitbull,) Statham was a world-class athlete in a sport not generally regarded to be as tough as say, wrestling, rugby, or football. According to Metro, young Statham's athletic pursuit of choice: diving. He was a member of England's national swim team for 12 years and competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games (sort of an Olympics for countries that were once part of the British empire.) After getting out of the pool for the last time (and presumably drying himself off), Statham then entered into the action-packed, tough-guy world of ... modeling.

Terry Crews is a butt-kicking, art-making crusader for justice

Terry Crews is what one would call musclebound, but he's so much more than that. Sure, that physique gets him cast in action movies such as The Expendables, gigs as the Old Spice Guy, and the role of yogurt-loving super-strong police sergeant Terry Jeffords on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This ex-NFL player may look majorly macho on the outside, but Crews is a bit of a Renaissance man. For starters, he's a ridiculously talented artist who earned an art scholarship to college and worked as a courtroom sketch artist.

Even more impressive: Crews has been willing to challenge machismo in the entertainment industry by becoming one of Hollywood's most outspoken male allies in the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, helping as best he can to eradicate sexual assault in showbiz. He's done that, in part, by speaking out about his own assault. Crews accused a major Hollywood player of groping him in 2016. The actor didn't report the action (or retaliate) at the time because he "didn't want to be ostracized — par for the course when the predator has power and influence," Crews tweeted. "I let it go. And I understand why many women who this happens to let it go."

Though this list is about actors who aren't really as tough as they appear on screen, we'd argue that Crews' actions prove he's even stronger than we thought.