Your Next Leading Man

Graphic by Robert Samec

Who do you see when you picture a leading man? Maybe a box-office favorite like Brad Pitt, a suave brit like Idris Elba, a scientologist like Tom Cruise, or one of a million hot guys named Chris. For the easiest possible answer, you might say Leonardo DiCaprio.


Jesse Plemons probably would not come to mind. Not yet anyway.But the Plemons renaissance (Plemaisaance?) is well on its way, as Martin Scorsese has now tapped the scene-stealing ginger to star in his much-awaited “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The film, based on a true story and adapted from the eponymous book, follows an early 1920s FBI investigation into a string of murders of wealthy Osage people — all of which occurred after the discovery of sizable oil deposits beneath Osage land. In a cast that includes vetted leading men like DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, Plemmons will finally have his moment as FBI agent Tom White.


Though he may lack the starpower of some contemporaries, Plemmons is one of the finest actors of his generation and his talent shines through in even the smallest of parts. He gave a bone-chilling turn as the sadistic Todd Alquist in “Breaking Bad,” displayed skillful comedic timing as a creepy cop in “Game Night,” and proved his Scorsese-world bona-fides as a fishy Italian-American in “The Irishman.” Comparisons between Plemmons and the late-great Phillip Seymour Hoffman are not uncommon (especially after they played a father-son duo in “The Master”), and while not entirely accurate, both are one-of-a-kind artists who devote full commitment and unique intensity to their roles, without being able to fall back on the conventional attractiveness that other leading men tend to possess in spades.


Even pre-“Killers,” the Plemmons specter has been on the rise. 2020 saw him take co-lead alongside Jesse Buckley in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” where he brought his A-game to a challenging, off-putting, and subtly menacing role. Likewise, in the recently released “Judas and the Black Messiah,” he turns the menace up another notch as scheming FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (an antagonistic counterpoint to the FBI protagonist he will soon play). Even the smallest of his actions has layers and he has yet to turn in a bad performance. From everything mentioned above, to “Friday Night Lights,” “Black Mirror,” “Fargo” and beyond, Plemons is killing the game.


So yes, Jesse Plemmons is not your mother’s leading man—indeed, your mother may have no clue who he even is—but his impressive resume suggests that he has what it takes. Let the Plemaisaance begin.

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