Apparently, They Are Tall After All
Finally, some facts and figures regarding the myth behind tall leading men in Hollywood (Hint: they're mostly tall)
hollywood, nonfiction
February 24, 2017


They’re actually tall after all.

I enter into this debate on occasion when I say, “In general, most leading men in Hollywood are tall.”

The response I often hear back: “Oh, no. Actually, most of them are short.”

And I chuckle and think, “Do you believe that from actual research, or is it because it’s been in vogue to believe that for a quite some time now?”

But first, I again clarify the statement: “leading men.” Comics are exceptions. If you’re a funny guy, you can work your way in despite the odds (Steve Carell is 5’9”). Character actors just are a different sort. Chris Pratt was a comical character on “Parks and Rec.” He has earlier works as a younger man, though he’s 6’2" either way.

And of course, people have their supposed coup de gras: Tom Cruise.

Yes, Tom is fairly short (5’7) and I maintain a large exception for this case: if an actor is popular enough as a child or teen actor, then he can often overcome the height limitations (Michael J. Fox is 5’4”), for Hollywood will allow platform shoes and leading ladies in flats. Tom gets this luxury. With Fox, they weren’t even hiding it, though his characters were not really your traditional “leading man” types, but moreover, comical heroes.

I myself always heard the old adage that most leading men in Hollywood were short. Perhaps it’s one of those equalizing statements we would like to be true. Heck, I’m 5’8". I certainly don’t enjoy entertaining the idea that the best roles will most often go to the taller types (and again, exceptions are made--sometimes). Luckily, the stage seems a bit more egalitarian.

But hey, let’s just use some actual data.

Here’s a list of leading men for 2015: Likely, you’ll recognize some or all of the names. Click away and observes their heights. Most are 5'11" at least and a great handful are over 6’.

Even those that I assumed were short. (Perhaps due to often being paired up with taller women? Not sure. I’ve done no research there yet.) Leo (aka, “Jack, there’s a boat!”) is 6’. Wow. I just always figured him shorter. And he was a teen actor. Matt Damon is 5’10", although he essentially broke down his own doors along with Affleck, who seems tall, and is at 6’3”. Brad Pitt? Has never seemed too tall, but still: 5’11”. Other leading guys like Clooney, Franco, Hardy, McConaughey, Bale, Hanks...all pretty tall.

Robert Downey Jr? 5’8.5” So shorter, yes, but again, started quite young at age 5 (his dad was the director).

And this is a selected list, but for a lot of the tallest ones, visit here:

But still, why cherry pick? How about a short list (no pun intended): View Site

1. Fox: 5’4” (started as young actor and became quite famous)
2. Jeong: 5’5” (comedic actor)
3. Radcliffe: 5’5 (no need to explain here)
4. Cruise: 5’7” (started young and became very famous)
5. Galecki: 5’5” (comedic actor).
6. Elijah Wood: 5’6” (first roles around nine years old, and heck, he eventually played a Hobbit)
7. Ansari: 5’6” (funny guy)
8. Hutcherson: 5’7” (started young and breakout role required the actor to appear to be a teen)
9. Hill: 5’7” (funny guy first and foremost)
10. Freeman: 5’6 (notable exception, though he’s British)

Other examples? Well, “The Doctor” is partially comedic and British (or Scottish), but let’s see who’s behind the sonic screwdriver:

1. William Hartnell: 5’8” (short one--okay, it’s average height, but short for a leading man. Again, British and they have 20% of our population total)
2. Patrick Troughton: 5’8” (trained for the stage first. Stage is another “breakthrough” vessel. Get popular enough and you can control your fate much better, especially in a country that has a profound history concerning the stage.)
3. Jon Pertwee: 6’2” (Okay, I’d say he’s tall)
4. Tom Baker: 6’3” (And they’re growing)
5. Peter Davison: 6’1”
6. Colin Baker: 6’
7. Sylvester McCoy: 5’6” (short, but stage actor first -- and Britain and Hollywood do differ)
8. Paul McGann: 5’9”

In regards to the reboot:

9. Christopher Eccleston: 6’
10. David Tennant: 6’1” (no surprise, looks very tall)
11. Matt Smith: 6’
12. Peter Capaldi: 6’

So the iconic role has pretty much gone to taller actors now. Speaking of British roles, what about Agent 007? All are at least 6’0 except Craig at 5”10.

Consider “Game of Thrones”? A variety of sizes of course. Yes, Harrington is shorter at 5’8, but remember, he was cast as a Stark son at first. Kids aren’t often taller than pa (Sean Bean at 5’11). Jaime Lannister started as an adult and is cast as such: 6’2”. Littlefinger is shorter (5’9”), but I don’t think he was meant to tower over the others. Tywin was an overbearing character and cast at 6’3”. Others that are supposed to be tall...are: The Hound (Rory McCann) at 6’6. Hodor...6’10!

And of course, when you need a mountain, you cast one: Conan Stevens at 7’!

“Westworld” actually does employ shorter actors to some extent, although one could argue that William is the leading man, and he’s 6’. Harris is surprisingly shorter at 5’9”. His acting past suggests a number of mixed factors to become such a success, although he seems to fit a character role a good deal of the time.

Superheroes? They’re essentially leading men. To begin, obviously, Spidey would be shorter; he’s an angst-filled youth. But the bigger players? The grownups?

Superman: Cavill at 6’1”, Welling at 6’3”, Reeves at 6’1”, Reeve at 6’4”, Routh at 6’2”. Sure, Hollywood “could” cast smaller and use shorter leading ladies and supporting cast members (and extras!) and build smaller sets, but heck, easier to find a tall actor for Superman. Even Affleck, who played Reeves is 6’3”.

As for those who donned the vulcanized rubber suit: many are 6’ or taller, but Clooney is 5’11” and Keaton (comic or character actor first) is 5'10". Thor (Hemsworth) is 6’3” and even Loki is 6’2”. Arrow (Amell) is 6’1”. Evans and Bloom for Captain America are at least 6’. These people are not short!

Let’s consider other “captains”? I mean, they are leaders after all. “Das Boot”: Prochnow is 6’ (ironic for a submarine commander). “Master and Commander”: Crowe at 6’. “Caine Mutiny”: Bogart at 5’8”*. “Red October” -- well, we know Sean Connery is tall, but surely not Hackman too. Actually, Gene Hackman is 6’2”. To be fair, the original Kirk (Shatner) is 5’10” though Nimoy was 6’. Fast forward: Chris Pine is 6’1” and Zachary Quinto is 6’2”. (Spock is just always taller is seems). Another sci-fi ship captain would be Harrison Ford at 6’1”. The man filling out the Darth Vader costume (David Prowse) is 6’5” although villains are not essentially leading men. It just helps for seeming threatening. Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly made a frightening Terminator at 6’2”.

* Bogart is definitely a large exception. He had some stage, although didn’t seem to be a famous stage talent first. He pretty much busted down a door into Hollywood. It does happen. I’m not saying otherwise. But not everyone is a Bogart.

But what about Hollywood of the past? The men filling the silver screen. John Wayne? 6’4”. Cary Grant? 6’2”. Clark Gable: 6’1”. James Stewart: 6’3". William Holden: 5’11". Gregory Peck: 6’3”. Vincent Price: 6’4”. Spencer Tracy: 5’10" (not terribly tall, but certainly not short). Bing Crosby: 5’7 (short, but a singer to become famous first). Melvyn Douglas: 6’1”. Fred MacMurray: 6’3”.

And that wasn’t a cherry-picked selection. I typed in leading actors of the 1940s, clicked over, and used all the name I found.

There are two well-known short actors back then who did numerous movies and were considered leading men: Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. But I’m sure you’re already deduced that they were famous dancers first and tap danced down any barriers.

Oddly, Hollywood can sometimes make tall men short. Think of Al Capone. He almost always seems to be cast short. Sure, he was young during his heyday, but the man was 5’10” (same as Lucky Luciano). The relatively recent “Scarface” was played by a short actor, Al Pacino (5’7), who started off as a stage actor for quite some time and got his break as a “son” in Godfather. Notably, even Brando was 5’9”; however, he had extensive stage training and Broadway experience to allow the crossover--with his “Streetcar” experience serving as vanguard.

Sing angelically, dance divinely, act hysterically, or just be insanely talented, then it’s possible. Having relatives already high up in Hollywood certainly doesn’t hurt. And if you’re already wildly popular as a youth, it can help a lot (Keanu Reeves is 6’1”). Alas, if one is 5’8” and has a mild resume, the next blockbuster “Superman” title role probably won’t get the guy even an audition. But Hollywood has many other roles. And even Batman went to a shorter actor once--if 5”10 is even short.

It wouldn’t be prudent to leave out the Best Actor nomination list. For fairness, I’ll include all of them--tall or short. Casey Affleck: 5’9” (you may know his already quite famous brother. Relatives help a lot.) Andrew Garfield: 5’10” (his breakout character was a young soldier though--best actors are not always the “leading man” in some aspects). Ryan Gosling: 6’. Viggo Mortensen: 5’11. Denzel Washington: 6’1”.

Oh, there’s room. Let’s do Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali at 6’2”. Jeff Bridges at 6’1”. Lucas Hedges at 5’7 (but he is playing a youth not a leading man). Dev Patel is 6’2”. Michael Shannon is 6’3. See a pattern there?

I don’t presume to know exactly why casting is often given to tall actors for the leading man roles, but it’s fairly easy to speculate that the leading man characters usually are taller than the ladies, and leading ladies can be taller too (though I’ve not researched that at all--your turn!) Maybe taller women just stand out above the rest? Leading men also may be cast taller for relational relativity--need dad taller than his kids. And for a longer running series, savvy execs know that child actors can grow spontaneously over the course of a few seasons. I mean the Stark kids are now taller than ... oh, that’s right. Anyway, the actor playing Henry on “Once Upon a Time” is growing fast; however, Prince Charming (I won’t spoil the family relation) is played by Josh Dallas at ... 6’1. Can’t have a short prince now, can we? (Note: Beast and Gaston in the new “BatB” movie both are 6’.)

So there we have it. Yes, yes, there are short actors out there, especially in comedies (although Parsons, Baldwin, Conan, Letterman, Carrey, and Ferrell are quite tall). And leading men who were great singers or dancers have broken through. And if one can own the screen as Bogart did, then sure, it can happen.

But if someone says, “Oh, most of those leading men are actually short,” you now have a huge arsenal of names and examples to prove otherwise. They’ll make exceptions for exceptions like Tom Cruise, but I think he’s nowhere to be seen in Hollywood in this week’s movie trailers. This weekend I believe we another superhero with adamantium (Adam Ant’s doing?) claws popping up on the silver screen. And how tall is Logan (aka Hugh Jackman)?


No need for platform shoes for this flick.