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Well, Hello, Theo James

The British actor jumps off the screen in ”Divergent”

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There are plenty of pretty boys working in Hollywood. They have delicate cheekbones and long eyelashes — and they set young girls’ hearts aflutter, even if they seem entirely interchangeable to the rest of us. Then there’s Theo James. The actor, 29, plays the quietly charismatic leader Four in Divergent, and the moment he appears on screen, there tends to be a collective inhale. There’s a new star in town, and this one is a man. “Everyone who has seen it is like, ‘Theo, Theo, Theo,'” says James’ costar Shailene Woodley with an affectionate smile. “He’s the best thing in this movie.”

You may recognize James from his role as Mr. Pamuk, the Turkish diplomat who died in Lady Mary’s bed on Downton Abbey. He has the kind of brooding grown-up magnetism that recalls movie stars of yore. When asked to describe him, the Divergent team cites James Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Paul Newman. Woodley says he reminds her of George Clooney, whom she worked with in 2011’s The Descendants. James, however, is an expert compliment-deflector: “I gave her a little bit of cash to say that.”

The British actor grew up in a big family — one of five siblings — and credits a brother for giving him a cinephile’s education. (He happily rattles off movies and actors he loves, such as The Verdict or anything else with Paul Newman.) Two more Divergent films are in the works, but James is eager to stretch his acting muscles on other projects as well. “What’s going to be important for my sanity and longevity is to be very picky,” he says. “I need to choose wisely.”

So far he’s picked smaller projects, among them the mystery London Fields, based on the Martin Amis novel and costarring Johnny Depp, and the indie drama Franny, with Richard Gere and Dakota Fanning. “I grew up on those classic old-school male movies, and I gravitate toward those kinds of stories,” says James. He grins. “My God, that’s a generic answer! I really have to try and answer this without sounding like a t–t.”

Yes, he really did just say that. And press-tour decorum be damned, he’s got more blue material and sex jokes up his sleeve. “It’s every two seconds with him,” laughs Woodley. We’re not complaining.


Theo James 101
Hometown Oxford, England
Age 29
Where you know him from Downton Abbey, where he died in Lady Mary’s bed
Next up The indies London Fields and Franny