Josh Lucas has only two real moves--the squint and the smile--but they're superstar-level moves. He also has those freaky blue Paul Newman eyes and a growly, cigarette-stained voice. But when he is not talking or looking right at you, when the deep cowboy lines around his eyes aren't scrunched together and the smile creases on both cheeks are ironed out, he looks surprisingly average. He has slightly receding hair and a polite, shy gaze. But two moves is one move more than it takes to be an action hero--not that he wants to be one. "I think it's an easy way to make a huge amount of money--that's for sure," says Lucas, 34, who stars in Stealth (opening this Friday). The film is Top Gun meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, and his main co-star is a computer-controlled fighter plane with a mind of its own.
What with Stealth and the role he's currently shooting--the poker-playing John Dylan in Poseidon, a remake of The Poseidon Adventure--you could be forgiven for thinking he's action movies' Next Big Thing. But Lucas, wearing a platinum Gucci ring that washed up in the backyard of his Los Angeles rental during the winter rains, thinks of it more as being at the top of one of the cycles of his career. "I actually started to hit a little bit when I was young," he says, twirling a stack of poker chips in his hand. "But I looked at my work and realized I sucked. I didn't want to be thrust into fame or success. I was afraid my looks would carry me for a minute and then I'd be gone."
So he did theater and took small roles in such films as A Beautiful Mind and You Can Count on Me and has worked his way around to action-hero-dom. He got the Stealth role when a girlfriend of director Rob Cohen's talked Cohen into watching Sweet Home Alabama, and he noticed that Lucas looks a lot like Newman, his favorite actor. Sony wasn't so keen on building a $124 million film around an actor famous mostly for Sweet Home Alabama. So Cohen shot a $1 million screen test, which ended with Lucas, in Navy whites, saluting the camera while the theme from An Officer and a Gentleman played. Arnold Schwarzenegger was sold more subtly.
Once Lucas got Sony's nod (it didn't hurt that Jamie Foxx also signed on--at five times Lucas' salary), Cohen put him through hero school, teaching him the kinds of lessons that Method actors don't want to hear: unlike normal people, heroes don't flinch, and they don't reveal any backstory. "It was about constructing and deconstructing the male archetype," says Cohen. "He has enough male beauty without being pretty, he has the height, he has the physicality, but in the heart of Josh, he has the niceness and the intelligence. Plus, he has the ego. Because none of them are humble." Stealth co-star Jessica Biel sums up the archetype Lucas represents even more bluntly: "He has just enough arrogance to be sexy."