“Really?” Grace said to me while we were watching The Good Wife, me for the first time, her for the second. “I don’t get it.”
“It’s the circles under the eyes,” I said. “He always looks exhausted, which is very attractive in a man.” I knew even then that was only part of it, that undereye circles couldn’t possibly account for considering Josh Charles not just a vaguely good-looking actor but a real, honest-to-God, attractive person. Part of it is the over-the-top mid-century nonsense energy he brings to all of his blocking; he doesn’t act his way through a scene so much as pose through it, with a Arthur-Miller-influenced back of tricks: Turn, smirk, furrow, lift eyebrow, purse lips, clench jaw, hands on hips, casually tossing baseball to signal an age skip, it’s the stagiest possible version of being a straight man without sacrificing heterosexuality, like Neil LaBute.
The best approximation of this vibe I’ve ever seen is this:
Scratch that, it’s this:
He has serious “lost brother from Wings” territory; it truly shocks me that at no point on that show did Josh Charles show up as the third Hackett boy who flies helicopters and sneers at his little brothers for only being able to pilot planes:
That’s a big part of it, I think, Josh Charles lies at the exact midpoint between the hot, chisel-faced bullies from School Ties and the hot, mournful-faced bullying victims of School Ties, able to serve as either at a moment’s notice. And there’s something about the way that he plays every role like he’s in that Sorkin parody from Amy Schumer’s old show or Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp – clipped, rigid, hyperfocused on prop-work, like a kid who’s just been hit with the Big curse and had half an hour to figure out how adult men stand during a meeting. He’s a man with all the disdain of Bunny MacDougal and all the about-to-break-straight-man energy of early Leslie Nielsen, and that’s nothing to sneeze at; plus in the 90s he had “sweaty prom date” vibes. I can’t explain it, but when a man has to undo his tie because he’s sweaty from dancing? That was when I fell in love with every single one of my prom dates, anyhow. From Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead:
Just serious enough that you never worry he’s going to break when he’s demanding his father buy him the moon, just funny enough that you know you’re going to have a good time, just enough of a jawline to make you feel like your getting your money’s worth, masculinity-wise but not so much that you feel overwhelmed, hair just floppy enough to remind you of your own first youth, competent enough to pull off “Sexy Courtroom Nemesis” in a pinch but not so high-powered he feels like he’s bringing a scary sort of energy to the competition, and once again and finally – the circles under the eyes. He’s talking a mile a minute because he’s this close to passing out from sheer exhaustion; he’s Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, not Cary Grant; don’t let the trousers fool you any.