Not an obvious sex symbol? Yes, granted, she’s not Carmen Electra, but anyone who saw Gyllenhaal’s turns as a seductive minx in “Happy Endings” or as an innocent steno who learns to love S&M in “Secretary” is well aware of her on-screen sensuality. If Agent Provocateur really wanted to subvert the sex-symbol paradigm, after all, they could have hired Kathy Bates.
But it’s not like the tastemakers of Hollywood always know who the public thinks is hot. For every guy who drools over Jessica Simpson, there’s another who prefers Mo’Nique. And some women watch “Lost” as fervently for Terry O’Quinn as others do for Matthew Fox.
An unofficial survey among online pop culture addicts (bloggers, industry types, a comedian and, yes, a couple of plain old friends) for today’s least obvious sex symbols yielded some very interesting answers. (And to save reputations and marriages, interviewees asked to be quoted anonymously.) While the seven people listed below were among the top vote-getters, many surprising names were bandied about. Suffice it to say that Harry Dean Stanton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Allison Janney and the guys from “Mythbusters” can feel secure knowing that they’ve got fans out there who find them exceedingly sexy.
Dame Judi Dench
Yes, Helen Mirren became the nation’s favorite sexy senior citizen by showing up at one awards ceremony after another wearing flattering outfits and giving the press saucy and flirtatious soundbites. But what about her Oscar competitor and fellow dame Judi Dench? Her no-makeup, stalker ways in “Notes on a Scandal” weren’t exactly a recipe for a Playboy spread, but Dench has an undeniable appeal nonetheless. “She’s not va-va-voom like Helen Mirren, but there’s something about Judi,” confides M., a lesbian author and editor in Los Angeles. “Maybe it’s her alpha-personality roles — Queen Elizabeth! M! And those cheekbones. Those eyes. That little frown of hers that always looks like it’s about to turn into a smile. Even when she’s appeared most repulsive, I remember how cute she looks with her usual pixie haircut.”
Everyone who nominated the four-foot-five star of “The Station Agent” and “Death at a Funeral” was convinced that he or she was alone in digging the intense actor. “I thought I was the only one who found him adorable,” confided J., a (male) designer in Seattle. “I saw ‘The Station Agent’ twice and both times my mind kept wandering to completely inappropriate places.” Concurring on Dinklage’s hotness was M.J., a (female) comedian and writer from Austin, Tex., who noted, “Peter has empathy and compassion and wisdom in his eyes, and his countenance. But there’s the razor-sharp intelligence and humor of someone who doesn’t suffer fools. My kinda guy!”
Viewers of the hilarious “30 Rock” (which Fey created) know that Fey’s shtick on the show is to be the brainy, mouthy Plain Jane who has a hard time finding a decent boyfriend, in contrast to her character’s best pal, the shallow blonde bombshell played by Jane Krakowski. But Fey’s got viewers who find her brand of sassy sophistication to be a real turn-on. “Let’s see,” says M.M., a married-with-kids lawyer. “Killer smile, great body, wicked smart, incredible sense of humor, and, to top it all off, those ‘hot for teacher’ glasses.”
Here’s an actor who might have been doomed to playing the hero’s best friend for his entire career, but thanks to the one-two punch of “American Splendor” and “Sideways,” Giamatti gets to strike a balance between leading man and character actor. And he can add “sexpot” to his résumé as well. “There’s just something about his personality where you just want to curl up on the couch and watch a Criterion Collection box-set with him,” enthuses D., a (female) writer-director. “And seeing him in a Santa Claus suit (in the trailer for the upcoming holiday comedy “Fred Claus”) must tap into something primal, because it makes him all cuddly and warm and fuzzy. In an age where all the leading men are interchangeable in how they look, someone like him in a lead role winds up being more interesting physically and romantically than any other actor out there.”
“What if this guy got you pregnant?” screamed the posters for this summer’s hit “Knocked Up,” as though such a thing were a fate worse than death. “So many people saw that movie and said, ‘Why would Katherine Heigl sleep with that guy?’” says D., a (female) writer in Atlanta. “And they never bought it when I said, ‘Because she was into him.’ As though you’d have to be drunk to want to sleep with a husky guy with a cute face and a great sense of humor.” While Rogen’s arc from slacker to responsible family man in the Judd Apatow comedy no doubt won him scores of female fans, he was already popular among bears, the subset of gay men who prefer a guy with meat on his bones. “We got to see his butt in ‘Knocked Up,’ and then he wore a cop uniform and a fu-manchu mustache in ‘Superbad,’” says A., a record-store employee in Los Angeles. “All in all, not a bad summer.”
Her strikingly androgynous looks often get her cast in gender-nebulous roles in films like “Constantine” and “Orlando.” But “Chronicles of Narnia” villainess Swinton scored high among straight men and lesbians alike. “Tilda walks the line,” said lesbian photographer F. “She’s sexy from all directions.” And D.Z., a male blogger, concurs. “There’s something so cool about her. She carries herself in a way that, no matter what role she’s playing, I can’t take my eyes off her. She was great in ‘Orlando’ and jaw-droppingly beautiful in ‘Narnia,’ but she totally glowed in ‘The Deep End,’ and I remember saying I wanted to marry her. Then I remembered she has a husband and two kids.”
This sharp-tongued comedian is famed for her take-no-prisoners style behind the mic, and that gives some fans the shivers. The good kind. “There’s almost something carnal about the way she insults you,” admits R., a (male) writer. “If she decided to cut you down, it’s… very appealing in a weirdly sexy way. She’s underrated in terms of attractiveness — she’s kind of fiery and compact. Her withering barbs are just hot.”