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The real box-office heavyweights...


Chubby cheeks: Russell Crowe piled on the pounds in State Of Play

Chubby cheeks: Russell Crowe piled on the pounds in State Of Play

Chubby cheeks: Russell Crowe piled on the pounds in State Of Play

They are heavyweights in the box office. Not to mention on the bathroom scale. Hollywood's leading men have been packing on the pounds of late -- with at least a dozen showing a much heftier size in new films released this year.

Getting a little rounder in the middle tends to be a career destroyer for many a Hollywood actress -- but apparently not so for the guys.

Take Hugh Grant, for example. The British actor (48), who played the notorious charlatan in Bridget Jones's Diary looks a little bulkier in trailers for his new comedy, Did You Hear About The Morgans?

"Mr Grant's famous dimples pop out where they used to pop in," noted the New York Times wryly in a recent article.

Russell Crowe, the hunky Australian actor, who made box office history as a trim Roman warrior in the film Gladiator nine years ago, beefed up considerably for his latest movie release, the thriller State of Play.

As investigative journalist Cal McAffrey, trying to uncover the truth behind a political murder in Washington, Crowe sports a new double chin. More chunk this time around, than hunk.

Actor Vince Vaughn (40), also looks considerably heavier than he was in his hit 1996 movie, Swingers.

However his extra pounds did not deter millions of viewers from coming to see him in last year's comedy hit, Four Christmases.

Even Leonardo Di Caprio, the skinny heartthrob from Titanic looks beefier in photos from the set of his new movie, Shutter Island. As do John Travolta (55), and Denzel Washington (54), in trailers from The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

"The men may be gaining weight because they are a little bit older," said Felicia Fasano, the casting director of the television series, Californication.

But although many of Hollywood's leading men appear to be getting fatter -- and older -- they don't seem to be starving for roles. Unlike their female counterparts who are struggling to find work as they hit their 40s and 50s.

Kathleen Turner (54), who once lit up the screen with her seductive role in Body Heat, was last year cast as the portly dog trainer, Ms. Kornblut in Marley and Me.

The lack of leading roles for these actresses represents a glaring double standard and is symptomatic of a wider problem about the treatment of women in society today, said a Hollywood insider.

"We have an expectation of the type of woman that we want to see on screen. We want them to be young, we want them to be really sexy," said Melissa Silverstein, a blogger who specialises in women's films. "As women age in Hollywood, they kind of disappear".

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Russell Crowe was not the first pick for the lead of the journalist Cal McAffrey in State of Play. That honour went to Brad Pitt who unexpectedly dropped out of the movie and left producers scrambling to find a new lead.

They turned to Crowe who was on holiday in Australia -- and not paying much attention to his diet or his waist size.

"But [his weight gain] was not an issue," said Silverstein. "Had Helen Mirren had six months off and gained 50 pounds ... they never would have put her in that movie."

Silverstein also points to the recent weight loss of young actress Scarlett Johansson as an example of the entirely unrealistic double standards that female actresses are held up to in Hollywood.

Beloved by many for her womanly, buxom curves, Johansson reportedly lost 14 pounds in preparation for her upcoming role as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2.

Johansson was lambasted in the press for her weight loss. "A girl can't win," wrote Silverstein in The Guardian recently.

"Here we find ourselves in a familiar place of berating an actress for her skinniness, but isn't that very skinniness what we demand of them?"

As Hollywood's bulkier stars fill up our movie screens this summer, it remains unclear why the notoriously shallow film industry in Los Angeles is now willing to cast heavier men in leading roles.

Some suggest it is because society itself has become more tolerant of weightier stars as film audiences themselves have grown heavier over decades. Others point to the relative dearth of "reliably appealing stars" leaving a relatively small pool of actors to chose from.

But no matter the size of their waistlines, it seems obvious that the extra pounds are not hurting the careers of Hollywood's acting elite.

"There's a reason you're a star," said Fasano, "and I think it's there whether you're 50 pounds heavier or not; you light up the screen ... They haven't lost their talent, they're still stars."

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