The Young British Actors taking Hollywood by storm

They are the new generation of YBAs, but this cohort has no interest in shaking up the art galleries of London.

The Young British Actors taking Hollywood by storm Their reputations are being made on the west coast of America. They are the Young British Actors.

Hollywood is looking for its next matinee idols – this decade's DiCaprio, Pacino, Heston, Newman or Brando. A surprising number of the candidates are twentysomethings from the UK.

Eddie Redmayne, Toby Hemingway and Max Irons are just some of the names turning heads on Sunset Boulevard. When the Los Angeles Times listed "nine newbies" to Hollywood who merited close attention, five were Britons in their 20s – Redmayne, Hemingway and Irons, plus Jack Huston and Sam Claflin. With Andrew Garfield hitting the big time in last year's The Social Network, Robert Pattinson's success in the Twilight series and Jamie Bell about to star in the latest screen version of Jane Eyre, a golden age is at hand.

"It's fantastic," said Huston, who is descended on one side of his family from the American Huston film dynasty of Angelica, Danny and John, and on the other from English aristocracy going back to prime minister Robert Walpole. He grew up in London.

"I'm all for nepotism," he said in a recent interview. But he agrees that no amount of family fame will make you the next Kirk Douglas or Montgomery Clift if you don't have talent. Huston settled in Notting Hill after "walking out" of Millfield public school as a teenager, having "had enough" of boarding school. His accent is somewhere between Portobello Road bohemia and public school.

Despite making his home in Hollywood, Huston is in New York, where he is filming both a new Paramount feature by Sopranos creator David Chase and the hit television series Boardwalk Empire.

American commentators have noted that his looks have a touch of the Johnny Depp, while his portrayal of a gangster in Boardwalk Empire has the garrulous wiseguy traits of Steve Buscemi. He played down the notion that he might become the de facto leader of the Brit-pack charge. "One would hope!" he said.

"For a small country, we are becoming one of its biggest exports," he said. "British drama schools are incredibly good, and fewer films are being made in Britain than in the heyday, there's less funding behind it – it's amazing that a film like The King's Speech did as well as it did – but that's been the case for a while."

Last year he was contemplating taking time out in South America when he just wasn't making the progress he aspired to in the industry. But since the Boardwalk Empire breakthrough he hasn't looked back. He happily describes his aunt, Angelica Huston, as a "surrogate mother" since he moved to Hollywood.

"I'd love to write something and work with my aunt and uncle on it. I didn't feel comfortable with it at first – the help of the name – but no one in the Huston family has won an Oscar without other members of the family being part of it," he said.

The YBAs are exploiting an aptitude for non-British roles. The American audience was introduced to Jeremy Irons in the television series, Brideshead Revisited. But his 25-year-old son, Max, is now breaking onto the silver screen in Red Riding Hood as American Henry, one of the suitors of the leading lady. The reinterpretation of the fairytale is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, fresh from her success with the Twilight films.

Irons's surname carries a lot of cachet. "I'd be lying if I said there aren't casting agents more inclined to see you," he told the LA Times when asked about his famous father. "But if you go into an audition and do a mediocre job, they'll never forget."

And he agreed with Huston that lack of talent would not ultimately be rewarded no matter the surname.

"Increasingly you see someone on screen and it's only when they open their mouths in an interview that you realise they're British," said Gregg Kilday, the film editor of the Hollywood Reporter. He explained that Hollywood has become more cosmopolitan and casting agents and British actors alike have become more flexible.

"Now Hollywood puts up a casting notice and it's online and seen instantly around the world. Casting directors are relying more on video resumes and even an actor on the stage in London can video his performance and ping it over to LA without blinking."

Hemingway goes for a more old fashioned theory: British actors are more resilient. "It's the natural pessimism. Being a good loser. Americans think 15 minutes of fame and it's all over or it'll make you. Brits are more dogged and realistic," he said. "I wanted to be a footballer like everyone else, not an actor, I didn't expect this career to happen and I'm having a great time, but I'm grounded."

Nevertheless, the heady experience of recently working with director Darren Aronofsky and Oscar-winner Natalie Portman on Black Swan has had a big impact. "When you suddenly work with people of that calibre you want to be around that till the day you die."

Hemingway was drawn to America like many before him by the legends of Paul Newman, James Dean and Marlon Brando and the aura conjured up by earlier eras of film. "Acting is a silly business, basically pretending to be different people, but if you are in the business you put that aside and take it seriously," he said. He will appear soon in a science fiction movie called Now with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

Redmayne's enigmatic looks give hints of inner turmoil and his metrosexual demeanour and arty, sometimes quirky roles are not in the tradition of Redford or Newman. But this man who has been more familiar to British than American audiences is now well on the way to carving out his own niche in the States.

A big screen appearance in the film My Week With Marilyn, playing "a starstruck production assistant who helps a living legend escape her demons" is coming up. But with the applause of Broadway still ringing in his ears from last year's Tony-winning performance in Red, about artist Mark Rothko, Redmayne is preparing for a London stage production of Richard II and has declared it a terrifying prospect.

Then there is Sam Claflin from Norwich, who is about to appear in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The star of the franchise, Johnny Depp, has already told him to "stay grounded". So far all the members of the new British invasion appear to be following that advice. But if you are a young, British actor, these are exciting times in Hollywood.

Powered by article was written by Joanna Walters, for The Observer on Sunday 20th March 2011 00.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010