Salon's Sexiest Men of 2012

Forget People's airbrushed list. For us, sexiness is about brain as much as brawn. What's hotter than that?

Published November 14, 2012 4:05PM (EST)

When Salon first started publishing its Sexiest Men list back in 2006, it was a calculated response to the airbrushed, chest-waxed Ken dolls People magazine paraded before us so many times before -- and again today, with Channing Tatum. We went for real men, who represented more than Ryan Seacrest gloss and generic boy band good looks. And it's a point of pride that a previous No. 1 was Jon Hamm, long before Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig seized him as shorthand for impossible hotness (People finally added him in 2010). This year, we've pared down our dreamboats list to an economical 10, and during a weighty year when we had a lot of issues to think about, we particularly went for men who engaged with them in important and interesting ways. Because that's what real men do.


10. Ezra Miller

(credit: AP)

We just might have the next Johnny Depp on our hands. It isn’t just Ezra Miller’s uncanny physical similarities -- the brooding eyes, adorable scruff and long-haired bohemian look -- nor is it his bemused, quirky air in interviews. The kid’s also got serious talent: He had an impressive breakout role last year as an adolescent serial killer in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." This year, he stars as Patrick in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," and he’s signed on for Sophie Barthes' “Madame Bovary” adaptation. It’s an unusually weighty roster of roles so early in a career.We fell even harder for Miller when he oh-so-casually announced that he was queer in Out magazine. The 20-year-old matter-of-factly explained, “I have a lot of really wonderful friends who are of very different sexes and genders. I am very much in love with no one in particular. I’ve been trying to figure out relationships, you know?” This is the future of male sex symbols, folks: authentic, brave and unapologetic about who they are -- and all the more sexy for it. He didn’t stop there either: Miller went on to criticize the monogamous norm. “I don’t know if it’s responsible for kids of my age to be so aggressively pursuing monogamous binds, because I don’t think we’re ready for them,” he said. “The romanticism within our culture dictates that that’s what you’re supposed to be looking for.” We can’t wait to see what he’ll say or do next.

9. Ai Weiwei

Ah, the eternally irresistible voluptuary. He attacks life with such mesmerizing gusto; you can't help getting swept up in his enthusiasm – and imagining getting swept up by him. And he looks just like Ai Weiwei.

The Chinese artist and activist has been having a big year – he's exhibited all over the world and premiered bold new work. Meanwhile, the documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" revealed him as a man whose work is steeped in the punk rock ethos of his years of living in the West, but even more deeply informed by his love-hate relationship with the "motherland." It also, as Andrew O'Hehir points out, makes it "very clear that he pulls hot chicks by the carload." Oh, hell yeah he does.

It's the way he storms through life, flipping the bird at Tiananmen Square and then dancing madly around Gangnam Style  and then rationally explaining that it's a commentary on how "every person has the right to express themselves" that makes him rock-star sexy in our book. He's the kind of man with whom any erotic encounter would involve amazingly profound conversation, great food and the total destruction of at least few pieces of furniture. Which is our definition of manly perfection.

8. W. Kamau Bell

(credit: Beth Allen)

W. Kamau Bell is one of America's few leftist black male feminists from San Francisco with his own television talk show, and for that alone he should be treasured. He is also very, very funny. It's easy to peg "Totally Biased," Bell's weekly show on FX, as a more racially conscious "Daily Show," with jokes about headlines, segments from the field, and a brief interview, but the show is surreptitiously revolutionary in its effortless diversity and humanism, and Bell himself is more politically coherent (and consistent) than Jon Stewart. This isn't just "The Black Daily Show," it's "The Daily Show" for every variety of young American, from people of color to religious minorities to gays and lesbians.It's instantly apparent, in other words, that the writing staff of "Totally Biased" is not made up entirely of white dudes from Ivy League schools. "If you want Kamau, I'm going to come with a band of misfits," he told the Root. For American conservatives baffled by Obama's reelection, Bell's show is a useful (and, let's be honest, probably scary) guide to the Obama coalition. Bell, regularly named one of San Francisco's funniest comedians, made his name with an acclaimed one-man show, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour." (Bell brilliantly ensured a diverse audience for the show by giving away free tickets to people who brought a friend of a different race.) Chris Rock became a fan, and went on to help develop "Totally Biased" and pitch it to FX. Bell's persona is not particularly Rock-like. He's wry, a bit goofy and charmingly laid-back even when explicating coded racial dog whistles from white conservatives. He's at his best talking (and listening) to normal people. His segments in the field are done without easy mockery; they're effectively the opposite of Jay Leno's noxious "JayWalking." In his first episode, Bell went to Harlem and asked (and joked around with) black New Yorkers about their experiences being stopped and frisked by the NYPD. These are people rarely heard from at all in the press, even when the press is covering the NYPD's civil rights abuses. Bell allowed his interview subjects, all regularly targeted by the police, to be funny, a subtle means of granting them the agency that the city of New York attempts to restrict. But the most important thing for a comedian isn't that his politics are good. It's that he makes you laugh. And Bell made the single best Todd Akin joke of this entire campaign, in the cold open of his third episode: "Hey, Representative Todd Akin, I have a question for you: If women can't get pregnant from legitimate rape, how come there are so many light-skinned black people walking around Alabama?" It's a line not many other late-night TV comedians could get away with (or think of). We're glad there's one who can.

7. Adam Driver

(credit: HBO)

He may play a selfish, manipulative, freaky-deaky beau on HBO's "Girls" — the kind who initiates disturbing one-sided dirty talk and pees on you in the shower — but, we're only a bit embarassed to say, that we love Adam Driver anyway. Maybe it's the doe eyes, helmet hair and oversize ears — or his insanely, unexpectedly chiseled body — that seem to forgive his character's flaws. If we're really honest, maybe we love him not despite but because of his problematic fictional alter-ego, Adam Sackler. He has the tractor beam pull of the ill-advised hookup you just can't quit; the type you love to hate to love. We don't know whether to jump him or mother him.

We could psychoanalyze that all day, but there is no denying the simple fact of Driver's flair for drolly delivering hilarious lines about everything from belly fat to anal sex. Much as he can make us laugh, the 28-year-old Juilliard grad has serious acting chops. He scored a role in last year's "Angels in America" and, more recently, in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and the Coen brothers' upcoming "Inside Llewyn Davis." But this theater geek has an unusual past: In a previous life, a decade ago, he enrolled in the Marines at his stepfather's urging. An injury forced him to leave behind the Armed Forces — but not his battle-ready physique — and, lucky for us, pursue acting roles featuring excessive shirtlessness. More of that, Dunham!

His recent rise to fame has inspired fans to create a Twitter account for his pecs and even follow him home. Much as we do not officially condone stalking, we understand.

6. John Hawkes

(credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

Midway through “The Sessions,” the relentlessly charming new dramedy about a polio survivor hoping to lose his virginity before his “use-by date” expires, John Hawkes’ quadriplegic protagonist asks his sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, if she orgasms when they sleep together. She answers that she doesn’t, and he earnestly vows to rectify the situation. In a movie ostensibly about sex, it is perhaps its sexiest scene, with writer/director Ben Lewin laying bare what makes the act so satisfying: Not that both parties reach climax, although that certainly helps, but that they expose themselves physically and emotionally to one another. It’s the kind of moment that can easily sag beneath its own dramatic weight, and it only works because Hawkes carefully, brilliantly walks the tightrope bisecting his character’s sweetness and bitterness.

It should come as no surprise then that he's favored to land an Oscar nod for his performance. For years, the Minnesota native and veteran of the Austin, Texas, theater scene has made a name for himself as a kind of hardscrabble hero — first as a salty fisherman named Bugsy aboard the Andrea Gale in “The Perfect Storm,” later as Sol Star in the mud-soaked “Deadwood,” and most recently as Tear Drop in the podunk crime thriller “Winter’s Bone.” While the 53-year-old earned his first Academy Award nomination for the latter, his true breakout performance may have arrived in last year’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” where he played the leader of his own personal Manson family. That Hawkes can convincingly embody a menacing Svengali who ritualistically rapes his female followers and a nebbishy poet trapped in an iron lung is a testament not only to his gifts as an actor but to his offbeat sexual charisma. Both characters are nothing if not seductive.

Throw in a burgeoning music career (he hopes to release his first CD in 2013), some endearingly Luddite tendencies (even now, he refuses to use an email address) and a passionate commitment to his craft (he injured a disc in his back lying for hours on set in an iron lung), and Hawkes is nothing short of an indie-film-lover’s dream. His piercing blue eyes don’t hurt either.

5. Rob Delaney

We swear this isn't just about the green Speedo, Rob Delaney, you tweet thing. But it helps.

No matter how many arguments we have each year here at Salon about our sexiest men, one thing that's always abundantly clear in our choices is that we're total comedy groupies. A man who can make us laugh is all but assured of an E-ZPass to both our list and our dirtiest fantasies. And if he happens to exude the heady musk of some deep-rooted damage, more's the better. So how could we possibly resist the official funniest person on Twitter? Hint: We could not.

But L.A. stand-up comic Delaney doesn't just us make us swoon with absurd tweets about killing people or his filthy routines about pleasuring John Travolta. He rocks our world because he's ticked off at all the right things. He's the man who, in the wake of the spectacle of Kim Kardashian's whiplash-inducing marriage, heroically announced he was suing her for "polluting the airwaves of America and every other nation unfortunate enough to be subject to the disease of Kardashia."

This year he defeated Mitt Romney by getting more Romney-related retweets for his droll jokes about the governor than Romney's real Twitter stream. We swear to God when he retweeted a Diane Ravitch Wall Street Journal piece about school reform it was like porn. And when Barack Obama was reelected, he didn't just admit that he cried, he admitted he cried in an open letter to his mom. Just yesterday  he wrote a post for Salon addressed to the president about education reform. And the courage it took to write about his struggle with depression on his Tumblr post … Yeah, you can find us in our bunk.

Oh, and did we mention that the married father of one is also an undeniable dreamboat? Broad-chested, just furry enough and with a smirk that says, "Come and get it." With his lantern jaw and irrepressible goofiness, he the closest thing real life has ever come to delivering us our dream man, the Tick. And every day he gives us a new reason to adore him, 140 characters at a time.

4. Aaron Paul

(credit: AMC/Frank Ockenfels)

What is it about pretty-boy actors in druggie roles? From Leonardo DiCaprio to Ryan Gosling, playing a character in the grips of addiction has proven a successful formula for launching a high-profile Hollywood career. These intensely moving roles can bring out the codependent in even the healthiest of us -- or at least that's what we keep telling ourselves. It's not like we set out wanting to like Aaron Paul's character on "Breaking Bad." After all, Jesse Pinkman is an ineffectual, meth-addled poser who punctuates most sentences with the words "bitch" and "yo." Slowly but surely, though, as the series progressed, Pinkman grew emotional depth; he transformed from an absurd caricature that the show's writers intended to kill off into a complicated, multilayered character who carries the series.

There is something tremendously sexy about an actor who can so convincingly access such deep, dark places. We find ourselves hoping that such ability reveals something about Paul's true character — perhaps an empathic sensitivity paired with a tortured core. (We maybe want to rescue him just a little bit.) But even if we're deluding ourselves by conflating Paul with Pinkman, there is real-life evidence of swoon-worthy sweetness: Take his recent Emmy acceptance speech (his second, BTW) in which he humbly and emotionally thanked a whole host of people and then said to his fiancée, “Thank you so much for looking at me the way you do,” thereby making ovaries the world over do somersaults. Speaking of his lucky lady, activist Lauren Parsekian, he’s teamed up with her to fight — get this — schoolyard bullying. What’s next, rescuing orphaned puppies? C'mon!

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the simple fact of that impish smile, dramatic jawline — and, of course, those meth-blue eyes.

3. Frank Ocean

Crooners are inherently sexy, and 25-year-old Frank Ocean, with his silky voice and sleepy, bedroom eyes, is no exception: Just try to not fan your face while listening to the romantic angst as his voice goes from baritone to falsetto on “Thinkin Bout You.” Well, he obviously is an exception, because the former Odd Future member and songwriter for John Legend, Beyoncé and the Bieb — anointed last year by Jay-Z and Kanye when they invited him to appear as one of the few credited guests on their collaboration “Watching the Throne” — has catapulted himself from obscurity to high up on our elite list of the year’s sexiest. How? By having the guts to do what no one in hip-hop has done before him: Come out in a world that has been historically homophobic. In July, a week before his solo debut, “Channel Orange,” was set to drop, Ocean posted a moving open letter for the liner notes on his Tumblr about falling in love for the first time, when he was 19. With a man (it was unrequited). “With all the rumors going round, I figured it’d be good to clarify,” he wrote. He reflected on the songs he’d written when he was younger: "Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager … the ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realized they were written in a language I did not yet speak. I realized too much. Too quickly." You’d think, given how many recording artists remain deeply buried in the closet — even as rumors and photos circulate — that an admission like this would spin his world off its course. Hip-hop elder statesman Russell Simmons, who was the first to publicly applaud him, appreciated what it meant for Ocean to declare himself: “It is a day that will define who we really are … I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do." But Ocean’s bravery — one of the sexiest virtues — earned him only praise and support — Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and Tyler, the Creator, from Odd Future, all rushed to his side with shout-outs. While we have yet to see another artist follow in his footsteps — be it a hip-hop veteran or another up-and-comer — the Earth continues to spin on its axis."

2. Louis C.K.

(credit: AP)

In 2010, several of us here were smitten with the then-new FX comedy "Louie," and had fallen likewise for the rumpled charms of its creator and star. C.K. was a natural contender for Salon's Sexiest Man crown. Except, as Sarah Hepola wrote then, "There was one problem: Nobody really found Louis C.K. sexy. I mean, we all found him hilarious, and refreshingly raw, and uncompromising as the creator of a daring show plopped into a turbid sea of sitcom mediocrity. But hot and desirable?"

Well, those of us who boarded the Louis boat two years ago have just one word for those co-workers today: VINDICATION. This year, when C.K.'s name came up again as one of our sexiest men, it was met with near universal approval. What is it about the 2012 C.K. that gets us even more hot and bothered than the earlier model? Part of it, no doubt, is that we've now had two more years to fall in love with his oddball show, with its deft mix of guffaw-worthy humor and squirm-in-your-seat discomfort and grenades of raw poignancy. Part of it is C.K.'s boldness in releasing his "Live at the Beacon Theater" performance directly on his website, a success that became an inspiration for other artists to redefine how they market themselves in the digital age. Part of it is how he exudes integrity, the way he, at the top of his game, announced he was taking a break from his show because "I want it to keep being something that comes from somewhere fun and important."

And then there's just how straight up, goddamn funny he is -- daring to crack on his recent post-Hurricane Sandy "Saturday Night Live" monologue that "We went from zero electricity to a criminal amount of electricity ... Today I turned on the heat and the air conditioning and let them fight in the apartment." C.K. doesn't just laugh at the absurdity of life -- he looks straight at it with heart and grit and some of that anger thing we always find a little bit of a turn-on.

We're not saying he's perfect. He's been accused of having a "woman problem" on his show, and it's true that his revolving door of disturbing to flat-out predatory crazy-lady characters does suggest some, uh, issues. It similarly doesn't escape our attention that he likely wasn't competing with Channing Tatum for the title role in "Magic Mike." So what? That brown-eyed ginger with the melting smile is, truly and without qualification, some hot stuff.

1. Chris Kluwe

(credit: OUT/David Bowman)

Chris Kluwe knows how to write an angry letter. After Maryland delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. attempted to silence an NFL player's same-sex marriage activism, the Minnesota Vikings punter responded with a profanity-laced missive in which he referred to the politician as a "narcissistic fromunda stain." He also sarcastically reassured Burns that legalized same-sex marriage won't "magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster." The letter wasn't just hilariously inappropriate: It deftly took the pol to task for homophobia, hypocrisy and disrespect of free speech. Kluwe even name-checked COBRA and Social Security benefits.

But let's be honest: He had us at "lustful cockmonster."

This creative-curser with a cause didn't stop there: After his letter went viral, he went on to film a video and radio spots against a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage, which failed on Nov. 6. He also followed up his profane rant with G-rated defenses of same-sex marriage. As if that weren't enough to land him on our sexiest list, Kluwe then posed for a bunch of shirtless beefcake shots for Out magazine. Folks, this is what secure heterosexuality looks like, and it is hot. Yes, Kluwe is straight and married — to a woman! — but he believes that gay men, whether they're marrying each other or ogling his rock-hard abs, don't pose a threat to his union.

The 30-year-old father of two shatters the jock stereotype: Not only does he have an activist streak, but he's a voracious reader and self-proclaimed video-gaming nerd. He has the goofy laugh of a guy who spends hours playing "World of Warcraft" with the physique of an Olympian. In his own words, "Holy fucking shitballs." For more on Kluwe, check out our "Sexiest Man" interview with him.

By Salon Staff

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