‘The new DiCaprio’: how Leo Woodall became one of UK’s hottest exports

Estimated read time 6 min read

You’d probably never heard of him two years ago and now his blue eyes and floppy sandy hair are everywhere – from magazine covers to TikTok montages.

Searches for Leo Woodall multiplied this week with the announcement that the actor has been cast in the fourth Bridget Jones film, Mad About the Boy, crowning a whirlwind few months for the man who has stolen hearts and become one of Britain’s hottest exports.

It has been suggested that Woodall, 27, will play the dashing young teacher who Bridget (Renée Zellweger) starts sleeping with after the death of her husband, Mark (Colin Firth). Breathless fans claim Woodall is taking over the mantle of “romcom king” from Hugh Grant, who is also reprising his role as Bridget’s former flame Daniel.

The excitement is hardly surprising after the actor’s recent roles – first as cheeky Essex boy Jack in HBO’s second season of Emmy-award winning The White Lotus, and then as endearing toff Dexter Mayhew in Netflix’s hit adaptation of One Day.

“Leo Woodall has been at the centre of two of the most high-profile series of the last 18 months, which really seem to have contributed to his quick ascendance,” said Alex Goat, the chief executive of youth culture consultancy Livity. “Whilst his characters in White Lotus and One Day are on paper very different, they share many attributes – swagger, charm, and a damaged nature. It’s those flaws, and that authenticity, which seems to appeal to younger audiences.”

Woodall and his co-star, Ambika Mod, have been described as pivotal to the success of One Day, which went straight to number one in the Netflix charts when it premiered this year and introduced new generations to the David Nicholls novel.

Leo Woodall and Ambika Mod as Dexter and Emma in One Day. They are on a beach, Woodall lying on his side looking at Mod.View image in fullscreen

“He’s incredibly hard-working and dedicated, very subtle and expressive and unafraid of being raw and emotional,” Nicholls said of Woodall after the Bridget Jones announcement. “He has a vulnerable quality that was perfect for Dexter, who in another actor’s hands might have been unbearable. Even when saying or doing terrible things, you sense the decency and good intentions.”

Woodall was born and raised in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, in what he has described as a “fairly posh middle-class” family. He originally wanted to be a PE teacher or stuntman before deciding to pursue acting after watching an episode of Peaky Blinders aged 19.

It was a path that almost felt fated. His father, Andrew, is a character actor known for parts in Belle and The Riot Club, and his stepfather, the Scottish actor Alexander Morton, had appeared in Casualty, Luther and Taggart.

While Woodall’s talent for acting is clear, pop culture experts have also traced his popularity to what they see as his cross-generational appeal.

“He reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio with a cheeky chappy edge,” said the journalist and podcaster Pandora Sykes. “Leonardo was the pinnacle: more than mere man, he was a pop-culture moment.

“It’s like we’re getting a bit of that, again. All the other up-and-comers in Hollywood – Austin Butler, Jacob Elordi, Tom Holland, Timothée Chalamet – feel quite young and green, the preserve of gen Z. But I think Woodall is particularly charming to the millennial woman: there’s this sense of him having been there and done that. Of nothing fazing him.”

Woodall and Haley Lu Richardson in character in The White Lotus.View image in fullscreen

Jess Barrett, the assistant editor of Grazia magazine, added: “It’s not often that a Leo Woodall comes around, and when he does your teen hunk muscle memory comes flooding back. It’s hard not to get a little crush even though you know you’re too old. There is a 90s incarnation of Leo DiCaprio or Jared Leto energy to his appeal.

“As Bridget Jones’s love interest in the latest film, us geriatric millennials will be powerless to his charms.”

Woodall is the youngest of three siblings and considers himself the “baby” of his family. Though he was “a bit spoilt” as a child, he has described how things became more difficult when he went to a “shit school” in London, where he “didn’t really give a fuck” about his grades and violence was not uncommon. It’s a period he jokingly refers to as “the dark years”.

After graduating from ArtsEd drama school in Chiswick, Woodall made a few unmemorable forays into the industry, appearing in an episode of Holby City and, “for five minutes”, a young adult vampire drama.

It was in 2021 that he found himself watching the first season of White Lotus while holed up in a hotel room with Covid, and “quickly fell completely in love with it”. He auditioned for the show’s second season after watching videos of The Only Way is Essex’s Joey Essex. It did the trick. The Americans, including showrunner Mike White, were equally confused and thrilled by him. One month later Woodall was staying at an empty Four Seasons hotel in Sicily and running into Michael Imperioli at the gym.

Woodall and Fahy are smartly dressed at an awards ceremony. They are standing and smiling at the camera.View image in fullscreen

Throughout the show, what stood out was Woodall’s ability to steal every scene he was in. He has referred to White Lotus as a “gamechanger” – not only did he meet his now girlfriend Meghann Fahy on set, but it also gave him “an edge” during auditions for One Day. It is a testament to his talent that people thought he was actually from Essex.

“He’s got a disarming versatility where his entire physicality seems to change,” said Sykes. “In White Lotus he was bullish and grubby, attractive in a way that made you feel uneasy; in One Day he was almost fey: elegant and glittering with insecurity. There’s something intensely charismatic about him, but offset with this lightness. I don’t think he realises the impact he has with his physical presence.”

But it is not just the women who see Woodall’s appeal. Luke Hodson, the founder of youth culture marketing agency Nerds Collective, said the actor was popular because he “embodies the everyday man”. “He creates a familiar resonance – you can just imagine bumping into him in a club in Malia.”

Source: theguardian.com

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