It’s a widely known fact that for an actor to portray a character from DC comics – whether it be an uber powerful alien who defies all laws of physics or a thuggish, fiendishly clever clown – they’ve got to communicate an unmistakable toughness.
This can mean all kinds of things-- either the toughness must unfailingly endure as a shining example in a dreary world or the toughness must frighten the audience.
Some actors are able to reach this level of toughness by going above and beyond the usual gym work and diet requirements needed to attain these godly superhuman bodies.
Others have led the kind of lives off-screen that surprisingly complement the tough characters that they’re tasked with convincingly bringing to life
However, this isn’t to say that the actors who are in the “only tough on screen” section of this list are the opposite of tough-- i.e., weak. In fact, they are far from it, as we're sure that any actor can attest to the fact that it takes a real thick skin to be even a little successful in Hollywood.
However, these performers have opted to channel their energies in other, perhaps less showy areas. In this sense, it's clear that they don’t mind going against the image they’ve built for themselves in the DC movies.
With that said, here are the 10 DC Actors Who Are Tough In Real Life (And 10 Who Are Only Tough On Screen).
20 Tough: Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy is often considered the Marlon Brando of his generation-- and for good reason. The actor is endlessly fascinating and talented, even when making weird accent choices.
He’s also fearless-- any actor following in Heath Ledger’s footsteps as a Batman villain is surely a little bit crazy, in all the best ways.
While Hardy is most well known for playing intimidating tough guys on-screen, he’s no slouch off-screen either.
You can point to overcoming a terrible substance addiction as an example of his toughness, but there is also the far more amusing story of the time he chased a thief on foot.
Last year, a man stole and crashed a moped before fleeing the scene. Not having an ounce of this law-breaking nonsense, Hardy didn’t even hesitate when he started running after the man.
Hardy chased the thief through gardens and across a building site. Finally, Hardy caught him by the scruff of the neck and patted him down for concealed weapons.
Satisfied with a job well done, Hardy proudly announced, “I’ve caught the c***.”
“Tom looked furious. If the kid had been dumb enough to resist, I reckon Tom would’ve given him a good hiding,” a witness told The Sun.
19 Not As Tough: Henry Cavill
For the most part, Henry Cavill’s Superman was all about bringing a butch toughness to the character that was largely lacking in most other portrayals.
His Superman is the strong and silent type, who rarely cracks a smile – and just isn’t all that reassuring a presence. This was especially the case, considering the fact that he violently broke the sound barrier every time he took flight and his myopic determination to pound the bad guys into hamburger meat.
Justice League went some way towards correcting this by softening this version of the character’s tough personality, though who knows when we’ll see that Superman again.
It's a shame, though, because Henry Cavill sounds like the kind of guy who could really exhibit Superman’s lovelier side if given the chance.
One writer, Giana Mucci, told Yahoo! that the actor was an extremely gracious restaurant host in West Hollywood once upon a time. He even offered to walk her “100-pound, wolf like dog that intimidated most people.” The three became fast friends.
A few years later, following the success of Man of Steel, Cavill ran into Mucci at a press event, hugged her, and asked how her dog was doing.
“Despite all that had changed in his life, he was still the same Henry – as humble and as thoughtful as ever,” Mucci wrote.
18 Tough: Gal Gadot
Gal Gadot was propelled onto the A-list last year after earning widespread acclaim for bringing Wonder Woman to life on the big screen.
Gadot, who possesses a natural and radiant screen presence, elevated what was a standard issue superhero origin story. On-screen, she provided the Amazonian warrior with the right combination of toughness and empathy.
However, in real life, Gadot is equally tough. Gadot served in the Israeli Defence Force, the Israeli army, for two years. It is a requirement for all able Israeli citizens when they come of age.
Gadot was specifically granted the role of combat instructor, which entailed teaching the soldiers gymnastics and calisthenics. Gadot told Maxim in 2007, “the soldiers loved me because I made them fit.”
However, Gadot is even tougher than most believe.
During the filming of Justice League, the actress was in the early stages of her pregnancy, which meant a lot of morning sickness.
After a scene was shot, Gadot worked out a system with her assistant to get the vomiting out of the way by making it as quiet as possible. This would usually entail her assistant singing random musical notes loudly over the sound of Gadot’s puking.
While it takes some level of toughness to portray a superhero on screen, it takes even more to do so while pregnant.
17 Not As Tough: Keanu Reeves
Is there any way that a laconic demon hunter who hass literally been to hell and back could not be tough? Probably no.
Keanu Reeves of course played laconic demon hunter John Constantine in the 2005 movie adaptation of the same name. Was the movie any good? Eh, it was okay. It wasn't as faithful to the source material as the NBC show. However, it wasn't terrible on its own as a supernatural thriller, though.
However, unlike Constantine the nihilistic anti-hero, Keanu is one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
The best example of Keanu’s generosity can be traced back to the Matrix trilogy. He gave away an accumulated total of $50 million of his paycheck to the real heroes – the costume and special effects team.
His generosity didn’t stop there, though. He gifted the other real heroes – the stunt team – with expensive Harley Davidson motorcycles.
The nice guy actor characteristically doesn’t see the big deal: “Money is the last thing I think about. I can live on what I’ve already made for the next few centuries," he stated.
Also, in 1997, he hung out with a homeless man in Los Angeles. Just broke bread and spent several hours talking with him. How beautiful.
16 Tough: Christian Bale
Christian Bale’s performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman helped to breathe new life into a character who was an utter joke on the big screen only eight years before the dark knight got a new lease on life in 2005’s Batman Begins.
Whether you think his raspy Batman voice is ridiculous or unsettling, there’s no doubt that Bale brought some much needed spooky malevolence back to the creature of the night.
Bale had to summon and channel a bit of that Bat toughness on the set of American Hustle. By all accounts, director David O. Russell was nightmarish and a tyrannical terror, and he drove Amy Adams to tears nearly every day.
This isn’t an isolated incident with O. Russell, either, as even famous nice guy George Clooney got into a fistfight with him on the set of Three Kings.
One incident got so heated that Bale intervened and told O. Russell to “stop acting like an a**hole.”
This is truly something to marvel at when you think about the second thing that Christian Bale is most famous for: the time he blew a gasket on the set of Terminator: Salvation, uninterrupted, for 4 straight minutes.
15 Not As Tough: Common
Common the rapper in a DC movie? Indeed, but he only appeared in one scene. In Suicide Squad, he portrays the tattooed dealer who makes the mistake of calling Harley a “bad b****” right to the Joker’s face. Then the Joker messes with him a little and shoots him. Or at least that's most likely that’s what happens-- the choppy editing in Suicide Squad honestly makes it kind of hard to tell.
The artist formerly known as Common Sense couldn’t be further from the dunce-y, trash-talking dealer who he portrayed.
In real life, he is a wellspring of articulate and compassionate thoughts and love.
He and fellow artist John Legend performed on the bridge that Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement marched on a half century ago.
Common said of it, “The bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now is a symbol for change. The spirit of the bridge transcends race, gender, religion. This bridge was built on hope. Welded with compassion. And elevated by love for all human beings.”
Recently, Common founded Freedom Road Productions.
Freedom Road Productions is a production company that is devoted to telling diverse stories on the big screen and the small screen, defying all stereotypes of how people of colour are often depicted.
14 Tough: Jason Momoa
If there’s any one who can make Aquaman tough as nails, it’s the hulking Jason Momoa.
Momoa might not have had much of a chance to fill out his Aquaman with personality or nuance in Justice League, but his upcoming Aquaman movie may yet change that.
Of course, Momoa is also well known for playing warrior war lord Khal Drogo on HBO’s Game of Thrones and Conan the Barbarian. The man is no stranger to playing intimidating characters on screen.
You might have noticed that the 6’5 Hawaiian actor has a scar over his eyebrow. However, this is no canny makeup choice to make Momoa seem even tougher.
Momoa was actually once attacked in a bar with a pint glass, which resulted in 140 stitches.
However, what cements Momoa’s toughness here is that he saw the positive in such a thing: he told the NY Post that it was “good” that it happened, because it changed the pretty boy image he’d been keen to be rid of.
Not to be forgotten is his Instagram video, in which he took a few sips from a pint of beer and threw a tomahawk at a target with deadly precision.
We can only hope that Arthur Curry gets to do anything half as cool in Aquaman.
13 Not As Tough: Mark Hamill
It should be a scientific fact that Hamill is one of the greatest Jokers in the character’s history. His maniacal laugh is as buffoonish as it is chilling, achieving that unique balance that makes the Joker so entertaining and captivating a villain.
You’d never want to run into his version of the Joker, whether he was in a harmless prankster mood or feeling violent.
It’s a testament to Hamill’s abilities that he’s actually extremely sweet in real life.
When the ridiculously hyped Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released, poor Jake Lloyd was shredded by the fandom for his, well, cute portrayal of Anakin Skywalker.
Whether Hamill was personally a fan of the Star Wars prequels or not isn’t relevant, but what is relevant is that he stuck up for Lloyd against angry fans.
He didn't only stick up for Lloyd though, though, instead he got downright mad on his behalf, like a kindly uncle sticking up for his favorite nephew.
“I couldn’t believe some of the things fans wrote about the prequels, you know. I’m still angry about the way they treated Jake Lloyd. He was only ten years old, that boy, and he did exactly what George wanted him to do,” Hamill stated.
12 Tough: Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson might occasionally play super spy Nick Fury in the MCU, but once upon a time he was batting for team DC.
In 2008, Jackson portrayed the wildly over-the-top (even by Sam L. Jackson standards) Octopus, The Spirit’s main nemesis. The Spirit was comic book maestro Frank Miller’s first attempt at directing a movie-- and probably his last, judging by the sour reactions that the movie garnered.
While Jackson isn’t a super spy in real life, it’s fair to say that he’s been known to be quite fearless.
Way back in 1969, when Jackson was only 21 years old, he was expelled from college for locking board members in a building for two days, in protest of the school’s curriculum.
His demands were that there be some black members on the board of governance.
The actor explained to Parade magazine he was driven to do this following the passing of Martin Luther King Jr. “I was angry about the assassination, but I wasn’t shocked by it. I knew that change was going to take something different – not sit ins, not peaceful co-existence,” Jackson stated.
11 Not As Tough: George Clooney
Sure, George Clooney played the wimpiest Batman ever to grace the silver screen, but it still takes a lot of gumption to don an anatomically correct rubber suit and fight an ice man who punishingly dolls out ice pun after ice pun.
The actor is politically active and a philanthropist. However, he extends that kindness to his best friends too.
In 2013, his best friend Rande Gerber revealed to E! News that Clooney gave 14 of his closest friends one million dollars each.
Clooney organized a dinner at his house, in which all of them would be in attendance. After dinner, George said: “Listen, I want you guys to know how much you’ve meant to me. I came to L.A., I slept on your couch. I’m so fortunate in my life to have all of you and I couldn’t be where I am today without you.”
We’re not talking about rich actor friends, either, so this was quite the gift. Clooney also paid their taxes for the year, so the million bucks was all theirs.
Gerber pulled Clooney aside after and said he couldn’t accept so generous a gift. Clooney then simply said that if Gerber wouldn’t accept the money, nobody would get it.
10 Tough: Jenny Pacey
In the DC universe, the hidden island of Themyscira is populated by the mighty Amazonians, who are experts in the arts of combat and horse riding. It’s where Princess Diana, aka Wonder Woman, was born and raised to be one of Earth’s finest protectors.
Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins wisely chose to cast actual world class athletic women to fill out those medieval style costumes and perform those crazy stunts as Amazonians.
The filmmakers knew that the audience had to feel the authenticity of these warrior women shine through the screen, because it’s not like Themyscira features in the movie all that much, barring the first third of Wonder Woman.
The unexpected global impact of the movie speaks volumes about Patty Jenkins’ commitment to depicting the strength of women. A muscular Robin Wright about to land a solid punch on a German invading soldier became one of the defining images of Wonder Woman following its release.
One such Amazonian was Jenny Pacey, an actual Olympian and gladiator.
Pacey is also an accomplished horse rider and swimmer.
In addition, she is a fitness expert-- she has her own YouTube channel, as well as her own fitness DVDs. Pacey is barely in the movie, but she does the title “Wonder Woman” proud.
9 Not As Tough: Will Smith
Will Smith was one of the few bright spots in the dreadful Suicide Squad. Though he was certainly charming and funny and, well, Will Smith, he still had a believable air of lethality about him as the assassin Deadshot. He sure as hell looked handy with a gun or three.
However, there’s no doubt that the actor has a sensitive side.
Smith’s desire to become one of the biggest entertainers on the planet came from his hurt feelings from a bad teenage relationship.
“When I was 15, my girlfriend cheated on me. And from that moment, in this bizarre psychological twist, I wanted to be the most famous entertainer on earth, because I believe your girlfriend couldn’t cheat on you,” Smith said.
Will Smith, America’s sweetheart, is also a devoted family man, as evidenced by his Instagram page.
However, he also uses his celebrity clout to be something of a life coach to his many followers.
In a video, he enthused, “Yo, I just saw this great quote: ‘set your life on fire and seek those who fan your flames.’ The Philly translation of that is: Don’t be hanging with no jank-a** jokers that don’t help you shine." Wise words.
8 Tough: Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen, who is most famous for playing Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, was in a little DC flick called A History of Violence, in which he played a café owner whose life is changed forever following a robbery.
Mortensen himself praised the movie as one of the best he’s ever been in, which is truly a compliment considering that he’s been unafraid to criticize The Hobbit trilogy and, to a lesser extent, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
What matters here, though, is that Viggo Mortensen is utterly unafraid of speaking his truth.
However, it was during the filming of the LOTR trilogy that Mortensen’s innate toughness shone through-- and in some ways it enhanced his already great performance.
For example, take the scene where Aragorn discovers what he believes to be the charred bodies of his hobbit compatriots, Merry and Pippin. He kicks a helmet in a fit of grief and rage, and lets out a howl of anguish.
That howl of anguish was the result of Mortensen actually breaking two of his toes during the scene. The kick was perhaps a little too enthusiastic, or the helmet was far too hard.
Either way, Mortensen used that immediate pain to fuel his performance, which is definitely tough.
7 Not As Tough: Jared Leto
Jared Leto had some pretty big shoes to fill following Heath Ledger’s maniacally magnetic performance as the Clown Prince of Crime.
While he decidedly did not fill out those shoes, there’s no question that his heavily tattooed and grime-y feet had some potential.
Whether it was the fact that his Joker had no story to tell or that Leto seemed like he was trying too hard, the inarguable fact is that the reception to his version of the crazed character was middling at best. Hopefully he’ll get to define the Joker more thoroughly in a future DC movie.
Nevertheless, Leto is a fine actor, though he's not quite as tough as his portrayal as Joker makes him seem.
By all accounts, the guy takes quite good care of himself. He revealed that the secret to his eternally youthful looks (the actor is actually 46 years old) isn’t due to a chemical bath, but rather by simply taking care of himself in conventional ways.
“I still have plenty of vices, but alcohol isn’t one of them. It’s probably just down to sleep and diet. Twenty solid years of eating vegetarian/vegan probably helps the preservation process,” he told Rolling Stone.
Leto is also an animal activist.
Jared Leto officially became a WWF global ambassador in 2015.
6 Tough: George Reeves
Before Christopher Reeve made audiences across the globe believe that a man could fly, there was George Reeves. Reeves played Superman on television in the 1950s, in the simply titled The Adventures of Superman.
While George Reeves and the rest of the crew didn’t have the resources that Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner had that allowed them to make kids in front of television sets buy into Superman’s grandiosity, George Reeves imbued Clark Kent/Superman with no-nonsense grit and fatherly decency. He was a good Superman.
Before he was Superman, though, Reeves was an up-and-coming actor climbing the ladder of success after he got his big break in Gone With the Wind. Just as his career was beginning to take shape, Reeves put his career on hold to join the army.
His career never recovered from that choice, and he was seemingly cursed to languish in television. The pay was slim and the prestige was slimmer.
Although Reeves was artistically incredibly dissatisfied with the scripts that required little of him, he nonetheless sucked it up for the sake of the public and took the role of Superman seriously, knowing that he was a role model for a generation of children.
He even went so far as to quit smoking. Sadly, he passed away from a gunshot wound in 1959.
5 Not As Tough: Diane Lane
Diane Lane’s version of Martha Kent is undoubtedly the toughest version of Superman’s Kansas mom. This salt of the earth farmer will stare down a bullying, strongman alien and tell him to go to hell without missing a beat.
If it’s between her superhuman adopted boy’s feelings and the rest of the world, the rest of the world will have to wait. It’s a polarizing, though quite a realistic Ma Kent, to say the least.
Much unlike her on-screen character, Diane Lane is thankfully a little more open.
In 2006, the actress lopped off her locks for a charity called Pantene Beautiful Lengths. She cut 20 cm of her hair off, to be exact.
She donated her hair so that it could be made into wigs for women who are battling cancer.
“It’s not really about the hairdo I’m left with. It’s more about where the hair that’s gone went,” Lane told The Associated Press.
The actress is also a big supporter of Heifer International, a charity that helps out distressed families, protects the environment, and provides training to end poverty and encourage self-reliance.
In addition, Lane is also campaigned for Oceana, which actively protects ocean wildlife.
4 Tough: Eartha Kitt
Most famous for playing Catwoman in the '60s Batman TV show, Eartha Kitt is bolder than most. Kitt used her fame to promote activist causes.
For example, in 1968, a most violent year, the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, invited a group of women for a discussion on how crime could be eradicated on the streets.
Eartha Kitt was among those in attendance. Kitt didn’t hesitate to voice her opinion on why crime was rampant. According to Kitt, the crime rate was in part a reaction to the calamitous war in Vietnam.
The actress said: “Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn’t pay to be a good guy. They figure with a record, they don’t have to go to Vietnam. You send the best of this country to be shot ... They rebel in the street. They will take pot and get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’ll be snatched from their mothers to be [taken to] Vietnam.”
According to the New York Times, Mrs. Johnson noted in her diary that Kitt’s blunt and honest answer shook her somewhat.
Unfortunately, this controversial statement proved to be a significant setback for Eartha Kitt’s acting career.
3 Not As Tough: Ryan Reynolds
Ryan Reynolds played Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in DC’s ill-fated attempt to get a Green Lantern movie up and running.
Nevertheless, while the movie was disliked by fans and critics alike, Reynolds displayed some entertaining fratboy charm that would later be weaponized to hilarious effect in 2016's Deadpool. Since his role as the Merc with the Mouth, Reynolds has been on the A-list.
Though he’s an A-list celebrity, Reynolds isn’t quite the showboater that Deapool or Green Lantern are. In fact, he’s a real sweetheart where it counts.
His Deadpool 2 co-star Rob Delaney suffered a recent and unthinkable tragedy: his two year old son Henry passed away from a brain tumour.
Reynolds used his twitter account for good here, directing 10 million plus of his followers to make a donation to Rainbow Trust, an organization that provides emotional and practical support for families who have a child with a life-threatening illness.
“Words fail in comparison to what my friend @robdelaney experienced. I’m making a donation to Rainbow Trust in Henry’s memory. If you’re inclined to, you can too,” Reynolds wrote.
Also, about a month ago, Reynolds also donned a pink Deadpool costume to promote F**K Cancer, a charity focused on the detection and prevention of cancer.
2 Tough: Christopher Reeve
To this day, the late Christopher Reeve is widely regarded as the greatest Superman to ever be portrayed on the big screen. This is no mean feat when you think about the longevity of the iconic character.
The athletic, lantern jawed Reeve was immediately thrust into stardom following his turn as the Man of Steel in 1978.
However, tragedy struck in 1995, when he was thrown off his horse during an equestrian competition. Reeve described the injury to the Washington Post in shockingly graphic terms. “I had what’s called a hangman’s injury,” he stated.
He became a quadriplegic overnight. The actor considered taking his own life. However, his wife, Dana, said just the right thing to pull him back from the brink.
After that, Reeve became something of an inspiration in real life after the traumatic event-- he became an active proponent for the disabled and for spinal cord injury research, including stem cell research.
In September of 2000, he managed to move his index finger, much to the shock of experts.
In fact, Reeve lived as full a life as possible after his paralysis, and this included directing an Emmy-award nominated HBO movie, In the Gloaming.
Sadly, Christopher Reeve passed away at the age of 52.
1 Not As Tough: Jesse Eisenberg
Was Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor the villain who Superman fans across the world had been yearning for? It's debatable. For the time being, most fans believe he isn't, but maybe someday we’ll get the a big screen Luthor who’s not obsessed with a real estate scam or isn’t some shrill nutso.
His convoluted scheme in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to pit Superman and Batman against one another, a scheme that included kidnapping Superman’s own mother, and framing Superman for some crimes in Africa, takes some doing.
This doesn't even include when Lex taunted a senator with a jar of his own pee before blowing up congress, or later constructing a Kryptonian rage monster for... reasons.
He’s certainly villainous and fearless enough to be close to threatening – at least on occasion, when he’s not being all twitchy and weird.
Of course, Jesse Eisenberg is extremely different in real life. He's quite the opposite, in fact.
A couple of years ago, Eisenberg quietly donated $100,000 to Bloomington’s Middle Way House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
In addition, Eisenberg is also a huge cat person. He used to foster a few felines in need of a home.
Are there any other tough or sweet DC actors who we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments!