When it comes to the world of Hollywood, one thing is factual at the end of the day. We see the amazing action stars of today who are proven tough guys, but others are tough just for the camera. There are likely many examples of this. However, the world of action has become even bigger the last number of years due to the rise of superhero franchises and dystopian future movies as well. Regardless of what you like to watch in the action genre, there is a good chance you wondered if they were really that tough.
In the case of Bruce Lee, for example, it was very well-known that Lee was a legitimate badass. He knew a lot of the martial arts he showed off in movie form. While Bruce was not one who jumped into tournaments, the man invented his own martial art that is still in play today. He helped to invent what we now know to be Mixed Martial Arts! At the end of the day, playing a tough guy for him was not even close to a stretch. He really was one.
While many from the past could fit this like Lee, there are many others from the same time period who were mostly acting the entire time. Sometimes looking tough is good enough in Hollywood, so they do not often ask if someone is a legit fighter or tough guy. Interestingly, the same is usually never asked of women as "the look" is usually always more important. Kimberly from Power Rangers anyone? At the end of the day, fans want to likely know the score.
Who is legit and who is not? Which actors are actually as tough or close to as tough as the people they portray in movies or television? In this list, we'll break down ten such people. However, we'll also point to the ones who are not as tough as they appear to be as well. We hope you enjoy. Let us know if we miss your favorite that fits in either.
20 acts tough - Vin Diesel
We should be upfront and say that all can be tough in their own way. Vin Diesel is in very good shape and it is likely he could hurt some people if he chose to. However, when it comes down to putting him in front of an actual legit tough guy, he falls back every time. Vin has been an action star the bulk of his career, however. He was first known for this genre in Saving Private Ryan, then with the Fast and Furious and XXX movies. Not to mention the Chronicles of Riddick movies and The Pacifier.
Clearly, Vin is a very impressive actor in these major action movies and franchises. This is well-known from Vin however. What you may not know is that Vin is not as tough as he seems. This man is a HUGE Dungeons and Dragons fan. While there is nothing truly wrong with this, it does not exactly spew "tough guy." MMA star turned Pro-Wrestler Ronda Rousey outed Vin as a big fan of World of Warcraft fan on Conan years ago too, but Vin has never kept this side of him a secret. He actually wrote a forward for 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. He's played for over 20 years and even attempted to get a tattoo with his character name in a movie he was in. Seriously.
19 don't mess with - Jean-Claude Van Damme
In the search for a new Bruce Lee years ago, the world of action found one in Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Belgian actor has been part of the action movie franchise ever since, and it is quite likely you have seen at least one of his films. He was seemingly in an endless amount from the 80's to 90's. He would make a big return with his role in the Expendables franchise a few years back. JVD was known as a legit tough guy most likely due to the fact that, well, he is. He earned his black belt in karate by age 18 and eventually got into bodybuilding to look bigger. Both of these actions caught the eye of studios.
He would eventually get into Taekwondo and Muay-Thai, which he has used in many movies over the years. He also studied kickboxing for many years, which is likely the style he is most recognized for. Interestingly, he also took up ballet for a number of years. The theory for him was that it could teach balance. As funny as that might seem, this only added to his abilities and JVD went on to actually do better in movies as a result of this training. Combined with his real-life fighting prowess, it's hard to ever claim Van Damme isn't a tough guy for real.
18 acts tough - harrison ford
We should amend this a bit and mention Harrison Ford over his entire career was never as tough as he appeared to be on screen. Obviously, older guys we mention on this list would not be as tough as they once were if they ever were at all. In the case of Ford, it was next to never. Ford is most known for his work as the title character in the Indiana Jones movies as well as his role as Han Solo in the original Star Wars franchise. Ford has appeared in several action movies beyond these, but most believe from his work in them that he is somehow this amazing tough guy that could win any fight he came across.
In reality, it is unlikely he ever would. What makes Ford seem imposing is his voice and the way he speaks to people. It's a bit rough, and his size combined with it makes people assume a lot about him. Often a look or voice can do this, especially for someone with the notoriety as Ford. However, his speaking voice and the way he acts is due to something else. He has pretty bad anxiety, so doing talk shows is often not the easiest thing for him as a result. While he does fine with them, he is often not how is on screen because of this area. Though it has helped to keep his image as a tough guy. He just isn't one. Funny enough, he'd be the first to admit it.
17 don't mess with - Michael Jai White
He currently holds a black belt in 7 different martial arts disciplines. This includes the arts of Shotokan, Taekwondo, Kobudō, Tang Soo Do, Gōjū-ryū, and Kyokushin. They all have similarities but are quite different in certain areas. What makes Michael so impressive is that, unlike many other tough guys on this list, he put his abilities to the test. He has multiple championships in martial arts, with both North American and U.S. Open Titles. This is as legit as one could get it appears.
16 acts tough - Liam Neeson
When one hears Liam speak or when you see him, this can be hard to determine. Liam has a booming and slightly scary voice he can put on. He's also quite a large man in height. As funny as it might be though, Liam is actually afraid of heights. Yes, this tall individual is afraid of heights. He's not just a little afraid, but deathly afraid. So much so, he likely could freak out by climbing onto a porch or freak out on the second floor of a building. While it is pretty clear Liam is an impressive actor, this very well could be why no one has noticed the issue of his lack of toughness overall compared to other action stars. He IS an actor after all.
15 don't mess with - James Doohan
James Doohan played Scotty on the original Star Trek series and, of course, movies. He has a legendary voice and role from this world, which we all know and love. He was actually Canadian and not really Scottish, like the character. Doohan was actually a military man before he got into the world of acting. In fact, he fought for the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II. While not a member of the Air Force, he actually did fly planes as an artillery spotter most of the time. He was once dubbed "The Craziest Pilot In The Canadian Air Force" despite not being in it.
This was due to the amazing and somewhat nutty aerial stunts he would pull off. One of these happened with the Taylorcraft Auster Mark IV and it involved somehow getting through a line of telephone poles. Oh yeah, he just did this on a dare too. When it came to real, official action, he did not hold back either. He would serve in the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. He was even on the ground during the D-Day landing in Normandy. He would take out two Nazi snipers then as his team set up mines to hit the Germans.
Sadly, he got caught up in friendly fire and shot 6 times. He lost his middle finger on his right hand due to all of this. He would have to hide this often on the Star Trek series and managed well with that. No one knew until they met him that he lacked this finger on the right hand. Tough guy? Clearly.
14 acts tough - Roger Moore
Roger Moore is most known in the action genre from his stint as James Bond or 007. The British actor was part of The Man With The Golden Gun and movies in the 007 banner. Both were well-liked as part of the series, and Moore was liked for his portrayal of the British spy. The main reason people liked him was that he looked so comfortable in the part, and he even looked somewhat okay handling a gun too. There is a reason for this, as Moore was actually part of the British Military for a while. So what makes him a fake tough guy?
Moore may have had a stint in the military, but an accident occurred when he was part of it. Sadly, a gun exploded in his hands due to a malfunction which caused him to go deaf for a few days. He never handled a gun afterward and even had a phobia of handling them. It can be noticed in the movies he took part in that Bond would flinch or clench his eyes in every shot that came out. This is why, as Moore's Bond had an issue due to his own personal ones. With that said, Moore never really became a tough guy on screen with movies like this again. It is odd that he would take on a role that required guns, despite his issues with them.
13 don't mess with - gal gadot
Gal Gadot is most known today for his role as Wonder Woman in the DC Movie Universe, and likely even her role as Gisele in the Fast and the Furious franchise. However, before all of this, Gadot grew up in Israel, which has seen a lot of problems. The issues between the sides are various, and it often depends on who one speaks with to know about some. Regardless, everyone is forced to join the Israeli Defense Forces for a short period. According to the nation's laws, all men and women are required to take part in the forces in some capacity as long as they are Jewish, Druze, or Circassian. Only a few exceptions are made.
Gadot is Jewish. Women are forced to be part of the military for two years while men must be enlisted for three. Both can stay past that if they so choose. Usually, people do this between the ages of 18-20. Not all enjoy it or find themselves useful there. Gal Gadot was a major exception. Not only did her military experience teach her how to handle several weapons, but she was also a combat instructor due to her impressive martial arts ability. Israel teaches a martial art called Krav Maga. It is mostly used for defense, but elite users of it know it can be very offensive as well. Gadot likely knows about 4 to 9 ways to break your arm and 12 to break your leg. Don't get us started on what she could do with a knife.
12 acts tough - Steven Seagal
One thing very well known by now is that people lie, and often a lot. Steven Seagal seems to be the type of person who has lied a good bit about his martial arts experience. For those unaware, Seagal has done well with his movies and the martial arts he has shown does appear as if he did study some. However, he claims to have trained with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art known as Aikido. He passed in 1969, but his fifth-degree black belt study Terry Dobson claimed that he never heard of Steven Seagal by the time period he claims to have studied with the Martial Arts Master. Steven claimed he studied with him from 1971-1973. But Ueshiba passed in 1969.
Likely the biggest thing to point to his fakeness as a real tough guy would be his run-in with "Judo" Gene LeBell, who is one of the most well-known martial artists in history. The two were working on a movie together. Steven claimed continuously then that it was impossible for him to get choked out. Gene being Gene decided to answer the clear challenge and put Seagal in a rear-naked choke. Steven tried to karate chop out of it according to LeBell but went limp. To be fair to Seagal, he claims this never happened. One has to wonder why Gene would lie, considering his legend is already well known by now. So fake tough guy? Yeah, it seems Steven has always been one.
11 don't mess with - Chuck Norris
Here, he studied Tang Soo Do, a martial art that he would see black belts in. He would also develop his own martial art called Chun Kuk Do here. He would remain an Air Force Policeman when he returned to the U.S. and eventually leave when discharged in 1962. Norris then joined multiple martial arts competitions. He would go on to win the Professional Middleweight Karate Championship and hold it for 6 consecutive years. He would win the Karate triple crown in 1969 and become Fighter of the Year for Black Belt Magazine. He'd eventually meet Bruce Lee and spar with him off and on, which Lee did to learn Norris' style and Norris wanted to do because, well, it was Bruce Lee. Norris remains, in his 70's, one of the toughest men on the planet and remains active in martial arts to this day.
10 acts tough - john wayne
John Wayne is one of the most legendary actors in all of Hollywood. When they were in their Western phase of films, he would be called upon to join in on a bulk of them. It was a common occurrence that people would see Wayne as a legitimate tough guy based on the characters he played in the various movies he worked on. To be honest, it was hard not to in such a time period. Yet he wasn't in the slightest. While we won't speak ill on the passed, John Wayne was always seen as the symbol of masculinity, and often had to hide any sensitive side he possessed. It ate away at him for many years.
The writer of his biography called John Wayne: The Life And Legend, Scott Eyman, Wayne struggled with his image. The tough guy image was such a hard thing to live up to for him for many years. He starred in World War II movie Sands of Iwo Jima, but Wayne never served in the armed forces at any point in his life. Though he won an Academy Award for portraying a United States Marine in this movie, he was consistently feeling guilty over it as he actively attempted to avoid military service himself. While there is nothing wrong with playing a Marine or not wanting to serve, it is the appearance that he did which caused some issues. Wayne held on to his tough guy status and was only a secretly sensitive man as a result.
9 don't mess with - Ed O'Neill
Ed O'Neill is most known for his work in television on shows like Married...with Children and most recently Modern Family. He is a comedic actor who has been around for a long time as one of the favorites among TV viewers. However, Ed is likely someone who could destroy you in a fight. O'Neill has studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for over 20 years under Master Rorian Gracie of the infamous Gracie BJJ Family. Ed would finally achieve the level of black belt in 2007, which he claimed was the greatest achievement of his life, after his children of course.
Ed was also a notable football player in high school and earned a scholarship as a result, and almost made it to the pros before failing to do so and joining the acting world. Unlike some with his level of martial arts experience, Ed has not really used it in movies or television all that often. In his 70's, however, it has become a wonderful way to stay active for O'Neill. Still, if anyone ever tried to test him...it's likely he could put them down pretty fast and keep them there. Good luck to all who try.
8 acts tough - Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy has been a pretty popular actor the last few years, mostly due to his impressive roles in the action/suspense world. He can be seen in movies like Inception, Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and Warrior in major roles as a top action star. However, despite all of these movie roles where he comes off like a badass...Tom Hardy as a person is by no means as tough as he appears. In fact, Hardy himself admitted to this very thing in Esquire Magazine when he said that he merely tries to "mimic" a tough guy on screen. Unlike other action stars, Hardy has been pretty open about this as well.
He spoke about how he has some pretty major insecurities due to the roles he plays in the various movies he's taken part in. One of the biggest is his fear of going to the gym and working out with bigger and stronger men than himself. He expressed how he can be a bit intimidated by real tough guys, and compensated in his movies by acting like one that he'd come across in life. He made sure to really drive home that he is a tough guy mimic and not a real one, which is actually a refreshing take from someone about themselves. Perhaps it does take some toughness to be open and honest about not actually being as tough as the characters he portrays on screen.
7 don't mess with - Jimmy Stewart
Jimmy Stewart sadly passed away a number of years ago, but he left behind an acting legacy that rivals some of the best in history. Jimmy is currently ranked high in the American Film Institute due to his work in movies. However, Stewart was an amazing veteran of the United States Armed Forces. He was already a major film star before deciding to join the military in 1941. He would fight in World War II and even served in the Vietnam War later on. He was so great at the job that he rose to the rank of USAF Reserve Brigadier General, likely one of biggest honors one could have. In case one might be wondering if Stewart was protected when he entered the military, he wasn't at all.
Though they did attempt to do so. When in the Air Force, he risked his life on multiple occasions as a military pilot and insisted to go on combat missions, despite reluctance from his commanding officers due to his celebrity status. He would even serve as a squad leader and led his unit in the infamous raids over Germany. Jimmy could have easily avoided joining the armed forces and especially the active combat scene of such a brutal period of combat like what we saw in World War II. He insisted, however, and was a hero to the United States as well as one of its most cherished actors.
6 acts tough - hugh jackman
While Jackman is an incredible actor who remains in great shape all the time, this does not equate toughness. He is likely most known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men series. However, Jackman has been part of various other roles that were not completely action driven. Take Les Miserables and the recent Greatest Showman movies for proof of this. He also starred in other roles that required very little action like The Prestige. However, the role he will never shake is that of Wolverine and the tough guy image that comes along with that.
The issue is that the Australian actor has admitted time and time again that he is nothing like the character. Beyond the mutant abilities at least, Jackman has stated that Logan is someone that he does not come close to. He often refers to what his son says about him in interviews. He claimed that when his son's friends come over and state Hugh's status as Wolverine, he quickly stops them and claims he's nothing like the character. Jackman is a notable softie and has been pretty open about this for years. While there is always some toughness to every man, the appearance of the tough guy image we see from X-Men is a complete act.
5 don't mess with - dwayne "the rock" johnson
Dwayne Johnson is better known to people as The Rock due to his time in WWE years ago. Overall, Johnson spent nearly a decade with WWE as one of their top stars. Anyone who wrestles on the schedule WWE has would ideally need to be seen as tough. Male WWE Superstars are asked to wrestle over 250 days a year. This breaks down to at least 3-5 times per week. Those mats are not soft either, as they hurt a great deal. While it is story-driven, pro-wrestling is no joke. Especially for the top guys who have to be seen more than most. The Rock was among them. Before all of this, however, Rock was known for getting into fights as a teenager and had run-ins with the law. Things settled later for him though.
He would get into sports, notably playing football so well, he earned a scholarship to the University of Miami where he even won a National Championship as part of the team. He could have started, if not for being a DT behind future NFL All-Pro, Warran Sapp. Rock is a notable hard worker and is world-renowned for his work in the gym. While some action stars upon reaching massive popularity are fake tough guys, Johnson is not among those people. He's one of the legit toughest. Though he does have a soft side, he does not mind really throwing down when the time comes. In fact, he's done it before. He's also quite an imposing man, standing a legit 6'5 and weighing in at a little over 250lbs.
4 acts tough - Sylvester Stallone
One of the biggest actors in the history of action movies is Sylvester Stallone. He is most known for his work in the Rambo and Rocky movies where he played the title character in each. It is well-known today that Stallone has been able to get a ton of action stars together for The Expendables franchise as well. It is clear the man is a good business person, and he has remained in great shape for decades to keep delivering in Hollywood. The issue with Stallone is that he is not nearly as tough as the people he portrays on screen. Likely the biggest example of this happened during the auditioning period for Rocky III.
Earnie Shavers was a real boxer who was known for his power punch. Some even called it the strongest in boxing at that time. He was auditioning for a role in the Rocky movie and stepped into the ring with Stallone in the try-out. He took it easy on Stallone so that he would not hurt the guy he's auditioning for, clearly. He took A LOT of his punches. Stallone would tell him to bring it time and time again. To a point where Shavers thought, well, why not? So he hit him one, just one time, in the liver. Stallone went down like a ton of bricks and had to go to the bathroom where he would be for quite some time. There he would give back his lunch, breakfast, and likely what he ate 3 weeks prior. While Shavers was clearly a tough guy who boxed professionally...it's clear a tougher guy could have taken such a punch. At least, more than one.
3 don't mess with - Charlie Hunnam
Charlie Hunnam is most known for his tough guy role on the television series Sons of Anarchy. However, he has also taken part in other action-driven movies like Pacific Rim, Lost City Of Z, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. With his action background, one would conclude that he's a real tough guy at the end of the day. Hunnam has been open about some of his martial arts training in the past, but he's still a clear novice to the profession. Guy Richie, a black belt in Jui-Jitsu, taught him a lot when working on King Arthur. He claimed he took it up before working with Guy and even boxing, just in prep for the movie. Likely the biggest thing that might make Charlie a tough guy at his home.
Charlie has been part of a few instances where a robbery was attempted at his home. So yes, this happened more than once. Charlie was stunned when a guy came to his place attempting to break in and a second time when someone was attempting to do so. One would be at 11:00 a.m. and another at 3:00 a.m. according to Hunnam. Each time, he confronted the would-be robbers, carrying a bat or machete. Both times the robbers fled. Since telling this story, it seems that Charlie has yet to be tried by robbers at his home again.
2 acts tough - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger made his name in the bodybuilding circuit as a major fixture due to his ability to continue to win. At one point, he won Mr. Olympia 10 times in a row and had the infamous Pumping Iron Documentary done of him due to this. The Austrian thought that making his way into entertainment would be a good plan, and he was right. He would start off small and build to his most notable roles. Before 1990, he had starred in Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, The Terminator, Commando, and Predator. By the 90's, he would take part in major movies like Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, Jingle All The Way, Batman & Robin, and a number of Terminator movies.
He took time out to be the Governor of California but has been in multiple Expendables movies as well as Terminator ones. Though his softie ways have been notable for years. Likely the biggest case of shade thrown at his toughness happened to be by his native Austria. While Arnold actually dubbed his own lines in Spanish for Terminator 2, Austria refused to allow him to dub his lines for them. They told him the reason for this was that he did not sound tough enough to speak in his own language. The reason? They said his voice did not match the character he was playing, so they'd have a German actor dub his lines instead. Seriously.
1 don't mess with - Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan and his toughness have been known for decades in Hollywood. Chan actually worked alongside Bruce Lee and even fought him on screen as a stuntman years ago in a few movies. Jackie is most known for his action movie work in movie franchises like Rush Hour and Shanghai. However, he has also been in movies like The Spy Next Door and the beloved new movie The Foreigner. The one thing that makes Jackie stand out over many of his action star brethren is that he does not normally use a stuntman. All the action you see from him comes from him, which is he quite proud of.
This creates some hilarious moments in the blooper reel for many of his movies. However, Jackie was taught how to fall and his work as a stuntman years ago allowed him to stay safe. He once fell from a tree and broke his ribs during a movie and even had a hole in his head. Jackie is known for his insane stunts in movies, but he's also a skilled fighter. While he invented the comedic kung-fu genre, he actually has a black belt under Grandmaster Jin Pal Kim. And he has trained or studied Shaolin Kung-Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and Boxing.