I originally posted this list on September 5, 2014. While the two brilliant artists we’ve lost this week were sooooo, soooo much more than crushes, they were crushes, too. RIP David Bowie and Alan Rickman – we miss you both horribly already.
My baby sister was the first person I ever heard describe themselves as a “sapiosexual” – someone who’s turned on by brains more than looks, who has to have their intellect stimulated before they open access to their pants. I was shocked and charmed; what an awesome word! Apparently it’s been rattling around the interwebs for more than ten years, yet somehow I managed to miss it. Love monkeys, on the other hand, are all me. Well, me and my best friend, Petey. We’ve been labeling our fictional lust objects love monkeys for decades (long before Kyle Smith or Edward Monkton used the phrase as the title for their two very different books). It always refers to an unreal person in a book, movie, TV show, or videogame, and it means exactly what it sounds like. Here, I’ll use it in a sentence: My husband loves Gladiator as an action adventure, but it’s a killer love monkey movie, too. And another: All you need to know about the UK in the ’90s is that their ultimate love monkey was Colin Firth in a wet puffy shirt.
So a sapiosexual love monkey is a particular character in a particular story portrayed by a particular actor who by use of his big brains alone makes my breath catch short and my heart (and other less mentionable bits) to flutter in a fashion inappropriate for church. These guys (my top 10 is all guys, though Angelina Jolie as Maleficent probably clocks in somewhere in the teens) aren’t all handsome; some of them are downright funny-looking. Right up until they start talking. Then they’re gorgeous.
So in reverse order . . . .
10. Tom Hiddleston as Loki (Thor, The Avengers, Thor 2: We Couldn’t Call It Loki I; We Asked)
Loki is a snarky, dissatisfied, emo child. He’s also the smartest guy in almost every room. He’s so smart that he does himself injury with his own smartness – think of how much happier he would have been if he’d never had the brains to figure out his parentage. Or to realize that his brother is a big ol’ musclehead who shouldn’t be put in charge of changing the spark plugs on the General Lee, much less Asgard. But like all the best egghead dreamboats, he’s just gotta know, and once he knows, he’s just gotta act, and once he acts, he’s committed; he can’t back down. The scripts for these movies don’t really make Loki a love monkey in and of themselves – he’s clever; he’s hilarious; but he’s not necessarily sexy. But Hiddleston does. Think about it – in looking for the quote below, I played the devil finding anything Loki says that refers even obliquely to his sexuality, to him having any kind of sexual/romantic interest in anybody else. He’s all about family and power and Shakespearean identity angst. But he looks like Hiddleston. He’s got Hiddleston’s eyes. Even at his most enraged, there’s a vulnerability there, a need to love and be loved in return. I hope they do get around to giving him a love interest before Marvel exhausts their narrative; I think he could play the living hell out of it. But I’m not sure the die hard fangirls would survive.
Incendiary remark: “Is it madness? Is it? IS IT? I don’t know what happened on Earth to make you so soft! Don’t tell me it was that woman?… Oh, it was. Well maybe, when we’re done here, I’ll pay her a visit myself!”
9. Hugh Laurie as House (House M.D.)
This one is just insane. Since the 1980s, Hugh Laurie has been the lovable nitwit in everything from Blackadder to 101 Dalmatians, the ultimate English buffoon, Benny Hill for the postmodern hipster. He was Bertie Freakin’ Wooster in my beloved Jeeves & Wooster, for cryin’ out loud, the ultimate performance of the ultimate expression of the ultimate upper class twit.
But there were always signs. In Sense and Sensibility, he plays stone-faced straight man husband to Imelda Staunton’s insufferable chatterbox of a wife and manages to bring real depth and sympathy to a guy who barely gets a word in edgewise. And have you seen Peter’s Friends? He and Staunton are amazing together again as a married couple whose child has died. When he threatens to leave her if she won’t let him into her pain, it’s one of the sweetest, most heartbreaking moments of connection between a man and woman I’ve ever seen in a movie. (By the by, if you HAVEN’T seen this movie, and you ever get a chance, by all means, watch it – every performance is brilliant.)
So then came American doctor Greg House, who is not sweet or sympathetic in any way, who plays the buffoon for mean-spirited laughs, who makes it no secret that he considers the rest of the world utter morons. And somehow, he’s sexy as hell. His love connection with Cuddy may have jumped the shark for the show, may have completely ruined her character (though personally, I blame her V-neck sweaters), and was almost certainly doomed from the start. But it felt inevitable from the very first episode – how could she NOT fall in love with him, twisted monster that he was? House M.D. as a narrative may have run out of steam (and bizarro medical conditions) before the end of the second season, but Laurie was always hot.
Incendiary remark: “The fact that the sexual pleasure center of your cerebral cortex has been over-stimulated by spirochetes is a poor basis for a relationship. Learned that one the hard way.”
8. Zachary Quinto as Spock (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness, known in Spanish as ¿Que Es Más Macho En El Espacio?)
Mr. Spock as a character has been holding the fort of hopeless longing for sapiosexual geek girls (and boys so inclined, of course) for more than four decades, thanks to Leonard Nimoy. He was the epitome of wholly unattainable bliss, the ultimate expression of the guy no girl can get, except every seven years, then you better eat your Wheaties. But with the new movies, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman risked life and limb at the hands of purists to put him in a love connection with Uhura. Lucky for them, somebody had the good sense to cast Zachary Quinto. With those big brown eyes and that perfect diction, he manages to make us–and Uhura–believe that he can somehow feel nothing and love her to pieces all at the same time. Witness the dialogue below. If any other dude fed any other woman this line of convoluted emo crap, she’d toss a drink in his face. But Uhura melts like butter on pancakes, and so do we.
Incendiary remark: “You misunderstand. It is true I chose not to feel anything upon realizing my own life was ending. As Admiral Pike was dying, I joined with his consciousness and experienced what he felt at the moment of his passing. Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Fear. I had experienced those feelings before, multiplied exponentially on the day my planet was destroyed. Such a feeling is something I choose never to experience again. Nyota, you mistake my choice not to feel as a reflection of my not caring. Well, I assure you, the truth is precisely the opposite.”
7. Sting as Sting (MTV in the 1980s)
There comes a time in every prepubescent’s life when she stops wanting cute and starts wanting sexy (or in the case of some contemporary types, starts seeing cute as sexy, which is apparently a thing, and go with God, ladies). For me, that moment came the first time I saw Sting on MTV. I was already a poetry-reading, short story-writing, literary-minded smartypants, so the sight of this angelic-looking creature with a sneer on his face and lyrics that referenced Shakespeare on his lips blew my baby mind entirely. He was smart; he was mean; he was lovelorn; he was mad as hell about it. He was beautiful in a way that was completely grown up and completely outside the realm of my experience. I’m from Chester, South Carolina, and there are some fine-looking menfolk to be found there. But in 1983, there was not no damned body who looked even remotely like Sting. I gave him my heart entirely. I committed every song to memory; I saw both Dune and The Bride on the day they opened and actually told people they were good. I read Anne Rice with perfect confidence that the voice of Lestat was his voice.
A few decades of real world womanly experience on my part and his embrace of karmic sex and MOR adult contemporary have dampened my ardor somewhat. But “Every Breath You Take” can still make me shiver even now.
Incendiary remark: “Oh can’t you see? You belong to me. How my poor heart aches with every step you take?”
6. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday (Tombstone)
Val Kilmer is a weird case. He can play smart. He can play smart pretending to be stupid. Or he can play dumb as a box of wet mice after a tragic fall, a persona he seems most comfortable adopting on talk shows. But as Doc Holliday in Tombstone, there is no doubt; he is every sapiosexual woman’s favorite cowboy. (Any guy who can make Kurt Russell in full snarling gunslinger mode fade into the wallpaper is doing some serious hoohoo voodoo, to borrow a phrase from my ex.) There are many husbands of my acquaintance who can perk up their whole Saturday night by dropping a single, well-modulated phrase: “I’m your huckleberry.” He’s smarter, faster, meaner, deadlier, more articulate and better-humored than anybody else around him, even though he’s the one drowning slowly where he stands. He travels with a woman more venal than he is and pines for an innocent girl he believes he destroyed. And oh yeah . . . he’s got a Southern accent.
Incendiary remark: “You are a good woman . . . Then again . . . you may be the Anti-Christ.”
5. David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King (Labyrinth)
In Labyrinth, a bright, imaginative, dissatisfied adolescent girl who feels misunderstood and ill-used has to choose between saving her infant half-brother and returning to mundane reality or abandoning him and herself to a multicolored fantasy world of her own creation where she can be queen and beloved to a mysterious goblin king in guy-liner and tight pants. I can’t imagine why it resonated so strongly with me and every other writer girl I’ve ever met. Not even all those damned Muppets can put me off, mostly because of David Bowie. Everybody else might be making a Girls Own Dark Crystal, but he’s acting in Bondage for Babies: An Overview. (Tonight’s Very Special episode of Sesame Street is brought to you by the letters B, D, S and M.) He offers Sarah her perfect princess fantasy in exchange for nothing but total surrender of her will. With glam-rocking tunes.
Incendiary remark: “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
4. Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor (Dr. Who, Season 1 or Season 14.98-5, depending on the age and/or Whoviananity of the person you ask, and yes, I know, he’s the Ninth Doctor, whatever)
Christopher Eccleston isn’t my favorite Doctor; if I’m honest, I like David Tennant better because I like my Doctor more romantic and emotional. But Eccleston is the one who belongs on this list. From the moment he says, “Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life,” he is completely in charge of every situation; he knows what’s happening or how to find out. He’s both more protective and more angry – you can see quite easily why the Daleks fear him and why trees, kids, and Rose all trust him instinctively. Tennant rages; Smith shouts; but Eccleston seethes. (All reports indicate that Capaldi is an even angrier Doctor – I can’t wait to meet him.) When he smiles, he lights up the world, but when he glowers, he can scare the pants right off you. In the best and worst possible way.
Incendiary remark: “The TARDIS can never return for me. Emergency Program One means I’m facing an enemy that should never get their hands on this machine. So this is what you should do: let the TARDIS die. Just let this old box gather dust. No one can open it, no one will even notice it. Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner. And over the years the world will move on and the box will be buried. And if you want to remember me, then you can do one thing. That’s all. One thing.” The hologram turns to look at Rose. “Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life.”
3. Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark (Iron Man 1 thru as many as he cares to make, The Avengers)
Tony Stark is the guy in the room who’s smarter than Loki. He’s smarter than everybody but Bruce Banner, so he immediately wants to befriend Bruce Banner. He has absolute confidence in his own intelligence; it’s physical strength that makes him a little self-conscious (witness his pissing contests with Thor and Captain America); that’s why he develops an unhealthy relationship with his Iron Man suit(s). If he stayed the womanizing bachelor he is when we meet him in Iron Man 1, he’d be attractive, but he’d never make my top 10, much less my top 3.
But he isn’t alone; he has Pepper. And that’s just . . . . golden. I love every little thing about their relationship: the banter between them, the way they look at one another when the other one isn’t looking back, the way they look at one another when the other one IS looking back, the way they seem more relaxed alone together than either of them ever seems when other people are around. The weird and kind of wonderful thing is, even though Tony NEVER. STOPS. TALKING and when he’s with Pepper to talk is to flirt, the real sexy stuff happens in the tiny slices of silence in between. I wanted a sexy quote from each of these guys for this post, and Downey as Stark has dozens of awesome one-liners. But the real moments of connection, the stuff that really toasts my marshmallow happen in the tiny little slices of silence, like the look in his eyes when he wakes from a nightmare and realizes he almost hurt her. Downey used to make a career (or half of one) out of playing puppy-eyed yearners in rom-coms like Chances Are, Heart and Souls, and Only You (for the ultimate expression of this persona that turns it wickedly on its head, may I direct your attention to Two Girls and a Guy?). Tony Stark would have no patience with that sappy schmuck, but in those tiny little moments, Downey lets us see he’s still in there, and he loves Pepper with all his bleeding heart.
Incendiary remark: “No. You’re in a relationship with me, nothing will ever be okay. But I had this twenty years ago when I was drunk, I can sort it out. I fix stuff.”
2. Alan Rickman as Fucking Everybody He’s Ever Played (Every Fucking Thing He’s Ever Done)
Sapiosexuality might as well have been invented to explain the fandom of Alan Rickman. He isn’t conventionally handsome; properly lit he could haunt a house. But how many Harry Potter fans do you know whose favorite character was hateful, greasy-haired, hook-nosed Severus Snape long before Rowling revealed his tender, tragic secret? Blame Rickman – we saw the truth in his eyes halfway through the second movie. Notions of love monkeyness notwithstanding, the man is one of the great actors of our age; I’ve never seen him put a single molecule wrong, and he can convey more emotion in silence without even moving his face than most of his peers can put across jumping up and down and screaming. Not for nothing did Kevin Smith cast him as the Voice of God in Dogma. (And if you’ve never seen that one, you should; Rickman’s monologue about telling the boy Jesus his destiny could melt the heart of Bill Maher. Okay, maybe he’d have to be drunk. And petting a puppy as he watched. But still.) He’s the quintessential English villain in American movies (though in Die Hard, he’s Austrian, right?), the cold, calculating foreign genius who has to be brought down a peg by the plainspoken Everyman American hero (even when that hero is Robin Hood, and who the heck thought THAT was a good idea?).
But Rickman isn’t always the villain. For me, his most romantic, sexiest, most love monkey-status-worthy performance is in Truly, Madly, Deeply, aka Ghost for People Who Read Books. In it, Rickman plays a modern day cellist who dies unexpectedly, leaving behind Juliet Stephenson, his girlfriend, who can’t stop grieving and move on with her life. So he comes back to her as a ghost. Incidents ensue, but in the midst of it all, she finally asks him why he decided to come back. Here’s his answer – if you haven’t seen it, as you’re reading, imagine it in his voice. If you have seen it, you won’t have to imagine:
Incendiary remark: “But, the pain. Your pain. I couldn’t bear that. There’s a little girl I see from time to time – Alice, who’s three. Well, three and a half. Oh, she’s great. Everyone loves her, but she’s not spoiled – Well, wasn’t spoiled. She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten… She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave ’em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: ‘From Alice’s mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here’. And of course, Alice goes back there all the time. And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign… They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life. And yet… The capacity that people have to love… Where does it go?”
1. Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock (Sherlock. No, really, that’s it, just Sherlock. Yes, I saw him as Khan. Just Sherlock. It’s my damned list, all right?)
And so, inevitably, we arrive here. Every person I know who describes themselves as sapiosexual started doing so to explain their attraction to Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s a fair point; I myself have described him as looking like an alien’s well-researched but ultimately unsuccessful approximation of what a human being looks like without ever actually seeing one. I was already a fan of the first season of Sherlock the first time another woman expressed vicarious passion for him, and my first response to her was, “Dear god, really? Why?” It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was brilliant and that I didn’t enjoy every moment of watching him. He just seemed like a supersmart alien creature, asexual, unattainable . . . . but then, that’s the point, isn’t it? With “The Woman,” he proved he isn’t asexual at all. With his relationship with John Watson, he proved he is capable of the deepest, most noble kind of emotional attachment, of real, self-sacrificing love. (Sherlock and John are the only popular fandom couple where the slash fiction makes the slightest bit of sense to me – for once, I can see it.) In Sherlock, Cumberbatch has created the ultimate sapiosexual love monkey for this moment right now, as distant and untouchable as Spock, as self-destructive as Tony Stark, as protective as the Doctor, as mischievous as Loki, as angry and as dangerous as Doc. He’s the ultimate supervillain redeemed by his heart of gold.
Incendiary remark: “The point I’m trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So, if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody’s best friend.”
So that’s my list. As a romance writer, I have usually tended toward more conventionally heroic heroes, but the odd charming rotter with a beautiful mind has occasionally slipped in. I’d put Aiden Brinlaw, the wizard hero of my third book, Wicked Charms (published under the name Jayel Wylie), in this list. Scarlett Cross, the heroine in my Hollywood romance, Alpha Romeo, encounters a big-brained Cumberbatch type near the end of the book who’ll have a lot more to do in the sequel. And I have a contemporary fairy tale coming out later this year, Christabel’s Tale, with a hero that is very much a sapiosexual’s dream. And now that I think about it, my pet name for my own husband is Evil Genius.
Looks like I’m a sapiosexual, too.