He had 25 Asian martial arts films under his black belt, but Beijing-born action star Jet Li was still worried about playing the suave gangster in last summer’s Lethal Weapon 4. “I’ve played a lot of heroes,” professes Li, 35, “so women see me as safe and very traditional, not sexy.”
Sure, Jet. This is, after all, the man who received 100,000 gushing fan letters, some written in blood, after he made his film debut at 17, and who, on a recent South Korean press tour, was nearly overrun by a crowd of 5,000. Talk about an action film! “I ducked down and just ran as fast as I could,” recalls the 5’7″ actor.
Li’s Lethal 4 costars wouldn’t be surprised by the furor. “Mel [Gibson] was in awe of him,” says the film’s executive producer Jim Van Wyck. “Jet was playing a really tough guy; then you’d cut the camera, and he’d have the most wonderful smile. He’s so charismatic.” Indeed, only the star himself needs convincing. Currently single and living in L.A., the divorced father of two says he considers himself a “normal guy, nothing special.” To prove it, he points to the time he spent seven hours waiting outside a woman’s house with flowers, just hoping to see her. “Finally,” he says, “her mother came out, took the flowers and went back inside.”
The NBC sitcom Jesse had barely hit the airwaves, and suddenly Bruno Campos, 24, was on babe radar. A cadre of receptive females, attuned to his comely features and suave but sensitive personality, now regularly prowl the network’s Burbank lot in search of the blue-eyed, 6’1″ Brazilian, who plays Christina Applegate’s love interest on the show. “Bruno has a confidence that doesn’t come across as being cocky, just a real groundedness,” says Applegate.
But the cosmopolitan Campos (because of his dad’s job as an international banker, the family had lived in Brazil, Houston, Toronto and Bahrain by the time Campos was 14) wasn’t always so smooth. The growth spurt that helped him mature early—at 13, he was dating an 18-year-old—also made for some adolescent angst. “I knew I had this thing that women were interested in,” he says, “and I didn’t know what to do with it.”
These days, he’s an expert. “He does the extra things, like we dance before dinner,” says actress Paula Marshall (Cupid), who has dated Campos for nearly two years. “And he has this way of piercing through your heart with his eyes. It chokes me up. I cry a lot with Bruno, because he’s so sweet.” What about all those women lusting after her man? Marshall demurs: “I don’t mind. I just smile and keep holding his hand.”
On the Washington State set of Smoke Signals last year, Cynthia Geary had no trouble spotting Adam Beach. “You see him and you just go, ‘Whoa!’ ” says the former Northern Exposure regular. “He’s so handsome. He stands out in a crowd.”
No need to tell that to moviegoers, who spotted the 5’11” Native North American actor in the Sundance Film Festival award winner last summer and swooned over his long raven tresses and cocoa-butter complexion. Or to his wife of two years, Meredith Porter, 28, who is still entranced by his “very happy eyes.” But Beach himself doesn’t see it. “I was always a kid who didn’t seem to attract women,” says the 26-year-old Ojibwa, who grew up on Canada’s Dog Creek reservation and in Winnipeg. “Some girls that I really measured to fit me said no very quickly.” And even today, when Beach and Porter, an attorney, go out with sons Noah, 2, and Luke, 10 months, he discounts the stares that come his way. “If I’m with my kids, I know I’m nothing,” he says. “They shine more than me.”
There is heroism hovering behind Goran Visnjic’s darkly exotic good looks. When war broke out in his native Croatia in 1991, the Šibenik-born actor had just finished his required stint in the army, but he voluntarily stayed on for three more months. “When somebody is attacking your hometown and you’re just sitting in the basement, you feel really useless,” says Visnjic, 26. “I felt I had to do it to defend my country.”
Now the 6’4″ Visnjic has only to defend himself against the bevy of young women who discovered him as Nicole Kidman‘s cowboy-booted boyfriend in Practical Magic. “Women go crazy for him,” says Magic costar Aidan Quinn. “At the premiere, women were saying, ‘Oh my God, who is that?’ ” Visnjic, who also had a small role in 1997’s Welcome to Sarajevo, was dubbed the Tom Cruise of Croatia by Vogue in December. He now splits his time between rental apartments in Croatia, L.A. and New York City. Engaged to a Croatian sculptor, he prefers to shrug off all the breathless hoopla about his Heathcliffian visage. “Lots of people want to be movie stars,” Visnjic says. “But they don’t realize that to be a celebrity is not that beautiful if you can’t go to the store to buy toothpaste.”
He still retrieved that glass slipper, but Dougray Scott’s turn as Prince Henry in last summer’s Cinderella update Ever After set a new standard for fairy-tale charm. “He was not your usual wishy-washy prince,” says London casting director John Hubbard, who frequently works with the 6′ Scott. “There’s a darkness to Dougray, and an edge.” Ever After‘s Drew Barrymore, for one, found the package irresistible, describing the Scottish-born Scott, 30, as “masculine and magical. Dougray is incredibly timeless,” she says. “He can pull off anything with grace.” His new fame may put that to the test. Already the London-based actor and parent of 10-month-old twins with Sarah Trevis, a casting director, admits to being somewhat unnerved by his more vocal fans. “They’re holding up posters and screaming your name, and you’re thinking, ‘God, this is a bit strange,’ ” says Scott, who has a starring role in the forthcoming Mission: Impossible sequel. “My friends think it’s amusing.” Scott tries to keep it all in perspective. “When I wake up and drag myself to the mirror, I think, ‘This is what you’ve got. Be content with it.’ ”
He lost the U.S. Open to fellow Australian—and PEOPLE’S Sexiest Athlete of 1997—Patrick Rafter. But while he may have problems on center court, the angelically handsome, hard-serving Mark Philippoussis is an ace on the court of appeal. “He’s definitely good-looking—tall, dark and handsome—and he’s a nice guy,” says USA Network tennis analyst Tracy Austin.
Girls show up by the dozens to watch the 22-year-old Melbourne-raised son of a Greek father and Italian mother practice near his Longboat Key, Fla., bachelor pad. And thousands more pay homage on Web sites. “He just has this incredible look,” says Julie Sauer, 19, a New York University student who maintains her own Philippoussis Web page.
The 6’5″ Philippoussis, who last summer ended a two-year romance with a French fashion model, isn’t keen on formal dating. “I don’t want to do the normal thing—pick up a girl, take her to a movie,” he says. “You have to get dressed up, and I like wearing baggy clothing. I would rather take a girl out on my boat [a 21-ft. sport fisherman].” Women who go along for the ride should be careful their hearts don’t go overboard. After all, Philippoussis sports a tattoo of Alexander the Great on his arm. “He was Greek,” he says. “He was a conqueror, no matter what the odds. But at the same time, he was gracious and humble.”