Starring in a romantic comedy written by Richard Curtis is one way to cement leading man status. After all, it is how Hugh Grant became a household name in the mid-'90s. The men of these movies tend to be bumbling, which will hopefully make them appeal to the object of their affection and the audience — charm cloaked in awkwardness is a not-so-secret weapon of this genre. In 2013, actor Domhnall Gleeson starred in time-travel romance About Time, which saw him take the love story reigns while utilizing a unique gift. The crux of a boy-meets-girl-story is the triumph over whatever obstacles dictate the path to true love cannot run smoothly. In this narrative, time travel is both an aid and a hindrance that lets Gleeson as Tim fully inhabit this rom-com arena.
Over the last decade, Gleeson has appeared in two huge movie franchises and indie dystopian dramas alike, starred alongside childhood literary icons, and featured front and center in a gothic horror that taps into the psyche and explores class lines. In each of these roles and the accompanying promotional appearances, he unwittingly makes a challenge for the title of Internet Boyfriend. Crushing on actors existed long before the World Wide Web, but the concept of Internet Boyfriends is the natural evolution when describing which stars possess the ideal balance of charm, wit, and dreamy appeal.
Over the last decade or so, Tumblr and Twitter have debated the candidates, with press tours typically being prime time for a newly crowned figure. Recent examples include Oscar Isaac, Idris Elba, Chris Evans — all FANGRRLS faves.
In 2016, The Cut explained how the Internet chooses its boyfriends, with one of the factors relating to age, "Usually it's a man in his early or mid-30s, old enough that a teenager will find him refreshingly mature and a grown-up can lust after him with impunity."
Gleeson falls into the latter description, but has long been flexing this crush status even before he hit his thirties. Beginning with his long-haired appearance in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts I and II), he took the title of hottest Weasley without much of a fight. Bill has the whole tortured rock star aesthetic down while also looking like he could be a member of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The scars and debonair wardrobe works wonders for the older sibling of this wizarding family.
Keeping his appearance on the unkempt side for Never Let Me Go, the combination of the independent movie setup and Gleeson's penchant for wearing his locks in this wild way only added to the whole indie musician sensibility.
In Never Let Me Go, he acts first as the knowledgable guide before succumbing to rumors offering false hope via a declaration of love. Doomed romance is a quick way to endear an actor to an audience, particularly when it is done with this much pathos. Hiding behind the shock of red hair and occasional beard also ticks the tormented boxes to win any heart. It was that same hair that Gleeson chopped off for the role of Tim in About Time, which he discussed in a 2012 interview with The Guardian: "I'll just grow my hair long when the film opens. I'll cope. I mean, I'm not built like a leading man. Richard's [Curtis] taking a bit of a risk casting this face in that role. Conventionally handsome is not really where I'm at." A lot of Gleeson's chaotic energy stems from his untamed hair, but his versatility and ability to play the romantic hero is a result of far more than a haircut.
About Time features the type of dubious moments you might expect in a movie predicated on a man using time travel to successfully woo a woman he has already met (and who has no idea she has already encountered this guy). Regardless of how cute or flirtatious the previous occasions were, these are highly questionable aspects to this story because Mary (Rachel McAdams) is always in the dark. Despite this creepy and problematic factor, one can't help but be enamored by Gleeson and his array of sensible sweaters and button-downs that he sports throughout.
The tube station montage of stolen kisses, dancing to buskers, missed trains and everyday experiences of dating in the city are heartwarming, followed by a calamitous wedding day with several do-overs. It is as much about romantic love as it is about family bonds, particularly the father/son dynamic at the heart of the story. As with most Richard Curtis movies, it embodies the sheer joy of love as well as the devastation of losing someone, which Gleeson perfectly captures both sides of.
In the same year, he starred in the bittersweet Season 2 premiere of Black Mirror. "Be Right Back," which tells a "technology is scary" story tinged with grief in the way this series excels at. A precursor to "San Junipero," this episode shows what it would be like if you could rebuild your dead love via their internet history and a synthetic body. Gleeson plays Ash, boyfriend to Martha (Hayley Atwell), who dies the day after they have moved into his childhood home. Often distracted by technology and not always the best at satisfying his girlfriend in bed, their relationship is sweet and tender with the kind of in-jokes and references that a couple of 10 years has.
Gleeson rarely gets to use his IRL Irish accent, so for those thirsting over the dreamy dulcet Dublin tones, this episode is a gift (see also his current HBO thriller-comedy Run for the rare real Irish accent appearance and smoking hot romantic chemistry with co-star Merritt Wever). In fact, Gleeson is a perfect quarantine crush for anyone looking to thirst over someone new.
Via this new technology, Martha gets to build a version of Ash that physically resembles her dead sweetheart. Nevertheless, even though he looks and sounds the same, there is an emptiness where Ash used to be. Cozy knits and functional raincoats are swapped out for a black tank and blank face, which lets Gleeson flex his adorable boyfriend to unhinged automaton ratio. The latter is much better in bed, but Martha's orgasms don't make up for the void in new Ash's soul.
Repressed also fits the bill of The Little Stranger and Goodbye Christopher Robin; one a gothic horror dealing with class, grief and post WWII scars, the other creating a beloved character while dealing with post-war scars and a world about to catch on fire. Malevolent ghosts and a bear who loves honey share the scene with Gleeson going all-in on a stiff upper lip and starched collars. As Doctor Faraday in The Little Stranger his perfectly groomed mustache isn't a turn-off — the true sign of someone you can thirst after, no matter the state of their facial hair.
Being somewhat withdrawn and shy also plays into the low-key charm aspect, which Alex Garland utilizes in Ex Machina. As Caleb, Gleeson depicts a lack of control over a scenario that feeds into his traumatic childhood experience, shy demeanor, and pornography preferences. The tees and flannel shirts and gentle tone are in stark contrast to Oscar Isaac's cocky tech mogul Nathan, who prefers his hoodie with nothing underneath.
A combative relationship in Ex Machina couldn't be more different than the delightful pairing of Isaac and Gleeson during the press tour. At SXSW they looked like they had shown up for two different events, but the mix of Isaac's super profesh suit and Gleeson's student vibe only added to the delightful mismatched vibe.
A seven-plus minute compilation of their "funniest moments" is a charm offensive so strong it could be weaponized. Two Internet Boyfriends interacting this much should be saved for emergencies, and let's be honest: now is one of those times. Poe's prank call to General Hux in The Last Jedi is very silly, but fun if you have been keeping up to date with the highly gif-able shenanigans of this pair — an important component in the construction of an Internet Boyfriend.
Having a social media presence of sorts can play into the Internet Boyfriend naming, although it can also be a huge turn-off. Gleeson doesn't have Instagram or Twitter, which means we only get delightful scenes of him getting surprised by old school teachers on late-night talk shows while doing the promotional rounds. These perfect bite-size moments are perfect for sharing and fawning over with friends, which craft the image of someone as awkward and endearing as the characters he plays.
Gleeson may not be coming to snatch Oscar Isaac's crown any time soon, but thankfully the world of Internet Boyfriends is not a Highlander situation — there can be more than one — and this lanky Irishman has firmly made the case for earning a place for himself in this Hall of Fame.