Directors praise young film thespians

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Acting is one thing that doesn't necessarily improve with age. Child performers may not be as experienced as many of their older counterparts, but their youthful imagination, spontaneity and fearlessness often translate into inspired performances. In January of this year, then-10-year-old Abigail Breslin became the fourth-youngest actress ever to be nominated in a competitive Oscar category for her exuberant performance in the 2006 crowd-pleaser "Little Miss Sunshine." Now a new quartet of young thespians are proving they have chops in four dramas seeking awards recognition: the Weinstein Co.'s "I'm Not There," Lionsgate's "3:10 to Yuma," Focus Feature's "Atonement" and Warner Independent's "Rails & Ties." The Hollywood Reporter spoke to directors Todd Haynes, James Mangold, Joe Wright and Alison Eastwood about working with the under-17 set.    

Marcus Carl Franklin, 13
Woody in "I'm Not There"

"Dylan was really taken with (Woody Guthrie's) image and that attitude and that style and music and began to mimic him. I remember when (Marcus) read the actual Woody Guthrie quotes. He could pull of this tongue-tangling dialogue, and it could seem effortless and nonchalant. Marcus is also the only one of my lead actors who actually sings his own two songs. One of the highlights of Marcus in my memory was watching him and Richie Havens do their porch song, 'Tombstone Blues.' As we were just setting up, he and Richie and the actor who accompanied on guitar, they just start to jam a little bit. And then suddenly Marcus gets up and starts tap-dancing spontaneously while Richie is continuing to play the song. And I just thought, 'Oh my God, this kid is at this point in his young life of such freedom and such fearlessness that you never get back.' And I was able to witness and have it be part of my film."
-- Todd Haynes

Logan Lerman, 15
William Evans in "3:10 to Yuma"

"It was a really tough search, because we were looking for someone who was at that wonderful moment between boyhood and manhood. And it's a very particular moment -- the aspirations of a man (and) some of the mannerisms and some of the innocence of a child all stirred up in one soul. And we were really lucky with Logan, because not only did we find a kid right on that cusp of change, but someone who was really quite an experienced actor. He had been on a television series. He understands the mechanics of film. That entire scene from the moment that Russell (Crowe) and Peter Fonda are fighting on the ground to the point when Logan has the gun at Russell's head, we shot in about 90 minutes. What I remember is that we were losing light, it was absolutely beautiful and golden, it was about six degrees outside, and we were staging the scene and moving the camera as fast as the most low-budget film you've ever seen. And the truth is that that's where Logan is also a real asset in that he's a really sure-footed actor."    
-- James Mangold

Saoirse Ronan, 13
Briony Tallis in "Atonement"

"She kind of picked us, really. She heard that we were making a film of the book, and she sent in a tape of herself acting out some of the scenes. And there she was. And she was extraordinary. And then later, I discovered that she actually spoke with a full-on proper Irish accent and wasn't this privileged little English girl. She's so far removed from that character in real life. She's incredibly warm and incredibly fun and silly and comic and very lighthearted, really. And one of the amazing things about Saoirse is that -- because she's had a very happy life, and she's never had anything, I don't think, particularly bad happen to her -- there was no kind of drawing things from emotional recall. It was purely an act of the imagination, which I found extraordinary and very healthy as well. At the end of shooting a scene -- if it was an upsetting scene, or if Briony was supposed to be crying or something, and half the crew would be weeping -- Saoirse would just wipe her eyes and say, 'Well, now, where's the tea and cakes?' and get on with it. There was no emotional mopping up to do afterward."    
-- Joe Wright

Miles Heizer, 14
Davey Danner in "Rails & Ties"

"He's got a little bit of a sadness to him, but he's a very happy kid. But there's something that you see in his face when he's just sitting there and he's with himself that I felt was right, because the kid is supposed to be a little bit of a damaged character. And I wanted a kid that felt that he was a little bit more mature than his age and had a depth there that maybe most 11-, 12-year-olds don't have. Each scene got more deep and more emotional, and I didn't really have to do too much as far as directing him or trying to get him somewhere that he wasn't going. He's a smart kid. And it's hard to be dealing with those subject matters and to be a kid and to be crying and losing control and having tantrums and stuff. That's a lot of work for a kid. After we'd finish, I'd put my arm around him and give him a hug, because it would break my heart to have to sit there and watch him. I hope that he has a really long career. I look at him as like a little Leonardo DiCaprio."                
-- Alison Eastwood


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WATCH LIST: Young rising stars
TALENT SHOW: Directors' notes on young stars
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