Awards Roundtable: 6 Top Actors' Uncensored Tales, From Worst Auditions to Leg Waxing

People have said this is the year of the black actor in film. Forest and Michael, how do you feel when you hear that?

JORDAN: I feel like -- it's good to be part of that movement.

WHITAKER: I've been fortunate, I guess: I've gotten to play a lot of very diverse roles for quite a long time. But in the beginning, I was thinking: "I'm not gonna do certain characters. I will be willing to say no and live on a couch." And I was really happy. Maybe more happy sometimes than in the latter years when I had more, when I was thinking and considering more things for different reasons -- for family, for my home. But luckily I was able to at least maintain some sort of a line. Even if I would veer right or left, I would stay pretty close to center, and the roles were really interesting.

You mentioned family. How can you have a personal life when you are away shooting so much?

BROLIN: I wasn't working a lot when my kids were growing up, so I got to spend a lot of time at home. And my kids are 20 and 25 now, so I get to go work and don't have to worry about them.

MCCONAUGHEY: Fortunately, mine come with me. My wife and I made a deal, and it scared me more than it scared her in the beginning. She was like, "OK, here's the deal: When Papa goes to work, the McConaugheys come with him." I was used to my Airstream trailer, solo, staying by myself, and I went, "Are you kidding me?" [But that is] a huge privilege.

GYLLENHAAL: My family has been in the movie business -- my weirdly extended and immediate family. The movies are such a big part of our interactions. It makes me anxious being around a table here because this particular scenario just makes me feel like the dinner table. [Laughs.]

WHITAKER: That's tough for me, being away, because my kids are teenagers, and they can't be transported all over the place. You try to balance it. It's more like a dance I have to play.

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What's the biggest sacrifice you've made for your career?

JORDAN: The family, for sure. When I was 19, I left Jersey and moved out here to L.A. to pursue acting. And one of my only regrets was not realizing how that affected my little brother. [There's] a six-year difference between us, and when I'm 19, he's 13, and that's the age that he really needs his older brother. And I was selfishly trying to pursue the acting thing on the other side of the country. [He was] growing up in the shadow of his older brother -- not being his own person in a way -- [with] everybody looking at him: "Oh, that's Mike's little brother." I guess you just have to accept it.

GYLLENHAAL: What you said, which is really true, is there is just a selfish nature. I think there has to be that kind of indulgence. The business can create a real selfishness.

Jared, you play a transsexual in Dallas Buyers Club. What was the toughest thing about that role?

LETO: The waxing. [Laughs.] I was smooth.

BROLIN: The Brazilian waxing.

LETO: But I have to say, I had very nice calves.

BROLIN: Did you shave your legs?

LETO: I waxed my legs. Oh yeah, man, I was a pro. I didn't want that stubble growing back. I waxed my eyebrows, too. And you hear these stories, you know, the old lady who's got like two eyebrow hairs left on her eyebrows. … But I waxed them a couple of times throughout shooting, and the third time I did it, the makeup lady is like: "You sure you want to do this? 'Cause I just don't know if they're gonna come back."

Were you reluctant to take the role?

LETO: I said no [at first]. They asked me to read the script a few times. I hadn't made a movie in a really long time -- it was almost six years. I hadn't read a script in years. I just kind of blew it off because I was busy, and I was in Berlin. I remember hearing that Matthew was involved, and I knew he'd already started losing weight, and I thought, "If this guy is willing to do this, there's got to be something special, and I want to get in the ring with him right now 'cause he's killing it." So I read the script, and I fell in love. And I did this Skype with the director -- [it would have been] easy to blow it off [because] I don't want to get some little project that is gonna break my heart again.

BROLIN: Is that why you did it?

LETO: One of the reasons. I mean, I think the last film I did was called Mr. Nobody, and everyone had great intentions, and it just didn't work. It never got released in America -- they just threw it out on iTunes. You get your heart broken. It's happened to all of us: You pour everything into something, and it just doesn't work. But anyway, I did the Skype with the director, and I reached over and got some lipstick and I put it on, and I had a little pink sweater on and flirted with him a little bit. I woke up, and I got the job. I was stunned.

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What's the strangest audition the rest of you have had?

BROLIN: I did an audition for [1989's] The Fly 2. I was living in New York at the time, and I went in there, and he's in a cocoon, transforming into a fly. So I walked in, and I started reading. You do the voice, and you're like, [choking sounds] you know, doing your thing. And I ended up on the floor, frothing at the mouth. I got back to my apartment, and there was already a message on my machine from my agent that said: "What the f--- did you do in there? You scared them." I said, "Well, did I get it?" That was the worst audition I ever did.

WHITAKER: I fell through a stage once. I was doing a truly African dance, and all of a sudden I hit the ground with my foot and went straight through the stage. I guess they didn't have much money, so the floor was kind of rotting.

MCCONAUGHEY: Worst for me was a Lee Tamahori film. Went for a read on that for the part of the heavy. I knew going out, "Man, you kind of gave 80 percent." And I got in my truck and turned around -- U-turn -- came back in, just [walked] right past the secretary, knocked the casting director out of the way, went right up to [Tamahori] and weight-nailed him against the wall. I grabbed the next guy and put him in the corner and grabbed like a spoon or something. I just wrecked the room and then left. I didn't hear back from 'em. [Laughs.]

GYLLENHAAL: I remember auditioning for The Lord of the Rings [the role of Frodo] and going in and not being told that I needed a British accent. I really do remember Peter Jackson saying to me, "You know that you have to do this in a British accent?" We heard back it was literally one of the worst auditions.

LETO: It is an incredibly strange process as a grown man to go in and let your ego and your pride get deflected. It's a strange thing.

BROLIN: I literally started filming my own auditions. [Then-president of production] Meryl Poster at Miramax 10 years ago said, "You and Benicio Del Toro were notoriously the worst auditioners we've ever seen." [Laughs.]

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