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Anthony Mackie, 30
Mackie was pondering two job offers while working on 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby,” so he asked co-star Morgan Freeman whether he should take a small part in a movie or a better role in a play. “He said, ‘Go do the play and work on your craft,’ ” Mackie recalls. “‘When Hollywood wants you, they’ll come and get you, and when they get you, they’ll pay for you.’ ”
Taking that advice has paid off with a string of consistently strong performances and a breakthrough role in the summer’s “The Hurt Locker.” Mackie’s turn as safety-oriented Army Sgt. JT Sanborn required him to endure the 120-degree heat of the Jordanian desert, but it led to an Independent Spirit Award nomination and buzz heading into Oscar season.
“Creativity and diversity in my resume is more important to me than being some huge Hollywood movie star,” he says. The UTA-repped Julliard grad has worked steadily since a role in a classmate’s play about rap artist Tupac Shakur led to an introduction to writer-director Curtis Hansen, who cast him in 2002’s “8 Mile.” He’s since alternated between studio pictures (“We Are Marshall,” “Eagle Eye”) and indies (“Half Nelson”), and this year he played Shakur again in the January hit “Notorious.”
Mackie’s notice for “Hurt Locker” is upping his stock in the industry. He’s now filming the big-budget sci-fi thriller “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, and he’ll star in a biopic of the legendary jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden.
— Amy Dawes
Anna Kendrick, 24
Kendrick couldn’t get too excited by the news that director Jason Reitman wanted her for the coveted role opposite George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” With firm commitments to the “Twilight” sequel “New Moon” and the comic book adaptation “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” she doubted she’d end up playing the part. “Every day it would change: it will work, it won’t work,” she recalls. “I was on such an emotional roller coaster. I finally told everyone to keep me out of the discussions until the end.”
Everything worked out and next month Kendrick could have an Oscar contender and a mega-blockbuster in theaters at the same time. Despite her youth, it’s been a long road from her Tony-nominated performance in the Broadway production of “High Society,” which she earned at age 12. “I spent a lot of my childhood on Greyhound buses making the six-hour trip from Portland, Maine, to New York for auditions,” she says. Kendrick even graduated high school early so she could appear in “A Little Night Music” at the New York City Opera. Her feature debut in Todd Graff’s “Camp” was warmly received at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and became a cult favorite.
The APA-repped actress is now allowing herself to entertain the notion that a bigger, broader career is in the cards. “When we started ‘Twilight’ we had no idea it would be a big deal. But now in a movie with George Clooney, directed by Jason Reitman, I know it’s something special. The worst thing would be to be caught off guard.”
— Denise Abbott
Ruben Fleischer, 35
Fleischer fought like hell to convince Sony that he had the chops to direct “Zombieland.”
“After four or five interviews, I came up with the amusement park idea for the finale,” recalls the Washington native, whose previous resume consisted of commercials, music videos and MTV’s reality show “Rob & Big.” “I think that helped them realize I had the quirky sensibility to guide this ship.”
But the challenges didn’t end with getting the job. Fleischer then had to cajole his first choice Woody Harrelson to accept the lead role, so he flew to New York and met Harrelson at a vegan restaurant. “We got on great but he insisted upon four criteria: he wanted input into the casting of his male co-star; he wanted me to consider a particular DP for the job; he wanted a green set; and I had to promise to have no dairy for a week. I thought that last one was kinda funny, but … OK, whatever.”
Next snag: A show-stopping cameo that was originally scripted for Patrick Swayze.
“We had hilarious jokes written referencing classic Swayze movies. When he got sick, the jokes didn’t seem funny anymore.” After moving through a roster of candidates — including Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal and John-Claude Van Damme — he finally settled on an unnamed action star who got cold feet at the last minute, leaving Fleischer just two weeks to find a replacement. “That’s when Woody called his buddy Bill Murray and convinced him to come down to Atlanta to shoot the cameo.”
Now, with a surprise hit on his hands ($71 million and counting), the UTA-repped Fleischer has his choice of projects to tackle next. He’s reading as many scripts as he can, looking for a new challenge that perhaps has nothing to do with zombies.
— Denise Abbott
Michael H. Weber, 31, and Scott Neustadter, 32
Neustadter and Weber met while working in development at Tribeca Entertainment, and like their protagonist in the summer hit “(500) Days of Summer,” they were unsure what to do with their lives. Neustadter eventually moved to London for grad school, where he met the woman who broke his heart and inspired “Summer.” After its strong debut at Sundance, the dramedy has grossed $32 million.
Since then, their reps — agent Bill Zotti at CAA and managers Aaron Kaplan and Sean Perrone — have been keeping them busy. “Friends With Benefits,” a comedy they sold to ABC, will seek to be a “Friends” for the millennial generation. “We might do a whole episode about trying to decipher a text message from a girl,” Weber says. They’re also reteaming with Fox Searchlight to adapt “The Spectacular Now,” a dark-toned young-adult novel. And in the works for Paramount is “Underage,” an original project about a 17-year-old girl who blackmails an older womanizer into being her boyfriend.
“It’s sweeter than it sounds,” Weber says. “Not as Polanski-ish.”
— Amy Dawes
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