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

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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.]