Sundance: Bill Hader and 4 Other People the Fest Will Be Buzzing About

The actors and directors to watch this year, including a Spanish ex-mermaid and a director with a famous mom, a famous sis and two famous dads.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Astrid Berges-Frisbey

I love jumping from a giant movie to an indie," says Berges-Frisbey, a 27-year-old Barcelona-born, Paris-trained actress who co-stars in the Premieres section film I Origins, a trippy-sounding sci-fi drama about molecular biologists who make a discovery that alters the course of history (THR can't say how because the plot is top-secret). Her most recent giant movie was 2011's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. But Berges-Frisbey is no model-turned-mermaid: She was nominated for best actress at Spain's Gaudi Awards in 2012 for Bruc, the Manhunt and was the lead in 2013's youth hit Juliette (France's Garden State). Preparing for I Origins was even more challenging than the four hours a day she spent getting mermaid makeup applied for Pirates. For starters, she had to speak English: "When I got the role, I hadn't spoken English in two years." -- TIM APPELO

Desiree Akhavan

An Iranian lesbian-relationship comedy would be a tough sell in Akhavan's parents' homeland -- homosexuality is considered a criminal act in Iran -- but Appropriate Behavior, playing in the festival's Next section, undoubtedly will get a friendlier reception in Park City. "I had come out to my family when I was writing the script," says the 29-year-old Iranian-American. "That was a rough period. I wasn't raised with any religion, but my grandparents were very religious and prayed five times a day." Akhavan, who also stars in the movie, will attend Sundance with her family, but her father will sit out the screening. "My dad will not watch it because there's sex and nudity," she says. "Plus, he's a Two and a Half Men kind of guy. He wouldn't find it funny." -- TATIANA SIEGEL

Charlie McDowell

Malcolm McDowell is his father. Mary Steenburgen is his mother. Actress Lilly McDowell is his sister. And, by the way, his girlfriend is Rooney Mara. But those aren't the only reasons this 30-year-old first-time director will get noticed at Sundance. Another is his Premieres section film The One I Love, a quirky relationship drama starring Mark Duplass and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss as a struggling couple trying to salvage their marriage during a weekend getaway. "When you get into a relationship, in the courting period, you show the best version of who you are," says McDowell, explaining the premise of his film (which, incidentally, co-stars his stepfather, Ted Danson). "Then, when things settle down, it becomes this weird time when you're not sure if that's the person you fell in love with." -- REBECCA FORD

STORY: Sundance 2014, 8 Thoughts, Predictions and Trends to Look for at This Year's Fest

Ben Cotner

In his nearly 10 years attending Sundance as a film executive, Cotner kept a routine that involved racing from theater to theater as he hunted for movies to buy, first for Paramount Vantage then for Open Road Films. This year, though, he's returning to the festival with a whole new title: filmmaker. Cotner, 34, is co-director, with Ryan White, of the U.S. Documentary Competition film The Case Against 8, an intimate behind-the-scenes chronicle of the landmark legal fight by rivals-turned-bosom buddies Ted Olson and David Boies to legalize gay marriage. (Olson, a staunch Republican, and Boies, a Democrat, were on opposite sides of the Bush-Gore presidential recount case in 2000.) Cotner, who didn't give up his day job while shooting the film, spent more than four years making the documentary. "It's surreal going to Sundance with a film," he says. "I've seen so many people go through this experience." What he's going through -- trying to sell The Case Against 8 to acquisitions execs who were his rivals -- isn't for the faint of heart. HBO has picked up television rights, but Cotner and White hope the trip to Park City will help secure a theatrical distribution deal. At least they won't go through it alone: Olson and Boies -- who in September announced they are reteaming to challenge the constitutionality of Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage -- will join the co-directors at the festival. Dozens of lawyers who worked with Boies and Olson on the Prop 8 case also will be in the audience at Sundance, along with several board members of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (including Rob Reiner and his wife, Michele). "It's obviously an issue I care about personally," says Cotner, who is gay and has a longtime partner (though they aren't yet married). "The film tells an amazing story of a bipartisan effort and a liberal and a conservative lawyer coming together. When we began, we had no idea how far this case would go." -- PAMELA McCLINTOCK

Bill Hader

Three years ago Hader found himself at a table read auditioning with Kate Winslet and Bradley Cooper. "I walked in and was like, 'What am I doing here?'" recalls the former Saturday Night Live comic perhaps best known for his club kid character Stefon. What he was doing was attempting the most challenging career move in Hollywood: the jump from comedy to drama. Hader didn't land that role (the movie was never made), but he made an impression on casting director Avy Kaufman, which is how the 35-year-old ended up playing a gay man who reunites with his estranged sister in the U.S. Dramatic Competition film The Skeleton Twins, one of the most buzzed-about dramas at this year's festival. "I had a new baby and was going back and forth between New York City and upstate to film," he says. "When you watch the movie, you can see I'm really tired." -- T.S.