Thompson: I always ring Harrison.

And what does he tell you?

Thompson: He just says, "Who is this?"

Ford: I really don't depend on anybody. You really have to make your own choices. You may want to go beyond that first step of reading the screenplay and investigate, meet with the director and the other people involved. Maybe I'll have questions about the script. But I can't really depend on anybody else. It has to be an emotional decision — and it's a tough decision sometimes.

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Emma — if Harrison's not taking your phone calls — how much of your thinking is strategic? Meaning, "I've just done this romantic comedy, I need to do a thriller?"

Thompson: "Strategic," that word just makes every muscle in my body twitch. It's horrible. I've never understood the word "career" either. Things just come along and you think, "Oh, am I going to get onto that?" It's not a career. It's a series of decisions. You might do a job and think, maybe I won't play the cocaine dealer who can also fandango again — this year.

Whitaker: I'm always trying to figure out how to expand myself as a human being, to grow. And so it's looking for a part of myself but I'm looking for that part of myself that may be a small molecule sometimes. And that frightens me. And I'm trying to expand it and so I make my choices based sometimes not about doing something different, but about continuing to grow and continuing to expand myself.

When you arrive on set the first day, what is it you need to hear from the director to know that you're on the same page?

Isaac: With the Coens, as far as they were concerned, they don't give you anything. They don't compliment, you know. And it was the first time where I really had dealt with that kind of thing where there's no, like, "Great, babe! That was amazing!"

Thompson: I don't like being complimented while I'm working. It makes me feel weird. I much prefer notes like the ones I got from Ang Lee [in "Sense and Sensibility"]. It was sort of, "Don't look so old."

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That's kind of a hard note to address.

Thompson: He said to Hugh Grant one day, "Now do one like a very bad actor." And Hugh said, "That's the one I just did!"

Nyong'o: Obviously I haven't worked with that many film directors yet, but I think you have to just be listening to what this particular relationship needs and what he needs from you and what you need from him.

Do any of you like to watch your own work?

Whitaker: I think in the early part of my career I wasn't comfortable. But later, I don't know if it's from directing or whatever, I've gained a little more comfort. And at times it can be helpful to me: Oh, that's not what I was trying to do. I need to do this again.

Ford: It doesn't bother me to step out and take a look at it and go look at playback. I sometimes look at playback because I want to see the scale of what I'm doing in the shot and then can make an adjustment. What I can't stand is a finished movie.

How much does it help you to have physical tools around you, like the costume?

Ejiofor: Wardrobe is one of the most important days that you can have as an actor. You go in and you start to put on things. And you're standing in front of the mirror — and the scrutiny with which you stare at yourself in those moments to try and see if the guy's coming out of you. And those are the pieces that, when they start to come in, can make all the difference.

Thompson: I had a perm. And it was frightful. I looked like a sheep, as you can see. And that helped enormously but I couldn't get away from it. I had to live with it for months on end. It was hell.

Ford: It's more fun when you're playing a character part rather than a leading man. What was really fun in playing Branch Rickey was finding the right fat suit, finding what the clothes were like around a fat suit and how you felt in that assumed weight and mass.

Nyong'o: I remember [costume designer] Patty [Norris] saying to me that some of my clothes actually belonged to slave women. I felt really spooked, and then I thought, what a gift, because it just added another level of reverence, stepping into those clothes and really just stepping into that experience.

john.horn@latimes.com