THE NEWEST KIDS ON THE CASTING BLOCK

As Hollywood history used to read, a new crop of actors emerged in the movies every generation or so. The "veteran" actors and actresses (in their 30s and 40s) would still get the plum roles, of course; the rookies could only fill in as necessary, dreaming about the day they would age enough to win a meaty part.

Not so anymore. The choice roles today are going to a new generation of younger actors, and movies--both in subject matter and in ad campaigns--are aimed more and more at the young.

It's hardly surprising, since the core moviegoing audience remains in the 16- to 25-age group.

Hollywood's current crop of new actors is currently being showcased in several films that rise above standard teen fare. Far from being exploitative, movies such as "The Breakfast Club," "Heaven Help Us," "The Sure Thing" and others portray 16- to 25-year-olds in realistic fashion.

The actors and actresses in this generation are so plentiful they can be categorized. At the top of the heap--with asking prices of $500,000 and up and critical praise for their numerous films--are Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, Daryl Hannah, Matthew Modine, Elizabeth McGovern, Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Matthew Broderick, Rob Lowe, Rosanna Arquette and Ralph Macchio.

In the newer wave are actors and actresses who are breaking free from smaller parts to juicier leading roles and prices of $75,000 and up per film. Among them: Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Chris Penn, Andrew McCarthy, Lori Singer and Vincent Spano.

This year's youth movies mentioned earlier produced a third tier of young talent, some of whom were singled out for praise by critics. Some are making their feature film debuts and others finally have gotten their first big break:

John Cusack, who portrays Walter (Gib) Gibson, an Ivy League college freshman in "The Sure Thing." Gib becomes the unwanted traveling companion to classmate Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) while hitchhiking to California to find his dream girl.

Malcolm Danare is Caesar, the arrogant, overweight intellectual at St. Basil's School for Catholic boys in "Heaven Help Us."

Kevin Dillon plays Rooney, a would-be ladies man and resident smart aleck St. Basil's student in "Heaven Help Us."

Mary Stuart Masterson is the shy, street-wise Danni in "Heaven Help Us." Danni runs her father's smoke shop/soda fountain across the street from St. Basil's and becomes the love interest of Andrew McCarthy.

Anthony Michael Hall plays Brian Johnson, the brainy nerd stuck in eight hours of Saturday detention with four other students in "The Breakfast Club."

Judd Nelson is seen in "The Breakfast Club" as John Bender--a punk kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

Eric Stoltz, plays a teen-ager who triumphs over a congenital defect that disfigures his face in "Mask." The film is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis, who was raised by an unconventional mother (Cher, in the movie) and a gang of bikers.

Daphne Zuniga, is studious, All-American, rather naive Alison Bradbury in "The Sure Thing." Repulsed by classmate Gib Gibson (John Cusack) and his clumsy attempts at wooing her during school, she is horrified when she finds they must travel cross-country together.

Not all the young actors agreed to be included in this article. Stoltz and Hall declined to be interviewed.

Careers are about all these eight young actors and actresses share in common. Unlike stars of earlier generations, who may have all been under contract to a particular studio, the "newest kids" come from diverse backgrounds, with formal training that ranges from none to prestigious acting coaches such as Stella Adler and Peggy Feury.

There are some areas of overlap, however. Masterson, Cusack, Hall and Dillon all have one or more members of their families in show business. Masterson's mother and father (Carlin Glynn and Peter Masterson) act on stage, primarily in New York. Cusack's father is Chicago-based Emmy-winning film maker Richard Cusack. Hall's mother and sister are actresses who had small speaking roles in "Breakfast Club" (as his mother and sister) and Dillon's older brother is actor Matt.

"Matt really didn't give me any pointers (about acting)," Dillon commented in an interview. "I think he figured he'd just let me go through it. But since he more or less grew up in the business, I learned first that you gave up a lot of freedom."

Masterson's parents, she said in an interview, taught her to determine "whether or not a project has integrity. They helped me stay on track as a person, with my first priority being experience. They told me 'You can't play a person unless you are one.' "

Masterson, Hall and Dillon live in New York; Cusack lives in Chicago. While the rest live in Los Angeles at present, only one--Danare--grew up here. Ironically, Danare was also the only one who had no intention whatsoever to become an actor.

"I hated acting," Danare said in an interview. "The only reason I took it in high school was because I needed an elective class."

Danare graduated from Reseda High School and, although he planned to attend college and study psychology, his father, who owns a limousine company, provoked a change in plans.

"My dad never picks anybody up," Danare explained. "But one day he spotted a guy waving his arms next to a broken-down car and he stopped."

The man turned out to be director Franc Roddam, who beseeched the elder Danare to take him straight to Paramount studios because he was late for auditions for his movie ("Lords of Discipline").

"On the way there, my dad said, 'My son's an actor' and Roddam told him to send me down for an interview," Danare said, adding that he had no idea what made his father say such a thing. "I was cast on the spot."

Understandably, Danare's views on acting have changed. "I love it now," he said. "I go to acting class three times a week, even though I'm considered a working actor."

Though all are now "working actors," they still must go out on auditions. All had views on Hollywood's penchant for typecasting.

"I do get called in for the tough kids or the sweet-little innocent types between 12 and 18 years old," Masterson commented. "While there's a little of both in me, I feel I'm not limited to just those roles."

John Cusack's typecasting already may have come to an end, as far as he is concerned. "I'm through with teen sex-discovery films," he said. "There's another one coming out that I'm in called 'Better Off Dead' that's so bizarre . . . it's either going to be a smash or a cult film. I'm gonna stop with that one."

Conversely, Judd Nelson didn't think he had been typecast at all. "I was a punk in 'Breakfast Club,' I play a nerd in 'Fandango' and I'm a yuppie in 'St. Elmo's Fire,' " he said about two upcoming movies. "Hopefully I'll avoid being typecast."

For Danare, whose chubbiness was a prerequisite for several of his movie roles, the issue became how that physical fact was presented.

"I don't think I'm a leading guy type, but I refuse to act in any exploitation movies of young kids," he stated firmly. "I won't play the chubby kid who's always eating. I want to stay away from those things."

All had strong views on what kinds of roles they were looking for at present and only one--Nelson--didn't name an actress or actor he regarded as a role model.

What Daphne Zuniga said she wanted was "a variety of roles . . . serious roles. I don't want to play character parts." She named Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as actresses she admires. "I look up to them and watch their work; I hope to develop the same amount of focus and insight that they have."

Zuniga added that she was working on a screenplay, explaining: "There needs to be a lot more strong roles for women . . . so I figured I'll write one."

Nelson's only role model, he said, was his father, an attorney in Portland, Me. "I just want to be acting in projects that I feel have merit."

Masterson is looking for projects "that fit into my philosophy. I'm looking not to be exploited. I'd like to do films that are well-written about small truths, that are intimate." She named Meryl Streep as a role model.

Dillon would like to be working on "a nice fun, action-packed adventure film, like 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.' I'd also like to do serious parts . . . or playing a nutty or crazy guy."

Not surprisingly, "Indiana Jones' " Harrison Ford was among the actors Dillon admired. Others were Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Michael Keaton and Marlon Brando.

Cusack said he would be happy if his film roles could parallel those of Robert Duvall. "His career is one to be admired and respected," he said, reverence creeping into his voice. "He's always involved in truly great projects and brings intelligence, integrity and so much talent to his roles."

Danare's one wish was to be just like his idol--John Savage. "I've seen 'Inside Moves' about 3 billion times--it was such a feeling role. My other favorite is Amy Irving." He paused, adding: "I guess those are pretty unusual choices."

Unlike some of their peers, none of those interviewed seemed to have any problem dealing with the media exposure that comes with movie exposure. Nelson, whose mother is a Maine state politician, said of publicity: "Film is a public commodity. You owe the public and the studio your participation in promoting the film. If the film does not reach the public, what's the point in making it?"

Zuniga was happy to do publicity, but commented: "It's scary to think that what I might joke about some afternoon to someone could be read years from now and be taken seriously."

On the other hand, Cusack reflected, there was danger is taking the entire movie business too seriously.

"If I think it's a good movie, I want to help. But this business is craziness and you've got to take it with a grain of salt. I try to remember that they're just movies; some people forget and start getting real into themselves. They start thinking they are more vital than anyone else."

When the realities of their present career positions are momentarily put on hold, the dreaming starts. When asked where they'd like to be in five years, these newest kids in town talked about plans that included much more than acting.

Zuniga: "I would like not to live in Los Angeles. I'd like to be either doing movies or stage in New York. I'd like to be at the point where I had the freedom to travel with my work and to live where I wanted . . . Northern California, Italy, France or the East. I'd love to be working on good rich roles with a very good script and a good director."

Masterson: "All of it, anything. I'm not sure . . . whatever comes up that fits into my philosophy. What is most important to me is that someday I want a family."

Dillon: "I might be into writing. . . . I'd like to try it someday. I always come up with some good ideas. Maybe a crazy punk rock film. . . . I also want to do Broadway. I'll do films for now and Broadway later."

Nelson: "Hopefully, I'll still be enjoying acting as much as I do now and, hopefully, people will still keep hiring me."

Danare: "I'm writing three scripts right now . . . ideas just keep coming into my head. Maybe I'll direct someday, I don't know. . . ."

Cusack: "I'd like to write and direct some of my own short films."

Were these eight ready for stardom? Cusack's response summed it up.

"You want to know what I'm ready for? I think I'm ready for lunch. I'm ready for a cheeseburger and tonight, I think I'll go to sleep. Then tomorrow I'll continue to see if I can develop and write things and get into more movies and be heard. If I can bring intelligence and hard work into what I do . . . what more can I ask for?"

Coming soon to a theater or drive-in near you: "Son of the Newest Kids in Town," starring John Murray (brother of Bill), Tyrone Power Jr., Tahnee Welch (Raquel's daughter), Jennifer Tilly (Meg's sister) and most certainly many more.

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