She’s got the bloodlines, though you can’t tell from her last name. She’s had the breakthrough roles, though you won’t have seen them if you restrict your moviegoing to the local multiplex. But Angelina Jolie, daughter of Jon Voight and the star of HBO’s “Gia,” TNT’s “George Wallace” and the Rolling Stones video for “Anybody Seen My Baby,” has parlayed exposure in unconventional outlets into a serious Hollywood buzz.
“She is beautiful, and she is great,” says “Gia” producer Marvin Worth. “It’s that simple. If she picks her next pictures right, I see her as a movie star, absolutely. Because she can do comedy, and she can do drama, and she can move.”
Jolie’s bravura performance as the troubled ‘80s fashion model Gia Carangi in HBO’s recent film served notice that Voight’s 22-year-old daughter couldn’t be confined to the small roles she’d had in such forgettable films as “Hackers,” “Playing God” and “Foxfire.” It was also the second half of a one-two cable TV punch that began with her Golden Globe-winning performance as Cornelia Wallace. “Those films were the first time I saw the grand scale of what you can attempt, and what you can achieve,” she says.
Jolie took more than six months off after wrapping “Gia” to clear her head and take night courses at NYU. She’s now working on “Pushing Tin,” a comedy from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” director Mike Newell, with Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack. Despite the rave reviews for her recent projects, she says Hollywood still isn’t quite sure what to make of her.
“Even though people respond more to my work now, they don’t know what to do with me,” she says of her new stature within the industry. “There aren’t too many roles like Wallace and Gia out there. So it’s not like I suddenly fit into all the regular movies. It’s almost like I don’t fit even more.” She laughs. “I’ve proven that it’s that much more complicated to have me just play the wife, or the mother--which I’d love to do, and I can.”
-- Steve Pond
The transition from child star to serious actor can be a minefield, and few performers have navigated it with the assurance Christina Ricci showed last year. The 18-year-old, best known for roles in such kids’ stuff as “The Addams Family,” “Casper” and “That Darn Cat,” quietly stole the show in director Ang Lee’s brooding “The Ice Storm,” playing a confused 14-year-old tentatively exploring her sexuality.
Ricci insists she didn’t feel as if she were doing anything new. “The movies I did before that were comedies, but I never felt like I was trying to be funny. This time I was in a hard-core drama, so it finally came out that I really was a dramatic actress.”
Ricci is following “The Ice Storm” with a barrage of independent projects. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, she won acclaim for a pair of dark comedies, “Buffalo 66" and “The Opposite of Sex.” Upcoming are roles in John Waters’ “Pecker,” Terry Gilliam’s film version of the Hunter S. Thompson classic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and Morgan J. Freeman’s “Desert Blue,” in which her character, she says delightedly, “wears all black and has a punk rock haircut and blows things up and says really dirty, nasty things to everyone.”
Which means it may be time to say goodbye to Casper’s sweetheart and welcome a gifted young actress with a serious dark side. That should become even clearer when she gets around to directing “Asylum,” a film she’s been writing since she was 15. “It started out about obsessive love between a brother and a sister,” she says. “But it became more about childhood--about how when you stop being a child, a huge part of you dies. Some people can overcome that and become functioning adults, and some people can’t.” Ricci is frankly unsure which category she fits into.
“I feel dead,” she says flatly of her nearly spent childhood. “But at the same time there’s hope, because there are moments when I feel really adult and really alive. Right now I’m sort of in transition, waiting to see if I survive.”
-- Steve Pond
After five years of building a resume that ranged from ernest preppy drama (“School Ties”) to light romantic comedy (“Mrs. Winterbourne”) by way of occasional stage assignments (the Geffen Playhouse’s “Four Dogs and a Bone”), 6-foot, 2-inch Brendan Fraser stripped down to nothing but a loincloth and goofy grin for last summer’s “George of the Jungle.” As the surprise hit climbed to $105 million in domestic grosses, the Industry finally took notice: Here was a good-looking guy who could swing from button-down Ivy League types to dim-witted innocents without missing a beat.
If “George” hadn’t worked, Fraser’s decision to play a postmodern Tarzan might have looked suicidal. But, he insists, he had no qualms. “The movie just incorporated so many elements that I love--it had a sense of humor about itself and a sweet story,” the 29-year-old says. Now Fraser is recognized by kids everywhere he goes. “Parents tell me, I love your movie, it plays on a loop in my house, but I had to buy helmets for my kids because they keep smashing into trees.”
If Hollywood has been slow to recognize Fraser’s leading-man potential, he admits to shouldering some of the blame by blithely accepting whatever roles intrigue him. “I’ve always looked for diversity--selfishly, I don’t want to get bored,” he says. While “George” was ruling the summer box office, Fraser shot “Gods and Monsters,” a homoerotic twist on “Sunset Boulevard” in which he plays a gardener who catches the eye of “Frankenstein” director James 1466458476 “I needed someone who was physically imposing, who could constitute a threat, but who underneath that has some poetry and soul,” says Bill Condon, the film’s director. “Brendan’s got that rare combination of real strength with a real sweetness at his core.”
Next month, Fraser can be seen in the romantic comedy “Still Breathing,” as a street performer who sets out to find, quite literally, the girl of his dreams. He’s just finishing “Blast from the Past,” in which he plays a young man raised in a bomb shelter who approaches the world as if it were still 1962. And then he’s off to Marrakech, where he’ll play an American enlistee in the French Foreign Legion in Universal’s $70-million remake of its old horror franchise “The Mummy.” “It’ll be a straight-ahead action movie, but it will also have tongue-in-cheek homages to the old movies,” notes Fraser, who’s become as accomplished as George himself at swinging through the Hollywood jungle.
We’ve become so accustomed to watching beautiful, sweat-soaked female movie stars strutting their tenacity only while staring down acid-dripping aliens that we don’t recognize strength once they switch off the flamethrowers. This was not always the case: Bette Davis could wield a cigarette like a propane torch of emotion, and there was Ingrid Bergman’s face, endlessly suggesting some inner Gibraltar. Those dames are gone. But if Bergman left us an undeclared love-child, it is Hope Davis, who, in last year’s little-seen “The Daytrippers,” made her entrance by walking, strongly and unexpectedly, through a door--not a wall.
Pale-skinned, with strands of long blond hair that cry out to be brushed away, Davis looks almost fey. And as the wife of a literary agent who discovers her husband making out with his new boyfriend, the actress’s first-noticed role could have been the perfect launch pad for a long career playing wilted flowers. But like Bergman in “Gaslight,” Davis turned a victim’s role into a chance to command a long-neglected actor’s prop: the eyes. Davis’ constantly register a cool strength and intelligence while never revealing the epicenter.
Brad Anderson, who directed Davis in “Next Stop Wonderland,” one of the hot tickets at this year’s Sundance Festival, says: “Hope has a way of being strong-willed on screen without getting up on a soapbox.”
Besides “Next Stop Wonderland,” which has been picked up by Miramax, Davis will appear in “Imposters,” directed by her “Daytrippers” co-star Stanley Tucci, and in the political thriller “Arlington Road,” alongside Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins. Later this year, she will begin shooting writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s “Mumford.” Which means that Davis, a member of the New York indie film cabal that includes Tucci and Campbell Scott, is often homesick these days.
“I like not knowing what’s coming up next,” she says, “but I do miss New York. Still, all these characters I’m playing are giving me the chance to describe the inner me--confused, working their way through a society that wants them to be something they’re not.”
-- Dave Gardetta
‘I never set out to be a writer--the whole point of writing was to get to direct,” admits Kevin Williamson. If so, it’s been one of the more spectacularly successful side trips in recent Hollywood history.
Among his core teenage audience, the origins of Williamson’s 1996 breakthrough screenplay, the self-referential teen slasher “Scream,” has acquired the patina of urban legend: House-sitting in Westwood after stints as a bit actor, assistant to a video director and dog-walker, Williamson was startled by a noise, dialed up a friend and started trading Freddie and Jason jokes (Freddie and Jason being, for the uninitiated, the reigning boogie men of slasher movies.) The incident inspired the opening sequence in “Scream.” The movie resurrected the tired old slasher genre to the tune of $103 million and turned Williamson into an overnight industry.
“Scream,” predictably enough, begat “Scream 2,” and a “Scream 3" is threatened, all written by Williamson. The 32-year-old also wrote last year’s horror smash “I Know What You Did Last Summer"; completed a screenplay for “The Faculty,” a teen sci-fi thriller directed by indie darling Robert Rodriguez (“El Mariachi”); and dashed off an outline for “Halloween VII,” in which Jamie Lee Curtis is expected to return to the role that started it all. Williamson has carved out a long-term deal that could earn him as much as $20 million with Miramax Films. Says Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein: “In addition to being a great writer, I’m sure Kevin will be a great director.” Just to prove that he’s got more than knives up his sleeve, Williamson also created the uber-teen television drama “Dawson’s Creek,” transplanting his own North Carolina boyhood to Cape Cod. The WB network, delighted to finally have a hit, has renewed the show for a second season.
As for directing, Williamson has succeeded in writing his own ticket. In May, he begins shooting his first feature, “Killing Mrs. Tingle,” about a group of high school kids who plot to murder their teacher, Helen Mirren of “Prime Suspect.” “So far I haven’t been able to relax and enjoy things,” Williamson laments. “But with ‘Tingle,’ I’m just starting to have a ball.”
-- Gregg Kilday
Jennifer Love Hewitt
She says she knew things were getting out of hand when young girls started telling her they’d changed the spelling of their name to match that of her character, Sarah, on the Fox television drama “Party of Five.” She got further confirmation when teenagers began wearing their sleeves long over their hands, again to match her character. And the rest of Hollywood took note when the modest horror film in which she starred, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” turned into one of last fall’s surprise hits.
In many ways, her success is emblematic of the ascendance of the new generation in Hollywood. A Texan who’s been appearing onstage and on television for more than half of her 19 years, Hewitt has now joined Neve Campbell of “Scream” as a “Party of Five” regular whose weekly TV appearances haven’t stopped her from showing big-screen clout as well. (Next up: the teen comedy “The Party,” co-starring Ethan Embry.) One casualty of her packed schedule is her singing career, which was put on hold after the release of her third album two years ago. “I’m not going to give up singing,” she says, “but it’s pretty much impossible at the moment.”
As Hewitt prepares to make the sequel to “I Know What You Did Last Summer” during this year’s “Party of Five” hiatus, she’s also reading lots of scripts and fielding lots of offers. This, she knows, signals a change in her status and in the status of young performers in Hollywood. “The one thing that I’ve been most impressed with,” she says, “is that right now there are a lot of really good roles for people my age. I think studio executives deserve a huge round of applause. They’re not looked at as the heroes in teen films coming back, but they’re the ones who have trusted that 19-year-olds can carry films and draw box office. I think that shows a lot of respect toward young actors.”
Thanks to the executives? Spoken like someone with quite a future in this town.
-- Steve Pond
Christopher Scott Cherot
By the time Christopher Scott Cherot’s first feature, “Hav Plenty,” screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the 30-year-old writer, actor and director had cleared several hurdles. Shot for a mere $65,000 in three weeks with a cast of unknowns, “Hav Plenty” was first shown at last year’s Acapulco Film Festival, where composer Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds and his wife, Tracy, signed on as its executive producers. At the Toronto Film Festival last September, the movie caught the attention of Miramax Films, which acquired it for distribution and plans to release it this June. By the time Sundance was over, Cherot had scored an even bigger coup--a multi-picture deal with Miramax said to be worth as much as $2.5 million. Says Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, “Chris wrote, directed and starred in his first feature--that’s quite an impressive accomplisment.”
“Hav Plenty” is set over New Year’s weekend in Washington D.C. Its protagonist, a homeless would-be novelist, is played by Cherot himself. “I say it’s like a love story, because there are certain elements that most love stories have that this one doesn’t have,” Cherot says. “One film that helped me with the movie’s humor was Billy Wilder’s ‘Stalag 17.’ It may be about American prisoners of war in World War II, but at its heart it’s a funny film set in a painful time, and that’s the same type of humor I wanted to get at.”
A native of the Bronx and graduate of NYU’s film school, Cherot puckishly allows that the script “is somewhat autobiographical” and insists he acted in the movie only because another actor dropped out two weeks before filming was to begin. “Watching myself was the hardest part,” he admits.
Meanwhile, Cherot is at work on his next film, tenatively titled “True Heroes.” He describes it as a “buddy road movie that’s also a bit of a love story--I guess all my stories are in one way or another love stories.”
-- Gregg Kilday
Hollywood agents are widely thought of as the sharks of the entertainment business. Yet Patrick Whitesell of Creative Artists Agency is a successful agent who is also the sort of nice young man parents wish their daughters would bring home to dinner. At 33, he represents a bevy of hot young stars who adore him. “I can say without hyperbole that Patrick is a competent, smart, decent man of conviction,” says client Ben Affleck, who gives Whitesell full credit for getting the film “Good Will Hunting,” which Affleck wrote with friend Matt Damon, made at the studio level. “He believed in the movie and that Matt and I could be attached to it when no one--and I mean no one--else did.”
Many insiders look at the success of “Good Will Hunting,” a movie written by, and starring, two relatively unknown actors, as an astonishing feat. But Whitesell thinks that kind of project is the future of the Industry. “We’ve got to be proactive,” he insists. “It’s my job to look for unconventional situations that achieve what my clients want. If you’re a young actor, unless you’re on a very short list at the studios, we have to be very creative about moving your career along. Otherwise, all we can do is hope to get lucky and find that perfect role that pops you into stardom.”
Whitesell’s seize-the-day philosophy has worked well for Affleck and Damon, whom he’s represented for years, and other young stars like Minnie Driver, Jennifer Aniston and Jada Pinkett Smith. He is also busy grooming a new crop of even younger talent. “I represent a whole group of people you haven’t heard of yet, but they’re right behind these guys, ready to break,” he says.
Whitesell was working in banking in San Diego when his brother John, a TV director, encouraged him to come to Hollywood. He was attracted to the agent’s life because it combined working with actors and other creative people with the art of deal-making. “It was a win-win situation,” he says, in a rare display of agent-speak. After working his way up from the mail room at Intertalent, Whitesell was an agent at United Talent Agency and then became one of the last people Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer hired before they left CAA. He now runs the agency’s talent department, an honor he says he owes, ironically, to Ovitz and Meyer’s departure. “Their leaving created opportunity for those of us who stayed,” he says.
Affleck believes Whitesell would be where he is now regardless. “Some people get ahead by being at the right place at the right time, and others get there because their father owns the company, but Patrick ended up where he is because he works hard, he’s straight with people, and he actually serves his clients.”
Whitesell’s accomplishments may also have something to do with understanding the young moviegoing audience, which he says the studios have underestimated.
“Fifteen to 30-year-olds are interested in all kinds of intelligent movies--it doesn’t have to be a broad comedy or an action adventure for them to go see it,” he says. “And the best people to deliver those movies are of that generation and share their same experiences.” Twenty-five-year-old Affleck is happy to agree. “I trust Patrick implicitly. If I’m going down, I’m going down on his ship.”
-- Renee Vogel
Bumble Ward is just back from a much-needed Caribbean vacation. She’s relaxed and toying with the fantasy of relocating. “Wouldn’t it be lovely,” she asks in her lilting English accent, “to have a little beach bar and listen to Bob Marley all day?”
It’s hard to picture the guiding force behind Bumble Ward & Associates far from the heart of Hollywood. In just three years she has built a highly regarded public relations agency that specializes in representing young, cutting-edge artists and projects. When your client list includes Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders, Kevin Williamson, Michael Keaton and Vincent D’Onofrio, even Bob Marley might get stale.
Ward worked as a publicist in London before coming to Los Angeles 12 years ago. She served apprenticeships at several entertainment-oriented PR firms--Clein + White and Andrea Jaffe among them--and then headed out on her own, setting up shop in her garage when she was pregnant with her second child. “Someone very wise once told me that babies bring good luck,” she says of her timing.
Five clients came with her, including Tarantino, the catalyst for her going solo. “We were in Japan doing international publicity for ‘Pulp Fiction’ when Quentin said, ‘Even if it was the Bumble Ward Company, I’d stay with you.’ I knew he damn well meant it because he never says anything he doesn’t mean.”
BWA, which now employs a staff of 10, remains headquartered in Ward’s garage until it relocates to proper offices on Wilshire Boulevard this month. “It got to be a bit much, with two dogs and two kids running around,” she says. “Everyone knew to rush the baby out when I was on the phone with an important client so there was no screaming in the background.”
Although the 34-year-old exudes a Mary Poppins-ish warmth, her taste in movies is edgy and sophisticated. “Sometimes I’ll see a movie and absolutely have a visceral reaction to it, and I’ll know that it’s something I cannot not work on,” she says. “I felt it in my bones with ‘Boogie Nights.’ I believed in it immediately.” She quickly agreed to represent the movie’s 27-year-old director, Paul Thomas Anderson.
Ward has handled campaigns for other unconventional films, such as “Trainspotting,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “The Apostle,” and “Kurt and Courtney,” the movie that caused a stir at this year’s Sundance Film Festival when Courtney Love successfully prevented it from being shown, only to have Ward move it to the rival Slamdunk Festival, where it became one of the hottest tickets in town.
A straight-shooter in an industry of dissemblers--"You have to be able to tell someone they don’t need a publicist"--Ward has earned the respect of the media, her clients and her peers. “Bumble is the non-publicist’s publicist,” says another Industry PR person, meaning that she’s a favorite with everyone tired of the controlling games some press agents engage in. “There is a lot of hot air and bulls - - - in publicity,” Ward concedes. “People take this business way too seriously. You have to have a sense of humor, and so many people in this town just don’t.”
-- Renee Vogel
Erwin More-Brian Medavoy
Erwin More and Brian Medavoy aren’t exactly the odd couple, but they attribute the success of the More-Medavoy management firm to their differences. Sure, More, who cut his show-biz teeth working for Norman Lear, has a TV background, while Medavoy, son of former Tristar chief Mike Medavoy, comes from the movie world. But they’re good at playing up the yin/yang of their background. When the 39-year-old More says that the fast-paced Hollywood business whirl keeps him invigorated, 32-year-old Medavoy feigns exhaustion just thinking about it. They do have at least one thing in common: “We’ve been incredibly successful at identifying new talent,” More says.
Their roster of clients bears him out: David Schwimmer, Jenna Elfman, Laura San Giacomo, Maria Bello, Marlee Matlin and Jonathan Silverman, among others. The pair were turned on to Elfman by her agent when she was doing the failed series “Townies,” had the foresight to sign Schwimmer before “Friends” and Bello before she became Dr. Anna Del Amico on “ER.” Another client on the verge of fame just earned the right to drink legally--Ryan Reynolds, who stars in the midseason-replacement Fox sitcom “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.”
The partners went into business for themselves six years ago. They borrowed $75,000 from Mercantile National Bank using More’s condominium as collateral and set up shop with a typewriter, an assistant and two clients. Today they have 12 employees and 40 clients, 15 of whom are on prime-time TV shows.
In addition to providing management services, More-Medavoy has expanded into the producing business. The company has an overall film and TV production deal with 20th Century Fox, and the partners are currently executive producers on ABC’s “Dharma and Greg,” starring Elfman, and NBC’s “Just Shoot Me,” starring San Giacomo. “We’re making our clients’ careers viable enough to be able to produce for them,” says Medavoy, “but getting them to that point is still our main focus.”
Of course, there are other ways of measuring success.
“We have complete autonomy, the ability to hand-pick the people we represent, and we enjoy our partnership,” says More. “I think those are the things we celebrate.” “Not me,” Medavoy counters. “I celebrate being able to fly first class now.”
-- Renee Vogel
Huvane Baum Halls
The three partners at the Huvane Baum Halls public relations firm are jetting off in different directions: Berlin, Aspen and London, respectively. The frenzy is common, especially at this time of year. “This is the publicists’ season,” explains Stephen Huvane. “From the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards, your life is not your own.” It’s the price of having a roster of clients that includes Anne Heche, Elisabeth Shue, Helen Hunt, Skeet Ulrich, Frances McDormand, Joan Allen, Jennifer Aniston, Antonio Banderas and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Refugees from established PR agencies Baker Winokur Ryder, Geller & Associates and Wolf-Kasteler, the three banded together two years ago to start their own agency and quickly established a reputation for nosing out hot young stars and making them hotter.
“I do think we’ve done a good job of taking young actors, and I don’t necessarily mean young in terms of age, but in terms of profile, and showing that the right kind of publicity campaign can help elevate their careers,” says Robin Baum, who, like her partners, has been with many of her clients since before they were household names.
“I’ve worked with Helen Hunt for seven years, with Jennifer Aniston since before ‘Friends,’ and with Gwyneth Paltrow before ‘Flesh and Bone,’ ” says Huvane, whose brother, Kevin Huvane, is an agent at Creative Artists Agency. “I had these people before anyone cared.”
“It’s fun to watch the public discover people,” says Simon Halls. “And it’s fun to watch your client’s metamorphosis. When I met Anne Heche, she was wearing peasant skirts with her hair piled on her head. Now look at her,” he says proudly. Huvane feels the same way. “It’s my passion to find people who are really talented and take that journey with them.” He cites newcomer Don Cheadle as an example. “Don was in ‘Devil in a Blue Dress,’ ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Volcano,’ but the world has not yet seen the full measure of his brilliance,” Huvane says, blossoming into full-on publicist overkill. “One day he’s going to be recognized as a national treasure.”
This balance isn’t always easy to achieve in a celebrity-crazed culture, and it keeps the threesome on their toes.
“We work hard,” Halls say. “We’re all in our 30s and at that point in our careers when we’re extraordinarily hungry and enthusiastic.” Adds Huvane: “We wind up spending a lot of time with the people we represent, so if we don’t like them or respect them as artists, then why do it?”