PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival is rightly famous for launching the careers of eminent filmmakers — directors Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer, to name just a few, all were discovered here. Yet the festival also can help establish heretofore unknown actors; a lineup of discoveries from past gatherings includes Brad Pitt ("Johnny Suede"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Ryan Gosling ("The Believer").
The Times caught up with four of this year's most buzzworthy young stars: Michael B. Jordan, 25; Skylan Brooks, 13; Dane DeHaan, 26; and Kaya Scodelario, 20.
Michael B. Jordan
Jordan wasn't named after the famous Chicago Bulls basketball player. As his father's first son, Jordan inherited his dad's name just as a young NBA player was blossoming as a star in the league. But the New Jersey native is finally making a name for himself at Sundance this year, as his movie "Fruitvale" has been a slam-dunk with critics and audiences.
In the movie, Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American father who was shot by police in an Oakland rapid transit station in 2009. Days after its premiere, the drama was snatched up for release by the Weinstein Co.
Jordan has been working since age 12, when he booked gigs as a kid model with Modell's sporting goods and Toys R Us, which ran advertisements in the local Sunday paper.
"There was no desire to be an actor," said Jordan, looking exhausted as he slumped in a couch in a bar on Main Street a day after the movie's Saturday debut. "It was just something I was good at and I was like 'Cool, no school. It's crafty. I'm there.'"
It was only after he lost himself in his character on the set of 2001's little-league baseball drama "Hard Ball" that he felt a connection to acting, and quickly began booking more high-profile roles. Though he has appeared on a handful of television programs, including "The Wire" and "Parenthood," he is still known to many as Vince, the troubled quarterback he played during the final two seasons of "Friday Night Lights."
His performance in "Fruitvale," which was produced by Forest Whitaker, already has some calling Jordan the next Denzel Washington. But the young actor says that as a black man it's a struggle to find challenging roles in Hollywood.
"Until people can list black actors that roll off the tip of their tongue, I feel like I have a lot of work to do," said Jordan, who lives in Los Feliz. "I'm humbled to be in the same sentence as [Denzel], but it's like, I want to do my own thing. I want people to go, 'Oh, that's Mike B.'"
At his school in Crenshaw, Brooks is already pretty popular. When his classmates saw him in commercials for Kool-Aid and Honda, he suddenly found that a lot more people wanted to sit next to him in the cafeteria. But after spending time with Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks at a glitzy film festival, the eighth-grader's cool quotient may hit a new high.
"Yeah, it made me even more popular at school," the teenager acknowledged, seeming out of place while eating lunch in a nightclub in Park City. "I try not to be cocky because I don't want anything to get to my head, and I believe in God."
That levelheadedness may be hard to maintain after Sundance, where Brooks has been receiving praise for carrying "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete." In the drama, Brooks plays a boy forced to get through a summer with only the help of his young neighbor in the Brooklyn projects after his mom is arrested.
The role required Brooks to witness plenty of adult material — his character's mother, played by Hudson, is a heroin addict and a prostitute. But he was surprised to find that his parents were supportive of his taking on the part.
"I was worried that my mom would think a lot about it and be like 'I don't know if you're going to do this movie,' but she was like the opposite," said Brooks, who had to return to Los Angeles for a few days in the middle of the 10-day festival to attend school.
The movie was shot in New York, but Brooks said he otherwise had not traveled much outside of L.A. He found many things exciting about Sundance: the moving sidewalks at the airport, the snow, and of course, the swag.
"I got some free shoes," he said. "But I also got free candy. M&M;'s, peanut butter, chocolate, Life Savers and candy corn."
Most stars who attend Sundance indulge in free libations, or grab a late-night slice of pizza before hitting the hot tub. Not DeHaan. The actor, who is set to play Harry Osborn in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," has had a decidedly healthier festival experience as he prepares for the movie to start production soon.
He's been following a workout plan sent to him by his personal trainer, and has been eating every two hours.
"I've already gained five pounds and lost half an inch in my waist," he said proudly, looking down at his slim frame.
With the premiere of DeHaan's latest film, "Kill Your Darlings," at Sundance, the actor kicked off what he acknowledges will be a "huge year" for him. Not only has he landed a big part in the popular superhero franchise, but he also has a part in the Ryan Gosling-Bradley Cooper thriller "The Place Beyond the Pines," which hits theaters in March.
"Kill Your Darlings" has been the subject of strong buzz and seems likely to land with a distributor before the festival's end. The movie, set at Columbia University in the 1940s, follows poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as he enters college and falls in love for the first time with a man, the seductive Lucien Carr (DeHaan).
DeHaan, however, seems much more soft-spoken and contemplative than his character. It's clear he takes his job seriously, having studied for five years in a conservatory program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he also met his wife. Carr is the second gay character DeHaan has played — the first was on the late HBO program "In Treatment" — and he says he's surprised by the reaction to his racier scenes with Radcliffe in "Kill Your Darlings."
"Sadly, because the sex scene in our movie is between two people of the same gender, there's a big deal being made of it," he said. "But I can still tell that there is a positive reaction to the movie going on, and that reception is just kind of the beginning of what is going to be a crazy year for me."
Scodelario is a model who had a recurring role on the British television series "Skins" and acted in 2009's "Moon" and 2011's "Wuthering Heights." At Sundance, she's starring in "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes," a tale of a suburban American high school girl who develops an unusual relationship with a single mother (Jessica Biel) who moves in next door.
Scodelario plays Emanuel, who is haunted by strange dreams involving water and the fact that her mother died giving birth. An only child, she lives with her father (Alfred Molina) and a struggling stepmother (Frances O'Connor). When Linda arrives in town, Emanuel is entranced by her new neighbor's exotic looks, which remind her of her late mother, and Linda's curious relationship to her newborn daughter, Chloe. Emanuel soon volunteers to baby-sit, drawing her into an unusual bond with Linda.
Writer-director Francesca Gregorini originally intended that the part would be played by Rooney Mara ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), who starred in the filmmaker's "Tanner Hall" four years ago. But it took so long to finance "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes" that by the time cameras were ready to roll, the 27-year-old Mara was too old to play a teenager. So Gregorini cast Scodelario.
The film has attracted mixed early reviews, but some critics have singled out Scodelario's lead performance for praise.
"Being here has obviously been the top so far," said Scodelario, who grew up outside of London and is not professionally trained. "It has been a wonderful experience but absolutely terrifying. It's going to take me a long time not to be terrified of this whole thing. Where I've grown up and where I come from, this doesn't really happen to people like me."
Scodelario has yet to decide what her next movie will be or whether she will move to the United States, but for right now anything and everything seems possible.
When Scodelario on Saturday walked down Park City's Main Street with some of fellow cast members, paparazzi mobbed Biel, completely ignoring Scodelario. In a couple of years, she was told, she might be the object of the photographers' attention. "That," she said, "would be interesting."
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