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Year in Film: Breakout Performances

Four actors and their very good year

Have you had any particularly creepy questions from any journalists? I did have one, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m not going to say where it came from, but it was international press. This really tall, beautiful woman comes in the room, sits down, and the first thing out of her mouth is: “So, you play lesbo. You lesbo real life?” I said, “I’m sorry. At the very end of the movie, you think my character’s a lesbian?” She goes, “Yes.” I was like, “Well then, you and I saw two different movies. I can’t even answer your question—I don’t even know what to say.” That was my favorite to this day.

Favorite Film of 2010: Winter’s Bone. “I knew nothing about the movie going in. For me, I like watching them fresh instead of having everyone tell me about it. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic, and the simplicity was just so beautiful. I was completely captivated.”

3. HAILEE STEINFELD
True Grit
The movie poster for Joel and Ethan Coen’s beguiling new adaptation of True Grit (from the same Charles Portis novel that became the 1969 Western starring John Wayne) features no cast photos—only a wanted list of household names: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin. Noticeably absent is Hailee Steinfeld, the now-14-year-old actress from Southern California who, despite having never acted in a theatrical film before, handily steals the show as Mattie Ross, the steely nerved young protagonist seeking vengeance for the murder of her father in the wild 1880s. Her competition? Only 15,000 or so other auditionees.

“When I first found out that I got the job, I was immediately jumping up and down, screaming, calling all my friends and letting everybody know,” remembers Steinfeld. “Then on the plane ride there, I was so nervous. It finally hit me, ‘OK, I actually have to do the job.’ ”

Onscreen and even now, however, Steinfeld never displays anything less than confidence and, well, grit. Since being pulled out of the sixth grade to pursue independent study, a way for her to focus on acting and “take school wherever I go,” she had only worked on a few student thesis graduate films, a couple of guest-starring TV spots, and some commercials. She credits the Coens and her co-stars for putting her at ease on such an enormous, career-launching project, and her coaches for helping with the chewy, colorful dialogue and its specific rhythms that remain faithful to Portis's pages.

“One of the first scenes, where Mattie goes to get [Jeff Bridges’s eye-patched marshal] Rooster in his bedroom in the back of the grocer, she’s talking about a coon hunt. She’s just spitting these words out, and my problem was I would run my words together. They didn’t do that then.”

Though the shooting experience was clearly eye-opening, most revelatory to this precocious new star was the collaborative on-set connection between the Coens. “I have an older brother who is 16,” she says. “I love him to death, but I don’t know that I could ever direct a film with him.”

Favorite Film of 2010:The Social Network. “The dialogue in that, too, is intense. The opening scene with Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg is amazing.”

4. STEPHEN DORFF
Somewhere
OK, true: 37-year-old actor Stephen Dorff has worked steadily since he was a kid, and with auteurs like Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, and John Waters. But it took a quiet art film to prove that he’s more than just the go-to guy for nightclub-running vampires and other shady characters (not that we’re knocking his MTV Movie Award for Best Villain in Blade). Brilliantly internalizing like some long-lost Antonioni character, Dorff stars in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhereas Johnny Marco, a hard-living Hollywood celeb who has become bored by his decadent lifestyle. Dorff called from L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, where most of the film was shot, to discuss what has been called the “anti-Entourage.”

You’ve been acting since the ’80s, but your performance as Johnny still seems worthy enough to be called a “breakout.” I’ve worked with so many great directors, but Sofia was the one it took to vouch for me, to show other things I can do besides bad guys and the edgier parts. She saw a quality in me that my mom always saw: “When will you start playing guys with a bit more sensitivity and vulnerability?” I’ve wanted those leading man parts for a while, and I look at this as a completely humbling experience, the way Sofia embraced me. To me, it’s a performance that I haven’t gotten to do yet in my career, so it probably is a breakout. I’m not threatened or upset by that.

Having lived an L.A. showbiz life for so long, how do you avoid being jaded like Johnny? Most people aren’t from here that then come to Hollywood. I’ve been in L.A. since I was six months old, and this city’s been really good to me. It confused the hell out of me when I was young, and as I got older, I had my ups and downs. God knows I partied and took it to the edge in the ’90s, but I never got arrested or into dangerous things that would’ve led to more problems. My family has been protective of me, and that's maybe why you haven't seen an E! True Hollywood Story on me or why I haven't fallen to the curb. [Laughs.] The truth is: The town is screwed up. It’s a hard place, no matter how smart you are.

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