Oscars: 20 Nominee Portraits

  1. Entertainment Weekly

    Michael Clayton

    Age 46 Role See title, above. Cutting-Room Floor Clooney's divorced ''fixer'' character originally had a girlfriend. ''We shot it with Jennifer Ehle — she gave a wonderful performance,'' says Clooney. ''And the more we did it, we realized you have to isolate this character more. And having a girlfriend, he's not in as much trouble.'' Clooney wrote Ehle a note to apologize: ''I didn't cut it, but I still feel bad about it.'' Up Next He stars in his third directorial effort, the football comedy Leatherheads (out April 4). He's also wrapped the Coen brothers caper Burn After Reading, and has lent his voice to Wes Anderson's upcoming animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

    There Will Be Blood
    50 Role Oil prospector Daniel Plainview. Method Madness ''People have such a misconception about what it is I do,'' the British actor told The New York Times Magazine of his famously immersive work ethic. ''They think the character comes from staying in the wheelchair or being locked in the jail or whatever extravagant thing they choose to focus their fantasies on.... But that's just the superficial stuff. Most of the movies I do are leading me toward a life that is utterly mysterious to me. My chief goal is to find a way to make that life meaningful to other people.'' Up Next Nothing confirmed.

    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
    44 Role A tonsorial ace turned serial killer. On Sweeney ''He is beyond dark,'' Depp says of his psychopathic character. ''He's already dead. He's been dead for years.'' Finding the Look Director Tim Burton says it took some effort to keep promotional images of Depp looking as pale as they both intended, because studio executives wanted to inject more color into his face. ''It should be a warts-and-all kind of thing,'' adds Depp. ''Almost like a Kabuki mask.'' Up Next He's been keen to star in the redeemed-heroin-addict drama Shantaram for years, but with that project on a strike-induced hold, his most likely next move will be playing '30s gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, due in 2009.

    In the Valley of Elah
    61 Role Hank Deerfield, father of a missing U.S. soldier. Practice Makes Perfect Director Paul Haggis wasn't put off by the actor's tough reputation. ''I'd heard some of the stories how he could face down directors,'' Haggis says. ''But he loves to take direction. He isn't the type of person who would do two takes and say, 'Why should we do a third?' He'd keep going because he knows he can do something better.'' Box Office Blues ''Yeah, it's a disappointment,'' Jones says of the film's $6.8 million domestic gross. ''I'd like as many people to see it as possible, but heck, that's not my province.'' Up Next He plays Det. Dave Robicheaux in In the Electric Mist, an adaptation of a James Lee Burke novel.

    Eastern Promises
    49 Role Steely, secretive Russian chauffeur-turned-gangster Nikolai. Suffering for His Art Mortensen admits he was nervous shooting the famous nude bathhouse brawl. ''They say 'Cut!' I look around and I'm [naked] in a heap in the corner. You feel vulnerable,'' he says. ''But the important thing is to not compromise the scene.'' It helped that Mortensen felt comfortable with director David Cronenberg, with whom he had worked on A History of Violence. ''He's a friend, I trust him, and I don't feel exploited.'' Up Next Mortensen has wrapped Good, about the rise of Nazism, as well as Ed Harris' Western Appaloosa. He'll soon begin the big-screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
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    Elizabeth: The Golden Age
    Age 38 Role English ruler Queen Elizabeth I (reprising her Oscar-nominated role in 1998's Elizabeth). Uneasy Lay the Crowned Head She found it odd revisiting a historical figure she played as a young woman nearly a decade ago. ''It was discombobulating,'' she confesses. ''It was like being followed by a shadow quite a lot of the time. The first film was such a surprise to people. No one expected it to register with audiences as strongly as it did.'' Up Next She stars in this May's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and then November's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opposite her Babel costar Brad Pitt.

    Away From Her
    66 Role Fiona, a long-married woman stricken with Alzheimer's. Playing Hard to Get Getting the acclaimed British actress to commit to the part wasn't easy. ''It took about eight months of phone calls and e-mails and flying to London,'' says Sarah Polley, the 29-year-old actress who made her feature directorial debut with Away. ''Even though I was writing the film for her from the beginning, I knew that it was going to take a lot of no's before I got a yes, just because she doesn't say yes that easily.'' Up Next Nothing confirmed.

    La Vie en Rose
    32 Role Legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Karaoke Dreamin' As a teenager in Orléans, France, Cotillard used to lip-synch to Madonna's ''Material Girl.'' ''With my microphone, I was the pop star of my bedroom!'' she laughs. That clowning turned out to be good practice for her uncanny performance in La Vie, which she approached with scientific precision: ''I took all the songs and I calculated the length of the notes, of the silences, and how she would breathe. Then I did it again and again and again.'' Up Next She sings — for real this time — in Rob Marshall's Nine, based on the Broadway musical adapted from Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.

    The Savages
    43 Role Self-sabotaging woman-child Wendy Savage. Game On ''When I got the script, I felt like a chess player looking at the board,'' recalls Linney. ''My mind started to go, lifting the [scenes] up off the page. I made charts and graphs to make sure I didn't miss anything.'' Brain Food ''I love how Wendy is manic, self-obsessed, and lies like an 11-year-old, and yet is tremendously empathetic,'' says Linney. ''There's something funny about how smart people can behave. They don't have the tools to do the most basic things for themselves.'' Up Next She plays Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries John Adams in March, then stars in director James Ivory's indie drama City of Your Final Destination.

    20 Role Sardonically sincere pregnant teen Juno MacGuff. High School Crush Page first read the Juno script when she was a high school senior in Halifax, Canada. ''It floored me,'' she says. ''I don't cry over spilled milk, but if I hadn't been able to do it, I would have been really disappointed.'' What You See Isn't What You Get When director Jason Reitman was casting Juno, Page was playing a starved abuse victim in An American Crime. ''I was very skinny and a little delusional,'' Page says. ''But he managed to see past those things.'' Up Next April's indie comedy Smart People opposite Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker. Then she'll star in Drew Barrymore's feature directorial debut, the Roller Derby comedy Whip It.
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    The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
    Age 32 Role Robert Ford, superfan turned killer. Creepy Role ''I don't think Robert Ford was a stalker or proto-stalker,'' Affleck says of his character. ''He was a kid who was a bit naive and idolized somebody.'' Man on the Verge ''Casey is the next great leading man,'' gushes Amy Ryan, costar of Gone Baby Gone. Still, she's not above joking about how Affleck landed the lead in brother Ben's directorial debut: ''Do you think he slept with the director?'' Up Next Nothing confirmed.

    No Country for Old Men
    38 Role Psychotic killer Anton Chigurh. Fish Out of Water The No Country shoot wasn't easy for the Spaniard. Not only was he far from home, but his look for the role — particularly that moptop bowl cut — was enough to discomfit anyone. ''When you walk around with a haircut like that,'' costar Josh Brolin notes, ''it's horrible.'' Bardem adds that mastering his English dialogue was also a challenge: ''It's like you're putting on a tight suit. It's not something you're comfortable with.'' Fortunately, there's an upside: Bardem is the favorite to win. Up Next The lead in Woody Allen's Spain-set Vicky Cristina Barcelona, opposite Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz.

    Charlie Wilson's War
    40 Role Window-smashing CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. Why Tom Hanks Loves Him ''The scene where I meet Philip for the first time, where he bugs the scotch bottle — it was such a blast, I wished I could have filmed it for seven weeks,'' says Hanks. Role Call Hoffman's Chinese-menu approach to résumé management: ''I just sort of look for projects that strike me as interesting, do a little something over here, pick a little something from over there.'' Up Next He plays a theater director in writer-director Charlie Kaufman's fall comedy Synecdoche, New York. Then he'll don a priest's collar for the December drama Doubt.

    Into the Wild
    82 Role Ron Franz, a lonely widower who befriends wanderer Chris McCandless (Emile Hirsch). Never Too Late Holbrook never expected to get a part as rich as Franz so late in his career. ''Eighty-two years old and you get a job like this?'' he says. ''It's a miracle.'' Not-So-Shallow Hal Wild writer-director Sean Penn was floored by the actor's vulnerability in a scene in which Franz and McCandless say goodbye. ''I wrote it with as much sensitivity as I could, but I wrote it with the imagination of a 47-year-old prick,'' Penn says. ''Hal took it way beyond what I could understand.'' Up Next He continues to perform his long-running one-man stage show, Mark Twain Tonight!

    Michael Clayton
    58 Role Mentally addled lawyer Arthur Edens. Mad as Hell ''When I read the script, I knew what was going through Arthur's head,'' says Wilkinson. ''Imagine being pushed to the point where you're asked to do something that is in direct conflict with everything you've ever been taught about human decency. It's not unlike Hamlet.'' Up Next He portrays Ben Franklin in HBO's March mini-series John Adams; a gangster in Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla; and a Nazi in the Tom Cruise thriller Valkyrie (the latter two due in October).
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    I'm Not There
    Age 38 Role Jude Quinn (i.e., Bob Dylan). Bringing an Icon to Life ''I didn't want anybody to impersonate Dylan,'' says writer-director Todd Haynes about casting Blanchett to play the most recognizable of his six Bob Dylans. ''She gets right inside it.... It's not a stunt when she does it.'' From Corsets to Skinny Jeans The Australian actress started shooting I'm Not There directly after Elizabeth: The Golden Age. ''Toward the end of Elizabeth, I was obsessing about Bob Dylan,'' she says, ''and watching all of his press conferences.'' Up Next She plays a slinky Russian villainess in May's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then stands by a backward-aging Brad Pitt in November's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

    American Gangster

    Age 83 Role Mama of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington). Gangsta Momma Though Dee's turn as Mama Lucas could have gotten lost amid the high-testosterone theatrics of costars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the diminutive actress packed her own emotional wallop. Her performance, says director Ridley Scott, helped humanize Lucas: ''The reality is, Frank was good with his mother — and Ruby was so great.'' Talking Turkey Dee, who grew up in Harlem, brought to the Gangster set her own memories of lining up at Thanksgiving to receive free turkeys from the local gangsters. Up Next The indie Steam with Ally Sheedy, which is not yet scheduled for release.

    13 Role Aspiring writer Briony Tallis. Family Ties Ronan (whose first name is pronounced SEER-shah) has an actor father — Paul Ronan, an Irish stage vet who also appeared in Veronica Guerin and The Devil's Own. Since the family lives most of the year in the Irish countryside, Ronan auditioned via videotape with her dad playing Keira Knightley's part. Childproofing Despite tackling strongly adult material, Ronan didn't get a PG-13 version of the script. ''It's one of those things where the less fuss, the better,'' says producer Tim Bevan. ''She's a mature child.'' Up Next The lead in Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Alice Sebold best-seller The Lovely Bones.

    Gone Baby Gone
    38 Role Helene McCready, a drugged-out Boston mother whose daughter goes missing. Potty Mouth The NYC native had no problem speaking Helene's coarse language on set, but when she had to rerecord dialogue after shooting wrapped, she felt bashful. ''I tried to look ladylike for the sound guys. I showed up in a blue sweater with ribbons,'' she laughs. ''The line I had to do was: 'I don't know where his mother went, but she left her cats in there and I swear to God it smells like c--k.' I was like, 'Oh, God!''' Up Next Ryan is appearing in the final season of HBO's The Wire and Clint Eastwood's upcoming drama The Changeling opposite Angelina Jolie.

    Michael Clayton
    47 Role Corporate lawyer Karen Crowder. Getting Into Character''I thought of Karen as a bad actress poorly cast,'' says the London-born actress. Secret Identity The art-house siren with that trademark shock of carrot-colored hair has long been a fixture in the independent-film world, but made her big mainstream debut playing the White Witch in 2006's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She says she now likes to think of herself as a ''studio spy.'' Up Next She matches wits with Clayton costar George Clooney again, playing an angry nag in the Coen brothers' upcoming Burn After Reading.
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