Career Advice for Young Hollywood

Even if you climb to the top of the Young Hollywood ladder, you still have to face the frightening task over a deep, deep ravine into the Land of Adult Actors. Since many once-blazing careers have dropped into that particular abyss, we here offer up completely unsolicited career advice from eight thespian Evel Knievels.

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WINONA RYDER's entire career to date has been just one surprise after another, almost all of them pleasant. Who'd have guessed that the talented young tomboy of Lucas and Square Dance would turn up as the irresistibly deadpan, morbid teen daughter in the comedy smash Beetlejuice?

Or that she'd not only emerge unscathed from the disastrous Great Balls of Fire!, but win hearts in the process with that loopy, wide-eyed child bride routine? And yet none of that prepared anyone for Ryder's development into both a real beauty and Hollywood's drollest comedienne in the it-only-gets-better-with-age black comedy Heathers. Ryder continued to surprise everyone with Mermaids, where she deftly stole the whole show from Cher (no small feat--name another teen who could have done so) while managing to make such vintage gags as going gaga over a beau's leather jacket seem mint fresh. Of course, Winona did let her Beetlejuice director Tim Burton demonstrate, in the otherwise inventive Edward Scissorhands, that she could be made to seem as bland as any other generic blonde cheerleader (gee thanks, Tim). But the next rabbit out of Ryder's hat surprised us most of all: After departing Godfather III (thus paving the way for Sofia Coppola--gee thanks, Winona), she was the first to sign up for Coppola's next film, Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Our Advice: She's the most versatile actress in her age group, but she has yet to make that jump to the adult roles that will turn us all into faithful fans forever. Natalie Wood, to whom Winona compares, did it, and we're betting Winona can too. She won't do it by making a movie like Night on Earth for outre director Jim Jarmusch, no matter how good she or it is. She will do it by working with top Hollywood director Francis Coppola in popular fare (Dracula), and with top director Martin Scorsese in grown-up class (The Age of Innocence). In terms of her film choices, Winona is doing the right thing. So our advice is: Get lots of rest, take vitamins, don't fall in love too fast, and don't ever walk off another movie.

RIVER PHOENIX One of the reasons teen movies are so bad is that the teens they're aimed at can't bear realistic portraits of their usually unattractive existence. What teens identify with are cliched, simple-minded, idealized versions of themselves. No wonder, then, that River Phoenix never appeared in a strictly teen movie--shallowness is one of the areas outside his ken. Phoenix cut his teeth on teen roles in crossover or wholly adult movies like Stand by Me, The Mosquito Coast, and Running on Empty. And so he is the sole well-known young actor who has nothing to prove as he emerges out of adolescence into mature roles. He's the serious actor of his generation, and his skill has already been recognized by critics as well as by an Academy Award nomination. Moreover, he's showing steady growth. His portrayal of the hapless narcoleptic gay hustler in last year's My Own Private Idaho lifted that film from the level of an inspired shambles to the level of half-a-great-movie. The less seen Dogfight, released at the same time, was an equally sensitive, unvain performance. Other actors may mature as they approach 30--roughly the age at which most of them begin to show more interesting stuff--to give River Phoenix competition for roles that contain a complicated psychological dimension, but for now they'll have to take the hand-me-downs.

Our Advice: Hopefully, Phoenix's next, Sneakers, with Robert Redford, will let him show some more of his impressive comic timing--we wouldn't want him to exclusively brood. One thing River needs to pay attention to right now is the thing other young actors probably pay too much attention to--appearance. River's looked like hell in his past two movies, and while his characters justified this, it was a bit too convincing. If he wants to go around in real life looking like a bag person, that's his business--and it's the fashion among hip young actors (who naturally think they're above fashion). But on-screen, things are different. River need not worry about being taken for just a pretty face. He should realize he can't do with less than a great face, either.

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