Noise Makers

"There's no formula for determining who has star potential," says casting director Valorie Massalas. "It's a combination: the way they walk, their tone of voice, the way they look when they enter a room, their intelligence." According to the casting directors we talked to, the following five young actors all have that "combination."


Moira Kelly riveted viewers last year as a troubled teen killer in the television movie "Love, Lies and Murder," and struck a fast, true note as Billy's girlfriend in Billy Bathgate. Valorie Massalas, who cast her as Oona Chaplin in Richard Attenborough's Charlie, describes her as "intoxicating . . . It's like what happens to you when you sit in a room with De Niro or Winona--there's a calmness, a control, an intelligence, a level of confidence that's enchanting. Richard Attenborough fell in love with her when he met her." Johanna Ray, who helped assemble the outrageously popular troupes of young actors for both "Twin Peaks" and "Beverly Hills, 90210," and cast Moira in Lynch's upcoming Twin Peaks: Fire, Walk with Me, says simply: "A major star. She has that air of mystery David likes in an actress. She's appealing, but in a nonactressy way."

Juliette Lewis got raves as a teen murderess in the 1990 television movie "Too Young to Die?" and set off fireworks of hyped-up praise with the thumb seduction scene she did with De Niro in Cape Fear. "I noticed a complexity and depth to her that added a great deal to the character," says Cape Fear casting director Ellen Lewis. "She embodies adolescent confusion perfectly. There's a great gawky awkwardness to her that I think is wonderful." She has a major role in the upcoming coming-of-age romance That Night, and she replaced Emily Lloyd as the object of Woody Allen's affections in his latest feature.

Chris O'Donnell was an untried 17-year-old Midwesterner when casting director David Rubin found him, after a lengthy cross-country search, to star as Jessica Lange's angry teenage son in Men Don't Leave. Hollywood noticed his effortlessly authentic performance. Ellen Lewis cast him in Scent of a Woman, a Martin Brest drama in which he shares center stage with Al Pacino. "Chris was one of the first people thought of for this role. He still has the quality he had in Men Don't Leave. He hasn't lived in L.A., and it gives him a freshness that's very untainted." Valorie Massalas says, "It doesn't surprise me at all that he got a role opposite Pacino. There's a refreshing innocence in young people who aren't living in L.A." O'Donnell's upcoming films include Blue Sky, again with Lange.

Cuba Gooding Jr. broke through in a big way with Boyz N the Hood, but it sounds like it was just a matter of time before something happened: "Definitely a major star," says Ellen Lewis. "Like a Denzel Washington leading man, because he's got the looks and the charisma." Jaki Brown, who cast Gooding in Boyz, first met him when he was still in high school: "Even then he had something pretty special. Short of the fact that he can't sing, I can't think of anything he can't do." Valorie Massalas calls him "an Everyman actor. He has a nice quality that's unthreatening to other men--and yet women get it." Next up is Gladiators, a gritty boxing drama in which, says director Rowdy Herrington, "he's got the moves of Ali--among other things."

Stephen Dorff won one of the most coveted roles of the year--the lead in John Avildsen's The Power of One, a drama set in South Africa. "The role demanded someone who has the intelligence of a young man and the innocence of a boy, physical beauty as well as prowess," says Executive Producer Steven Reuther. "The actor also needed a gift with dialect and language. Stephen had come in early and he became the standard by which we measured the others." Dorff had previously starred in the made-for-TV movies "Do You Know the Muffin Man" and "I Know My First Name Is Steven." Says Avildsen, "He was a real 17-year-old--not 25 playing 17, which is usually the case. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. I'd put him right up with anyone."


Christopher H. Hunt