PERFS: Even for the experienced actors, this film about race relations at a down-on-its-luck Lower East Side deli is a breakthrough. Director Jim McKay treated his thesps like a theater ensemble and they performed like one, all contributing so much to the whole that they can’t be separated.
BACKSTORY: The large cast was split between complete newcomers such as Hussein Gay, who plays a busboy, and Reg E. Cathey, an established theater actor whose film and TV credits include “SWAT” and “Oz.” “Jim knows how to talk to the most experienced actors and the novice so both get it,” notes Cathey.
STYLE: McKay work-shopped the piece with the actors for a month before shooting, so they all got to improvise and contribute dialogue. With such a diverse cast in a piece about diversity, the style was about exploring those differences.
DREAM CO-STAR: Speaking for the group, Cathey says they’d all love to work with each other again, and with McKay.
UP NEXT: The cast has a variety of projects coming up, including: Jordan Gelber continuing in the play “Avenue Q,” Stephen Henderson appearing in a new August Wilson production on Broadway, and Cathey and Iris Little Thomas starring in an upcoming film from director Clark Johnson.
PERF: With all the swagger of his rap star persona gone, Mos Def is just straight cop as he tries to get a recently released pedophile (Kevin Bacon) back to jail.
BACKSTORY: Producer Lee Daniels approached him about the role; he previously appeared in “Monster’s Ball,” which Lee also produced.
STYLE: Like many rappers, Mos Def started out in roles that would make use of his fan base, but he is one of the few who has stayed with acting enough to grow out of the stereotype “urban” hard-ass to something much more complex and color-blind.
UP NEXT: Album “The New Danger’ is in stores now. He appears in the HBO film “Lackawanna Blues,” set for release next year. He also has a starring role in the film “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which is slated to hit theaters in June.
“BROTHER TO BROTHER”
PERF: Mackie plays Perry, a young, gay poet who is confused about his future, without any affectation or hint of stereotyping. He’s just honest and real.
BACKSTORY: Mackie was at Juilliard as an undergraduate when director Rodney Evans came to check out one of his plays. He was originally to audition for the role of the wisecracking friend, but he liked Perry’s depth better.
STYLE: “People think if you graduated from Juilliard you are supposed to only be able to do a classical style,” says Mackie, but he has constantly defied expectations, doing everything from “The Seagull” to playing a rapper in “8 Mile.”
DREAM CO-STAR: Don Cheadle, to whom Mackie was an understudy in “Top Dog/Underdog.” “He’s the reason I started acting,” he says.
UP NEXT: Mackie made several movies while “Brother to Brother” was on a year’s hiatus to get more funding, including “The Manchurian Candidate,” “She Hate Me,” and “Hollywood Homicide.” Still to come out are “Haven” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
“A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD”
PERF: In this adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s novel, Dallas Robert’s character gets all the lines as an ’80s go-go boy, turning Colin Farrell and Robin Wright Penn into mere sidelights.
BACKSTORY: Texas-native Roberts knew director Michael Mayer from Juilliard, where he did his graduate studies. After doing a couple of low-budget DV features for no money, this was his first real film and payday.
STYLE: “If I knew what my style was, I’d probably get a lot more work,” he says laughing. “Auditioning is like walking up to a slot machine.” But even though his first big role is a young gay man, he’s not pigeonholed. “I’m still up in the air.”
DREAM CO-STAR: John Malkovich
UP NEXT: Play “Number” at the New York Theater Workshop with Sam Shepard; upcoming films “Winter Passing” and “The Ballad of Bettie Page”; taking care of his 5-week-old son.
CATALINA SANDINO MORENO
“MARIA FULL OF GRACE”
PERF: Just watching this young woman try to down huge capsules of cocaine to smuggle them into the United States as a drug mule is worth a nomination for any acting award.
BACKSTORY: Moreno was a student in Bogota, Colombia, studying advertising and doing some community theater, when she heard American director Joshua Marston, was looking for young women to audition. She got the job, and has since moved to New York to pursue acting.
STYLE: Even though she has studied at the Strasberg Institute, she’s a naturalist. “I think methods are there for when you have trouble making your character,” she says.
DREAM CO-STAR: Javier Bardem is her favorite, but she’d also love to work with Frances McDormand. “I love ‘Fargo,’ ” she says.
UP NEXT: Moreno is still traveling to promote this film, so she hasn’t lined up any work. But she’s got an agent and is ready to go as soon as her schedule settles down.