Shining beyond borders

Emerging talent

Actress, Spain

Elena Anaya, best known for her role as one of Dracula’s brides in Stephen Sommers’ horror pic “Van Helsing,” has not always been so bloodthirsty.

Her delicate, wide-eyed features first seduced Spanish critics back in 1996, when she played a feisty street urchin in Alfonso Ungria’s “Africa.” Since then high points include roles in Enrique Gabriel’s 1999 rural drama “Wiped-Out Footprints,” Ricardo Franco’s powerful psychodrama “Black Tears” and Julio Medem’s “Sex and Lucia.”

For a long time she was cast as the secondary innocent to older leads, and it was only with Medem that her sexuality was allowed to explode unfettered onto the screen.

Having shot “Dead Fish” for Charley Stadler, upcoming films for the versatile Anaya include Jaume Balaguero’s English-lingo “Fragile,” co-starring Calista Flockhart. Her profile will rise further if, as expected, she plays opposite Viggo Mortensen in Agustin Diaz Yanes’ big-budget historical drama “Alatriste” in 2005.

– Jonathan Holland

Actor, France

Clovis Cornillac has been acting since he was an adolescent, and at 37, has become indispensable to French cinema.

Cornillac’s lumberjack physique and masculine kewpie doll face have graced a half-dozen films in the past year, and his performance pace shows no signs of slowing.

International auds will finally see him as conscripted farmer Benoit Notre-Dame, one of five French soldiers court-martialed with mysterious results, in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement.”

Cornillac stole the show this autumn in comic ensembler “The Story of My Life” as a soccer star writing his memoirs. He was simultaneously in French hardtops delivering a powerhouse turn in “Gilles’ Wife” as a 1930s factory worker who can’t help cheating on his pregnant spouse. March release “Malabar Princess” showcased him as a single dad haunted by the circumstances of his wife’s death.

The son of actress Myriam Boyer and actor-director Roger Cornillac, he left home at 14 determined to be a boxer. Clovis Cornillac enjoyed the influence of one of America’s feistiest directors, blacklisted vet John Berry, whom his mom later married.

Cornillac’s upcoming schedule includes “Au suivant!” (Next!), centered on a casting director’s tribulations; the Gallic romp “Brice de Nice”; and “Les Chevaliers du ciel,” a comicbook-based extravaganza in which Cornillac and Benoit Magimel star as legendary fighter pilots.

– Lisa Nesselson

Actress, Italy

According to Variety, “Few actresses have so daringly bared themselves (literally) in such a vulnerable way” as Michela Cescon in Matteo Garrone’s “First Love.”

To play Sonia, the increasingly thinning lover of a sadomasochistic slimness freak, the 32-year-old Italo stage — in her first movie role — went all Christian Bale, shedding some 33 pounds, as well as her clothes, and delivered a strong, understated performance, considered by some the highlight of the dark, arty psychodrama.

While critics have been divided over “First Love,” Cescon’s work stood out, gaining her notice from local producers. She will next appear in Marco Tullio Giordana’s “Once You’re Born You Just Can’t Hide,” and, in a cameo, Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Cuore Sacro.” A native of Treviso, in the northern Veneto region, Cescon has a solid base in theater, having studied in Turin with veteran Italo stage guru Luca Ronconi. She then veered off on a more experimental path, working with younger theater director Valter Malatosti.

Garrone noticed Cescon while she was playing the crippled daughter in the Italian adaptation of Enda Walsh’s Irish stage hit “Bedbound.” When Garrone subsequently called her about “First Love,” she had taken on the role of a pregnant woman in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Orgia” and balked at first at the prospect of having to lose so much weight.

While keen on her blossoming film career, Cescon has no intention of leaving the stage. She is currently touring Italy, interpreting the lead role in “Giulietta,” a play that draws from material written by Federico Fellini for his “Juliet of the Spirits.”

– Nick Vivarelli

Director, Italy

Young Roman helmer Matteo Garrone has a fascination with misfits.

Beginning with his first short, “Silhouette,” a graceful portrayal of Nigerian prostitutes working the Italian capital’s Pasolinian periphery, to “First Love,” his fifth feature, in which a psychotic goldsmith obsesses over his lover’s body size, outcasts and freaks have been his chosen fodder.

Garrone’s 2002 pic “The Embalmer” explored a love triangle that culminated in a gay taxidermist dwarf’s murder. It was his most commercially successful pic, an arthouse hit in Italy, and was released Stateside.

With “Embalmer,” produced by Domenico Procacci’s Fandango, Garrone graduated to a more ambitious canvas. He also moved away from shooting exclusively in Rome

– where he is deeply rooted

– to Italy’s more rarely depicted provinces, setting part of the tabloid-inspired pic in an eerily seedy beachtown outside Naples.

Like Fellini, Garrone frequently uses non-pros. While penning the screenplay for “First Love,” he cast the pic’s co-writer, Vitaliano Trevisan, as the goldsmith, sensing that the scribe

– a novelist with no previous acting experience

– was perfect for the part.

But Garrone also has a keen eye for spotting undiscovered pro talent. “Embalmer” is centered around previously little-known thesp Ernesto Mahieux’s riveting perf as the emotionally torn taxidermist. For her first bigscreen role in “First Love,” stage thesp Michela Cescon lost more than 33 pounds to play the forcefully food-deprived lover.

Over the course of five features, and several docus, Garrone’s visuals have evolved from the grittiness of his no-budget works to the luxuriant chiaroscuro and elegant angles of “First Love.”

Thematically, he has plumbed greater emotional depths with every pic. But for his next — as yet undisclosed — he says he wants to do something lighter.

– Nick Vivarelli

Actor, U.K.

The casting of 26-year-old Leo Gregory for the lead in Stephen Woolley’s directorial debut, “The Wild and Wycked World of Brian Jones,” surprised some in the industry.

Names such as Paul Bettany, Tom Hardy and Jonathan Rhys Myers had been bandied about to play the role of the Rolling Stones guitarist. But Woolley had Gregory earmarked for the part since seeing him play a psychotic bully in Dominic Savage’s BBC-TV film “Out of Control.”

To Woolley, that arresting perf reminded him of other outstanding breakout roles such as Russell Crowe in “Romper Stomper” and Eric Bana in “Chopper.” After an impressive screen test, casting him was a no-brainer.

Gregory admits that he did not even know who Jones was until he read the script. Worse still, he had never picked up a guitar. But since winning the part, he has fully immersed himself: “Until we finish shooting, I’m going to be living, breathing and excreting Brian Jones.”

Next up for Gregory is another edgy character. In Lexi Alexander’s Elijah Wood-starrer “The Yank,” which is slated for a spring release, Gregory plays a soccer hooligan with a firecracker temper.

As a lifelong soccer fan, Gregory loved playing the part but concedes keeping up the aggression takes a lot out of you by the end of the day.

Gregory has recently completed filming on Glen Standring’s “Perfect Creature” and Kevin Reynolds’ “Tristan and Isolde,” which are both in post.

– Archie Thomas

Director, Germany

Marco Kreuzpaintner’s light-hearted gay drama “Summer Storm” was a critical hit at home in Germany and abroad and has quickly established the young director as one of the most promising Teutonic talents.

“Summer Storm,” Kreuzpaintner’s second theatrical feature, is a semi-autobiographical story about a teen grappling with his homosexuality and the difficulties of falling in love with his straight best friend during a summer training camp with his rowing team.

While the local gay press christened it Germany’s definitive coming-out film, pic’s mainstream sensibilities have made it accessible to a wider audience. After an audience prize at the Munich Film Fest this year, it was well received at Toronto. Bavaria Film Intl. has handled worldwide sales, including North America and much of Europe.

“It’s a very universal story about love and growing up. It’s not necessarily a gay movie as it deals with feelings that both girls and boys can relate to,” says the 27-year-old Kreuzpaintner.

Striving to present weighty subjects in an intelligent and entertaining manner, the director stresses that he wants to make films that are accessible to broad audiences.

Pointing to fellow Teutonic director Roland Emmerich’s “The Day After Tomorrow” as an example of a big commercial popcorn movie that nevertheless tackles the politically charged subject, Kreuzpaintner says, “You don’t have to talk down to the audience. People are aware of these problems. But a good movie can present serious subject matter in an entertaining and exciting way that everyone can understand.”

One of the director’s next likely projects is an adaptation of Gudrun Pausewang’s novel “Die Wolke” (Fall-Out), about teenagers who survive a Chernobyl-like accident at a nuclear power plant that leaves Germany devastated. The project would have been Kreuzpaintner’s first feature with Munich-based Olga Film but was shelved in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Olga instead offered Kreuzpaintner “Ganz und gar,” about a young hotshot whose life is changed after losing his leg in an accident. The film’s lead thesp, Davitt Rott, won young actor kudos for the role at the Max Ophuels Awards last year.

Kreuzpaintner is also looking at two possible projects with “Summer Storm” producer Claussen + Woebke: “Neues Deutschland,” a social satire about the woeful state of the local economy and the plight of jobless Germans, and an as yet unnamed internationally slanted Brazilian project.

– Ed Meza

Director, Finland

Perttu Leppa’s first two features drew strongly from his own small-town childhood experiences, but now he has left his youth behind him while finishing his script “Eight Days to Premiere.”

Story follows a drama school dropout who, despite her panic attacks, gets her lucky day as a prompter at a big, prestigious theater. She also is privy to the secrets and intrigues of the troupe.

“Eight Days” will be produced by Jarkko Hentula’s Juonifilmi. “Leppa has a track record, his earlier comedy ‘Pearls and Pigs’ had more than 200,000 admissions in 2003,” Hentula says.

– Antti Selkokari

Director, Finland

Mulling over changing definitions of social status and pride in one’s work led Aleksi Salmenpera to write the story of a man who’s ashamed of his work.

The 31-year-old filmmaker is writing the script about a factory worker who, in a twist of fate, ends up working for a male escort service.

“Man’s Job” will be produced by Tero Kaukomaa’s Blindspot Pictures.

“Since we have an output deal with Sandrew Metronome, we’ll have Nordic distributing secured, provided that the co-production deal with Sweden’s Film i Vast materializes,” says Kaukomaa.

Salmenpera’s debut feature, “Producing Adults,” is Finland’s foreign-lingo Oscar entry. The pic is doing the fest circuit from AFI to Palm Springs, Miami and Marrakech to favorable reviews. “Man’s Job” starts lensing in mid-2005.

– Antti Selkokari

Actor, Germany

One of Germany’s busiest young actors, Matthias Schweighoefer has quickly become the star of a widely diverse slate of projects.

The 23-year-old thesp’s breakthrough came with two very different films: Gregor Schnitzler’s 2003 bigscreen comedy “Soloalbum” and Dominik Graf’s critically acclaimed TV drama “The Friends of the Friends” in 2002.

The two pics characterize Schweighoefer’s growing appeal to filmmakers and local auds alike. His broad range has served him in everything from tyke-aimed fairy tales, teen comedies and schlock horror outings to his most recent roles as the narcissistic protagonist of “Soloalbum” and the passionate and tragic dreamer of “The Friends of the Friends.” The latter is a supernatural tale of love and friendship based on Henry James’ 1896 story.

Schweighoefer is in talks with Roland Pellegrino and Michel Morales’ Miromar Entertainment to portray the World War I flying ace in “The Red Baron.”

Born into a family of stage thesps, Schweighoefer’s choice of profession was all but predestined. While he has in recent years focused on film, in March he appeared at Berlin’s Hebbel Theater in a stage adaptation of Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three.” He essayed the role originated by fellow Berliner Horst Buchholz, a young communist who falls for the daughter of an American Coca-Cola exec.

In his most recent pic, Hendrik Hoelzemann’s Toronto screener “Off Beat,” Schweighoefer plays an emotionally bereft young emergency medical tech still coping with the death of his parents in a car crash.

Schweighoefer just completed one of his most challenging roles, 18th-century poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller, one of Germany’s most acclaimed literary figures, in Martin Weinart’s ARD production “Schiller.”

Schweighoefer also appears in Peter Greenaway’s upcoming DVD project “Gold,” which examines the origins of 92 bars of Nazi gold discovered in a crashed car on May 7, 1945 — the same day World War II ended. He’s up for Uwe Boll’s next horror pic, “Night Claws,” which is set to shoot early next year.

Although Scwheighoefer says he’s keen to promote the local industry, he wouldn’t mind a crack at doing more international projects.

“It would be great to work abroad, to do a 90-day shoot, to work in English. That’s every actor’s dream. Whether you end up liking it or not, it would be great experience.”

– Ed Meza

Actress, France

When your rock ‘n’ roller dad is a French institution (Johnny Halliday) and your mom (Nathalie Baye) debuted in Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” you could still fall flat on your face as an actress. But when none other than Claude Chabrol sings your praises, your thesping talent is certified, genetic head start be damned.

Laura Smet, who turned 21 on Nov. 15, has only three screen credits, but Chabrol, who directed her in “The Maid of Honor” (which hit French screens Nov. 17), says: “She’s got the potential to play nearly any part. We’re going to have the pleasure of watching her just get better and better with age and experience.”

She made her debut as a teen cancer patient drawn into a menage a trois in 2003’s “Eager Bodies.” She threw the kind of anguished onscreen tantrums that are a staple of Gallic arthouse fare, winning the coveted Prix Romy Schneider and was nominated for a most promising newcomer Cesar.

Chabrol wanted her for his 53rd film, “Flower of Evil,” in which Baye starred as a political aspirant with a twisted family history. The helmer instead cast her opposite Benoit Magimel in his 54th, Venice-preemed “Maid of Honor.” Smet excels as a provincial lass whose take on romance is as baroque as Norman Bates’ relationship with his mom.

In the interim, she played Clovis Cornillac’s illicit love interest in Frederic Fonteyne’s emotionally intense period meller “Gilles’ Wife.”

– Lisa Nesselson

Director, Italy

With his sophomore feature “The Consequences of Love,” Paolo Sorrentino has quashed questions of whether Italian cinema has lost its visual flair.

The stylishly shot, unconventional Mafia pic about a money launderer leading a maniacally monastic life in a Swiss hotel — save for his once-a-week heroin shot — was Italy’s only competition entry this year at Cannes. It was a rare feat that has put this 34-year-old Neapolitan helmer on the international map.

While “Consequences” has divided critics, with some finding it a sterile and stylistic exercise, nobody can deny that it showcases a classy, cinematic eye. If only purely in terms of craftsmanship, pic represented a considerable leap from Sorrentino’s debut, the cleverly conceived “One Man Up,” which went to Venice in 2001.

Juxtaposing the parallel downfalls of a cheesy coke-snorting crooner and a former soccer star whose ligaments are torn — both typically Italian contempo characters — “One Man Up” made a splash mainly for its bold and captivating narrative structure, a rarity in a country where scarcity of skilled screenwriters is a sore spot.

Sorrentino is the latest helmer spawned by what has become known as the Neapolitan school, as he and other helmers including Mario Martone and Stefano Incerti are making the sensual seaside city a hotbed of Italian cinema.

Thesp Toni Servillo, a veteran of the Naples experimental theater scene — and protag of both of Sorrentino’s pics — has also been instrumental in the director’s career as has producer Nicola Giuliano, who shepherded both projects.

– Nick Vivarelli

Actor, Spain

Guillermo Toledo has rapidly carved out a niche as Spain’s hottest comic talent.

Aided by a scruffy, cheeky chappy demeanor that suggests he’d be a good drinking partner, Toledo was featured in Salvador Garcia Ruiz’s “Mensaka” — a film that ushered in an entire generation of Spanish thesps — before lodging himself in the public consciousness in the late ’90s via perfs in popular local sitcoms.

After floating around in secondary roles in a variety of different genres, Toledo found the perfect comic niche in Emilio Martinez Lazaro’s high-grossing musical comedy “The Other Side of the Bed” (2002) as the lovelorn, neurotic Pedro. Roles in Fernando Colomo’s “South From Granada” and Teresa De Peligri and Dominic Harari’s “Only Human” brought further offshore exposure to the thesp. He’s back on the frontline in what is probably Spain’s finest 2004 comic performance, toplining Alex de la Iglesia’s delirious Hitchcock spoof “Ferpect Crime.”

Comedy looks like Toledo’s mainstay genre for the foreseeable future, as his slate includes Enrique Lopez Lavigne and Juan Cavestany’s “The Amazing World of Borjamari and Pocholo.”

– Jonathan Holland

Actress, Spain

The Hollywood stock of Spanish beauty Paz Vega is rocketing upwards. Blame helmer James L. Brooks, the director of “Spanglish,” which stars Vega in her first English-lingo role alongside Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler.

In Spain, Vega’s already a marquee draw. Her seven pics, starting with Julio Medem’s “Sex and Lucia” in 2001, have grossed a collective $43 million. The latest, Columbia TriStar’s first Spanish production, “Say I Do,” topped Spanish charts with a first weekend of $1.5 million.

Vega is a versatile actor who can play homely (domestic violence drama “Mine Alone”), horny (Vicente Aranda’s “Carmen”) or both (Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her,” Medem’s “Sex”).

None of which matters in Hollywood, of course. Vega’s career turns or burns with “Spanglish.”

– John Hopewell

Actor, U.K.

In March 2002, everything looked extremely bleak for south London native Ashley Walters.

After an altercation with a traffic cop, the rap star

– of the notorious So Solid Crew

– was pulled over by the police who found a loaded handgun hidden in a sock in his girlfriend’s handbag. He was sentenced to 18 months and the right-wing press was quick to brand Walters another wannabe U.S.-style gangster responsible for glamorizing gun crime.

Fast forward two years and Walters, hot off his lead role in Saul Dibb’s feature debut, “Bullet Boy,” is one of the most promising thesps in Blighty. His portrayal of a young black man trying to go straight after prison was one of the surprise hits of the London Film Festival and earned Walters a BIFA newcomer nom.

Authenticity was a priority for Dibb, who shot the “Bullet Boy” prison scenes at the Onleigh Young Offenders Institute in Rugby where Walters did his stretch.

Going back to his cell was quite a moment for Walters.

“It felt weird, although it was good being in there and knowing I could leave any time I wanted,” he says.

Walters is currently shooting Channel 4 drama “Last Rites.”

– Archie Thomas

Director-Writer, U.K.
Writer-Actor, U.K.

Having scored a cult hit with horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” Brit team Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg is gearing up for serious action.

Wright and Pegg’s fresh take on horror has been one of the year’s hits, with worldwide box office nearing $30 million — half of that Stateside receipts.

“We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm it got,” says Pegg of its American run.

The film’s director, Wright, and star, Pegg, are established names in the U.K. comedy scene thanks to their acclaimed sitcom “Spaced.”

Having spent the bulk of this year doing promo duties for “Shaun’s” international and homevideo bows (“The Spanish translation is ‘Zombie Party All Night Long’!” laughs Wright) the pair are finally settling down to their next project, tentatively titled “Hot Fuzz.”

“The idea is to have the U.K. version of ‘Hard Boiled’ and create a genre that doesn’t exist in U.K. action films,” says Wright. “It’ll have the same sensibilities as ‘Shaun.'”

“If it all goes to plan, we intend to film it next year,” says Wright.

The key to the pair’s creative partnership is clear.

“Edgar and I are very similar in terms of our likes,” says Pegg. “It makes for easy communication and inspires a lot of ideas. It’s the best situation as a writer-actor and a writer-director, because all your bases are covered. You can achieve a level of autonomy that you rarely get otherwise.

“I want to stay with Edgar because I know I’ll always be the leading man. In other people’s films I’d just be third goon from the left,” he adds.

– Danny Graydon

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