First-timers look to edge out the repeaters

The virgins

They’re all grown men, but still virgins — when it comes to Oscar. Most of this year’s actor contenders are veterans who’ve waited a long time for the nod, well-known names like David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Jeff Daniels (“The Squid and the Whale”) Viggo Mortensen (“The History of Violence”) and George Clooney (“Syriana”), as well as youngsters who can’t quite believe they’ve gotten this far.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed right now, you know?” admits Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frontrunner for his eerily dead-on portrayal of the “In Cold Blood” author in “Capote.” “The Oscar stuff, I mean, what do you do? How do you really talk about that? Really? Because who knows what’s going to happen, nobody does know what’s going to happen. It’s very exciting. It would mean a lot, but it would really mean more, due to the fact that to be a part of a small project that would get that kind of exposure is really exciting.”

Jake Gyllenhaal is another first-timer, but he’s got two films for voters to choose from, Sam Mendes’ “Jarhead” and Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.”

“To me, the processes of both movies have changed my life,” he says, “and that’s what I take away with me, and everything else is just, you know, is fun.”

If Gyllenhaal talks to Michael Douglas, whose first (and only) actor nomination came in 1988 for “Wall Street,” he might learn it isn’t always that much fun to be nommed.

“The year of ‘Wall Street,’ I was the favorite and it’s the worst position to be in because everyone is like, ‘You’re going to win, you’re going to win,’ ” Douglas remembers. “And so you don’t even get a chance to enjoy it. All you’re waiting for is the dreaded thing where you’re going to hear someone else’s name pop up!”

In 2006, other men poised to have their first date with Oscar include Eric Bana for (“Munich”), Cillian Murphy (“Breakfast on Pluto”), Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”) and Terrence Howard (“Hustle and Flow”).

“If I’m recognized as an actor,” says Howard, “it will be amazing.”

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