Critical darlings nervously accept accolades

So-called 'instant' stardom reminds thesps that today's sensation can be tomorrow's trivia quiz answer

Buzz is that distinctly Hollywood word that refers to the sudden, often ephemeral attention that crops up like a high school cafeteria rumor. Buzz can generate bigger and better movie roles, loads of press attention and an influx of unsolicited advice and unwanted friends.

It can also disappear just as fast. So when the critical darlings of this year’s award circuit — folks such as Amy Ryan, Josh Brolin, James McAvoy and Ellen Page — hear the buzz surrounding their names, it’s with excitement and a touch of trepidation that they step into the spotlight.

“I definitely take everything with a pinch of salt, and I have a very healthy skepticism about everything, not just Hollywood, not just the film industry, but in life, and that’s not a bad thing,” says McAvoy, who’s receiving a lot of attention for his role in “Atonement.” “You can’t get carried away with it. I’m a little bit of an old man before my time in that I don’t really like to live the high life just because it’s happening for two minutes.”

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McAvoy piqued Hollywood’s attention with “The Last King of Scotland,” but it’s “Atonement’s” romantic heartthrob role that has the potential to change the course of his career.

The critics aren’t the only ones taking notice.  Having been dubbed “dishy” and “the thinking woman’s crumpet” in the press, McAvoy has quickly been bumped up to leading-man status. The 28-year Scot, however, doesn’t plan to give up great character roles or follow any particular blueprint for superstardom.

“You can’t really plan. I think you just try and react to the work as honestly and positively as possible. It’s been luck and it’s been meeting the right people at the right time,” he says. “I don’t think I’m a bad actor, don’t get me wrong. But I do realize that there are a lot of actors out there that are better than me, so why don’t they work?”

For Brolin, who’s been making films for 22 years, the term “overnight success” seems like a misnomer. 

After years of toiling around town in pics such as “Flirting With Disaster” and “The Dead Girl,” Brolin hit Hollywood’s version of the trifecta this year with sizable roles in “In the Valley of Elah,” “American Gangster” and “No Country for Old Men.”

“I’ve heard this thing like, ‘Are you glad it’s finally happening for you?,’ which kind of alludes to the fact that I was really angry before, and I wasn’t,” Brolin explains. “I was satisfied and liked what I was doing. The one thing that I do say is that it is amazing the amount of choices that I have now.”

For his next project, he joins Sean Penn in the Gus Van Zant-helmed “Milk.”

“I’m so happy about it, and don’t know if that would have happened if it were not for this work recently,” says Brolin. Not so long ago, he was turned down for roles because the studio was looking for a name with a bigger draw.

“That’s the business side of it, and I respect that, but there’s no formula that’s perfect,” he observes. His acting family, including wife Diane Lane, along with his kids, help balance all of the recent hype.

“I have the advantage of being around really humble people in this same industry. I think if I wasn’t (grounded), I would get a lot of shit for it from a lot of people in my family, that’s for sure.” 

Better late than never, Brolin is skeptical of Hollywood-sized fame at a young age.

“I don’t know if I could have dealt with it or not. It’s hard when you’re young and getting that amount of attention and praise because it’s not real. When you are younger, you’re more vulnerable. You might take it a little more seriously and actually start to believe you’re more special than the best plumber in town. And you’re not. ”

Ellen Page, the 20-year-old “Juno” star and newly christened “It” girl, seems to be handling all of the newfound attention in stride. The Canadian thesp has been acting in small projects since she was 10, but feels like this kind of attention is a gift at any age.

“It’s obviously fantastic for an actor because it brings more control and it brings more ability to have choice,” she says.

Not to mention getting to meet your role models. Recently, Page got the chance to meet one of her idols, Jodie Foster.

“A couple of her performances specifically have really inspired me not just as an actor but as a young woman. So it’s pretty remarkable, and I’m not the kind of person that gets star struck.”

Amy Ryan, whose turn as a single, drug-addicted mother in “Gone Baby Gone” has made her one of the top choices of critics around the country in the supporting actress category, had the benefit of “Gone” director Ben Affleck’s perspective on the fame game.

“Ben said, ‘Amy, you just have to enjoy this.’ To be called out the way I have been is just such a blessing and he said enjoy it because the next movie you make you won’t do this.  Things do change quickly in Hollywood, so enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously.

“He has Casey (Affleck, also riding high right now), his wife (actress Jennifer Garner) and the people he has around him and they all seem to have this thing in common where they all take it with a grain of salt. They’re grounded people. When you see actors and directors of their caliber being able to take it in stride, there’s no reason not to follow that lead. It seems like it’s easier that way and you have more fun. It’s the ‘what ifs’ that will bring anybody down.”

Ryan, who hails from a New York stage background and is currently shooting the Clint Eastwood pic “The Changeling,” plans to enjoy the attention and revel in the process.

“I always say these are really good problems to have. I’ve never been busier in my life but it’s been very productive. I feel like I’ve had a crash course in Hollywood business and that’s been interesting,” she says. “Usually my involvement with a project is a casting director calling me in because financing is in place and they have their stars and I have an audition.

“That was my experience of how movies were made. So now, to meet people who are putting movies together and asking me to be a part of that, that’s all very new to me. I couldn’t go so far as to say it’s like theater, but there is an element of starting with everyone at the beginning to get something up on its feet. And that’s very cool.”