Career Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal

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Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they’ve made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: newly minted action star Jake Gyllenhaal.

Signature line:
“I wish I knew how to quit you,” says Jack Twist to Ennis del Mar, in ‘Brokeback Mountain.’

Career Peaks: Raised in L.A. by director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal popped up as a teen actor in the 1999 true story ‘October Sky,’ followed by his breakout role in Richard Kelly’s strange 2001 psycho-drama ‘Donnie Darko,’ which went on to attain cult status. Gyllenhaal burnished his acting cred by playing a series of sensitive, sweet young men in low-budget indies such as ‘The Good Girl,’ ‘Proof’ and ‘Lovely & Amazing.’ While it was not Gyllenhaal’s finest hour, the 2004 disaster epic ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ marks the actor’s biggest global hit to date: a total $544 million. He scored critical raves for two 2005 films, Gulf War actioner ‘Jarhead’ and Ang Lee’s tragic gay romance ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ opposite Heath Ledger, which earned $178 million worldwide. Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they’ve made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: newly minted action star Jake Gyllenhaal.

Signature line:
“I wish I knew how to quit you,” says Jack Twist to Ennis del Mar, in ‘Brokeback Mountain.’

Career Peaks: Raised in L.A. by director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Gyllenhaal popped up as a teen actor in the 1999 true story ‘October Sky,’ followed by his breakout role in Richard Kelly’s strange 2001 psycho-drama ‘Donnie Darko,’ which went on to attain cult status. Gyllenhaal burnished his acting cred by playing a series of sensitive, sweet young men in low-budget indies such as ‘The Good Girl,’ ‘Proof’ and ‘Lovely & Amazing.’ While it was not Gyllenhaal’s finest hour, the 2004 disaster epic ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ marks the actor’s biggest global hit to date: a total $544 million. He scored critical raves for two 2005 films, Gulf War actioner ‘Jarhead’ and Ang Lee’s tragic gay romance ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ opposite Heath Ledger, which earned $178 million worldwide.

Awards Attention: ‘Donnie Darko’ earned Gyllenhaal an Independent Spirit nomination as Best Male Lead, and he collected the London Evening Standard Theater Award for outstanding newcomer for the 2002 play ‘This is Our Youth.’ He won the supporting actor BAFTA for ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ and while many thought he should have joined Ledger in the best actor category, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ earned Gyllenhaal his first and only Oscar nom, for Best Supporting Actor.

Latest Misfire: This summer’s $200-million would-be franchise ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,’ a well-made but featherweight B-movie adventure from Jerry Bruckheimer and Mike Newell, failed to launch. After losing ‘The Dark Knight’ to Christian Bale, ‘Spider-Man’ to Tobey Maguire, and ‘Avatar’ to Sam Worthington, Gyllenhaal had finally landed a major action role in a summer tentpole, or so he thought. Instead, many reviewers argued that Gyllenhaal was miscast, and despite his buffed-up physique, failed to carry the action adventure. While some women reviewers liked him — AP’s Christy Lemire describes his “engaging presence” and “those big, blue eyes, that goofy smile – and that sweetness helps keep the mood light,” while The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis writes that “a few hours of Mr. Gyllenhaal jumping around in leather and fluttering his long lashes has its dumb-fun appeal,” other critics cited Gyllenhaal’s “doubts and insecurities,” “puppy-dog eyes,” “self-deprecation” and “hangdog demeanor.” Not what you expect from a rugged action hero.

Biggest Problem: ‘Prince of Persia’ failed to open well — and didn’t change the popular perception of Gyllenhaal as a likable leading man best suited to naturalistic dramas. There’s still a sizable gap between the rising star’s acting bonafides and his ability to put butts in seats. While Gyllenhaal earned excellent reviews in recent dramas ‘Brothers,’ ‘Rendition’ and ‘Zodiac,’ the films disappointed at theater wickets.

Major movie stars have a hint of danger about them; Gyllenhaal, who hits 30 in December, is one of many boyish American leading men who will earn needed gravitas as they age. No one had any trouble buying him as a well-muscled grunt with a shaved head in the realistic Gulf War drama ‘Jarhead,’ but audiences did resist him in breastplate and leather in a big-budget Disney studio sword-and-scandal flick. Male action stars tend to appeal to men, while Gyllenhaal’s primary fan-base is female.

Current Gossip: After Gyllenhaal broke up in 2004 with the love of his life, actress . You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Russell Crowe

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Career Watch is a bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other week, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Russell Crowe.

Signature Line: “Are you not entertained?” — Maximus Decimus Meridius in ‘Gladiator.’

Career Peaks: Burly “man’s man” Russell Crowe has been entertaining moviegoers since his breakout in the early ’90s award-winning Australian films ‘Proof’ and ‘Romper Stomper.’ He earned great reviews as a detective wooing Kim Basinger in 1997’s ‘L.A. Confidential’ ($64.6 million domestic), as heroic Captain James Aubrey in ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’ ($94 million), and as a muscular yet sensitive Roman general-turned-slave in the Ridley Scott sword-and-sandal epic ‘Gladiator,’ his highest-grossing film to date ($187 million). Career Watch is a bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other week, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Russell Crowe.

Signature Line: “Are you not entertained?” — Maximus Decimus Meridius in ‘Gladiator.’

Career Peaks: Burly “man’s man” Russell Crowe has been entertaining moviegoers since his breakout in the early ’90s award-winning Australian films ‘Proof’ and ‘Romper Stomper.’ He earned great reviews as a detective wooing Kim Basinger in 1997’s ‘L.A. Confidential’ ($64.6 million domestic), as heroic Captain James Aubrey in ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’ ($94 million), and as a muscular yet sensitive Roman general-turned-slave in the Ridley Scott sword-and-sandal epic ‘Gladiator,’ his highest-grossing film to date ($187 million).

Awards Attention: Crowe earned three consecutive Oscar nominations for his roles as an overweight tobacco whistleblower in Michael Mann’s ‘The Insider’ ($29 million), Maximus in ‘Gladiator’ and a wonky mathematician in Ron Howard’s ‘A Beautiful Mind’ ($170 million). He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for ‘Gladiator.’

Latest Misfire: Ten years later, Crowe reunited with Scott to try and recapture the magic of ‘Gladiator’ with another period epic, ‘Robin Hood,’ a retelling of the 12th century legend. The movie ran through $6.7 million in costly screenwriters who transformed the original script, about the Sheriff of Nottingham, to a more conventional period actioner about how King Richard the Lion Heart archer Robin Longstride met Maid Marion and became the anti-establishment robber of Sherwood Forest.

The $200-million movie opened softer than Crowe’s biggest hits (when corrected for inflation) and reminds us that Crowe and Scott are not necessarily a winning combo. They also made the frothy romantic comedy ‘A Good Year’ ($7 million) and the too-costly ‘American Gangster’ ($130 million). But ‘Robin Hood’ is playing better overseas, where Crowe is a bigger marquee draw than he is stateside.

While he’s a $20-million movie star, he does not consistently open every movie. But owing to his foreign appeal, he’s bankable: He can get movies made. Crowe bulked up for two disappointing adult dramas, ‘State of Play’ ($37 million) and ‘Body of Lies’ ($39 million).

Biggest Problem: Anger management. Crowe is known as a nasty pub brawler who can lose his temper. He won the BAFTA best actor award for ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ but after the show cut short his reading of a poem, he confronted producer Malcolm Gerrie at an after-party and shoved him up against a wall, calling him a “fucking piece of shit.” Crowe later apologized by phone. Academy voters got their ballots the next day, and he did not win the Oscar, and hasn’t been nominated since.

That June, Crowe threw a phone at a staffer at New York’s Mercer Hotel when he couldn’t get through to his wife in Australia. After he was charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon, he said his behavior was “spectacularly stupid” on the ‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ and had to pay a hefty settlement after a lawsuit from the concierge.

“Russell is not always easy,” his ‘Robin Hood’ co-star Cate Blanchett told Parade. “His reputation both as an actor and as an intimidating presence precedes him. But he’s always after making the best possible film. I’m not backward in coming forward, so we had some, shall I say, ‘robust’ conversations.”

The question is how much studios, filmmakers and audiences hold this behavior against him. How much do they separate the roles from the man? And does his intense collaborative involvement in movies help or hurt them? Crowe seems to need to be the smartest man in the room.

Imagine Entertainment gave him a producer credit on ‘Robin Hood,’ he says, because “they needed somebody else to blame.” Crowe and Scott reportedly tussled over the script, and the star clearly had a lot of say in the overall tone of his character, who is restrained and grim. Suddenly a mere archer is not only running battles for the incompetent King of England but contributing to that milestone in English history, the Magna Carta.

Biggest Assets
: Brooding, grizzled masculinity. Crowe is a gifted, athletic, crafty actor with a wide range. He can play powerful leaders and heroes, and is a phenomenal rider and fighter. Or he can lose himself in character parts. “He can be great if the material is great,” says producer Sam Kitt.

Current Gossip: At the Cannes Film Festival, Crowe commandeered the press conference, suggesting that a latter-day Robin Hood would fight against the monopolistic media. He wagged his butt at the press corps and made fun of reporters’ accents, and at a later BBC Radio interview, he walked out soon after the questioner suggested that his accent sounded Irish. Crowe replied, “You’ve got dead ears, mate, seriously dead ears if you think there’s an Irish accent.”

Next Step: Crowe stars opposite Elizabeth Banks in Paul Haggis’ relationship thriller ‘The Next Three Days,’ due in November. He’s in the mix on Philip Noyce’s ‘Dirt Music,’ with Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell. Fox wants to put together a sequel to ‘Master & Commander.’ Crowe told Britain’s Daily Mail that he’d love to sing and dance in a real Bollywood film, and expressed interested in playing washed-up alcoholic star Norman Main in a remake of ‘A Star is Born.’ But reports are that the filmmakers are chasing Gerard Butler to play the role opposite Beyonce.

Career Advice: “He should stop working with Ridley Scott,” says one producer. “The two of them seem to bring out the worst in each other, and they get their full fees but the audience pays the price. He ought to have someone in his camp who can steer better material into his hands or steer him into better material. He remains of of the best actors around, but you wouldn’t know it.”

Kitt thinks Crowe should remind audiences that he has a sense of humor: “Find a comedy where he gets laughs by playing it absolutely straight.”

Anne Thompson — who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly — writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Gerard Butler

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Career Watch is a bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other week, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Gerard Butler.

Signature Line: “Madness? This is Sparta!”

Career Peaks: In 2006, 37-year-old Scottish journeyman actor Gerard Butler broke out in the role of the muscled warrior King Leonidas in Zack Snyder and Frank Miller’s sword-and-sandal battle epic ‘300,’ which grossed $456 million worldwide. While Butler hasn’t achieved those heights since, he has delivered two modest hits, which scored better with global audiences of both genders than they did with critics.

Career Watch is a bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other week, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Gerard Butler.

Signature Line: “Madness? This is Sparta!”

Career Peaks: In 2006, 37-year-old Scottish journeyman actor Gerard Butler broke out in the role of the muscled warrior King Leonidas in Zack Snyder and Frank Miller’s sword-and-sandal battle epic ‘300,’ which grossed $456 million worldwide. While Butler hasn’t achieved those heights since, he has delivered two modest hits, which scored better with global audiences of both genders than they did with critics. The misogynistic studio romantic comedy ‘The Ugly Truth,’ which stars Butler as a sexist pig who teaches uptight professional Katherine Heigl how to please men, grossed $203 million worldwide (Tomatometer: 14 %), while the action B-flick ‘Law Abiding Citizen,’ starring Butler as a vengefully-powerful prisoner, delivered a global $113 million gross (Tomatometer: 26%).

Awards Attention: For ‘300,’ Butler was nominated by such groups as The People’s Choice, MTV Movie and Saturn Awards. His one win: “Best Fight” from MTV.

Latest Misfire: After ‘The Ugly Truth,’ Butler went back to woman-hater rom-com fare, but didn’t do as well, with ‘The Bounty Hunter,’ in which he kidnaps and battles ex-wife Jennifer Aniston. This movie was excoriated by critics (Tomatometer: 8%) and global audiences were less amused (worldwide gross: $125 million). Is it possible that women were turned off by his non-romantic approach? Or was it just a lousy movie?

Biggest Problem: Butler seems caught between his macho bad-boy women-hating rogue persona — claiming he likes to bare his ass in movies, and joking, “I trimmed her bush,” of sometime gal-pal Aniston’s Christmas party — and his more serious acting. Has he turned off women with his tabloid exploits and poor film choices? Even men didn’t go to see Guy Ritchie’s ultra-nasty ‘RocknRolla’ or the destructive sci-fi actioner ‘Gamer,’ directed by the guys who brought you ‘Crank.’ Is Butler an action man’s man or a femme-friendly romantic lead? Can he do both? His choice of roles — as well as his roaming accents — seem to confuse people.

Current Gossip: While denying anything serious with Aniston (even after he was photographed in France with his hand caressing her butt), Butler reportedly flew to Paris to romance TV interviewer Laurie Cholewa, after falling for her during their ‘Bounty Hunter’ interview.

Biggest Assets: At 40, Butler is an aggressively masculine actor with a wide range: He can do just about anything, from heartfelt romance (‘Dear Frankie’) to melodrama (‘The Phantom of the Opera’) to bone-crunching violence (‘RocknRolla’). He is in his physical prime in a way that Russell Crowe is not, and he has acting chops. During a time when movie stars can’t seem to find audiences anymore, Butler has developed a global following and can get movies made. While his post-‘300’ returns are modest, most filmmakers are seeing profits on his films. “He can do no wrong,” says The Film Department’s Mark Gill, who’s trying to put together a sequel to ‘Law Abiding Citizen.’ “It doesn’t matter what he’s in, he’s still highly appealing. He’s review-proof. That’s the mark of a true movie star: Even in lesser movies, he’s survivable, economically.”

Next Step: Butler is currently filming the Shakespearean role of Tullus Aufidius in Ralph Fiennes’ ‘Coriolanus.’ Ramping up for a June start in Pennsylvania is ‘Machine Gun Preacher,’ in which he plays a biker-drug-dealer-preacher who defends Sudanese orphans, directed by Marc Forster (‘Quantum of Solace’). He’s also playing a crude, foul-mouthed leprechaun (CG is involved) in Brett Ratner’s contribution to an untitled omnibus of comedy shorts assembled by the Farrelly brothers. Although he attended the opening of the ‘Phantom’ sequel ‘Love Never Dies,’ he has no plans to participate in a movie version. “He’s sought-after,” says producer James Jacks, who wants to cast him for two of his upcoming movies. “He’s an action movie star. He has a great physical presence.”

Career Advice: While Butler’s PR reps are clearly trying to clean up his rough-and-tumble rake image via Haiti relief work and cover stories in Men’s Health and Architectural Digest, he can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. On the one hand, his drinking days are behind him; on the other, he’s no angel, and as they say, “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Meanwhile, his 3300-foot Chelsea loft boasts 13-foot mahogany doors, crystal chandeliers and R-rated ceiling frescoes.

“I’ve had to fight even harder to try and do something at an interesting level,” he told one reporter. The best way for Butler to gain some control over his career — face it, Hollywood and global financeers want to give him formula actioners and rom-coms — is to develop some decent material himself. In fact, he has started a film production company, Evil Twins, which is prepping several projects, from biopics of writers Frank McCourt and Scottish poet Robert Burns to Gabriele Muccino’s ‘Slide,’ a movie about a Little League coach who is trying to bond with his son while fielding interest from his players’ gorgeous moms.

Butler needs to reclaim the support of audiences and critics by making some smart choices on quality material, even if commercial potential is limited. While it never hurts to do voice work on an animated family hit like ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ it doesn’t exactly buttress his career profile. His best efforts have been period epics like ‘300,’ ‘Beowulf & Grendel’ and the miniseries ‘Attila,’ which landed him ‘300’ in the first place.

Let’s hope that Legendary and Warner Bros. green-light Frank Miller’s eagerly awaited ‘Xerxes,’ the sequel to ‘300.’

Anne Thompson — who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly — writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Jim Carrey

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From the start, Canadian Carrey boasted boyish charm, rubber limbs, energy to burn and a nasty streak, all in evidence on TV’s ‘In Living Color’ and ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ and its sequel, ‘When Nature Calls.’ Carrey earned $7 million and delivered another surprise hit with the Farrelly brothers’ $15-million comedy ‘Dumb & Dumber.’ After his cackling Riddler in ‘Batman Forever,’ he scored a controversial first-ever $20-million payday for ‘The Cable Guy,’ which opened to almost $20 million — but dropped like a stone, topping out at $102-million worldwide.

That led Carrey to seek studio tentpoles worthy of his asking price, from . You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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More Career Watch: Sandra Bullock


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Career Watch: Sandra Bullock Wins Oscar, Must Escape Tabloid Hell

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Welcome to the first installment of Career Watch, a new bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other Wednesday, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Oscar winner Sandra Bullock.

Signature line: “Don’t you dare lie to me.” If Sandra Bullock ever used that line from ‘The Blind Side’ on her rapscallion husband Jesse James, it didn’t work. The last year brought the best of times and the worst of times for the hard-working actress, who starred in two hits and one flop and won her first Oscar — and may have lost her marriage. Welcome to the first installment of Career Watch, a new bi-weekly column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest-blogger Anne Thompson. Every other Wednesday, Thompson will look at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyze the moves they’ve made thus far and offer career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Oscar winner Sandra Bullock.

Signature line: “Don’t you dare lie to me.” If Sandra Bullock ever used that line from
Next Step: The best way for Bullock to get out of tabloid jail is to get back to work. While her production company Fortis is developing a few scripts, she hasn’t signed to do another movie. Hollywood’s top-ranked female star, Bullock has her pick of roles and needs to prep some pictures, whether a slapstick comedy or romance. As Streep said backstage at the Golden Globes, “There are more good roles for women than ever before. The perception is better for Sandra than it was for me at her age.”

Career Advice: Keep them guessing. Bullock’s own mantra: “Be nobody but yourself, in a world that is trying to make you be like everyone else.” Unlike other actresses who have tried to hang on to their girlish qualities, Bullock has happily acted her age. And she has learned the hard way (after falling afoul of such bad decisions as ‘Speed 2’ and ‘Two Weeks Notice’) that a star’s best allies are strong writing and directing. She realized that she was picking the wrong projects “for someone else’s benefit,” she told Charlie Rose. “You have to top stop the flow of what’s easy and comfortable and the amenities. It paralyzes you.” Backstage at the Oscars, Bullock said, “I want to do everything. I don’t like it when people tell me I can’t do something. Just because I won an Oscar doesn’t mean I don’t want to do a comedy. I love making people laugh. I just want to do work in every genre until I’m asked not to do it anymore.”

Anne Thompson — who has served as Deputy Editor of Variety.com and The Hollywood Reporter, West Coast Editor of Premiere and Senior Writer at Entertainment Weekly — writes a daily blog on indieWIRE, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Harrison Ford

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, Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Renee Zellweger Needs Post-‘Case 39’ Career Revamp

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Long-on-the-shelf thriller ‘Case 39’ is the last thing Renee Zellweger needs to remind movie audiences that it’s been quite a while since she hit one out of the park. The film took in a disappointing $5.4 million this weekend, even though a relationship between Zellweger and her co-star Bradley Cooper spiced up the tabloids. — by Anne Thompson

Signature Line:
“You had me at hello.” (‘Jerry Maguire’)

Career Peaks: In 1996, Zellweger played the lovable chipmunk-cheeked girl next door who wins the love of jacked-up talent agent Tom Cruise in ‘Jerry Maguire.’ Women also identified with her as a Jane Austen-inspired chubby Brit diarist in ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ and its sequel.

Awards Attention: ‘Bridget Jones Diary’-and her flawless Brit accent garnered Zellweger an Oscar nomination, as did her showstopping turn as murderous song-and-dance girl Roxie Hart in the Oscar-winning ‘Chicago.’ Zellweger finally won for her folksy supporting role in 2003’s ‘Cold Mountain.’

New In TownLatest Misfires: Back in 2006, Zellweger filmed her role opposite Cooper in Christian Alvart’s genre thriller ‘Case 39,’ as a social worker who adopts a little girl who is nastier than she looks. Long before a stalled stateside opening, Paramount released the film overseas before targeting it to Latin audiences in America, where the tainted thriller finally opened to a dismal $5.3 million. Zellweger starred as a Miami career woman who moves to a small town in Minnesota in Gold Circle’s 2009 fish-out-of-water comedy ‘New in Town.’ The badly reviewed romance co-starred Harry Connick Jr. and grossed $22 million worldwide. This, after dipping box office receipts (‘Nurse Betty,’ ‘Down with Love,’ ‘Miss Potter,’ ‘Leatherheads,’ ‘Appaloosa’).

Biggest Problem: The gifted actress is facing an unforgiving industry that doles out few juicy roles for women over 40. Too long in the tooth to play the cute and spunky ingenues that worked best for audiences early in her career, Zellweger has lately starred in several indies financed overseas (‘My One and Only,’ ‘New in Town’), where her marquee bankability (like most stars these days) is fading. Unable to land a stateside distributor for ‘My One and Only,’ a road movie starring Zellweger as a 50s East Side socialite Mom who takes off with her two teen boys after catching her bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon) with a floozie, Zellweger’s reps signed up indie self-release outfit Freestyle. The movie earned a 69 percent fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent numbers in limited release, winding up at $2.5 million.

Renee ZellwegerBiggest Assets: She’s an enchanting character actress and audiences like her.

Current Gossip: For over a year, the actress, 41, has been dating hunk-du-jour Cooper, 35, who she first met on ‘Case 39,’ amid constant wedding/break-up rumors. She’s writing songs after performing a Bob Dylan cover on her upcoming indie ‘My Own Love Song.’ And everyone comments on her looks: “She’s messed up her face and doesn’t eat,” snipes one marketing exec.

Next Step:
Her role as a wheelchair-bound singer opposite Forest Whitaker in ‘My Own Love Song’ (which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to dismissive reviews in April) suggests that she may be in danger of falling prey to Noble Actress Syndrome (see: ‘Cinderella Man’). “She takes herself so seriously,” sighs one studio exec. Zellweger takes a different turn with the indie drama ‘Pillage,’ which she is producing, to be adapted by writer-director John Krokidas from Brantly Martin’s novel about four pals in Manhattan seeking to escape via the ultimate downtown party. They plan a 2011 New York shoot.

Career Advice:
Mix it up. Be open-minded. But finding the love of her life in a film may no longer be the answer, cautions one talent agent. “She should do more comedy like Jerry Maguire,” says one casting director. “She could do a villainess with comic overtones in a comic-book action ensemble, as Heath Ledger did in ‘Dark Knight,’ or Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow in ‘Iron Man 2.’ Or a play on Broadway. You’ve got to be out there in the universe so people see you’re working.”

There’s debate about whether she’s ready yet to take a television/HBO detour like , Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Joaquin Phoenix

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After impulsively declaring his retirement from acting in the fall of 2008 after wrapping the film ‘Two Lovers,’ Joaquin Phoenix gained a natty beard and a paunch, chased a new career as a hip hop artist and looked depressed and druggy on a February 2009 appearance on the ‘Late Show With David Letterman’ that was widely viewed on the Internet. Now that the world at large sees the 35-year-old actor as a basket case, Phoenix will need to do some serious repair work to reemerge from this two-year career hiatus. (The fact that his gifted, troubled older brother River died of a drug overdose does not help his case.)

Latest Misfire: Phoenix’s life in retirement is the focus of the bizarre Casey Affleck mockumentary, ‘I’m Still Here,’ which tracked the ex-actor’s pursuit of record producer P. Diddy, his increasingly debauched lifestyle and his musings about celebrity and acting. “I’m stuck in a ridiculous self-imposed prison of characterization,” Phoenix explains in the film, seeking to escape being branded as “emotional, intense and complicated.” He no longer wants to play “the character of Joaquin Phoenix.” This documentary was his way of “doing something that represents me … to bring what is inside me out.”

The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival and moved on to Toronto, as Affleck deflected and misdirected the media, and the clean-shaven and slim Phoenix stayed behind the scenes to maintain the mystery. The movie was about “friendship, ambition and the dreams of an artist,” Affleck said. Reviews were nasty and audiences stayed away in droves.

Current Gossip:
The confused media didn’t know what to think. This “document” shows an actor going down the tubes — snorting cocaine on camera, trawling for prostitutes, jumping into the audience to bash a fan wearing a Ben Stiller fake beard and getting punched in the gut (making him throw up). Was it real or fake? What the hell was Phoenix doing, committing career suicide? Creating an indelibly accurate portrait of a miserable depressed self-medicating and deluded actor? Doing an Andy Kaufman-type performance piece, egged on by brother-in-law Affleck?

It turned out to be the latter, as Affleck explained to the New York Times just before the movie widened into more theaters this past weekend. “It’s a terrific performance, the performance of his career,” Affleck said, adding that he used well-rehearsed actors.

Letterman wasn’t in on the joke, he added. However, Letterman writer Bill Scheft insists that they all knew what was going on.

Career Peaks: Starting off as a child actor, “Leaf” Phoenix did TV roles until he broke out in 1989’s ‘Parenthood’ and ‘To Die For.’ In 2002, he co-starred with Mel Gibson in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Signs,’ which grossed $408 million worldwide, but he has always been a solid character player more than a marquee draw.

Awards Attention: Phoenix earned his first Oscar nomination as the emperor villain in ‘Gladiator’ (2000), and another Oscar nomination for channeling Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line,’ which demonstrated far more musical ability than ‘I’m Still Here.’

Biggest Problem: The perception that ‘I’m Still Here’ isn’t so far from reality. No matter what Phoenix says to clear himself of his drug-addled bad boy image, he will have to restore his luster when he returns to Letterman on Wednesday. Phoenix’s career trajectory was already on a downward slide after ‘Walk the Line.’ He starred in two films that flopped, the grim 2007 drama ‘Reservation Road,’ in which he played a father driven nuts by his child’s accidental death, and James Gray’s depressing micro-budget ‘Two Lovers,’ opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. Phoenix didn’t need two years off to play this role as a crazy depressed deluded actor. Truth is, he’s never been a marquee draw in such films as ‘Quills,’ ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ ‘Return to Paradise,’ ‘We Own the Night,’ ‘The Yards,’ ‘Inventing the Abbots,’ ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ ‘Ladder 49’ and ‘8 MM.’

Biggest Assets: Hollywood is scrambling to cast strong leading men in their movies. If Phoenix can convince the community that he’s still one of the great actors as well as being lean, clean and sober, he’ll get plenty of offers. It won’t take long for WME agent Patrick Whitesell, who was in on the joke and played himself in the movie, to find him a job.

Next Step: Phoenix has been flirting with a number of projects that have not coalesced. He was in talks to join the mayhem in the David Gordon Green comedy ‘The Sitter’ as a drug dealer in pursuit of hapless babysitter Jonah Hill. He considered co-starring as novelist Thomas Wolfe opposite Sean Penn as editor Max Perkins in ‘Genius,’ but the Bill Pohlad-directed project isn’t yet happening.

He was circling the role of Edgar Allen Poe that John Cusack landed in James McTeigue’s ‘The Raven.’ Phoenix really is attached to play a footwear designer and fetishist opposite Mia Wasikowska in ‘Big Shoe,’ from director Steven Shainberg (who directed the S & M comedy ‘Secretary’ and the strange and under-appreciated flop ‘Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus’), which is probably not Whitesell’s idea of what Phoenix should do next to reestablish his movie star cred. The film has not yet raised financing.

And the latest: producer Rob Lorenz denies that Clint Eastwood is , Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Julia Roberts Is Back on Top

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Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they’ve made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Julia Roberts.

Bottom Line: When you open a women’s picture like , Thompson on Hollywood. You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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Career Watch: Steve Carell Builds a Movie Career as Deadpan Leading Man

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Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they’ve made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Steve Carell.

With 19 films under his belt, sweetly bumbling comedian Steve Carell is on a roll as he ditches his hit TV series ‘The Office’ to star in more movies. Who can blame him? So far he’s three-for-three in 2010, and pulling in $12 million paydays. ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ opened well, ‘Despicable Me,’ in which he voiced lovable megalomaniac anti-hero Gru, is a summer animated hit, and romantic action comedy ‘Date Night’ launched him as part of a popular new movie team with ace comedienne Tina Fey. Does he have the momentum to continue his film success and join the ranks of TV actors-turned-film-stars like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams? Career Watch is a regular column by veteran film reporter and Moviefone guest blogger Anne Thompson looking at the career of a major Hollywood star, analyzing the moves they’ve made thus far and offering career advice on where they could or should head from here. This week: Steve Carell.

With 19 films under his belt, sweetly bumbling comedian Steve Carell is on a roll as he ditches his hit TV series ‘The Office’ to star in more movies. Who can blame him? So far he’s three-for-three in 2010, and pulling in $12 million paydays. ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ opened well, ‘Despicable Me,’ in which he voiced lovable megalomaniac anti-hero Gru, is a summer animated hit, and romantic action comedy ‘Date Night’ launched him as part of a popular new movie team with ace comedienne Tina Fey. Does he have the momentum to continue his film success and join the ranks of TV actors-turned-film-stars like Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams?

Latest Misfire: He doesn’t have many. His biggest flop was his 1991 debut film, ‘Curly Sue,’ opposite James Belushi. Carell scored raves as Uncle Arthur in ‘Bewitched’ (which otherwise earned nasty reviews) and as Evan Baxter in ‘Bruce Almighty.’ That movie unfortunately yielded the bloated 2007 sequel ‘Evan Almighty,’ in which Carell glued on Noah’s beard and took over the lead from Jim Carrey — a tricky feat for anyone to pull off. Carell’s most notable failure to date is the dead-serious 2007 indie romance ‘Dan in Real Life,’ opposite Juliette Binoche. He’s unlikely to make that mistake again.

Signature Line: “That’s what she said.” — Michael Scott, ‘The Office’

Career Peaks: Building on a strong foundation in improv comedy, Carell moved from Chicago’s Second City to performing skits with buddy Stephen Colbert on ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’ (and ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ ‘Ambiguously Gay Duo’ shorts) and writing and acting on ‘The Dana Carvey Show.’ This led in 2005 to Carell’s signature role as Michael Scott in NBC’s American remake of the Brit series ‘The Office,’ which was a stateside hit partly because Carell understood how to make the his Dunder Mifflin regional manager more likable and less venal and annoying than Ricky Gervais had been, from waking up to the smell of bacon sizzling on his George Foreman Grill to taking his staff to lunch at Hooter’s. While he leaves ‘The Office’ after his contract expires at the end of next season, Carell will keep the door open for guest appearances.

40-Year-Old VirginMeanwhile, Carell’s movie roles were taking off: In 2005 he broke out as a credible comedic lead in Judd Apatow’s ’40-Year-Old Virgin’ (which he co-wrote), showing he was willing to sacrifice his own chest hair for a screen laugh. He displayed his dramatic chops as a depressed gay professor in indie smash ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ which was nominated for Best Picture. Carell perfected his portrayal of dimwits as TV weatherman Brick Tamian in ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,’ and as doofus secret agent Maxwell Smart in the 2008 remake ‘Get Smart,’ opposite Anne Hathaway, which grossed $200 million worldwide. Carell also developed his chops as a voice artist on such animated features as ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ (mayor of Whoville) and ‘Over The Hedge’ (Hammy the Squirrel).

Awards Attention: Carell has won a raft of nominations and prizes from the Golden Globes, Emmys, Writers Guild of America, Television Critics Association, Screen Actors Guild of America and MTV Movies; he collected the Golden Globe for best actor on TV for ‘The Office’ in 2006.

Biggest Problem: While Carell is currently in that magical fluke zone in which audiences are loving whatever he does, that career window can be dismayingly short for comedians. For other major comedy stars, from Carrey, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams to such brilliant screen idiots as Rowan Atkinson, Peter Sellers and Steve Martin, the trick has been making the near-impossible transition from dundering guffaw-getter to leading man. As the lovably retarded taxidermist in ‘Dinner for Schmucks,’ Carell knows how to make moviegoers split their sides laughing; it’s much more difficult to widen his appeal as a dramatic actor or romantic lead.



Biggest Assets: Whip-smart Carell understands his limitations. He knows he doesn’t look like a conventional leading man. And sitcom star Will Smith’s action career is not a likely scenario. Carell’s greatest strength is knowing how to play humor with a straight deadpan. “I think a character in a comedy should not know they’re in a comedy,” he has said. “I don’t think of myself as funny — I don’t fill up a room with my humor … I would fail miserably as a stand-up comedian.”

Current Gossip: The happily married father of two is too dull to be the subject of tabloid speculation.

Next Step: Warner Bros’ family comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ co-starring . You can check out some of her latest posts here:

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