Published May 29, 2009
We searched our archive and found today’s most celebrated actors and actresses before they were household names. Hear what they had to say on their rise to stardom.
Leonardo DiCaprio | June 1994
INGRID SISCHY: What I’m getting at is that there’s something about that makes me think you’re going to have a lot, lot, lot to deal with in terms of being a real sex star. To have that…
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: Charm?
LD: My charm. [Sighs]
IS: Maybe it’s even dangerous to talk about it because of the self-consciousness that it could arouse.
LD: O.k. I think sexiness in most people-and this is going to sound superficial-is definitely something you don’t plan. I don’t necessarily think I’m…whatever. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what people think of me. The main thing I don’t want to do right now is create an image for myself. I notice that when I’m being consciously cool and I talk slower and wink or give a little smirk, people seem to like me more, and I think that’s how you get phony attitudes about things. Whenever I notice myself doing something just please somebody else, I try to stop it.
Kirsten Dunst | September 1998
ELIZABETH WEITZMAN: Being as young as you were at the time, were you aware of the sensuality in your role?
KIRSTEN DUNST: I was protected from stuff like that. I remember once my acting coach said to me, “you know when you take your brother’s teddy bear away from him and you get a mischievous look on your face?” So that’s what I was really thinking when I had to look flirty. But kissing Brad was so uncomfortable for me. I remember saying in interviews that I thought it was gross, that Brad had cooties. I mean, I was ten.
Shia LaBeouf | March 2005
It was time for Shia LaBeouf to get out of the house. For one thing, he was 18 years old, and for another, his mother was always walking around naked. “She’s just that type of person,” says the actor, who recently moved in with friends. “It got awkward.â??I started looking at her breasts and saying, ‘What am I doing here? This is ridiculous.'” Born and raised in Los Angeles, LaBeouf started acting at 13 and shortly thereafter nabbed his first big role as the star of the Disney Channel sitcom Even Stevens, which won him an Emmy. He went on to star in Project Greenlight’s The Battle of Shaker Heights, the kids’ sci-fi film Holes, and big-budget vehicles like Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (all 2003). However, it’s in the new film Constantine, starring opposite Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz, that he proves himself more than just a wiseass, playing a bighearted, over-eager demon slayer in the making. While LaBeouf remains enamored with Weisz, (“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen”), it was Reeves’s work ethic that left the biggest impression. “Keanu is the most prepared actor,” LaBeouf says. “He shows up with a backpack like he’s at Cal-State Northridge, with books and journals filled with character-development stuff, and I’m like, ‘What are you studying, mechanics?'” At first, he recalls, the notoriously stoic actor wasn’t keen on the idea of making new friends, but LaBeouf won him over in the end. “I grow on people,” he says. “I’m like a disease.”
Angelina Jolie | June 1997
JON VOIGHT: Sometimes, to present the truth, you have to play a vulgar or violent character.
ANGELINA JOLIE: Yes, although in the films I’ve done recently, I’ve been learning a little more about the side of myself that enjoys being a light. I remember when I used to dress in all black and you’d say. “Just be pretty, hold your head up, be proud. Be a pleasant person and don’t cover yourself so much with darkness, your need to be a little crazy.” Now I have nothing against anything I’ve been in before, because I love all sides of me, but I have been experimenting more with that lovely woman side. In this age of feminism, I would hate for the whole gentlemen and ladies things to be lost.
Jodie Foster | August 1987, photo 1980
DAN YAKIR: You’ve been acting since you were three years old…
JODIE FOSTER: Yes, and there’s nothing more comfortable to me than being in front of the camera. I don’t need any crutches in order to concentrate. As a child I learned that you must be ready because I’d be yelled at more than other people and it would always be my fault. I learned that to be professional is your number-one priority. The art comes second. You learn that, in order to give your best performance, you have to be a good technician, which means never allowing negative influences affect your performance. If your dog dies on the set, if your child is wheezing with leukemia, it doesn’t matter, because you there you’ve got to be at your best. There are no excuses. If you have problems, it’s something to apologize for, to be embarrassed about, not to revel in. It’s the perfectionist in me…That’s why they call me the “bossy little thing”-I’m the bossiest person around.
Chloe Sevigny | August 1995
INGRID SICSHY: Tell me about knowing that the sheltered life wasn’t for you.
CS: I would yell at my parents every night, “I can’t believe you, you’re bringing me up here. You guys are, like, so evil. [laughs] Let’s move.” I started to leave every weekend and go to Boston or up to Vermont, going all around New England. Then the VW bus I had broke down, so it was like “Oh, I guess I’ll go into the city.” When I started to hang out in New York. I met a bunch of kids in Washington Square Park. It seemed like the most diverse crowd was hanging out there. I would, like, stare at all these boys, and they all thought I had a staring problem, but it was just that I had never seen so many different kinds of people in my life.
Claire Danes | January 1995
MARK MARVEL: What do you think about the way teenagers are represented today-you know, the Generation X thing?
CLAIRE DANES: Well, what do you think that image is? The slacker thing? Or having no hope? Or being cynical? I think people of my generation are really worrying about thier zits and getting that date for Friday night. I think that’s their reality. I don’t’ know if they’re worrying too hard about their future.
MM: Is that stuff you worry about too?
CD: What, zits and if I’m going to get that date? Oh absolutely, and thank God I do. It proves that I’m normal. But I’m constantly analyzing being a teenager. Every week I have to look in the mirror of the show. When I was a little girl, I worshiped those John Hughes movies, like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club; Footloose is still one of my favorite movies. I was fascinated with teenagers, and I wanted to be one so badly. And here I am sort of living in one of those movies!
Sarah Jessica Parker | October 1999
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: …How did you feel then about doing Sex and the City?
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: I was really hesitant to do this show. I was terrified of it, and not in a good way, not in the same way I’m terrified of working in the theatre. I was very nervous about doing a television series. It sounded depressing to me.
DH: Why? Did you think of TV as the last place before they put you in the trash bin, like in Camino Real?
SJP: Exactly. You’d just never get better, you’d just get comfortable, and that’s it. You can’t quit. You can’t work in the theatre. Can’t do a movie when you like. You can’t just be with your friends and go to dinner. And then you’re in people’s homes and your life changes-you can’t go to the market by yourself and pick your own tomatoes. But Matthew said, “I think you should do this, because it’s a really good part, and you’ve never played one like it. The worst-case scenario is it’ll be successful. Maybe it’ll be really collaborative and you’ll learn something.” And in fact he was right.
Jake Gyllenhaal | August 2002
JAKE GYLLENHAAL: You know [Paul Newman] taught me how to drive.
SUSAN SARANDON: No! How did that happen?
JG: When I was 15 my mom was writing a script with him [The Horsemen], and we went out to the racetrack and he threw me in a race car.
SS: [gasps] I would have killed him! Did your little feet even touch the pedals.?
JG: He was driving the car and he threw me in the passengers seat and with his glasses dangling from his ear, he started driving on the track towards a brick wall. We’re 100 feet from a wall, going 60 miles-per-hour, and he hits the brake and turns the wheel and the car spins three times. So then he turns to me and goes, “that’s what you don’t do.”
Cate Blanchett | January 1998
KITTY BOWE HEARTY: Are you interested in working in Hollywood?
CATE BLANCHETT: Oh, sure. It’s a question of remaining open, really. Film just chews up actors like nobody’s business, and I’m not particularly interested in being chewed up. I think the camera can only look at somebody’s face for so long. I guess you have to accept the roles you think are right at the time. You can build a career, but these days there doesn’t seem to be that much interest in people being actors. I’m sounding holier than thou, but I sometimes think the whole thing is like one big commercial. I can’t seem to separate the ideas from the images. Maybe I should be trying. But you do want people to remember the films you do for longer than the time it takes to eat their popcorn.
KBH: My acid test is, Does a movie stay with me? Do I want to see it again?
CB: Well, at the same time I’m going on about it, some nights I just think, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of crap. [laughs]
Robert Downet Jr. | April 1989
“I could do a thousand films that are easy for me to do-that’s if I don’t fall in the next year, because everyone’s about to fall. What’s so funny is you look at all us young guys and we’re already thinking, Well, I’m going to branch out into directing, and it’s all going to be this and that. Well, we’re still kids. In a way we’re locked in now, you know what I mean? It’s as if you sign a pact with the devil [takes on demonic voice] “you have a big house and a black German car. Keep making movies forever.” Everything that I’ve worked so hard for is there. Acting is the most wildly overpaid position imaginable. “How much did you make for eight weeks sitting in your trailer?” “More than the President.” It’s really silly. I wasn’t to give myself the freedom not to have to be projecting my whole life ahead. But right now the idea of dropping out of the business for five years seems like a gloomy jail sentence. It’s a business that can keep you young forever, or it can make you old before your time, and it all has to do with your perspective, what your beliefs are and how strong you can stay throughout it all.”
Renee Zellweger | November 1994
Although a Swiss-Norwegian creation, actress Renee Zellweger was raised in a part of suburban Texas characterized, she recalls by “pig shit, rice fields and cowboys. It wasn’t hard to leave” Pit-stopping in Austin, she took the familiar route from cocktail waitress to Hollywood hopeful, picking up spare parts in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Murder in the Heartland and Reality Bites before getting a role she could finally do something with. As Starlene , a white-trash holdup seductress in Love and a .45, Zellweger demonstrates the kind of sidelong wit and off-kilter effervesence that could make her a wild card in the blond-and beautiful pack. “Starlene is me when nobody’s looking,” she whispers, instantly a mystery.
Cameron Diaz | August 1994
CAMERON DIAZ: Bam! All of the sudden people say, “She’s got tits and legs and blond hair. Let’s talk to her!” I’ve been paying m dues for years in modeling. Not only that, it took a month and a half of Chuck Russell, The Mask’s director, and Jim Carrey trying to get New Line to say O.K. on me. I didn’t sleep; I had an ulcer. Of course, when people talk of paying their dues, they mean years of going to acting school and auditioning –
LAUREN OLIVER: – and waitressing.
CD: Right. Whatever success people have in a field, it’s a result of hard work. If you ultimately succeed in one place, you must have worked hard there or somewhere else.
Johnny Depp | July 1987
“I moved to L.A. from Florida to break into the music business. I was playing guitar in a band called Rock City Angels-we were kind of a cross between Muddy Waters and the Sex Pistols. But I was selling pens over the phone in order to eat, when a friend of mine, Nicolas Cage, told me I should give acting a shot. I met with an agent and on my first audition got the part in Elm Street. I dropped out of the band, but I just found out that they signed a $6.2 million-dollar record contract with Geffen for seven albums. It’s the biggest deal out in L.A. since Madonna’s. I’m real happy for the guys. Really. I hope to get back into music someday, but not as a teen-idol type.”Click here to see Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah | May 1990
DIMITRI EHRLICH: What’s your definition of living swell?
QUEEN LATIFAH: I’m not living large; I just want to live comfortably. I wanna have a financial stability that is unshakable. Real estate. Maybe a C.D. I think I’d like to invest in solar cars. I’d also like to have money so that I could do things that don’t benifit me at all. I want to build a housing development. a big one, a real def one, and pay for people myself.