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Faces to watch: Movies

Lori Petty, Lauren Tom, Christian Bale, and Angela Bassett are some actors to keep your eyes on

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Lori Petty
By the time Lori Petty was 18, she’d lived in Tennessee, Iowa, and Nebraska and was hungry for the kinds of acting jobs that only the coasts could provide. After 10 years of movie and television work, the emotionally coiled beauty with a glamour-tinged-with-gravel voice has the role of her career — but she had to go to Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana to get it. In Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, due in theaters this summer, Petty stars as the pitcher on a women’s pro baseball team during the 1940s, alongside an all-star squad that includes Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks. Though almost five months of location shooting around the Midwest had its rough spots (”All those people I remembered were still there, and I think I was just a little too androgynous for them,” she notes wryly), Petty was all confidence on camera — and on the mound, even during shooting at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. ”I’m lucky,” she says. ”I grew up playing sports, I had a lot of varsity letters — I even pitched in Little League baseball.” She got her League role after her intense performance as a surf instructor in the testosterone-packed Point Break. ”Working with 20 actresses after working with 10 men was…different,” she says. ”We all started getting our periods at the same time — that was lovely — and you should have seen the makeup room. Chicks everywhere. By the end of shooting, I learned how to do my eyebrows myself from watching Madonna — she’s the eyebrow and lip expert.” Next for the actress: ”I don’t really want to shoot anyone on screen or to be shot. And I’d like to make a movie about the way things really are — multicultural, multiracial, across different class lines. All these yuppie heroes are working my nerves!”
Mark Harris

Lauren Tom
The 1990 comedy Cadillac Man wasn’t Robin Williams’ best vehicle, but it sure kicked Lauren Tom’s career into overdrive. With a top-volume voice and a knack for improv, Tom made the most of her role as a sassy dim sum waitress — and of the career opportunities it sparked. The movie led to an appearance on The Tonight Show, which led to a TV pilot, which didn’t make it but did lead to a production deal with Twentieth Century Fox, which wants Tom to help foster Asian roles and actors on TV. On the big screen, the giggly Chicago-born Tom, who is of Chinese descent, can be seen this spring in the comedy Man Trouble as the wife Jack Nicholson dumps for Ellen Barkin. ”I’m making my major debut as a frumpy 45-year-old woman,” groans the actress, who’s in her late 20s. In the drama Mr. Jones, opening this fall with Richard Gere and Lena Olin, Tom gets younger: She plays a 20-year-old suicidal mental patient. Her TV deal might bring her lighter roles, but the actress, who protested the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce as an Asian in Broadway’s Miss Saigon in 1990, takes her ethnic mission seriously. ”I feel like now I’m in a position to really do something for Asian actors,” she says. ”I had to do a lot of parts with an accent to get where I am.”
Jess Cagle

Christian Bale
”Everybody thinks I’m a spoiled little English public-school boy who’s still about 4-foot-11,” Christian Bale says with a laugh. In fact, he’s 5-foot-11, 18 years old, and just took his first driving test — in California rather than his hometown of Bournemouth, England. The confusion is understandable, though. In Steven Spielberg’s 1987 Empire of the Sun, Bale made a memorable film debut playing a privileged British lad thrown into a Japanese World War II internment camp. Now, having finished school at Bournemouth College, he is eagerly dipping into new roles and accents: He adopted the ”dese-dem-and-dose” patois of a turn-of-the-century Bowery Boy for his star turn as a singing, dancing labor organizer in the Disney musical Newsies, due in March. ”I was very worried about the dancing and singing, and in general I don’t like musicals,” Bale admits, but director Kenny Ortega was ”very manipulative. He reassured me that I wouldn’t be doing a Judy Garland. He claimed Al Pacino had done a musical. I said, ‘What? Al Pacino?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ He did a whole number on me.” Bale knew there was no need to chase down the mysterious Pacino musical (it doesn’t exist); he’s already moved on to Swing Kids, about young Germans on the eve of World War II, now shooting in Prague. The role is giving him his third accent in three times out — that of an eager Nazi convert.
Gregg Kilday

Chris O’Donnell
Chris O’Donnell was so convinced he had blown his screen test for Scent of a Woman that he snubbed its star, Al Pacino, when they later shared an elevator. ”I pretended I didn’t recognize him because I was so bummed out that I hadn’t done well,” recalls the 21-year-old actor, who didn’t blow a thing: He snagged the role of Charlie Simms, the inexperienced caretaker hired to look after a blind, retired Army colonel — Pacino — in Martin Brest’s comedy-drama, due this fall. Growing up in Winnetka, Ill., O’Donnell appeared in a few TV commercials before making an impressive screen debut two years ago as Jessica Lange’s edgy older son in Men Don’t Leave. Since then he has put in a few years at Boston College (he’s taking a break now), where his acting gigs were pretty much limited to delivering ”a few good lines in the local bars.” But O’Donnell makes a great Southern heartbreaker in Fried Green Tomatoes, and he appears this fall in Scent as well as in School Ties, a drama about anti-Semitism in the 1950s. He’s not sure what film he’ll do next, but after the opportunity to make out with Joan Cusack in Men Don’t Leave and Mary-Louise Parker in Fried Green Tomatoes, he does have one request: more women. ”Working with Pacino’s awesome, but there are no girls in this movie,” he says.
Melina Gerosa

James Marshall
Truth is, James Marshall got a little tired of playing James Hurley, Laura Palmer’s earnest, motorcycle-riding secret boyfriend on Twin Peaks. ”Hurley just kind of sat there,” says Marshall. Of course, he is just sitting here himself, drinking java at a hip Venice, Calif., restaurant. And, of course, he has managed to parlay his character’s strong, silent look into an animated movie career. In addition to reprising the role in David Lynch’s big-screen prequel to Twin Peaks, due in August, Marshall, 25, has a pivotal role in Rob Reiner’s much-anticipated Marine Corps drama, A Few Good Men, due in December. And this spring he’ll star with Cuba Gooding Jr. in Gladiator, a saga about illegal amateur boxing. No outsider to the business — his father is film producer Bill Greenblatt (Da, Judgment in Berlin) — young James nevertheless was so shy about acting that he didn’t even attempt it until after high school in Santa Monica, Calif. And it took Twin Peaks to teach Marshall (who was married six months ago to someone Not In The Business) a vital lesson about stardom: For a while, ”it was like being a member of the coolest club in town. But it’s just a classic example of showing you what’s hot is hot — and then it’s not. It was just in and out — that’s the way Hollywood is.” And as Hollywood goes, Marshall’s hot and cool.
Frank Spotnitz

Angela Bassett
Amid the excitement that swirled around Boyz N the Hood last summer, most people didn’t notice Angela Bassett’s small, rich performance as an ambitious single mother who sends her little boy to live with his father. But Bassett’s work did catch the eye of one important viewer: Spike Lee cast her in Malcolm X, opening next winter and starring Denzel Washington as the volatile Muslim leader. The role of Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, was Bassett’s reward for nearly 10 years of stage work as well as bit parts in sitcoms and movies, but it wasn’t an easy one; in one scene, Shabazz, pregnant with twins, sees her husband assassinated. ”The day we filmed,” says the Yale-trained actress, ”I had to watch it happen time after time for 8 or 10 straight hours. It takes a lot of prayer and concentration to open your heart to that kind of heartbreak.” The soft-spoken, religious Bassett grew up in the St. Petersburg, Fla., projects and now lives alone in Los Angeles (her answering machine says, ”God bless you real good”). She shied away from talking to Shabazz herself, relying on other family members to educate her, but Alex Haley, Malcolm’s biographer, gave her the deepest insight into Shabazz’s marriage — and the greatest encouragement. ”He told me that he never met two people more in love,” says Bassett. ”Then he looked at me and said, ‘You’re gonna honor Betty.”’
Jess Cagle

Nina Siemaszko
Nothing if not precocious, Nina Siemaszko was only 13 when she attracted the attention of an agent for her older brother Casey (Young Guns, Stand by Me) by ”making fun of him.” She not only charmed and won an agent, she got a career-though in mostly forgettable films (the highlight was playing Jeff Bridges’ daughter in 1988’s Tucker: The Man and His Dream). She still blushes remembering her boast — in the press materials for License to Drive, yet — that she wanted to be ”the new De Niro, only a woman.” Now that she’s all grown up, the 21-year-old Chicagoan is making sure everyone knows it by starring in erotic-film director Zalman King’s Blue Movie Blue, due this year. Siemaszko admits she never saw King’s much-ridiculed Wild Orchid until after she’d signed on for her role as a teenager who turns to prostitution in late-’50s central California. ”My interest was in doing something different because nobody ever viewed me as something even slightly sexual before,” she says. To her surprise, she found she enjoyed doing the nude scenes. ”It was really exciting in a weird way because, with your clothes off, that’s it — there’s no hiding behind anything anymore,” she says. Her family in Chicago is supportive, but she’s afraid the city’s Polish community, of which she has been an active member, ”is going to be a little flipped out.”
Frank Spotnitz