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This year's promising newcomers

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Best New TV Actress: JENNA ELFMAN

Maybe she had too much sugar as a kid. Maybe she recently won a tristate lottery. Or maybe she’s got ants in her pants. What else could explain the hepped-up bolt of fun that came shooting through prime time this fall in the form of Jenna Elfman? Don’t bother asking the 26-year-old actress. ”Yup,” she offers, ”it’s the catnip.” Whatever it is, America’s biting. Tickled by Elfman’s scrunch-nosed cuteness and loopy charm, viewers quickly glommed on to her free-spirited yoga instructor in ABC’s sappy-go-lucky comedy Dharma & Greg, turning the show into one of the fall’s only new hits. For Elfman, though, it was hardly a stretch. ”I’m totally goofy,” she says. ”It’s not an act. I have no limits on goofiness. To the degree that something’s inappropriate, I make it appropriate.” Right on, hippie chick.
— Dan Snierson

Best New TV Actor: KEVIN ANDERSON

Growing up in Catholic schools, the last thing Kevin Anderson ever wanted to portray was a priest. ”I would’ve rather played James Bond,” he admits. Now, on ABC’s controversial Nothing Sacred, he’s Ray, Father Ray — and each stirring week, his faith is shaken. ”Spiritual growth is not set in stone,” says the actor. ”It’s something that has to evolve.” That’s not an arc most actors can (or are asked to) convey, but Anderson had a premium on it this year: first in the film Eye of God, as a born-again ex-con whose zeal masks residual darkness, then on Sacred, where Ray’s doubts and cynicism mask an inner strength. Anderson, 37, is ”still a young man, but as he’s matured,” says exec producer Richard Kramer, ”he’s crossed the line into this place where there’s something in his eyes that has seen more.” We confess: We’re intrigued.
—Chris Willman

Best New Hyphenates: BEN AFFLECK and MATT DAMON

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were supposed to be rookies in ’95. That’s when Good Will Hunting, the drama they cowrote and star in as a pair of sensitive Boston toughies, would’ve been released by Castle Rock. But complications over who’d direct resulted in a trip into turnaround hell (”There are people I’d prefer never having met,” Damon says of the experience). Two years, one distributor (Miramax), an avalanche of hype, and a dash of Oscar buzz later, the childhood friends from Cambridge, Mass., have found synchronized success as actors and writers. Affleck, 25, whose year began with great reviews as the lovesick-over-a-lesbian star of Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, has wrapped next summer’s thriller Armageddon with Bruce Willis; Damon, 27, convincingly earnest in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, will play the title role in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (opposite Tom Hanks) and a gentlemanly killer in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Damon and Affleck will also reteam as actors in Smith’s religious comedy Dogma. No wonder the duo is awed by their Good fortune: Says Damon, ”We’re still amazed somebody bought the script.”
—Dave Karger

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