EW Staff
December 23, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Rachel McAdams
WEDDING CRASHERS (JULY 15), RED EYE (AUGUST 19), THE FAMILY STONE (DECEMBER 16)

To say Rachel McAdams threw herself headfirst into her work in 2005 is no mere cliché. On the set of Red Eye one morning last January, the actress got so involved in a fight scene that she unwittingly bashed her face into a door. ”Yeah, that hurt,” she says. ”I thought, ‘Okay, we’re done. Production ends. It’s over.’ And then I got ice. The Jell-O pop on the fat lip really helped.” Such fearlessness has become something of a staple for the 27-year-old Canadian, who broke out last year in Mean Girls and The Notebook, then seamlessly sank into three more diverse roles in 2005. She was the perfect romantic foil to Owen Wilson’s wacky lothario in Wedding Crashers; she channeled just the right mix of fear and cunning as a hostage at 30,000 feet in Red Eye; and her bitchy sister in The Family Stone was a spot-on portrayal of the difficult in-law. All the while she achieved a feat rare for any young actress: making Hollywood notice that she’s not just another pretty face. ”Things have opened up,” she says of her blooming career. ”It’s a little strange — not too long ago the concern was ‘Are you going to get work?”’ Luckily for us, the answer is yes. — Joshua Rich

Heath Ledger
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (DECEMBER 9)

Ledger’s film career should have been over by now. Almost every movie in which he’s played a leading role (Ned Kelly, The Order) has met an indifferent — no, disastrous — response from audiences and critics alike. Given that track record, Ledger had little to lose by playing Brokeback Mountain‘s Ennis Del Mar, the reticent cowboy tortured by his lifelong attraction to ranch hand Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). He knew it too. ”I was not doing anything that was testing me and I got bored,” he says. ”I was ready to earn my career and start over.” Indeed, to watch the 26-year-old tussle with such a demanding role is to watch an actor take control of his craft in ways that nobody familiar with his oeuvre would have expected. He could have easily made the miserable Del Mar into a variation on the Marlboro Man. But Ledger goes further, finely illustrating the connection between passion and rage when Del Mar forcefully expresses his physical desire for Twist. It’s not always easy to watch, and it wasn’t a cinch for Ledger, either. ”I guess I’m a bit of a masochist,” he says. ”It’s good to feel like you gave blood, sweat, and tears to something. Brokeback changed my perspective. I’m not doing a movie unless it means something to me. Nothing scares me now.” — Nicholas Fonseca

Mary-Louise Parker
WEEDS (AUGUST 7)

Weeds was recently renewed for a second season, and Mary-Louise Parker, who stars in the pot-themed Showtime dramedy, is a bit surprised. ”I thought people would be a lot more offended than they are,” she says. ”There aren’t people picketing or throwing tomatoes at us.” That a series about a drug-dealing soccer mom is so uncontroversial — and so likable — is testament to Parker’s subtle, layered depiction of Nancy Botwin, a mild suburban housewife who transforms herself into the ”baroness of bud” to keep her McMansion after her husband dies suddenly. ”For me, what she’s doing is really heinous,” says Parker. ”She’s putting her children at risk, and that makes her a bad parent. But because Nancy drives an SUV and wears cute clothes, people are able to relate to her.” The premise might sound absurd, but Parker’s wonderful, saltine-dry performance, which recently earned her a Golden Globe nod, takes Weeds‘ silly story line into deeper territory; she uncovers the shell-shocked, emotionally damaged widow behind the pot-dealing facade. Ultimately, that’s far stronger than the stuff she peddles. — Michael Endelman

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