Jennifer Connelly, Debi Mazar, and other newcomers who are hot in movies
Credit: Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

What Ernest Hemingway wrote about going broke also applies to overnight success: It happens two ways — gradually and then suddenly. It may be true that the vast majority of the actors, musicians, writers, artists, and comedians we’ve included in our 1991 class of faces to watch have put in years of private, unheralded labor before landing on the cusp of celebrity. But it’s equally a fact of fame that one day you don’t have it, and the next you do — somebody has heard of you, somebody knows your name, somebody wants you. On the following pages is a torrent of talent and a plentitude of potential, along with some advice to this year’s newly minted successes on what to do after getting a foot in the door, and how to avoid becoming that evil twin of a promising newcomer: the fading star. We wish them all the luck they deserve.

Anne-Marie Johnson

After four seasons playing Howard Rollins’ supportive wife on NBC’s In the Heat of the Night, Anne-Marie Johnson, 30, is ready to strike out on her own. Still, when she first read the screenplay for Touchstone’s summer comedy True Identity, about a black man who masquerades as white to escape the mob, she turned it down (”It was terrible, derogatory, racist”). Only after director Charles Lane (Sidewalk Stories) ”totally” rewrote it and British comedian Lenny Henry signed to star did she agree to play Henry’s love interest, an upscale interior decorator. ”It turned out to be a terrific experience,” she says, one that could boost her into the ranks of leading ladies. Though the L.A. native has built an impressive resumé of supporting roles, from film comedy (Hollywood Shuffle, the new The Five Heartbeats) to TV drama (Hill Street Blues, The Atlanta Child Murders), she says black actresses are rarely rewarded witurns. ”It’s worse now, on my level, than when I was just beginning. Since more of my foot is in the door, I see more of the injustices.” — Gregg Kilday

Kevin Pollack

Even before Kevin Pollak had finished shooting his first starring role, as Aidan Quinn’s business partner in the 1990 film Avalon, the calls were coming in. ”Suddenly because I did a movie for [Barry] Levinson I became legitimate,” says Pollak, 32, a veteran stand-up comic who had gone largely unnoticed in 1987’s Million Dollar Mystery and 1988’s Willow. Since Avalon, however, he has appeared in L.A. Story (as Steve Martin’s agent), and he’ll soon star in the romantic comedy Rules of the Game and the cop drama Ricochet, with Denzel Washington. Pollak, who is from San Jose, Calif., will also play half of a 1940s comedy team in Rob Reiner’s CBS summer series Partners in Life. Although Hollywood hasn’t yet put him on its romantic-leading-man menu, he’s happy to provide comic relief in lovable sidekick roles. ”I never get (the girl) in the movies,” he says, ”but I’m damn funny.” — Jess Cagle

Jennifer Connelly

Sometimes physiognomy truly is destiny. Jennifer Connelly owes her first big show-biz break, at age 12, to the fact that ”my nose matched Elizabeth McGovern’s.” She had just begun making the kiddie casting rounds when director Sergio Leone picked her to play McGovern’s childhood scenes in Once Upon a Time in America. Now an English major at Yale, Connelly, 20, has long since graduated to starring roles: She has been at the center of the looking-glass world of Labyrinth (1986), the only innocent among Southern schemers in The Hot Spot (1990), and the town beauty in John Hughes’ new film Career Opportunities. With Disney’s upcoming The Rocketeer, she could next find herself smack in the middle of her first blockbuster. Playing a starlet caught between patriotic fly-boys and Nazi spies, Connelly survived the grueling shoot with aplomb. ”There was so much going in the movie — flying, rockets, all kinds of stuff. I do a little bit of running around. But no flying for me,” she says with a laugh. ”I stayed on the ground.” — Gregg Kilday


When Boone Narr of Hollywood Animal Rentals Inc. got the call for a winsome pooch to star in the film Bingo!, he and his partner ”interviewed” every movie dog in Hollywood. They pawed through pedigrees at dog shows. They sniffed out woofers in pounds across the country. Altogether, they looked at 5,000 dogs. But it was at their own neighborhood pound in L.A. that a star was found. ”After all that looking, Bingo was right in our own backyard,” Narr says of the lucky little mutt — a mix of collie, border collie, and ”who knows what else.” Even though the dog was a she and the role called for a he, the foundling had just the look that director Matthew Robbins was after. In the film, Bingo, a circus dog, befriends a lonely boy, drives a car, leaps through a fiery window, even administers CPR. And while Tri-Star is pushing Bingo! as the kids’ movie of the summer, merchandisers are busy creating the Spuds MacKenzie of the ’90s: Coming soon, a stuffed pup, a coloring book, even a game. So what does Bingo think of all the attention? ”Lapping it right up,” says Narr. — Kelli Pryor

Robin Bartlett

Thirty years and nine films after she first stepped onto a New York stage at age 9, Robin Bartlett is finally getting leading movie roles — thanks to a star- making turn as Meryl Streep’s wisecracking rehab roommate in 1990’s Postcards From the Edge. You’ll never catch Bartlett playing the same part over and over: She’s now shooting The Mrs., a thriller starring Goldie Hawn, and can be seen exercising her terrific deadpan delivery as a prim French teacher who finds adventure with Richard Grieco in If Looks Could Kill. In Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry, due this summer, she’ll play a rich bitch — or ”the closest thing to Imelda Marcos you can get,” she says. But she’ll run the other direction for the ABC sitcom pilot Coconut Downs, playing the working-class owner of a seedy hotel. ”I’m a character actor,” Bartlett says proudly. ”I was never an ingenue…and I was never cute.” — Jess Cagle

Debi Mazar

First, there was blush. She was known as Debi M. then, and makeup was her career. She did well at it, too; clients included Madonna and the B-52s. But, she says, ”I was so frustrated being behind the scenes.” So Debi Mazar, now 26, took up acting and quickly made an impression. Her first movie role: Sandy, the coke-addicted mistress of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in last year’s much-praised GoodFellas. This year, she’ll appear in two eagerly awaited films. In Jungle Fever, Spike Lee’s interracial love story due in June, the actress with the piercing blue eyes dons brown contacts to portray an Italian- American woman whose best friend is having an affair with a black man. And in Jodie Foster’s directorial debut, Little Man Tate, set for this fall, Mazar plays a single mom who befriends Foster’s character, the mother of a gifted young boy. Even with these high-profile roles, Mazar doesn’t consider herself a major success. ”I’m very paranoid; I’m not in the limelight yet,” she says. ”But I’m getting there, I guess, I hope.” — Melina Gerosa

Moira Kelly

Her porcelain features and precocious performances have won Moira Kelly praise as ”a young Winona Ryder,” a quasi-compliment the New York native notes with a smile, a wince, and a spirited refutation. For one thing, Kelly, 23, is three years older than Ryder; for another, she’s been acting professionally only one year. But what a year. ”It’s been so easy for me,” she says, ”that I’m kind of embarrassed.” In February, 29 million viewers saw her spectacular debut as a killer in NBC’s Love, Lies and Murder. And her performance as an abused orphan in this summer’s Billy Bathgate is being called indelible by Disney executives. Recently, she signed on to play a skater in the film The Cutting Edge. No matter that she’d never touched blade to ice: ”I landed on my chin a couple of times, but it’s my job to work at it.” One thing about Kelly: She almost never falls on her face. — Mark Harris

Alisan Porter

If I ever stopped working,” says 9-year-old Alisan Porter, ”my life would be one big blub. I would be really bored.” Blub doesn’t seem likely. Porter, who started acting at 3 1/2, has already appeared in films (Stella, I Love You to Death) and TV (Pee-wee’s Playhouse, I’ll Take Manhattan). And this summer, she has her first starring role, in Warner Bros.’ Curly Sue, directed by John Hughes, whose last project — a trifle called Home Alone — has taken in about $250 million and made Macaulay Culkin America’s best-known kid. Porter hopes Hughes works the same magic for her. She plays a street urchin who, with a kindhearted bum (James Belushi), worms her way into the life of a wealthy lawyer (Kelly Lynch). ”When I first read the script,” says the remarkably poised Porter, ”I thought, ‘Wow! [Curly Sue] is really me.’ She’s independent and can have an attitude, but she’s very nice…But there are opposites also. She has very curly hair and mine is stick straight. I had to have it permed.” Porter, who lives in L.A. with her choreographer mother and her stepfather, expects a long tenure in what she already calls ”the business.” ”I’ll always be involved somehow. Maybe I’ll be a makeup artist or hairdresser.” She already knows from perms. — Meredith Berkman

Anthony LaPaglia

He grew up in Adelaide, Australia, but casting directors seem to think he’s from Brooklyn. Anthony LaPaglia, 32, was one of the bright spots in the 1990 comedy Betsy’s Wedding, playing a young mafioso who falls for a high-strung police officer (Ally Sheedy). In Twentieth Century Fox’s 29th Street with Danny Aiello, due this fall, LaPaglia plays an ”outer-borough” New Yorker who wins the lottery. ”When your name ends in a vowel, you have to live with [ethnic roles] for a while,” says LaPaglia, whose gravelly voice contains just a hint of an Australian accent after eight years of living in Manhattan. LaPaglia, who started acting in the U.S. after brief stints as a bartender and shoe salesman, has appeared Off Broadway, starred in HBO’s critically acclaimed 1990 movie Criminal Justice, and had a small role as a cameraman in this year’s He Said, She Said. He also costars as Michael Keaton’s partner in May’s One Good Cop. That role just might put an end to some confusion LaPaglia has had to deal with. ”I walked into my agent’s office the other day and a girl came running up to me with a photograph and asked me to autograph it,” he says. ”It was a picture of Billy Baldwin. So I signed his name.” — Meredith Berkman

Dennis Haysbert

Dennis Haysbert was already on a roll. Having just finished filming Major League (1989) and Navy SEALs (1990), he was tapped, with two weeks’ notice, to star in Love Field. The movie, opening in the late fall, promises to be a career-maker, since Haysbert not only stepped into Denzel Washington’s shoes but also fell into Michelle Pfeiffer’s arms. Set in November 1963, the film revolves around a Dallas woman (Pfeiffer), traveling by bus to Kennedy’s funeral, who becomes involved with a pharmacist (Haysbert) and his little girl. ”They’ll make a lot out of the black and white relationship, but I’m confident everyone will see the movie as ‘Wow, just two people on a journey.”’ The 36-year-old actor’s own journey began at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, Calif., and continued with TV roles (Lou Grant, Code Red). Though Love Field should consolidate his move into features, he insists, ”Right now I’m in a holding pattern.” He and his actress wife, Lynn, just had their first child, Charles, and Haysbert is dedicating himself to his newest role. ”I’m working on being a dad,” he says. — Meredith Berkman