The brightest rising stars, including Denis Leary, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Donna Tartt

By EW Staff
Updated December 25, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

Call it an angry young mantra. ”I think you hear me knockin’, and I think I’m comin’ in,” threatens Denis Leary, 34, a manic monologuist who has used a series of MTV ads to pace wildly, puff madly on Marlboros, and preach about everything from crack (Don’t ever do a drug named after a part of your own ass) to his passion for Cindy Crawford (I want Cindy naked eating an Eskimo Pie on the roof of the Empire State Building!). Since then, Showtime has filmed his one-man show ”No Cure for Cancer” for broadcast in February, and he has four films — National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon I, Gunmen, Sandlot, and Judgment Night — ready for release next year (his respective roles: seedy lounge singer, ex-Marine, baseball pitcher, Irish gang leader). The subject of his next verbal assault: ”Fleetwood Mac’s comeback based on Bill Clinton’s use of their song (”Don’t Stop”). Can the Bee Gees be that far behind, folks?”

Combine Afrocentric iconography and religious soul-searching. Season your beliefs with thoughtful pacifism and PC fervor. Sprinkle with some pulpit preaching, rural communality, and witty introspection, and, if you’re lucky and talented, the musical gumbo that bubbles up will be as heady as ”Tennessee,” the captivating crossover single that marked Arrested Development as the year’s most original and inviting new group. The Atlanta-based sextet’s politically conscious music spurred million-plus sales for their debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life… of (that’s how long it took them to get a recording contract). Among the group’s fans: MTV — which boosted ”Tennessee” with heavy airplay — and Spike Lee, who signed Arrested Development to write and perform ”Revolution,” the call-to-action single that closes Malcolm X. If this is the future of rap, let that revolution begin.

He came. He thawed. He conquered. From the moment he broke free of a 2,500-pound block of ancient ice to become Encino Man‘s prehistoric valley dude — and stole the movie from costar Pauly Shore — Brendan Fraser, 24, has been shattering molds. When he moved from Encino‘s guttural monosyllables to impassioned monologues as a Jewish student at an anti-Semitic 1950s prep school in School Ties, Fraser won kudos that established him as a powerful leading man. In spite of his star quality, Fraser’s next two movies are both ensemble pieces. ”There’s something wonderful,” he says, ”about doing your part to make another actor come off well.” In Younger and Younger, a dark comedy directed by Bagdad Cafe‘s Percy Adlon, Fraser plays the son of two people who continue to bicker — after the wife has died. And in Twenty Bucks, a film about the journey of a $20 bill, Fraser plays a character he describes as ”a well-meaning, hardworking young man.” Finally, a little typecasting.

Bless her, for she was Sister Mary Patrick — the sweet nun whose suppressed giggle burst forth as she waved to the newly arrived Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. Kathy Najimy combined her always-on-the-verge-of-explosion mirth and a Mary Hart-inspired smile to create a swing-out sister who has catapulted her from cameo sensation to headliner. Out of habit, Najimy, 35, is equally engaging but far more politically outspoken (on the Tonight Show, she told Jay Leno, ”You’re one of the only talk-show hosts who isn’t racist, sexist, homophobic, and doesn’t think with your penis”). Currently playing a sneaky sorceress, she stars with lifelong idol Bette Midler in Disney’s witch adventure Hocus Pocus. Najimy’s keeping her hero worship in check but admits, ”Every once in a while I look over and think ‘Oh my God. Weird Kathy from San Diego is starring in a movie with Bette Midler.”’ We’re already bewitched.