DON'T LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDERS, FELLAS--THESE PLAYERS MAY BE GAINING ON YOU

By Daniel Fierman
Updated August 07, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Artistically speaking, these guys have their whole lives ahead of them. Some are young, some less so, but all of them brim with leading-man potential.

DON CHEADLE, 33 Possibly the best working actor now under the pop-culture radar. Whether he’s playing scary or silly, he’s adept at both drama (Rosewood) and comedy (Boogie Nights).

RUSSELL CROWE, 34 The New Zealander’s turn as L.A. Confidential’s crusading gumshoe was a perfect modern-day movie hero — the masculine yet deeply complex do-gooder.

MATT DAMON, 27 The Good Will Hunting star already has an Oscar for screenwriting and enough press clips to repopulate a forest. Can he live up to the hype? Yep. After his strong performance in Hunting, we can’t wait to see him match wits with Edward Norton in the poker pic Rounders.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, 23 He already has lived up to the hype. Long before Titanic turned him into a teen idol, he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Next he’ll suit up for The Beach, from the makers of Trainspotting.

VINCENT D’ONOFRIO, 38 Most know him as Men in Black’s bug-inhabited farmer, a role that showed off his instincts for broad comedy. To appreciate his finer skills, watch his portrayal of pulp writer Robert E. Howard in 1996’s The Whole Wide World.

BRENDAN FRASER, 29 He’s always had a sexy, big-guy appeal, and as George of the Jungle he swung beautifully as a comic. This fall’s Gods and Monsters shows that he’s equally nimble as a dramatic actor.

ANTHONY LaPAGLIA, 39 From The Client to TV’s Murder One, he’s always been a dependable journeyman. But last season on Broadway, as the brute centerpiece of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, he turned in an unforgettable Tony-winning performance of vulnerability and thunder.

EDWARD NORTON, 28 In Primal Fear, he flickered from tender to terrifying in a heartbeat. Subsequent roles (The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You) have only begun to reveal his range.

WILL PATTON, 44 Handsome, funny, creepy, he’s one of Hollywood’s favorite character actors (Inventing the Abbotts). With a smirk and a choked voice, he can mine the smallest part for rage and humor. So, a challenge to casting: Find a role that exploits his vast trove of talent.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX, 23 His breakout role as a dull-witted, duped misfit in To Die For built him a strong — and deserved — rep as De Niro-in-waiting.

OLIVER PLATT, 36 He has provided his own brand of sweaty, nervous comic relief in over 17 films, including this year’s Bulworth and Dr. Dolittle. Encore!

VING RHAMES, 39 From Pulp Fiction to Out of Sight, there may be no better filmgoing pleasure than watching Rhames play the heavy. And his star turn in HBO’s Don King: Only in America blew most of last year’s big-screen work away.

TIM ROTH, 37 The endearing, yet vaguely menacing Roth can shock with his ability to move from down-and-dirty roles (Reservoir Dogs) to ripe costume villainy (Rob Roy).

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