In 'Angels in America'

By Jeff Jensen
Updated December 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Ben Shenkman & Justin Kirk give one of the year’s Great Performances

For a young actor looking for a high-profile project, few decisions are easier: If Mike Nichols offers you a part in his $60 million adaptation of Tony Kushner’s masterwork Angels in America for HBO — also starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep — hell yes, you say yes. Only later do you start sweating how you’re going to pull it off. ”I never suffered so much self-doubt as an actor,” says Justin Kirk (TV’s Jack & Jill), who struggled to connect with his Prior Walter, an AIDS-stricken would-be prophet. Ditto Ben Shenkman (Requiem for a Dream), who portrayed Prior’s boyfriend, Louis, a word processor prone to long-winded left-wing rhetoric. Despite having played the character in regional theater, Shenkman felt self-conscious about performing Louis’ elevated orations for the cameras. ”Personally, Angels never really worked until the audience was there. Until then, it felt like a stretch,” he says. ”Making the movie felt like that a lot of the time.” Blissfully, that’s not the experience watching it: Kirk and Shenkman infuse their men with humanity, humility, and humor. ”I knew it doesn’t get any bigger,” says Kirk, who, like Shenkman, is still searching for his follow-up. ”The words don’t get any better. The people that you’re in the room with don’t get any better.” Jokes Shenkman: ”It will be, in fact, impossible to find anything as fulfilling. It’s basically over.” Nah. With performances like these, their careers have only just begun.

Angels in America

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