EYE ON THE OSCARS: UNDER 30
Jason Schwartzman, Topher Grace, Zach Braff
By SHARON KNOLLE
Jason Schwartzman, 24
Film: "I Heart Huckabees"
Why: On the strength of two indie films, "Rushmore" and this year's "I Heart Huckabees," Jason Schwartzman's status as cult favorite is forever secure. The son of Talia Shire, he grew up in the illustrious Coppola clan, although he remains refreshingly unjaded by Hollywood and admits to getting starstruck when meeting icons like "Huckabees" co-star Dustin Hoffman. Schwartzman also has spent 10 years in the band Phantom Planet, whose pop anthem "California" is the theme song to "The OC," and is working on a solo music career.
Glenn Kenny, film critic for Premiere magazine, says, "He seems to be something of an archetype, the disaffected, precocious, alienated but not too far gone on the cynical side guy, a little like Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate,' only with more overt angst."
Quote: "I try not to rely too much on luck or winging things. I just try not to have things on my will-not-do list. I think it's a little limiting. I hope I have an open mind. If there's one thing I strive for, it's to work with people like David O. Russell who are amazingly talented. All I can hope for is to learn and investigate. The ultimate thing is to love the thing you're doing and be passionate about it."
What's next: Wrapped "Shopgirl," filming "Bewitched" with Will Ferrell and donning a wig in "Marie Antoinette" for cousin Sofia Coppola.
Topher Grace, 26
Films: P.S., In Good Company
Why: Since 1998, Topher Grace, 26, has ventured away from hit Fox skein "That '70s Show" only a few times, most notably to play a spoiled rich kid who gets Michael Douglas' daughter hooked on drugs in "Traffic."
Now in his last year on the series, he's getting the chance to show that he's more than a wisecracking, wig-wearing sitcom star, thanks to buzzed-about turns opposite Laura Linney in "P.S." and with Scarlett Johansson and Dennis Quaid in "In Good Company."
Says Debbie Romano, who cast Topher in "That '70s Show," "Topher has made such smart decisions. He waited a long time to do something like 'Traffic' because he didn't want to do something like 'Scream,' he wanted to do something that was really classy. It was a difficult role and he totally held his own opposite Michael Douglas, which I thought was huge."
Newmarket's Bob Berney says of Topher in "P.S.," which his company is distributing, "I feel like a big surprise in the film is Topher being discovered in his first adult performance."
Romano adds, "He's gone on to show that he's capable of a lot of different things, and I think he'll be around for a long time. I think he has matured into his looks and found an inner confidence in what he does, and that translates onscreen."
Quote: "I'm at an awesome place in my career where I'm totally happy admitting how green I am," he recently told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm not trying to prove that I know more than I do. This is an interesting time for me. Everything's kind of up in the air."
What's next: Nothing firm lined up beyond "In Good Company," although rumors have him playing Jimmy Olson in the new "Superman" film.
Zach Braff, 29
Film: Garden State
Why: "Scrubs" star Braff turned in a heartfelt indie hit with his directorial debut, "Garden State," which he also wrote.
Premiere film critic Peter Debruge says, "I'd never seen 'Scrubs,' so this was my first exposure and it blindsided me. He's really connecting to a generation. I went out on a limb and gave four stars to 'Garden State,' even though it's not necessarily a perfect movie, but it left me anxious to see his next project."
"It's so great working with a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants," says Amanda Demme, music supervisor on "Garden State." "To have created this amazing soundtrack on top of it all, you don't often have those moments in your career."
Quote: "I set out to make a character-driven movie like the ones that I liked, like 'Harold and Maude' and 'You Can Count on Me,'" says Braff. "So to have people respond to it like they have, it's really encouraging. I love directing and I'll do it as long as they'll let me.
"I want to do as many things as I can, just different aspects of directing and acting. I'd like to do some more theater, as I've done in the past, and I'd like to direct some theater. Act in films, do anything, craft service, whatever they'll let me do.
"The doors have definitely opened up more than when I was trying to get 'Garden State' going. There've been some opportunities for me to get my next film made, which is all I ever wanted."
What's next: Prepping his next film as a writer-director, voicing the lead character in "Chicken Little" and at least two more years on "Scrubs."
Date in print: Mon., November 19, 2004
© 2004 Reed Business Information © 2004 Variety, Inc.