People in Film

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Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal

Maggie Gyllenhaal has acting in her bones - she was born in 1977 in New York's Lower East Side of Manhattan to screenwriter Naomi Foner and director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Her younger brother Jake was acting by the age of 11 - he played Billy Crystal's son in City Slickers. But Maggie only acted in films directed by her father until she was 19  

She chose, instead, to study before taking up acting full-time: "College gave me validation," she has said. "I gained a lot of confidence, just from once or twice saying something in class and the professor saying, 'Great idea.' The experience certainly helped me to say to a director, 'Actually, I think my idea is at least worth talking about.'"

These days, Maggie Gyllenhaal is not only able to express her ideas to directors, but also to the audience by her on-screen presence. She has played a series of challenging characters with great precision - in Sherrybaby, she was a struggling former drug addict fresh out of jail and determined to regain custody of her young daughter and in Donnie Darko, starring her brother Jake as a kid suffering from what may or may not be weird hallucinations, she played his baffled on-screen sister .

She shone in small roles in Adaptation and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (both written by Charlie Kaufman, the former far weirder and more interesting than the latter) and recently became a flustered wartime English mum in the light-hearted but smart and enjoyable Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang  

Although Gyllenhaal has said that Emma Thompson, who plays McPhee, is the person she most admires, she is still inspired by directors who listen to her ideas. When playing lawyer Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, she was pleasantly surprised by director Christopher Nolan's willingness to listen. "Doing Batman shocked me at every turn. When I started, I thought, 'Well, it's a huge movie, I'll just do my best to put what I can into it.' But, in fact, they were really hungry for my ideas, for my views. It was great!"

Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang

People usually think about Hollywood as a place dominated by American filmmakers - but in fact, ever since the very earliest days of the movies, directors from outside the US have made some of Hollywood's finest films. And responsible for a large number of them is the great director, Fritz Lang.

Born in Vienna in 1890, Lang was an Austrian who made a series of movies that completely revolutionised cinema during the 1920s and 30s and still look amazing today. Chief among them was M (1931) - the story of a manhunt for a murderer that pretty much invented the genre of film noir, and Metropolis (1927), the dazzling silent epic that did the same for sci-fi movies.

But when the Nazis took power in Germany, Lang soon left for America (although propaganda minister Josef Goebbels reportedly wanted him to work for the German government). Once there, he picked up where he had left off, spending the rest of his career in Hollywood making brilliantly hard-boiled thrillers - the likes of Ministry of Fear (1944), Scarlet Street (1945) and While The City Sleeps (1956).

With so many years having passed since he was making movies, his name might not be as well-known as modern film legends like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron - but the movies he made were every bit as innovative and compelling as Avatar, and essential viewing for any young film fan.

Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg

If you were to dream up a Hollywood leading man, you'd probably give him a strong jaw, manageable hair and the sense that he could charm any woman and lead a group of people through a hail of bullets. In short, he's unlikely to look a lot like Jesse Eisenberg.

But Eisenberg is the star of the one of this autumn's biggest hit films, The Social Network, and he is perfectly cast as Mark Zuckerberg, the college outsider who became the billionaire founder of Facebook. It's not a role that would suit someone who was too handsome in a conventional way, or who looks like they would be supremely comfortable in any group of people. So the film-makers turned to Eisenberg, now 27, who in the last couple of years has become actor of choice to play nerdy but highly intelligent characters, the kind of guys who often spend three quarters of the film working up the courage to talk to a girl.

Fittingly, considering the kind of roles he plays, it turns out that Jesse Eisenberg's father is a professor. He grew up in New York City and nearby New Jersey and started acting after having a very unhappy time in school in his early teens. He made his first film at age 18, and grabbed a lot of people's attention as the moody (and sometimes obnoxious) Walt in the dark comedy The Squid And The Whale, in which two brothers watch their parents' marriage fall apart. Walt pretends to have written classic rock songs (and manages to get away with it for a while) and a girlfriend sums him up by telling him, "My father says you have a weak handshake, which is a sign of indecision."

Eisenberg played a college student facing the boy who bullied him in high school in The Education Of Charlie Banks. He was very funny in Adventureland, in which his character is forced by a family money crisis to drop his dreams of postgraduate study and instead find work at a crumbling amusement park. And there is another theme park in Zombieland, in which Eisenberg finally gets to play the action hero - although he's still brainy and talks too fast.

And in an age when - as The Social Network shows - the kids who got mocked at school really have taken over the world, then maybe Jesse Eisenberg will prove to be the perfect movie star, after all.

Wim Wenders

German cinema, like the country itself, took a long time to recover from World War II. It was only in the 1970s, with the rise of a generation of young directors who had grown up after the war, that German films started to get the world audience's attention again.

But although Wim Wenders was at the heart of this group, many of his films are not made in Germany (or in German). Like Wenders himself, his characters travel around a lot. In one of the best of his early films, Alice in the Cities (1974), a male journalist and a young girl set off from New York and then wander around northern Europe trying to track down her grandmother. That's pretty much it as far as the storyline goes but then tight, mechanical plots have never been Wenders' strong point. Slightly mysterious, but usually fascinating, journeys are.

His films also always look great whether showing Germany in moody black-and-white in Alice in the Cities and Wings of Desire (1987 many people's favourite Wenders film) or the American desert in beautiful colour in Paris, Texas (1985).

They also sound great Wenders loves musicians, having become a devoted fan of blues and rock music growing up in Germany in the 1950s and 60s. And he likes to feature older men with lived-in faces (actor Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas being a prime example). Combine all these things, and it's no surprise that the director finally found a huge worldwide audience with Buena Vista Social Club (1999), a moving documentary about a group of elderly Cuban musicians.

Marion Cotillard

If ever there was a born actress, it's Marion Cotillard and her upbringing in the business helped take her all the way to an Oscar.

When Marion Cotillard was acting alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine, the film of the stage musical of the same name, he gave her some advice. It was simple enough: "Take care of my life. Don't work too much. He's right. There are so many things that I want to do, that I don't do, that I could do, but sometimes I'm too tired after a working day."

The 34-year-old French actress, who won an Oscar for her utterly convincingly portrayal of the late singer Edif Piaf in La Vie En Rose , doesn't do things by halves. Nine director Rob Marshall has said that, as Luisa Contini the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis's character, film director Guido Contini Cotillard was not only able to sing and dance but also to develop her part into an amazingly complex portrait of her character. "When you went into the rehearsal room, there she would be, working and working. She was just living the role. Daniel Day-Lewis was absolutely blown away by her, as I was."

Although she clearly likes the sound of Day-Lewis's "take it easy" advice, Cotillard may find it a challenge to be anything other than a committed actor. In Public Enemies, director Michael Mann's film in which Johnny Depp is legendary Chicago gangster John Dillinger and Cotillard his girlfriend Evelyn "Billie" Frechette, she undertook more research than most actors would even contemplate. She also trained herself to speak in a French-Canadian-Wisconsin accent and, during the three-month shoot, would only speak English to family and friends.

It should therefore be no surprise that Cotillard is from French acting stock. Both her parents are actors and at the age of five she had made her debut in a family friend's production. At 15 she attended the Conservatoire d'art Dramatique in her home town of Orleans and after graduating quickly made a name for herself in French feature and TV films notably in director Luc Besson's hugely successful Taxi series.

Yet it wasn't until she won the Oscar for her role as Piaf that Cotillard became an international star. She may be beautiful, but it is her apparent ability to lose herself in a range of roles that made her the toast of Hollywood. Next up is a role in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Inception, in which she will star opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. Perhaps she is taking Day-Lewis's advice after all, as she has recently said that she needs "to have some time to do all the things I really care for. So at that point I will have to sit, be pregnant, and do a lot of things! That's the plan."

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