By the time Lori Petty was 18, she’d lived in Tennessee, Iowa, and Nebraska and was hungry for the kinds of acting jobs that only the coasts could provide. After 10 years of movie and television work, the emotionally coiled beauty with a glamour-tinged-with-gravel voice has the role of her career — but she had to go to Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana to get it. In Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, due in theaters this summer, Petty stars as the pitcher on a women’s pro baseball team during the 1940s, alongside an all-star squad that includes Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks. Though almost five months of location shooting around the Midwest had its rough spots (”All those people I remembered were still there, and I think I was just a little too androgynous for them,” she notes wryly), Petty was all confidence on camera — and on the mound, even during shooting at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. ”I’m lucky,” she says. ”I grew up playing sports, I had a lot of varsity letters — I even pitched in Little League baseball.” She got her League role after her intense performance as a surf instructor in the testosterone-packed Point Break. ”Working with 20 actresses after working with 10 men was…different,” she says. ”We all started getting our periods at the same time — that was lovely — and you should have seen the makeup room. Chicks everywhere. By the end of shooting, I learned how to do my eyebrows myself from watching Madonna — she’s the eyebrow and lip expert.” Next for the actress: ”I don’t really want to shoot anyone on screen or to be shot. And I’d like to make a movie about the way things really are — multicultural, multiracial, across different class lines. All these yuppie heroes are working my nerves!”
— Mark Harris
The 1990 comedy Cadillac Man wasn’t Robin Williams’ best vehicle, but it sure kicked Lauren Tom’s career into overdrive. With a top-volume voice and a knack for improv, Tom made the most of her role as a sassy dim sum waitress — and of the career opportunities it sparked. The movie led to an appearance on The Tonight Show, which led to a TV pilot, which didn’t make it but did lead to a production deal with Twentieth Century Fox, which wants Tom to help foster Asian roles and actors on TV. On the big screen, the giggly Chicago-born Tom, who is of Chinese descent, can be seen this spring in the comedy Man Trouble as the wife Jack Nicholson dumps for Ellen Barkin. ”I’m making my major debut as a frumpy 45-year-old woman,” groans the actress, who’s in her late 20s. In the drama Mr. Jones, opening this fall with Richard Gere and Lena Olin, Tom gets younger: She plays a 20-year-old suicidal mental patient. Her TV deal might bring her lighter roles, but the actress, who protested the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce as an Asian in Broadway’s Miss Saigon in 1990, takes her ethnic mission seriously. ”I feel like now I’m in a position to really do something for Asian actors,” she says. ”I had to do a lot of parts with an accent to get where I am.”
— Jess Cagle
”Everybody thinks I’m a spoiled little English public-school boy who’s still about 4-foot-11,” Christian Bale says with a laugh. In fact, he’s 5-foot-11, 18 years old, and just took his first driving test — in California rather than his hometown of Bournemouth, England. The confusion is understandable, though. In Steven Spielberg’s 1987 Empire of the Sun, Bale made a memorable film debut playing a privileged British lad thrown into a Japanese World War II internment camp. Now, having finished school at Bournemouth College, he is eagerly dipping into new roles and accents: He adopted the ”dese-dem-and-dose” patois of a turn-of-the-century Bowery Boy for his star turn as a singing, dancing labor organizer in the Disney musical Newsies, due in March. ”I was very worried about the dancing and singing, and in general I don’t like musicals,” Bale admits, but director Kenny Ortega was ”very manipulative. He reassured me that I wouldn’t be doing a Judy Garland. He claimed Al Pacino had done a musical. I said, ‘What? Al Pacino?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ He did a whole number on me.” Bale knew there was no need to chase down the mysterious Pacino musical (it doesn’t exist); he’s already moved on to Swing Kids, about young Germans on the eve of World War II, now shooting in Prague. The role is giving him his third accent in three times out — that of an eager Nazi convert.
— Gregg Kilday