The lion’s share of Gabourey Sidibe’s acting experience before landing Precious? ”I was a pirate in Peter Pan at Lehman College in the Bronx,” she says. ”And an Indian. Versatile!” She still delivered a striking performance as an underprivileged teen mother — even though the actress is a decade older than her alter ego. ”Seriously, I’m 26, but I only operate at about the level of a 19-year-old anyway,” Sidibe says with a laugh. ”I’m just a little immature. Sorry, I am.” Far from it: She just got a Golden Globe nomination for being wise beyond her years.
— Dave Karger
Since his turn as a deranged groomsman in last summer’s The Hangover, Zach Galifianakis has amassed a slew of fans eager for a street-side chat. ”Before, I was riding my bike every day, and I was never bothered,” says the actor, 40, who also had roles in Up in the Air and the HBO comedy Bored to Death. ”But now people do yell stuff. It seems that no one who comes up to me has a college degree. It’s usually guys with a ‘Who farted?’ T-shirt.” But there’s an upside to his newfound fame: ”I can get a really good table at Long John Silver’s now.”
— Kate Ward
For much of Sharlto Copley’s live-wire performance in the sci-fi hit District 9 — his first-ever feature-film role — the South African native essentially rolled around in a real Johannesburg landfill. But he didn’t complain. ”At times, it was physically and emotionally exhausting,” says the 36-year-old, ”but I didn’t find it stressful. I just had to push myself.” Now he’s pushing himself into movie stardom, playing Capt. ”Howling Mad” Murdock in next summer’s A-Team remake. ”The A-Team was my favorite TV show as a kid,” he says. ”It’s just like, Wow, man, I get to do this job!”
— Adam B. Vary
”I’d never played a lead role in anything before,” says Carey Mulligan of her Golden Globe-nominated turn as a precocious ’60s schoolgirl in the drama An Education. But she tackled the challenge like a pro, using the added screen time to imbue her character with playful vulnerability. ”The more I played her, the less I thought about it,” says Mulligan, 24, who recently wrapped Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. ”After a while, it’s just instinctual. The more you play something, the easier it becomes.” She certainly made it look that way.
— Dave Karger
Taking on a role as iconic as Star Trek‘s Capt. James T. Kirk might seem hopelessly daunting. But Chris Pine took it in stride. By perfectly capturing Kirk’s swagger and charm in J.J. Abrams’ blockbuster Trek reboot, the 29-year-old also announced himself as a bona fide leading man (he’ll next share the screen with Denzel Washington in the 2010 thriller Unstoppable). Still, the L.A. native remains humble. ”William Shatner will forever be Captain Kirk,” he says. ”I’m like the temporary torchbearer.” We’d say he’s shining pretty bright on his own.
— Adam B. Vary