EW Staff
January 27, 2012 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Frontrunner
George Clooney in The Descendants
Age 50
Role Matt King, the Hawaii dad who learns that his newly comatose wife (and mother of his two daughters) had been cheating on him.
Oscar History Clooney, who shares an Adapted Screenplay nod this year for The Ides of March, won the Best Supporting Actor prize for 2005’s Syriana. He’s received two previous Best Actor nominations, for 2007’s Michael Clayton and 2009’s Up in the Air, as well as Director and Original Screenplay nods for 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck.
Second Time’s the Charm The Descendants wasn’t the first Alexander Payne film in which Clooney hoped to participate. ”Alexander just hasn’t made a bad film,” he says. ”And he wasn’t smart enough to see how good I would have been for Sideways.” (Though Clooney expressed interest in starring in that 2004 comedy, Payne cast Thomas Haden Church, who ended up scoring an Oscar nod himself.)
Running Time In one of The Descendants‘ most memorable scenes, Clooney awkwardly (and socklessly) sprints around his neighborhood in boat shoes. ”I’m a jock, I play basketball, so running like a goose down the street really screwed with my masculinity,” he admits. ”I did a Q&A and some guy goes, ‘Do you really run like that?’ I was so offended!”
Up Next He costars with Sandra Bullock in Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón’s space-travel thriller Gravity, due Nov. 21. —Dave Karger

Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Age 39
Role George Valentin, a suave but prideful silent-film star whose career is rocked by the advent of sound.
Oscar History First nomination.
The Language of Silence While Dujardin is almost completely silent throughout The Artist, the actor still had to speak his lines while being filmed. But since the film used title cards to relate the dialogue, it didn’t matter what language he spoke. ”Sometimes I acted in English, sometimes in French,” he says. ”And sometimes I was just speaking complete gibberish.”
La Cité des Anges Dujardin visited Los Angeles for the very first time to shoot The Artist. Though he was busy filming on the Warner Bros. studio lot, he fit in some sightseeing. ”It was my first time as an actor and as a tourist,” says Dujardin. ”But after two weeks, you appropriate the city and it’s great to just drive around. And turning right on red — oh, how I loved that.”
Actor Without Borders Dujardin is already a big-name star in his native France, but now that he’s attained recognition across the Atlantic, is he tempted by the bright lights of Hollywood? Maybe. ”I want to continue to work in France, to dig deeper into French cinema,” he says, ”but if there are good offers coming out of the States, then why not?”
Up Next He’ll play a spy in the French espionage thriller Möbius. —Keith Staskiewicz

Gary Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Age 53
Role George Smiley, the brilliant MI6 spymaster created by author John le Carré
Oscar History First nomination. Can you believe it?
Spy vs. Spy Tinker may take place in the world of British espionage, but Oldman says his character has little in common with the U.K.’s best-known secret agent. ”This is far removed from the world of James Bond — it’s closer to the old Harry Palmer movies with Michael Caine — and I think that’s what’s so refreshing about the drama. Because we set it in the [1970s], it can’t rely on gizmos and gadgets. It’s real old-school spying: reel-to-reel tape recorders and bugs in chandeliers.”
Director’s Cut Oldman says he was surprised to learn he was director Tomas Alfredson’s first choice to play Smiley. ”It was an almost supernatural event because nowadays you are always one of five actors on the list. But he was really just dead keen on me,” recalls the actor. And after a meeting over breakfast in L.A., Oldman decided the feeling was mutual. ”I liked his take on the material, and he’s got a great sense of humor. I thought, ‘You know what? I could spend 12 weeks with this guy.”’
Up Next After heading back to Gotham as Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises (July 20), Oldman will star opposite Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy in the Prohibition-era drama The Wettest County (Aug. 31). —Adam Markovitz

Demián Bichir in A Better Life
Age 48
Role Carlos Galindo, a Mexican-born gardener living in L.A. and dealing with dual stresses: trying to keep his teenage son away from the local gang culture while avoiding possible deportation himself.
Oscar History First nomination.
Becoming Carlos ”We dyed my mustache black, and I had to tan a lot because I’m a lot whiter than the character,” says Bichir, a major star in his native Mexico who’s best known in the U.S. for a recurring role on Showtime’s Weeds. ”Even when we weren’t shooting, I was dressing as a gardener. Because you don’t want to separate yourself from the character, not even for a second.” His altered appearance as Carlos had a bonus personal side effect: ”My girlfriend, she’s the one that enjoyed it more than anybody else,” he laughs. ”It was like having many different boyfriends.”
Movin’ On Up For one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Bichir scaled a tall palm tree without the aid of machinery. ”In any group of gardeners, there’s one guy who does that,” he says. ”He has to be the most fit, he has to be fearless, and he has to believe in God. Because you’re really risking your life.”
Up Next He plays the attorney for Salma Hayek’s cartel in Oliver Stone’s drug drama Savages (Sept. 28). —Dave Karger

Brad Pitt in Moneyball
Age 48
Role Real-life Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who revolutionized the way players are scouted.
Oscar History Pitt, who’s a nominated producer of Moneyball, scored a Best Actor nod for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and was nominated for Supporting Actor for 1995’s 12 Monkeys.
History Lesson For inspiration, Pitt and director Bennett Miller looked to a time when filmmakers were as suspicious of the established rules as Beane is. ”I love this character because it’s reminiscent to me of ’70s films,” says Pitt. ”Looking back at my favorites, it’s All the President’s Men, it’s Dog Day Afternoon. In the late ’80s and ’90s, we got caught up in this idea that a character had to learn a lesson and be someone else in the end. If you look at the ’70s films I was weaned on, it’s not [the character] that changed, it’s the world around them — just sent it off its axis a few degrees. That’s what I saw in Moneyball.”
Diamonds Aren’t His Best Friend ”I’m a big sports fan, but not necessarily baseball,” Pitt admits. So why take this part? ”It was something about these guys questioning from ground zero the way we do things and tearing that apart and starting from scratch. And then going up against a system that became quite antagonistic to that questioning. I’m a sucker for an underdog story.”
Up Next Pitt stars in the zombie-apocalypse flick World War Z, which opens Dec. 21, and mobster drama Cogan’s Trade, due at some point in 2012. —Rob Brunner

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