It's a wonder that any actor would see that initial Academy Award as a crowning achievement. Haven't you noticed how often an Oscar has been a catalyst for a kamikaze career plunge? So with bracing, behind-your-back candor from a casting director and a Hollywood agent (granted, natch, under the promise of full anonymity), here's EW's advice on surviving the greatest moment of your life.
BEST ACTOR Adrien Brody
RECENT CASUALTY Roberto Benigni
SURVIVAL TIP Don't let your ''Pianist'' opportunity level your better judgment. ''With an Oscar win, you have this window of about two years in which you see a lot more material than you ever did,'' says our agent. Recall Benigni. He was Hollywood's golden bambino after ''Life Is Beautiful,'' that other Holocaust flick that nabbed a batch of '97 Oscars, including Best Actor. Five years after the lovefest, the 50-year-old starred in and directed his own live-action ''Pinocchio.'' The Miramax flop cost some $45 million, made less than $4 million domestically, and reduced Benigni's American career to kindling.
Adrien, you're not yet 30, and you've already worked with some of the best directors, including Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick (''The Thin Red Line''), and Spike Lee (''Summer of Sam''). But don't turn that beautiful beak of yours away from the small stuff. And as for those ambitions to make a hip-hop album with P. Diddy? Russell Crowe and Billy Bob Thornton can guarantee: You'll be missundaztood.
BEST ACTRESS Nicole Kidman
RECENT CASUALTIES Hilary Swank, Gwyneth Paltrow
SURVIVAL TIP Don't try to be the BFF. Swank won her Oscar as a lovesick cross-dresser in ''Boys Don't Cry.'' Paltrow got her gold as a lovesick cross-dresser in ''Shakespeare in Love.'' Now Swank hurtles toward mass destruction in ''The Core,'' while Paltrow's ''View From the Top'' is another ''Shallow Hal''-acious comedy. ''Gwyneth's problem is the problem a lot of older male actors have, like Christopher Walken,'' says the agent. ''She started appearing in every movie.'' Nicole, you got your Golden Globe for playing a consumptive -- yet lively! -- French whore and your Oscar for being a suicidal bisexual writer in ''The Hours.'' Keep mixing it up -- but smartly. Your upcoming roles in Anthony Minghella's ''Cold Mountain'' and Lars von Trier's ''Dogville'' will get us to the theater; Doug Liman's ''Mr. and Mrs. Smith'' and the big-screen ''Bewitched'' will keep us there. Now go show Gwyneth some tough love.