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Ben Shenkman & Justin Kirk

In 'Angels in America'

Ben Shenkman & Justin Kirk give one of the year's Great Performances

For a young actor looking for a high-profile project, few decisions are easier: If Mike Nichols offers you a part in his $60 million adaptation of Tony Kushner's masterwork Angels in America for HBO -- also starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep -- hell yes, you say yes. Only later do you start sweating how you're going to pull it off. ''I never suffered so much self-doubt as an actor,'' says Justin Kirk (TV's Jack & Jill), who struggled to connect with his Prior Walter, an AIDS-stricken would-be prophet. Ditto Ben Shenkman (Requiem for a Dream), who portrayed Prior's boyfriend, Louis, a word processor prone to long-winded left-wing rhetoric. Despite having played the character in regional theater, Shenkman felt self-conscious about performing Louis' elevated orations for the cameras. ''Personally, Angels never really worked until the audience was there. Until then, it felt like a stretch,'' he says. ''Making the movie felt like that a lot of the time.'' Blissfully, that's not the experience watching it: Kirk and Shenkman infuse their men with humanity, humility, and humor. ''I knew it doesn't get any bigger,'' says Kirk, who, like Shenkman, is still searching for his follow-up. ''The words don't get any better. The people that you're in the room with don't get any better.'' Jokes Shenkman: ''It will be, in fact, impossible to find anything as fulfilling. It's basically over.'' Nah. With performances like these, their careers have only just begun.

Originally posted Dec 26, 2003 Published in issue #743-744 Dec 26, 2003 Order article reprints

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