Friday Night Lights
Director Berg (''The Rundown'') read H.G. Bissinger's beloved best-seller -- about a small-town high school football team's emotional quest for the Texas state championship -- more than a decade ago and kept tabs on the project for years before finally getting the green light from Überproducer Brian Grazer (''8 Mile''). Of course, it didn't hurt that Berg and Pulitzer Prize winner Bissinger are cousins, though the familial connection only upped the pressure to deliver a worthy adaptation. Says Berg, ''I was pretty conscious of making sure I didn't clown up his book.''
Filmed entirely in the sports-crazed Lone Star State, the hard-hitting roles required that the young actors rigorously train for nearly three months. ''I was eating about seven to eight chicken breasts a day,'' says Luke (''Antwone Fisher''), who plays star running back James ''Boobie'' Miles (Thornton plays his coach). ''I never saw my abs before and I was so happy. I was like, Dang, man, they're in there!'' WHAT’S AT STAKE Could perform ''Miracle''-like business, providing the box office boost Billy Bob needs after the embarrassing belly flop of ''The Alamo.'' (Oct. 15)
It's an unconventional love story set in the theater with characters spouting iambic pentameter. But don't compare it to ''Shakespeare in Love.'' ''It's lazy to put them in the same category,'' says Eyre (''Iris''). '''Shakespeare' was a romantic comedy. The ambition of this is to be a comedy, but also to ask questions about sex and gender and identity.'' ''Beauty'' follows Ned (Crudup), an actor celebrated for playing female roles. Until King Charles II (Everett) allows women to play their own parts, which provides a boon for Maria (Danes), an aspiring actress who happens to be obsessed with Ned. ''I was in a panic because it was complex material,'' says Danes. ''I had an accent to whip up, another period of time to imagine, and it was so layered.'' To add nuance to the plot's intricacies, Danes, Crudup, and Eyre underwent five weeks of rehearsals. Apparently, all that prep time sparked more than on-screen fireworks for its stars. ''There is a relationship,'' confirms Eyre of Danes and Crudup. ''Was it apparent [during filming]? You know what was apparent? These two very intelligent actors, who are witty and attractive, got on very well. Beyond that, I couldn't and wouldn't say more.'' WHAT’S AT STAKE Overcoming the inevitable comparisons to ''Shakespeare.'' (Oct. 8)