W Magazine's Best Performances of the Year

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VIOLA DAVIS IN THE HELP
“No matter what, people don’t think of me for glamorous parts. I’ll go to an audition or a meeting in a pretty dress, and they still think of me as depressed or embattled. Hopefully, that will change.”


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GEORGE CLOONEY IN THE DESCENDANTS

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MICHELLE WILLIAMS IN MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
“The movie that made me cry most recently was Silent Light, which is about the Mennonite community. The film is very naturalistic, and then all of a sudden, magic realism is introduced: A woman in her coffin slowly starts to wake up. I thought I was seeing things. I started to cry so hysterically that the person I was with suggested we leave—he said I was disrupting the audience. And he was bored. I think he was embarrassed by my crying. I made us stick it out, but that was kind of the end of that relationship.”

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JEAN DUJARDIN IN THE ARTIST
“When I won best actor at the Cannes film festival, Robert De Niro, the president of the jury, gave me the award. I was scared. It’s not my job to win a prize, especially a prize from De Niro. He leaned in and whispered to me, ‘You’re good. You’re good.’ I had grown up loving Goodfellas, and I almost fainted.”

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OCTAVIA SPENCER IN THE HELP
“I don’t know how to cook or bake or prepare anything in the kitchen, and my character, ­Minny, is a fantastic cook. That was the hardest part of playing her. I don’t know how to do anything other than get a plate from the cabinet and stick something in the microwave.”

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ELIZABETH OLSEN IN MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
“The first movie I remember seeing is Pal Joey. Frank Sinatra could do no wrong in my book, and when he sings ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’ to Rita Hayworth, I wanted that to happen to me. I longed to be in his song.”

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WILL FERRELL IN EVERYTHING MUST GO
“When I read bedtime stories to my three sons, I try to do funny voices, and I immediately get a lot of crap for it. They say, ‘Papa, what are you doing? Just use a regular voice!’ They’re not impressed. They don’t find me funny.”

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LEONARDO DICAPRIO IN J. EDGAR
DiCaprio came to this shoot sucking on an electronic cigarette. “I have an oral fixation,” he explained, as smoke engulfed his head. He had recently arrived from Australia, where he was shooting The Great Gatsby in 3-D, and became upset when someone asked him for an autograph. He seemed much more interested in leaving than being in the studio. As he rushed out the door, he noticed a toy Smurf that belonged to a child on the set. “I played with these when I was your age,” DiCaprio said, as he stopped suddenly to talk to the little girl. For a moment, he was genuine—kind, even—but he was late for a party or a dinner or a plane. It was time to be somewhere else. And then he was gone.

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KIRSTEN DUNST IN MELANCHOLIA
Lynn Hirschberg: You started acting when you were 4. Did you go to a regular high school?
Kirsten Dunst: Yes. I even went to the prom. I actually borrowed a dress from Sofia Coppola—a beautiful John Galliano burgundy dress that she had worn to the Golden Globes. I was a very lucky girl.
That was before Spider-Man. In Spider-Man, you and Tobey Maguire had an iconic kiss.
Compared to how romantic it looked, it was very unromantic—there was rain running down Tobey’s nose, and he could barely breathe. It really wasn’t fun.
You kissed Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire when you were 11 years old. What was that audition like?
The director, Neil Jordan, asked my mother if I was okay. He thought that I was a disturbed child—he found it upsetting that I could cry so easily, but I needed to cry in the audition, so I just kept sobbing. I’d been auditioning for the role over and over, and it was like, God, just give me the role already—I’ll cry, I’ll scream, I’ll do anything!

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ROONEY MARA IN THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
“For a year, I was Lisbeth Salander—I only wore black; I lived her life. Before this movie, I didn’t even have pierced ears. They put four holes in each ear, and my eyebrow and nipple were pierced. The only thing that concerned me was riding the motorcycle. I wasn’t nervous about the anal rape scene, but the motorcycle had me worried.”

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GARY OLDMAN IN TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY
Lynn Hirschberg: After living in America for 20 years, was it difficult to be very, very British in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?
Gary Oldman: The weird thing is, I had to do a bit of voice work to get my English accent back. I’ve not really lost my accent completely, but it is now a cross-pollination. It came back quickly. The weather of England is in me—I will never lose those clouds and gray skies.
You’ve said the key to playing Smiley is the eyeglasses.
Yes—Smiley and his glasses go together like Bond and his Aston Martin. I saw Smiley as a wise owl, and my search for the right spectacles was important. He’s getting on—he’s in his mid-50s, he’s forced to retire, and his wife has left him—but he still wants to tiptoe toward the new world. It’s the seventies, and he cheers himself up by wearing these glasses. He thinks they may help him get his wife back.
Brad Pitt says that you die better on film than any other actor. What’s the key to a great death scene?
Practice. I’ve died more than anyone. I’ve been hanged, blown to smithereens, decapitated, and had my genitals cut out. I think the worst death was in Hannibal, where I was eaten by wild boars. My favorite death was in State of Grace. I kind of fold. That was quite lovely.

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BRAD PITT IN THE TREE OF LIFE AND MONEYBALL

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CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER IN BEGINNERS AND THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
“I call The Sound of Music ‘S&M.’ I did the movie for practical reasons: It was big bucks. And then I thought it would be bye-bye. I don’t sing­—not even in the shower—and I thought, This will be a great lesson. But I didn’t think it was a very interesting part. I was determined to drink a lot and be sarcastic and cynical. S&M needed a bad boy to remind everyone how sluggishly gooey it might become. I may have kept the movie from becoming a sentimental bore.”

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MELISSA MCCARTHY IN BRIDESMAIDS
“When I watch Up, it makes me weep like a lunatic. I was pregnant the first time I saw it, and the first six or seven minutes destroyed me. I’m not allowed to watch it anymore because I turn into a complete wreck.”

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TILDA SWINTON IN WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
“As a child, I felt like a changeling at odds with the planet I arrived on. I didn’t understand the world I was born into, and that feeling of dissonance colored my youth. I saw that rigidness existed, and as a result, for me, rigidness got a bad name. Looseness was far better. And I gravitated toward a different life.”

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ALBERT BROOKS IN DRIVE
“I got Drive because I told my manager that I thought I could make an interesting villain. I read the script, and they asked me to go to the director’s house to meet him. We chatted, and on my way out I pinned him up against the wall by his front door. He’s Danish, and he’s already very pale. ‘What are you doing?!’ he asked. I was very quiet: ‘I just want you to know that I have great physical strength.’ So he gave me the part.”

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ANTONIO BANDERAS IN THE SKIN I LIVE IN
“When you work in a different language, your emotional state changes. In Spanish, my mother language, words not only have the meaning they have—they also have a personal meaning. For me, it is more difficult to say ‘Te quiero’ than ‘I love you.’”

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SHAILENE WOODLEY IN THE DESCENDANTS
“I did a ton of commercials growing up. My friends would go to soccer practice, and I would go to an audition. It was just a fun hobby. It’s still a fun hobby—nothing more.”


CHARLIZE THERON IN YOUNG ADULT

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