Kaya Scodelario, who stars in "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes"… (Victoria Will / Invision/AP )
PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival is rightly famous for launching the careers of eminent filmmakers — directors Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer, to name just a few, all were discovered here. Yet the festival also can help establish heretofore unknown actors; a lineup of discoveries from past gatherings includes Brad Pitt ("Johnny Suede"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Ryan Gosling ("The Believer").
The Times caught up with four of this year's most buzzworthy young stars: Michael B. Jordan, 25; Skylan Brooks, 13; Dane DeHaan, 26; and Kaya Scodelario, 20.
Michael B. Jordan
Jordan wasn't named after the famous Chicago Bulls basketball player. As his father's first son, Jordan inherited his dad's name just as a young NBA player was blossoming as a star in the league. But the New Jersey native is finally making a name for himself at Sundance this year, as his movie "Fruitvale" has been a slam-dunk with critics and audiences.
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In the movie, Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American father who was shot by police in an Oakland rapid transit station in 2009. Days after its premiere, the drama was snatched up for release by the Weinstein Co.
Jordan has been working since age 12, when he booked gigs as a kid model with Modell's sporting goods and Toys R Us, which ran advertisements in the local Sunday paper.
"There was no desire to be an actor," said Jordan, looking exhausted as he slumped in a couch in a bar on Main Street a day after the movie's Saturday debut. "It was just something I was good at and I was like 'Cool, no school. It's crafty. I'm there.'"
It was only after he lost himself in his character on the set of 2001's little-league baseball drama "Hard Ball" that he felt a connection to acting, and quickly began booking more high-profile roles. Though he has appeared on a handful of television programs, including "The Wire" and "Parenthood," he is still known to many as Vince, the troubled quarterback he played during the final two seasons of "Friday Night Lights."
His performance in "Fruitvale," which was produced by Forest Whitaker, already has some calling Jordan the next Denzel Washington. But the young actor says that as a black man it's a struggle to find challenging roles in Hollywood.
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"Until people can list black actors that roll off the tip of their tongue, I feel like I have a lot of work to do," said Jordan, who lives in Los Feliz. "I'm humbled to be in the same sentence as [Denzel], but it's like, I want to do my own thing. I want people to go, 'Oh, that's Mike B.'"
At his school in Crenshaw, Brooks is already pretty popular. When his classmates saw him in commercials for Kool-Aid and Honda, he suddenly found that a lot more people wanted to sit next to him in the cafeteria. But after spending time with Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks at a glitzy film festival, the eighth-grader's cool quotient may hit a new high.
"Yeah, it made me even more popular at school," the teenager acknowledged, seeming out of place while eating lunch in a nightclub in Park City. "I try not to be cocky because I don't want anything to get to my head, and I believe in God."
That levelheadedness may be hard to maintain after Sundance, where Brooks has been receiving praise for carrying "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete." In the drama, Brooks plays a boy forced to get through a summer with only the help of his young neighbor in the Brooklyn projects after his mom is arrested.
The role required Brooks to witness plenty of adult material — his character's mother, played by Hudson, is a heroin addict and a prostitute. But he was surprised to find that his parents were supportive of his taking on the part.
"I was worried that my mom would think a lot about it and be like 'I don't know if you're going to do this movie,' but she was like the opposite," said Brooks, who had to return to Los Angeles for a few days in the middle of the 10-day festival to attend school.
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The movie was shot in New York, but Brooks said he otherwise had not traveled much outside of L.A. He found many things exciting about Sundance: the moving sidewalks at the airport, the snow, and of course, the swag.
"I got some free shoes," he said. "But I also got free candy. M&M's, peanut butter, chocolate, Life Savers and candy corn."
Most stars who attend Sundance indulge in free libations, or grab a late-night slice of pizza before hitting the hot tub. Not DeHaan. The actor, who is set to play Harry Osborn in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," has had a decidedly healthier festival experience as he prepares for the movie to start production soon.
He's been following a workout plan sent to him by his personal trainer, and has been eating every two hours.