Actors Talk Actors: Julia Roberts, Ralph Fiennes, Benicio Del Toro and More Discuss This Year's Oscar Contenders in Variety

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by Beth Hanna
November 20, 2013 3:00 PM
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Julia Roberts

In Variety's new SAG preview, 35 different actors discuss this year's likely Oscar contenders: Ralph Fiennes talks Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave," Candice Bergen talks Sandra Bullock in "Gravity," Julia Roberts talks James Gandolfini in "Enough Said" and much more. Quote highlights below.

Fassbender, Nyong'o, Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave'

Whoopi Goldberg on Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave":

When you watch “12 Years a Slave,” you are seeing some of the best art has to offer. Some actors you will know, and some you won't and one, Lupita Nyong'o, makes you want to go grab folks off the street and say, “Watch this young woman!”

She is fresh from Yale and this is her first film gig. In her art, the gamut is run. She finds so much in this script, and somehow in her youth and newness you see the invisible dust of ages and strength beyond her age and reason. She does what we are supposed to do as actors: Take you, then return you, and when finished, make you feel like we have held off time.

Candice Bergen on Sandra Bullock in "Gravity":

There is tremendous subtlety in her performance. She doesn't play the full-on anxiety that many actors might have chosen; she goes, instead, for a surface calm that she maintains at all costs. This keeps her semi-sane. The full-on anxiety is borne by the audience.

Clooney floating off early sucks no energy from the screen. We are with her on her journey, willing her to return. And her journey is physical as well as emotional. Her clumsy clambering about the space station in the beginning morphs into confident athleticism. She becomes a space monkey.

Ralph Fiennes on Chiwetel Ejiofor in "12 Years a Slave":

There is a beautiful simplicity in Ejiofor's portrayal — no attempt at “big” moments of suffering or collapse for cathartic effect. But the big soul of Northup is always present because I believe Ejiofor himself carries such generosity of spirit as an actor. It is this that permeates his performance as Northup and indeed the whole film.

It is a delicate, clear, fully embraced inhabitation of a role. Nothing ingratiating. Nothing self-pitying. We love Solomon and it is unbearable to watch him suffer. We are helpless. But his interior resilience is always there.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in "Before Midnight"

Mark Ruffalo on Ethan Hawke in "Before Midnight":

The fact that Ethan shares a writing credit with Julie Delpy (whose performance is equally beautiful and rare) also sheds a good deal of light on how deeply he understands this material, and how this deep understanding reflects and demonstrates how a man ages within his art form. He is opening himself up to us in a very honest and profound way. What [Jesse] is struggling with as a man who remains engaged with his life and art is what Ethan seems to be struggling with. What we are lucky to witness is the rare and perfect combination of a life and a character merging. It is him but it is not him. That seamlessness is the holy grail of acting.

Chris Rock on Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight":

First off, her acting is peerless. I mean, Julie is great in English, but who knows how much better she is when she occasionally shifts to French. Only she does. And people who speak French. I'm guessing she's tres good in all her scenes.

Second, her stamina is surreal. I mean, those long takes with no cutting — you actually have to know how to act to be in those kinds of scenes. She has a take so long in a car, the car runs out of gas. The nonstop action of the film rivals “My Dinner With Andre” — but Julie ups the ante by doing a lot of walking.

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Enough Said'

Julia Roberts on James Gandolfini in "Enough Said":

The evidence is only within my heart and a handful of cards, some photographs. The same could, I realize, be said for his acting. It was invisible. Sitting down with my husband — who was also a friend of James — recently to watch “Enough Said,” one realized how skillful, masterful really James was. He so completely inhabits the part of Albert that the heartsick feeling I had at seeing James gave way to interest in the plight of Albert. Amazing.

Benicio Del Toro on James Franco in "Spring Breakers":

He is funny, dangerous, creepy and cute. He pops out of the screen in a movie that's already popping out of the screen. I had a lot of fun watching him play Alien. There's a satirical quality to the movie — at its heart, it's a critique — and Franco knows this and his performance embodies the kind of guy whose life revolves around money, bikinis, sex, partying and nothing else. Alien is someone who loves what he does, which is being bad. James does it perfectly. He can play the Harrison Ford part and the Mickey Rourke part — often within the same performance. That's hard to come by.

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