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Bruins Shine Onscreen in Current Hits

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By Sheila Roberts

Published Jan 4, 2012 8:00 AM


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(Left to right) Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, director Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black '96. Photo by: Keith Bernstein

If you've been taking in the flurry of end-of-the-year movies, chances are good you've seen the work of some accomplished UCLA grads. Theater, Film and Television alumni Dustin Lance Black '96, Alexander Payne MFA '90 and Michael Stuhlbarg are all pivotal to some talked-about films currently in theaters and drawing Oscar buzz.

Black, who won a Best Screenplay Academy Award in 2009 for Milk, tackles another complex and compelling figure in his script for J Edgar, which explores the personal and public life and relationships of J. Edgar Hoover. "This was a tough one to research," Black says about the story of the iconic FBI director. "If you read any of the biographies on J. Edgar Hoover, you find that they contradict each other more than they agree and often they're told from a political perspective with an agenda."

"For me, it was always important to answer that question of why," Black explains. "I know that this is someone who attained a lot of power, and he maintained that power for longer than he probably should have."

Academy Award–nominee Payne, meanwhile, has always been drawn to the peculiar situations in everyday life that can be experienced as comical, devastating and revealing all in the same breath. When he read Kauai Hart Hemmings' acclaimed debut novel, The Descendants, he was immediately lured by the portrait of a man who lives in Hawaii grappling with some of the worst news, most difficult people, and most impossible decisions of his life. Payne's film, based on the novel, stars an accomplished ensemble of actors led by George Clooney.

"The novel appealed to me because it's an emotional story unfolding in an exotic locale," Payne says. "It's a story that perhaps could be told anywhere, but what made the book for me was its completely unique setting among the landed upper-classes in Hawaii. It's very specific to this place, yet it is also universal."

Clooney's Matt King joins the characters of Alexander Payne's previous films as a flawed individual finding his way through a world of lunacy, bittersweet emotion and surprises. Like Matthew Broderick's envious teacher in Election, Jack Nicholson's glass-half-empty retiree in About Schmidt, and Paul Giamatti's muddling, middle-aged wine- country tourist in Sideways, King is not the man he would like to be.

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Writer/Director Alexander Payne '90 (left) and actor George Clooney (right) as “Matt King” on the set of The Descendants. Photo by: Merie Wallace

Payne's next project, Nebraska, is about an aging, booze-addled father who travels from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes prize. Currently in pre-production, the film will begin shooting on location this year.

Tony Award–nominee Stuhlbarg, who plays New York gangster Arnold Rothstein on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, can currently be seen in Hugo, Martin Scorsese's 3D fantasy about the misadventures of an orphan boy set in 1930s Paris and based on Brian Selznick's illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Finally, Producers Program alumna Kim Adams MFA '99 has an animated short Small Fry, the second story in Pixar's Toy Story Toons series, currently running in front of the Muppets at theaters nationwide.

Bruins figure to dominate the box office next year as well. Stuhlbarg will be seen in Men in Black III, written by TFT alum David Koepp '90, and is presently filming Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's epic project about the 16th President. Both films are scheduled for release in 2012. Beth Behrs MFA '08, who stars in the hit TV series 2 Broke Girls, appears in the crime drama Chasing Eagle Rock and the comedy Route 30, Too.

Also in 2012, Producers Program alum Marius Markevicius MFA '02, whose romantic drama Like Crazy won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, has an upcoming documentary, The Other Dream Team, about the 1992 Lithuanian National Basketball Team. It has been selected for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as has the comedy/drama Smashed from Professional Program in Screenwriting alum James Ponsoldt '10.

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