As the Hollywood award season kicks into high gear, two previously unknown actors are shaping up as strong contenders for Oscars glory.
In Hollywood, the phrase “Next Big Thing” is bandied about often, usually to describe the breakthrough performance of a previously unheralded actor or actress.
Over the years, many actors have leapt straight from anonymity to celluloid stardom, some attracting the industry’s highest honour – an Academy Award – along the way.
This year Native American Rudy Youngblood and African American Jennifer Hudson have catapulted themselves into Oscar contention with outstanding debut performances on the big screen.
Rudy is a powwow singer, grass dancer and award-winning artist. But before his big break in Mel Gibson’s latest blockbuster Apocalypto, Rudy’s acting experience had been limited to an appearance in one segment of an Indigenous musical called Warrior Protector.
While working in Los Angeles as a dancer and labourer, Rudy went along to the open auditions for Gibson’s movie, hoping to get some work as an extra during his stay in California.
When Gibson asked him to fly to Mexico to take on the starring role of Jaguar Paw, a shocked Rudy jumped at the opportunity.
Set amidst the Mayan Civilisation just before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Apocalypto revolves around Jaguar Paw and his fellow villagers who have their lives turned upside down after being kidnapped by warriors from one of the ancient cities.
A former cross-country racer and boxer, Rudy’s physical prowess played an important part in his casting. As well as doing all his own stunts in this physically demanding role, he was also required to learn the ancient Yucatec language of the Mayan people.
Rudy is now being tipped as future star, thanks to his gripping performance. He is now considering other scripts and looking forward to his next role.
While their two movies are worlds apart, Jennifer Hudson, like Rudy, is another young, unheralded actor who has drawn rave reviews for her debut performance. She is heavily favoured to win an Academy Award after winning the Best Supporting Actress category at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
A former American Idol contestant Jennifer has earned widespread acclaim for her performance as a downtrodden diva in the film Dreamgirls. Adapted from the Broadway hit, the film is based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes.
In the film Jennifer plays Effie, a character loosely based on the late ousted Supreme, Florence Ballard.
Jennifer beat out 781 other hopefuls who auditioned for the role and follows in the footsteps of music legend Billie Holliday, who once played Effie in the stage show.
Despite sharing the screen with seasoned performers Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx, Jennifer steals every scene with her powerful acting and amazing singing voice. An Academy Award win could certainly transform this Next Big Thing into a Hollywood star.