By People Staff
December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

haley joel osment


For many, there were actually two big surprises in this summer’s horror hit The Sixth Sense. One—well, you know the one—and two, the haunting performance delivered by 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment. “He’s the most talented child actor I’ve ever seen,” marvels costar Bruce Willis. Of course, Haley has had a little practice. Discovered by a casting agent while shopping at a Burbank IKEA store in 1993, the sixth-grader previously played Tom Hanks’s son in Forrest Gump (“I wasn’t old enough to go, ‘Wow, Tom Hanks!’ But he was really nice”) and Candice Bergen’s son on Murphy Brown, as well as a slew of small parts in films, sitcoms and commercials. “People are finally discovering what I’ve known for a long time,” says Whoopi Goldberg, his costar in the 1996 movie Bogus. “This young man is a wonderful actor.” Maybe because Haley, who lives in Glendale, Calif., with sister Emily, 7, and parents Theresa, an elementary school teacher, and Michael Eugene, an actor, takes his work seriously. Instead of horsing around between takes, he studies his lines, a discipline he learned from Hanks. “He didn’t mess around,” Haley says. “He was always in his chair thinking about Forrest.” And for Sense scenes in which he needed to look dazed, Haley prepared by banging himself against the stage walls “to get myself shaken up.” Haley, whom critics are touting for an Oscar, even understands the responsibilities of stardom, like being nice to autograph seekers. “It’s not an annoyance; I like talking to people,” he says. “And after all, they went to see the movie.”

mena suvari


No, that’s not Mena Suvari’s bare navel in the American Beauty movie posters. “They used a belly model,” she says with a laugh. But the 20-year-old actress has had plenty of exposure of her own this year. Besides playing the cheerleading Lolita who drives Kevin Spacey to distraction in American Beauty, she was seen as Carrie’s only friend in The Rage: Carrie 2 and as a chaste choirgirl in the high schooler hit American Pie. This spring she’ll be back on big screens in the satiric Sugar and Spice, and she’s already begun work on yet one more movie, Loser, a romantic comedy with Greg Kinnear and her Pie costar Jason Biggs. “Auditioning used to be frustrating,” says the former child model from Newport, R.I. “Now that I have a body of work out there, people know I can perform.” Beauty coproducer Dan Jinks saw it right away. Of the 50 actresses he auditioned for the pivotal role, Suvari, who lives in L.A. with her boyfriend, cinematographer Robert Brinkmann, was the only one he called back. “That combination of being beautiful, seductive and yet innocent is a very hard role to play,” he says. “She handled it beautifully.”

eric close


Driving home to Manhattan after a recent weekend of hiking in Massachusetts, “I was going through a tollbooth, and the lady inside was like, ‘Aren’t you a TV star?’ ” marvels Eric Close, 32. To anyone who has seen him as scientifically engineered government agent Michael Wiseman on CBS’s new hit Now and Again, the answer, of course, is yes. But with three short-lived series (McKenna, Dark Skies and The Magnificent Seven) under his belt, the San Diego-bred Close is still having some trouble getting used to the idea. “The other day at lunch I was picking up people’s plates off the tables on the set,” he says. “And everyone’s like, ‘You’re the lead of the show! What are you doing?’ ” Still, besides being “a total sweetheart,” as his TV daughter Heather Matarazzo puts it, Close also conveys a “manliness, with a youthful, rascally quality,” says series creator Glenn Gordon Caron. The actor performs many of his own stunts, such as swinging on a cable from the New York Stock Exchange building or riding on the roof of a moving car. Close, married for four years to Keri, a clinical social worker turned home-maker, credits daughter Katie, 1, for his sudden rise. “When you have a kid, your acting gets better,” he says. “You know something at home is more important and so you relax a little bit. Plus you get more goofy! I find myself on the subway or on my way to the set, and I’m singing Barney songs.”

alexandra Stevenson


By the time the grass was properly trampled at Wimbledon last July, Alexandra Stevenson had pulled off a media grand slam. After playing three matches just to qualify for the tournament, the 19-year-old La Jolla, Calif., high school graduate stunned the tennis world, both by barreling all the way to the semifinals (“She’s got a big serve,” says tennis vet Chris Evert) and by acknowledging that her father was basketball great Julius “Dr. J” Erving. The product of an affair between Erving and freelance journalist Samantha Stevenson, the 6’1″ Alexandra has met her father only once but has known about her paternity “my whole life,” she says. “I knew once I did something big in tennis it would come out. I didn’t mind.” Although her post-Wimbledon play has been uneven—she failed to make it past the first round in any summer tourney—Stevenson remains confident that she can break into tennis’s Top 10 by 2001. She’s already living like a champ, in a new three-bedroom Bradenton, Fla., condo that she financed with her Wimbledon money. Though her mom lives with her, “I have my own bedroom—finally,” says Stevenson. “I want a BMW convertible, but I have to win a tournament first.”

chris klein


In April 1997 high school senior Chris Klein exited the weight room at Millard West High School in Omaha and ran into director Alexander Payne, who was scouting locations for the film Election. “I looked at him and just went, ‘Wow,’ ” says Payne. “He has a certain charisma.” Now 20, Klein has an acting career too. Not only did Payne cast him as naive football player Paul Metzler in Election, but seven months after shooting on the film wrapped, Klein stepped back before the cameras as a sweet-natured lacrosse player in the summer teen blockbuster American Pie. “I’m being recognized more and more,” marvels the 6’1″ junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “Everybody at school knows me.” Even better are the perks. “It’s neat to be able to pick up and go on an airplane whenever I want to,” he says with a smile. “It’s more than neat. It’s magical.” But Klein, who will be back on big screens in February in the romantic drama Here on Earth with Leelee Sobieski, admits that he’s still trying to get a handle on his new career. On the set of Election, he remembers, “I asked Matthew [Broderick] what a manager does, and he just laughed and said, ‘We’ve got a lot of talking to do.’ ”

melissa bank


How did Melissa Bank celebrate when she sold her first book, a collection of humorous short stories about love titled The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing? By going back to work. “Someone came in and said, ‘All the secretaries have left, and we need you to type up these rules for the sweepstakes,’ ” recalls Bank, then a senior copywriter at a Manhattan ad agency. “So if I had a moment of feeling I was somebody, it went away pretty fast.” Luckily, Bank, who has since quit her day job to write full-time, has had plenty of chances to recapture the thrill. The Guide, which hit stores in June, is now in its 19th printing, and Bank, 39, has been called “The Lit World’s New ‘It’ Girl” by New York magazine. Director Francis Ford Coppola, who had commissioned her to write the short story that turned into the Guide, says that his production company will turn the book into a movie. “The story was much funnier than I could have imagined,” says Coppola, who originally bought it for his literary magazine, Zoetrope. “And also deeper and more moving.” Moving enough, in fact, that fans have begun turning to Bank—who, like her protagonist, is single and lives in New York City—for advice on how to reel in a man. “It’s funny to me that people think I’m an expert in anything,” the Philadelphia native says, laughing. “I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to date. I have no idea.”

charlotte church


Over the past year, soprano Charlotte Church has performed for Queen Elizabeth (“Very nice,” she says), Pope John Paul II (“He blessed me”) and President Clinton (“He had a big nose and was very charming”). But the 13-year-old Welsh operatic prodigy wasn’t awed until she attended September’s MTV Music Awards. “Meeting Will Smith was the only time I saw her at a loss for words,” says her mother, Maria, who with husband James oversees Charlotte’s career. “You’ve got to see it from a 13-year-old’s eyes.” Even if this particular teen has some of the hottest pipes in the classical music world. Her first album, Voice of an Angel—featuring soaring renditions of “Ave Maria” and “Pie Jesu”—has sold 3 million copies worldwide. “She has quite a pure voice,” says British music critic Jeremy Pound. And a busy schedule. “My life is tremendously different because I travel a lot,” says Charlotte, who last month issued a new, self-titled album and made her acting debut on the CBS drama Touched by an Angel. Traveling with a tutor helps her keep up with school-work, but sometimes there are conflicts. On the day of her White House visit in June, she recalls, she was also scheduled to take exams in history and French. “I said, ‘No, I’ve got to go meet the President,’ and my tutor said, ‘Tough.’ ” Happily, adds Charlotte, “they were two of my best results.”

seth green


Like many a child actor, Seth Green could have faded into oblivion—or worse. Commercial work for the likes of Hi-C and Jell-O, starting at age 6, led to movies like My Stepmother Is an Alien and Radio Days. Then Green reached puberty—and the work stopped coming. “People were like, ‘No, you’re not special now,’ ” he says. “I was loud and obnoxious. People don’t react well to that.” Green chilled, and good thing too. He’s cool again at 25. This summer he turned heads for the second time as Dr. Evil’s disaffected son Scott, in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. “Seth’s timing is awesome,” says Powers himself, Mike Myers. Green also appears regularly as laid-back werewolf Oz on The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He has even branched into voice-overs—as the talking dog on Nickelodeon’s 100 Deeds of Eddie McDowd, Chris on FOX’s animated Family Guy and Nelson Nash on The WB’s Batman Beyond. “I’m busy as hell,” says Green, who dates actress Chad Morgan. “But the fame thing’s not something that I’ve really grasped completely. People react to me like someone they know. I’m approachable.” And when he wants privacy? “I just don’t go to the mall.”

chris meloni


Julia Roberts dumped him for Richard Gere in Runaway Bride. But don’t cry for Chris Meloni—rejection has been good for him. Just as Bride was ending its run, Meloni, 38, was booking himself into a steadier partnership: as lead detective Elliot Stabler on NBC’s hot new spinoff Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “I knew he’d get the part as soon as I saw him at the audition,” says his SVU costar Mariska Hargitay. “He’s the perfect package. Smart, good-looking and so filled with fire. He was bound to finally explode.” Finally is right, says the Washington, D.C.-born Meloni, who has been waiting for that break since he graduated from the University of Colorado in 1983. “I thought I’d get to Hollywood and all these producers would be at the side of the road yelling, ‘Chris! Where ya been? I’ve got a script here for you!” ‘ he admits sheepishly. Instead, he spent nearly 15 years juggling TV commercials (including a few beer spots in which he had to impersonate a dog) and TV movies to pay the bills. Although he won critical acclaim for his ongoing work as conniving prisoner Chris Keller on HBO’s Oz, mostly “I had to go through a lot of dreck,” he says. “I was like Tarzan. As one vine broke, the next one was there.” Now that he’s swinging on a sturdier tree, Meioni, who is married to a production designer and splits his time between L.A. and New York City, isn’t going to complain about his 16-hour workdays. “This job has put the kibosh on any kind of life, that’s for sure,” he says. “But after living through the opposite? This is awesome.”

hallie eisenberg


The way Hallie Eisenberg tells it, she’s just like any other 7-year-old who enjoys Rollerblading and going on play dates. Never mind that the skates were a gift from actor Russell Crowe (she plays his daughter in the recently released The Insider) or that her social circle has included the children of Robin Williams, her costar in Bicentennial Man. “Everyone thinks I’m a normal kid,” she says, “and so do I.” Which is precisely why viewers don’t channel-surf when Hallie channels Marlon Brando or Aretha Franklin in the popular Pepsi commercials that have made the 3’10” actress an oversize hit. “What makes stars out of little kids is that they appear to be real and honest,” says Bicentennial director Chris Columbus. “With Hallie, you get that in a big’ way.” “She’s one of the best child actors I’ve seen in a long time,” adds Joe Pitka, who directed the Pepsi spots. Such accolades don’t earn Hallie—who has been acting since she was 3—any special treatment at home in suburban New Jersey. “She still has to make her bed,” says her mother, Amy, a homemaker. (Dad owns an executive-search firm.) But Hallie’s fellow second-graders appreciate the celebrity in their midst. “At school everybody treats me good,” she says. “They say things like, ‘Oh, Hallie, I love you in your new Pepsi commercial.’ ”

aaron mcgruder


Blushing Dove Way, that’s just sick,” says Riley Freeman, lamenting the street names of his suburban neighborhood in the comic strip The Boondocks. So Riley, a new arrival from inner-city Chicago, spray-paints the signs with names like Wu-Tang Drive and Buckshot Avenue. “Any street that I live on…has to say ‘real,’ ” he says. Which is exactly the kind of edgy humor that has put Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder, 25, on easy street. Launched in April, the strip about two African-American boys who move to the suburbs is now syndicated in 215 newspapers and in development to become an animated series for HBO. “It arouses the kind of passion that hasn’t been seen since the early days of Doonesbury,” says director Reginald Hudlin, who’s helping bring The Boondocks to TV. “Aaron comes from the first generation that is comfortable enough with racial issues to have fun with them. It’s groundbreaking.” It’s also controversial; McGruder has been accused of both antiwhite racism and reinforcing black stereotypes. “I like to press people’s buttons, to challenge them,” he says. Now he gets to do it in style. A University of Maryland grad with no formal art training, McGruder has his own L.A. apartment and has dined with celebs like Chris Rock. But he sometimes misses those simpler, struggling-artist days. “I hope to be having fun soon,” he says, “but I don’t have much time for it.”

rhys ifans


How do you steal a movie from Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant? “Faced with two gorgeous people, I made a decision to be the scuzziest man to walk the earth,” jokes their Notting Hill costar Rhys Ifans, 32. “It was liberating to be that ugly.” Lucrative too. While Ifans’s hysterical turn as Grant’s Skivvies-clad roomie Spike made movie audiences cringe with laughter, it also made Hollywood take notice. Since Hill, the Welsh-born actor has been signed for three new films, including a specially written role in The Replacements, about the 1987 National Football League strike, due next summer. “The original character was Italian, but I went to see Notting Hill, and I went, ‘Yes!’ ” says Replacements director Howard Deutch. “He could be a huge star.” For Ifans (now shooting a comedy with Adam Sandler) the only downside of his new fame is less time at the London home he shares with his girlfriend of two years, fashion publicist Jessica Morris. “I suppose with the money I now make I could keep her in L.A.,” he says. “But I don’t want a kept woman. That’s medieval.”

dan myrick and eduardo sanchez


When filmmakers Dan Myrick (left), 36, and Eduardo Sanchez, 31, sold their first movie, The Blair Witch Project, at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, their financial status was so shaky they couldn’t even share the good news. “My phone got shut off,” recalls Myrick. “It was ridiculous.” But now that the blockbuster horror flick—shot for a mere $30,000 over two weeks in 1997—has grossed $140 million at the box office, neither will have to go looking for spare quarters anytime soon. They’re slated to start shooting a comedy, Heart of Love, for Artisan Entertainment in the spring. Plus, Myrick and Sanchez—who met in 1990 at the University of Central Florida’s film school—are in talks to direct both a prequel and a sequel to their horror hit. Altogether, “it’s a dream come true, but it’s a dream you never even dreamt of,” says Sanchez, who recently became engaged to longtime girlfriend Stefanie DeCassan, 31. (Myrick dates novelist Julia Fair, 23.) Still, teases Blair Witch leading lady Heather Donahue: “I doubt their wardrobe has changed. I can’t imagine them showing up in, like, Dolce & Gabbana.” Instead, they’ve spent some of their Blair Witch money (estimated at $40 million) on their siblings’ college educations, new homes in Orlando—and presents for their parents. “Man, when you can buy your mom a new car after hers just blew up,” says Myrick, “that’s what it’s about.”