Height: 6 ft.
Residence: Stays with friends in Los Angeles when he’s not filming
Breakthrough roles: Emotionally charged boyfriends in Moonlight Mile and The Good Girl
Background: Raised in L.A. by director Stephen Gyllenhaal (The Shield) and screenwriter Naomi Foner (Losing Isaiah), with actress sister Maggie (Secretary), 25, Jake first appeared onscreen at age 10 in Billy Crystal’s City Slickers. Growing up around the Hollywood spotlight has made him “comfortable in it,” he says. “You’re at premieres, people are taking your picture. It’s totally fun.” But Gyllenhaal, who left Columbia University after two years to pursue his career, is less at ease with the recent crush of attention: “That’s a little jarring, I guess. You just unlist your number and make sure there are some bushes around your house,” he says with a laugh.
Winning ways: “He’s gorgeous, and he’s got those big dreamy eyes,” says his Mile costar Susan Sarandon. “A lot of eyes can’t offer ‘I love you’ in a convincing way. With Jake, you believe he has the capability and the depth to love. That’s awesomely attractive.”
Height: 6 ft.
Status: Single, with a Danish girlfriend
Residence: An apartment in New York City
Breakthrough role: Reese Witherspoon‘s southern husband in Sweet Home Alabama
Background: Born in Arkansas, Lucas was raised in the South before moving to the Seattle area in the early ’80s with his three siblings and parents (his dad’s a doctor and his mom’s a nurse). Though he began his career at 19 and had roles in American Psycho and A Beautiful Mind, he remained under the radar until Alabama. At a recent publicity appearance, he told the Sacramento Bee, “a woman looked at me and screamed. You go from being totally anonymous to someone treating you like you’re a Beatle.”
Winning ways: “No one should be that good-looking and that good an actor,” says Alabama director Andy Tennant. “It’s unfair.” Adds Greg Becker, an old pal from Gig Harbor High School: “If you mixed Paul Newman and Matthew McConaughey together in a morphing machine, you’d get Josh.”
Status: Married to Rebecca, a full-time mom to Joseph, 3, and Audrey, 19 months
Residences: Vancouver and L.A.
Breakthrough role: The amnesiac who knows everything except his own identity on FOX’s John Doe
Background: He was born in England, raised in Australia. But the son of a Norwegian dad and Irish mom proudly insists, “I’m a Viking!” Not content “digging holes and getting sunburned” as a landscaper, he enrolled in a local drama school and became a Down Under TV star. Since John Doe, he has made adjustments. “I’ve always cut my own hair,” he says. “But now I’m not allowed to.”
Winning ways: Purcell is “devoted to his family and very grounded,” says costar John Marshall Jones. “He doesn’t want flashy clothes or cars. He’d rather wear jeans and drive a truck.”
Residence: Shares a two-bedroom L.A. apartment with actor Justin Urich
Breakthrough role: The Speedo-clad high school jock in last summer’s Swimfan
Background: The only child of actors Curt and Terry began his career as a baby in a Q-Tips commercial. He later mixed high school in Norwalk, Conn.—where he was No. 1 on the tennis team and elected homecoming king—with acting roles, although he didn’t make his first big splash until 2000’s Bring It On. To celebrate Swimfan‘s release and his May graduation from Columbia, the film major went Hollywood—actually, he drove there with his best hometown buddy Simon Thomsen, 23.
Winning ways: “A lot of young Hollywood hunks, all they want is a Porsche and a big house,” says Leelee Sobieski, Bradford’s costar in 1998’s A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries. “With Jesse, no matter how big he gets, he just wants to hang out with his friends from before.” And forget about flaunting chiseled features. His favorite attributes, he says, are “my scars”— barely noticeable—on his chin and knee.
Status: Has a girlfriend and a 2-year-old son
Residence: A home in Auckland, New Zealand
Breakthrough Role: Éomer, a warrior in this month’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Background: Growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, Urban got a taste of role-playing as Han Solo in neighborhood games of Star Wars: “I was 5, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I want to do.’ ” By 1996 he had made a career of it, landing parts on two syndicated TV shows—Cupid on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Julius Caesar on Xena: Warrior Princess. “Karl is ruggedly heroic yet imbues his roles with sensitivity,” says Rings director Peter Jackson, who cast Urban because “we needed someone who could hold their own against Ian McKellen.”
Winning ways: “Karl has a confident charm that allows him to be tousled without seeming unkempt,” says Melissa Blake, a writer on Hercules and Xena. The trick, Urban points out, is “putting on the clothes I had on the day before—if they aren’t too dirty.”
Residence: A house in L.A.
Breakthrough role: ER’s cocky new resident, Dr. Gregory Pratt
Background: The older of two sons raised in Harlem by mom Rhoda, a teacher, Phifer planned to become an electrical engineer, but a role in 1995’s Clockers changed his career path. He has made 16 films since then (most recently 8 Mile, with Eminem, who gives Phifer a shout-out in his song “Lose Yourself”), but it was only after donning a doctor’s coat, he says, that life got “a lot more hectic. The notoriety isn’t overwhelming yet, but it’s getting there.” Divorced from actress Malinda Williams, 32, Phifer shares custody of son Omikaye, 3.
Winning ways: During gym workouts, “I’m not trying to be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” says Phifer. “I’m just trying to keep the blood flowing.” Adds ER castmate Ming-Na: “He’s got a really bright, sincere smile, and he’s proud that he came from the streets and has accomplished so much.”
Residence: A townhouse in Los Angeles
Breakthrough role: Underwater recovery expert Eric Delko on CSI: Miami
Background: Raised with his sister Vanessa, 25, in New York City by Ramon, the COO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Janet, an airline ticket agent, Rodriguez credits his parents with his success. “If you have people who love and support you, it makes you unafraid to try anything,” he says. “Family is the cornerstone of my life. Everything I do is geared toward setting myself up to have one of my own.”
Winning ways: “Girls go crazy for him, and it’s very easy to see why,” says CSI costar Kim Delaney. “He’s the first one to open the door, pull your chair out—all the things women love.” Adds Rodriguez: “A lot of girls say I give good hugs that make them feel safe. But I’m a little dangerous, so don’t feel too safe!”
Residence: One-bedroom apartment in L.A.
Breakthrough role: The braided, blue-eyed ex-con turned barber Ricky in Barbershop
Background: In 1996, fresh out of the University of Maryland, Ealy headed for New York City, determined to act. “No one knew,” he says of his secret ambition. “My parents were like, ‘Why are you there?’ ” Undaunted by a lack of theatrical training, he auditioned for—and won—guest spots on Law & Order and Showtime’s Soul Food. He also performed Off-Broadway, where he was spotted by writer and actress Heather Juergensen, who cast him as the cheeky messenger in her 2001 indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein. A role in Bad Company followed, then the hit Barbershop. “A year ago I was waiting tables,” says Ealy. “Now I walk down the street and girls call me Ricky. They don’t even know my real name. But it makes me appreciate how far I’ve come.”
Winning ways: He’s “an excellent kisser,” recalls Juergensen of their romp in Stein. “Our kissing scene was so intense and crazy. I would have liked to have slowed it down a little.” Says Barbershop director Tim Story: “Everybody better watch out for this guy. He’s on board to be amazing.”
John Buffalo Mailer
Residence: An apartment in Brooklyn
Breakthrough role: Last year’s Off-Broadway production of Hello Herman, based on a novella Mailer published while in college.
Background: The only child of author Norman Mailer and artist-writer Norris Church Mailer (he has eight half siblings) grew up in Brooklyn Heights where his father “taught me to be a gentleman” and his mother showed him how to roast chicken with onions. They also bequeathed him his middle name (he won’t tell why) and encouraged the playwriting he began at Wesleyan and continues with Back House Productions, a theater company he helped found in New York City. “I love his dialogue,” says the elder Mailer proudly. “He’s a wit. We fence verbally all the time, and each of us laughs like hell when the other scores.”
Winning ways: “He looks like James Dean, and he gives the best back massages,” says dancer Maggie Thorn, 24, a college roommate. Still, says Mailer, “Of the top 10 moments in my life, easily seven of them have been with my family.”
Status: Has a girlfriend
Residence: An apartment in London
Breakthrough role: A jeans-clad dancer in a Gap TV ad
Background: Growing up in Hertfordshire, England, Kemp started taking ballet lessons at age 9. “On my first day I walked into a huge town hall full of girls in tights and leotards,” he says. “From that moment on, I knew I would enjoy it.” Two years at London’s Royal Ballet School followed, then a seven-year career as a dancer. He recently won his first acting role in next spring’s Mindhunters with Val Kilmer. During his audition “he kept amazing eye contact with the camera,” says the film’s producer Rebecca Spikings. “We said, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”
Winning ways: His favorite part of the day, Kemp says, “is the spontaneous part—when I’m out with friends, when talking leads to laughter.”
Status: Dates The Practice‘s Marla Sokoloff
Residence: An apartment in L.A.
Breakthrough role: Last year’s Golden Globe-winning portrayal of James Dean in a TNT film
Background: Raised in Palo Alto, Calif., Franco says, “I always wanted to act, but growing up in northern California, it wasn’t a reality.” So he headed south to UCLA, where “everyone around seemed to be doing it.” A role in TV’s Freaks and Geeks led to film parts; this fall he played Robert De Niro’s troubled son in City by the Sea. “I’d go every day that De Niro worked and just watch,” he says. “I pinched myself a couple of times.” In his spare time Franco paints abstract acrylics. “It’s nice, an art form that doesn’t require 100 to 200 other people,” he says.
Winning ways: “On one of our first dates, we were on the beach and he read a book of poems by Ezra Pound,” says Sokoloff. “I was completely overwhelmed. No guy had ever done that before.”
Status: Has a fashion designer girlfriend.
Residence: A beach house in Los Angeles
Breakthrough role: A bisexual college student in The Rules of Attraction
Background: The Louisiana native is used to being in pictures—he started modeling at age 10 so he could buy himself a bicycle and fishing gear. Posing for the likes of Guess, Versace and Gucci gave him, he says, “a lot of knowledge about the world, women, the making and losing of money.” Somerhalder’s newfound celebrity recently landed him a surprise kiss from a female fan who jumped in his car while he was stuck in traffic. “It freaked me out,” he says. “I’m still anonymous to most people.”
Winning ways: “Even though his face is flawless, he’s not arrogant at all; he’s sweet,” says Rules costar Shannyn Sossamon. The film’s director Roger Avary adds, “Ian’s so photogenic, I could drop a camera on the ground and still get him in a perfect shot.”