How Are the 12 Most Promising Actors of 1991 Doing Today?
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How Are the 12 Most Promising Actors of 1991 Doing Today?

By Dustin Rowles | Box Office Round-Ups | June 24, 2013 | Comments ()


John A. Willis, who died in 2010 at the age of 94, was a film and theater editor, perhaps most popular for his annual publications, Theatre World and Screen World. Screen World was something akin to IMDB before IMDB, as it documented, maintained statistics on and included photographs from almost every film produced and/or released in the United States, as well as obituaries, Academy Award nominees and winners.

Each year, in his Screen World, Willis would also compie a list of the 12 Most Promising Actors of that year, and such lists carried a lot of weight because Willis is considered a legendary film historian.

For the year 1991, let's see how he fared:


Brad Pitt: He couldn't have been more right than in selecting Brad Pitt, who broke out with a tiny role in Thelma and Louise that year. Of course, Brad Pitt is now one of the five most famous actors in the world, and his latest, World War Z, was the number two film of the weekend, raking in $66 million stateside despite a troubled production and tepid reviews. That can attributed largely to the star power of Brad Pitt (and zombies, of course. People love zombies).


Marisa Tomei -- Another home run here for Willis, who made this prediction before Tomei won an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny (before 1991, Tomei was perhaps most famous for a 21-episode stint on "A Different World.") Tomei would struggle for much of the middle of her career, but she rebounded, adding two more Oscar nominations to her CV, and she's doing quite well in mostly independent features these days.


Anthony LaPaglia -- LaPaglia has managed to string together a very solid, if unexceptional career, though he's perhaps most famous these days for his seven year stint on the CBS procedural, Without a Trace, for which he won a Golden Globe. He's still fairly serviceable, however, as a low-rent Ray Liotta.


John Leguizamo -- Leguizamo is still a very active and well known actor, perhaps best known for his roles in Moulin Rouge, Romie + Juliet, and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He has become mostly a character actor these days, as well as providing voice work to the Ice Age franchise. He's also well known for his work in theater.


Tyra Ferrell -- Anointed to the list thanks to roles in Boyz n the Hood and Jungle Fever, Ferrell's career sputtered after parts in White Men Can't Jump and Poetic Justice. Her acting career came to an end eventually in 2004.


Juliette Lewis: Lewis' Oscar-nominated turn in Cape Fear would land her on Willis' list in 1991, and Lewis managed to keep a very high profile and active film career going for well over a decade, although she has of late stumbled into white trash supporting roles, though she is very good at them. She's also a little nuts, and can be seen later this year in the Oscar grab, August: Osage County.


Stephen Collins -- Not a name you'd immediately recognize, but you'd know his face, especially from 11 years on 7th Heaven as Reverend Eric Camden. He's managed to keep steady work throughout his career, and in fact, has a role in the new Lifetime series, "Devious Maids," which debuted this weekend.


Cuba Gooding, Jr. -- You could probably predict greatness for Cuba Gooding, Jr. in 1991, based on his role in Boyz n the Hood, though few probably could've predicted that after reaching great heights in the mid-1990s with movies like As Good as It Gets and Jerry Maguire, which fetched Gooding an Oscar, that he'd fall so very low, essentially becoming the King of Redbox movies. He has nine movies out in 2013; you probably won't see more than one of them.


Frank Whaley -- Coming off of The Doors and Career Opportunities in 1991, Whaley seemed liked a no-brainer, but after his phenomenal turn in Swimming with Sharks, Whaley's feature film career fizzled, though he's still very much an active member of the acting community, and in fact, landed a roles as a series regular on "Ray Donovan," which premieres on Showtime next week.


John Cameron Mitchell -- He never did have much of an acting career, but he is known for directing Hedwig the Angry Inch, as well as Shortbus. Of late, he had a recurring role on "Girls" and will directed an episode of "Nurse Jackie" this year.


Adrienne Shelly -- A gifted actress, writer, and director, Shelly's career sadly was cut short just as she was breaking through. She was brutally murdered in 2006, shortly before the release of one of my favorite all time films, Waitress.


Robin Givens -- In the late 1980s, Givens was star of the sitcom "Head of the Class," which she parlayed into a briefly successful feature film career (Boomerang). Although she still gets very regular work (mostly in television), she is best known now as the ex-wife of boxer Mike Tyson.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jezzer

    The pretentious shitfest that was "Shortbus" pretty much killed any goodwill I held for John Cameron Mitchell after "Hedwig."

  • the chaplain

    I'd love to see more of these with his lists from other years! This was a good one.

  • emmelemm


    Honestly, his picks were pretty damn good, if not 100%.

  • lillie

    I agree. This was a great list. I'd be curious to see it done with other years.

  • Rocabarra

    I was just going to say that. This was fun, and I'm curious to see who else made it and who didn't!

  • The Kitastrophe

    Anthony LaPaglia is made of win for being unable to keep a straight face through much of So I Married an Axe Murderer.

  • Some Guy

    Were there really no better pictures of Juliette Lewis?

    There you go, found one for you!

  • John W

    I gotta watch Waitress.

  • Jill

    Yesterday I saw MU with my kids. I thought one of the voices sounded like Fillion. My first thought was "oh, it's Dr. Pomater", his character from Waitress. Odd that that was my first reference for him. Maybe because the name "Pomatter" is so unique. It's a great movie.

  • muscleman

    ummumYes, you do...hang your head in shame..

  • Max

    As always, don't marry Mike Tyson.

  • Strand

    Cuba Gooding Jr needs to know when to say no. It often takes one piece of shit to ruin a career, but I'm shocked that he's still getting roles in decent movies like American Gangster. And he's still finding time to slum it out in direct-to-DVD garbage like Daddy Day Camp, which even Eddie Murphy turned down. He's like the black Ben Kingsley. No matter how low he goes, casting directors keep throwing him second chances. I guess he must kill in auditions or something.

  • Orleanas

    No matter how low, boring, and predictable Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler go, casting directors keep throwing them second chances. Fact is, I find myself asking often how/why certain shitteous Hollywood movies keep getting made or why certain bland actors keep getting leads...but then I look at the actors' skin color.

    Though I'm sorely saddened to see the smmfh turn that Gooding, Jr.'s career has taken, the fact is, his career reflects that of many non-white actors in Hollywood. I don't think it's coincidence that the two biggest busts on the list are black. I think at some point Gooding, Jr. just said, "Fuck it. I'm just going to get paid however I can." The man has a family to feed. Should he have opted to remain unemployed until some good roles came his way?

  • Strand

    Why's it now a black thing? I'm just curious how he still gets offers to work with respected directors in genuinely decent movies, despite all the garbage he does between them. While I'm sure Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl are happy debasing themselves for cash, no-one takes either of them seriously.

    For some reason, Cuba Gooding Jr is the comeback king. I remember when The Avengers (no, that other one) alone nearly tanked Ralph Fiennes's career.

  • Devil Child


    A dude could've paid to shit on Cuba's face, and that still would've been more dignifying than Daddy Day Camp.

  • apsutter

    Hmm, I wonder if it's just that a lot of people like him. He must have a lot of goodwill which makes me think that he's probably a nice guy that they feel a bit bad for.

  • ClockworkOrange

    Marissa Tomei is 1991's Anna Kendrick, going by this photo alone!

  • Rocabarra

    I thought the same when I first glanced at the image!

  • Martin Jensen

    Hey hey hey, Cuba Gooding Jr. is in both Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon and Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills. So that's two movies this year I'll be seeing him in, thank you very much.

  • John Cameron Mitchell acted in the early 90s? I thought he arrived from the heavens fully formed with Hedwig and the Angry Inch to grace upon the world.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    He was in the musical The Secret Garden. (Dickon!) So John Wilis might already have been familiar with him from that, though it does seem early to recognize him as a film actor.

    Btw, I'm surprised Pajiba didn't explode with joy at the news that none other than NPH will be bringing Hedwig back to Broadway.

  • The Broadway message boards are freaking out. NPH is very polarizing because of the Tony hosting. I'm pretty sure the most vocal critics never saw him live in Company or Assassins and would shut up if they heard his recording of Sondheim's Evening Primrose (made for TV musical).

  • Sara_Tonin00

    How could any true Broadway baby whine about his theater credentials? They forget his stage work in LA? Between two coasts he's got Rent, Cabaret, the concerts of Sweeney Todd and Company as you mentioned...

    Btw, that production of Assassins had one of my favorite moments of stagecraft - the projection of the Zapruder film onto Oswald's white t-shirt. All the noise and color suddenly gone to focus on this small square of the event as it happened. Chilling.

  • He was so good in Assassins and that production was sensational.

    The biggest thread on BroadwayWorld took a turn for the worse when official shots of NPH as the Emcee were posted. Apparently he's too masculine to play Hedwig...the involuntary transgendered woman with a penis still thanks to botched surgery. If there were ever a role for a man who could pass as a woman, it doesn't appear in Hedwig.

  • linnyloo

    Oh my goodness! I might have seen him in that! I saw it on Broadway back in the day, but was fairly young, so don't recall specific actor names - but I thought Dickon was lovely.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    "If a thing is wick..." It is him on the soundtrack, and he does sound lovely. I haven't seen it on stage but I (and my family) do enjoy the soundtrack a great deal.

    Hmm. I should probably make that the next Bway soundtrack I buy for a niece or nephew.

  • Batesian

    Marisa Tomei is looking very Anna Kendrick-y in that photo. Which is meant as a compliment to both of 'em.

  • Amy Love

    And Frank Whaley is looking very Mark-Wahlberg-y.

  • Maguita NYC

    I'm still convinced that is not a pic of Whaley but rather Wahlberg.

  • zeke_the_pig

    I bet nobody in the world would be more comfortable with an outwardly insulting title like Cuba Gooding Jr. would be with King of the Redbox. I bet he's loving it. I don't mean this in a bad way either; I just think he's totally Zen about it, he's accepted it and he wears his crown with sated pride.

  • apsutter

    Reminds me of our discussion about Ethan Hawke being king of the B movies.

  • zeke_the_pig

    So clearly now the only logical outcome is for the two to star in some monumental Red Box B movie together. Which I will buy. Several times.

  • Scottieboy

    Agreed. He's totally, "You can slag me off, but do YOU have an Oscar? No?"

  • zeke_the_pig

    Is that... Is that Dennis & Dee's dad?

  • blacksred

    that was my first response! And I watched Seventh Heaven.

  • Harris K Telemacher

    Frank Whalley's delivery of the line "I'm gonna puke my guts out" when he and Clark Kellog are presented with the komodo dragon they have to transport in The Freshman was one of the funniest things my 13-year-old ears had ever heard at the time. And I will forever love him for that.

  • KV

    Is Frank Whaley not some guy from Pulp Fiction (can't remember who)?

  • sanity fair

    Yes. He's the kid eating a Big Kahuna burger, which Samuel L. Jackson steals before he and Travolta shoot the apartment up.

  • Harris K Telemacher

    I think he's the guy who's concentration is broken by having is friend murdered in front of him.

  • sanity fair

    Yep. That's Frank Whaley. :)

  • PDamian

    When I was younger, I thought Frank Whalley was destined for greatness. Shows how much I know. I'm also astonished that Cuba Gooding's career has sunk so low. But Robin Givens? Looks or not, she was never much of an actress.

  • Maguita NYC

    I was so positive that was no Frank Whaley in the pic above but Marky Mark's brother Donnie Walhberg!

  • apsutter

    4 things:

    1. Man, what the hell happened to Cuba?!
    2. I have a confusing Love/Hate relationship with Juliette Lewis. Mostly hate but I can't help but love her after NBK.
    3. I can't believe Robin Givens didn't have a bigger career...the woman is freaking gorgeous! Everytime I see Waiting to Exhale her looks blow me away.
    4. This just reminded me of how much I love To Wong Foo and then it makes me sad cause Swayze is gone

  • blacksred

    You may want to re watch Waiting to Exhale. That was Lela Rochon, NOT Robin Givens

  • apsutter

    Oh shit! You're totally right! Yikes, that means I thought they were the same person this whole time

  • Jill

    I, too initially thought that was a pic of Lela Rochon. That kind of seems like a slam to Rochon.

  • kushiro -

    Watch Lantana and tell me LaPaglia is a low-rent anything.

  • jeannebean

    A-men! I have to re-watch Lantana every couple of years, mostly for LaPaglia.

  • BuffyloGal

    I was thinking of his turn in Alibrandi also. Perhaps Dustin doesn't examine enough Aussie cinema!

  • PDamian

    Thank you! LaPaglia was amazing in Lantana.

  • e jerry powell

    I have a big lantana in my garden. Is he all up in it?


  • PDamian

    OMG, go check, NOW! If so, I'll be right there!

  • Three_nineteen

    Figuring out what Anthony LaPaglia did to Dustin to deserve that "low-rent Ray Liotta" crack is going to keep me up tonight.

  • pumpkin

    I love Anthony LaPaglia. I think he's way underrated.

    I also really like Ray Liotta for his serious roles and not-so-serious ones (his guest roles on Just Shoot Me and The League were hilarious).

    I would never have compared the two, so I'm curious as well.

  • Jill

    How can he be low rent after So I Married An Axe Murderer? Nancy Travis low rent? Maybe. But never LaPaglia.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Given Liotta's recent C-movie roles, I'd say that LaPaglia is much rents himself out for quite a bit more at the moment.

  • Scottieboy

    Stephen Collins was one of the most promising actors of 1991? Stephen Collins, who was in Star Trek The Motion Picture in 1979? Talk about slow burn.

  • Bananapanda

    Stephen Collins is one of the most interesting guests on the Kevin Pollak show ever. (close 2nd Ed O'Neill). He's buds with Christopher Guest and has been around NYC theater people forever. Great storyteller- i underestimated him b/c he's a bland looking white guy...

  • kyrailbird

    I also wondered about that....I remember him from All the President's Men---in 1976. :P

  • toblerone

    Where's Macaulay Culkin? Fresh off Home Alone his next role was in My Girl.

    *Anna Chlumsky, Anna Chlumsky, Anna Chlumsky.

  • Aidan Harr

    I'd almost forgotten that Adrienne Shelly is no longer with us. Waitress is such a fantastic film :(

  • e jerry powell

    And unfortunately Dick Wolf didn't even have the decency to not try and make a buck (back) off of her after she was murdered, either.

    Dick Wolf is the epicenter of all that is evil in the world, y'all...

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