No one believes it. Adam Sandler cannot perform in a dramatic role. Eminem is a musician, not an actor. But slowly, they are starting to believe.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Universal
Paul Wong
Todd Weiser

It’s 11 months into the year and the only two lead male performances drawing raves anywhere near Oscar buzz are from the lowbrow SNL alum, Sandler, and the controversial “new Elvis,” Eminem.

This must be a mistake, right? Wrong. The DeNiros and Pacinos of the world no longer strive for the challenging, breakthrough roles they used to thrust themselves into, instead opting for cozy sequels (“Analyze That”) and Bruckheimer-type action (“The Recruit”). The opportunity for a younger crop of actors to reach the pinnacle of their craft is there for the taking, and the names suddenly associated with this concept are not Norton and Damon.

The hype machines have been running at full power for the past year for both Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love.” Publicly labeled as “the Eminem Detroit movie” and “P.T.A.’s 90-minute Adam Sandler drama,” the media and the studios have slowly nurtured the viewer’s perception and expectations.

The fact that all this hype began before each film had shot a single roll of film leads to a lot of speculation on whether it is just only that, hype. However, the reason the boasting and bragging could begin so early on is because the two men responsible for showcasing Eminem’s and Sandler’s acting abilities are no run-of-the-mill filmmakers; they are Academy Award nominees and proven talents at working with underrated actors.

Back in 1997, when Hanson directed “L.A. Confidential,” it would have been impossible for someone to believe Kim Basinger had an ounce of talent in her 5-foot-7 frame; she was better known as Mrs. Alec Baldwin, surviving in Hollywood on her looks, not her acting chops. Hanson turned that all around; his 1950s tale of police corruption in the optimistically angelic L.A.P.D. earned himself an Oscar nomination for best director (along with a shared win for best adapted screenplay) and Basinger a golden boy for Best Supporting Actress.

One turned-around career must not have been enough for Hanson as, after disappointing box office success for his “Wonder Boys,” he chose up-and-coming (at the time) vanilla rapper, and phenom to be, Marshall Mathers as his next assignment. Eminem took his acting seriously, not wanting to be involved in another “Cool As Ice.” Eminem’s trust in Hanson (including six weeks of rehearsals and losing 15 pounds for the younger role) proves the hip-hopper’s dedication.

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