Denzel Washington, who returns to the Great White Way this season in Fences, plays the title character in The Book of Eli (January 15), a post-apocalyptic tale that follows a solitary man who fights his way across America in order to protect a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving mankind. The role called for the Oscar-winning star to flex his dramatic muscles, but it was his physical muscles that demanded attention. "I was boxing in the morning and doing martial arts in the afternoon," he notes. "In fact, I was getting in six hours of workout every day!"
In Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (February 19), Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio star as 1950's U.S. Marshals investigating the disappearance of a female murderer from a hospital for the criminally insane. Not surprisingly, Ruffalo describes working with Scorsese as a dream come true. "He has that grace around him of a master," says Ruffalo. "It's a perfect melding of intuition and discipline. He walks onto a movie knowing exactly every shot and how he's going to tell a story visually. But he also creates a space that's incredibly respectful to what we do as actors and how we do it. Just for prep, we got the screening room at Harvard and we watched 10 movies, including Out of the Past, Ashes and Diamonds, Fallen Sparrow, and Laura, from the same period in which our film is set and then we held a small symposium afterwards where Marty told us about the films, the scores, how it was made, what the social scene was at the time. His knowledge of film is a total treasure."
Alan Rickman is just one of the many stage stars populating Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (March 5), in which a 17-year-old Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) follows a white rabbit and drops back into Wonderland -- with no memory of having been there 10 years earlier. While Burton offers his audiences a remarkable visual and emotional feast, Rickman -- who plays the Caterpillar -- says the director offers his actors a chance to literally breathe life into art. "With Tim, it's like working with a painter so you hand yourself over to it," he says. "You know you're a shape and a sound and you're a color, and you can make suggestions and you can find dilutions or gradients of that color that he might not have thought of, and he will listen but he's got a strong vision of what he wants to do. But, I'm very happy to be told what to do."
Scarlett Johansson, who is currently making her Broadway debut in A View from the Bridge, will play sexy Russian superspy Natasha Romanoff -- aka Black Widow -- in Iron Man 2 opposite Robert Downey, Jr. (May 7). Johansson knew she'd spend a lot of time running, jumping, and kicking in the film, but she wasn't quite prepared for the grueling reality of playing a comic book icon. "When I ran head first into one of the stunt guys who was 6'3" and 250 pounds, that was painful," she says. "And it was a moment when I thought maybe I should rethink this."
Sarah Jessica Parker steps back into Carrie Bradshaw's stylish shoes this summer in Sex and the City 2 (May 28), much of which was not shot in the show's beloved New York City due to the cast's notoriety. "It was as insane as doing it in the first one!" says Parker. "We would have a paparazzi rehearsal so they could all get it out of their systems and flash their cameras so we could actually get a shot done without flashes. The situation became undoable in terms of completing the work of the day. In the end, we did a lot less exterior street work in New York, far more interior studio stuff, and then we went out of the country for seven weeks -- and where we were, no one cared about us. We just got to work and tell our story."
Having played a vampire, a werewolf, talk show host David Frost, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and British prime minister Tony Blair, Michael Sheen takes on his most unusual role yet as a nightclub host in Tron Legacy (December 17), the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 cult hit. "I was a huge fan of the first film. I love stuff about supernatural things and fantasy and science fiction," the actor explains. But there's a more theatrical reason as to why Sheen enjoys spending all that time in make-up and in front of a green screen. "In some ways, I can lose myself more in these fantasy characters than in real-life people."