The New Star Power

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Byline: Ramin Setoodeh and David Ansen

Hollywood's best on playing hurt, kissing onscreen, work/life balance, and why none of them is on Facebook. Welcome to NEWSWEEK's 14th Oscar Roundtable.

Nicole Kidman, we learned, stuttered as a child. James Franco doesn't care if you know he sleeps in class. "If there weren't cameras here," says Natalie Portman, "this could be really therapeutic." It kind of was. Our Oscar Roundtable is always a little like Inception--it really gets into an actor's head. But this year's was so full of pain, relief, humiliation, love, and other drugs of the profession, you wonder: who would want a trophy life?

All your performances are high-risk, for different reasons. Annette, you are in a relationship with Julianne Moore's character.

Annette Bening: Oh, that was easy. It was completely intuitive, and she's just a joy. Colin knows. It is funny, being in love with people, or in our case pretending to be in love with people. Sometimes it's quite challenging and that's your job.

Colin Firth: The worst obstacle to acting in love is really being in love with the other person. Because it's not controllable. There is no way to harness that and turn it into something that's useful to you.

Bening: I remember being in acting class, and someone was talking about that, and he was very practical about it--especially if you have an aversion to that person, which can happen. He said, you've got to get over it. One of the words was "substitution." You take the head of the person that's actually there, and --

Firth: You Photoshop it.

Bening: You Photoshop another head! [Laughter] Seriously. And then you fake it.

Does anybody else do that?

James Franco: I guess I use the trick in a way. I don't know if I would call it Photoshop.

Bening: I didn't use that word. Colin does the Photoshopping!

Franco: You understand what it's like to be intimate with someone, so you just kind of let yourself go over to that situation. I don't know if I've ever had a great love scene that people would think, oh yeah, you really nailed that, so I don't know if I'm the one to ask, but that's what I do.

Firth: Well, some people just do it.

Bening: Do what?

Firth: Sex! The whole deal. There are films that make a virtue of that.

Care to give any examples?

Nicole Kidman: Last Tango.

Firth: Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs.

Natalie Portman: Brown Bunny. You can find many of them online.

Michelle, what about you?

Michelle Williams: I thought it was maybe coming to that.

You and Ryan Gosling lived in the same house for Blue Valentine?

Williams: Yeah, we lived together in this house. It was supposed to be a week and then it turned into a month because we were having a hard time fighting with each other. We really, really liked each other, and we didn't want to. So it took a while to break it down, and the idea was that we build these shared memories together. Like as a family, as a couple, and to trust each other.

Were you in character?

Williams: We pretty much stayed in character. The director wasn't there. He would leave us alone.

Where would you sleep?

Williams: It was all daytime activities. To be clear -- [Everybody laughs.]

Nicole, do you have any thoughts?

Kidman: What's the question?

Bening: Sex.

Kidman: For me, it's different every time. If the film is worthy, I'm willing to explore. I don't have any set rules. I try to stay open and that's it. As long as I have a director that I don't feel is exploiting me or is going to abuse me.

Is there a secret to landing a good kiss?

Kidman: So much of that is how you capture it. Baz Luhrmann has a particular way of setting up a kiss. On Moulin Rouge, he was extremely precise, because he revered old movies and those big screen kisses. …