"I always feel like a vague failure in L.A.," said Greta Gerwig, sitting in a movie theater in the heart of Hollywood.
The actress, 30, had flown from her home in New York to partake in the Los Angeles Times' Young Hollywood round table at AFI Fest last week. And yet even among a group of the year's brightest up-and-comers — Michael B. Jordan, 26; Dane DeHaan, 27; Miles Teller, 26; and Brie Larson, 24 — Gerwig said she has yet to fully assimilate her success.
"In L.A., people are like, 'Why do I know who you are?' " she continued. "And I'm like, 'You don't.' "
But after her critically acclaimed performance in "Frances Ha" this year, that anonymity likely won't last much longer. All of this year's participants are on their way to becoming household names after starring in some of 2013's most-talked about movies: Jordan in "Fruitvale Station," DeHaan in "Kill Your Darlings," Teller in "The Spectacular Now" and Larson in "Short Term 12."
But being thrown into the spotlight at a young age has its challenges. None of the five actors can watch themselves on the big screen. They sometimes get so nervous around big stars — Nicole Kidman, Woody Allen — that their work suffers. Some are even too self-conscious to tweet.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with five of the movie business' most promising young talents, as they talk about navigating their newfound fame.
We're right next to the historic Chinese theater, and I'm wondering if it reminds you of your own first big Hollywood moment?
Dane DeHaan: When "Lawless" was going to Cannes, they were going to take everybody except for me, because everyone else was a lot more famous than I was. So my agent bought me a plane ticket, and the first night I was there I slept on a line producer's futon.... And then after the premiere, [costar Jessica Chastain] had to go back to finish shooting "Zero Dark Thirty." So she gave me her hotel room for the night. And it was, um, palatial.
Greta Gerwig: The first big movie I did that was released in a lot of theaters was "Greenberg," and I came to L.A. for the premiere. They put me up at the W Hotel, and I was very excited. And then, overnight, it was like the room was gone. And I was in L.A. and I didn't have a place to stay or any money. I was driving in Los Feliz, terrified, and I drove past a movie theater with a marquee that had my face on it. And I was like, "I don't have anywhere to stay tonight. What a Hollywood moment."
Miles Teller: I guess I have a similar one. I went to South by Southwest this past year. And I took like an early flight and I just got there, they gave me a [hotel] key, and I opened the room. There's like three dudes in there, and there was a bunch of room service. It kind of smelled, and the whole room's in disarray. So I walked out. I was like, "Hey, I don't know what's going on. There's a bunch of people in that room." They're like, "Oh, yeah, that's James Franco's room. He's got a late checkout." I thought that was pretty funny.
Brie Larson: My first job, I was 7 years old, and I was doing a fake Barbie commercial for Jay Leno — Malibu Mudslide Barbie. I was so excited, and they really do it up there. They put your name on the door. And so it was my first time ever seeing "Brie Larson" because that's not my real name. It was this fake name on this door in Los Angeles. I remember thinking I've made it. I had no idea that I wasn't even close.
None of you grew up in Los Angeles. What was your idea of Hollywood from afar?
Larson: I thought that the ground was gold and sparkly.
Michael B. Jordan: My dad's from California, so I always visited, so I always wanted to come. It lives up to the hype for the most part. I think if you have a tight group of friends, it helps.
Gerwig: Yeah, I grew up in California in Sacramento, but I never came to Los Angeles because it was a very long drive. But when I was young, I loved Woody Allen movies. So by the time I went to L.A., I was already doing some weird Woody Allen impression of him saying, like, "I'll have a plate of mashed yeast." And I was, like, 12. I had already decided that I was a New Yorker even though I was from Sacramento. It was like the only cultural advantage [in L.A.] is that you can make an uncontrolled right-hand turn.
And you do live in New York now. A lot of actors say they choose not to live in L.A. because all anyone talks about here is the industry. True?
Gerwig: I always feel like a vague failure in L.A. — it always makes me feel like I should somehow be different than I am. And I don't know why. But in New York I always feel like I can kind of melt in. And in L.A. people are like, "Why do I know who you are?" And I'm like, "You don't."
What were your early auditions like?