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Giving Unsung Stars a Chance to Shine

John Krasinski is best-known as Jim on "The Office," half of one of the best television relationships, ever.

For now.

Krasinski's not the star of the show, exactly. It's an ensemble, and if there's a face of the series, it belongs to Steve Carell. Him, you know well. But for years he was one of those actors you sort of were aware of, from stints on "The Daily Show" and forgettable sitcoms.

Then he made "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and seemingly everyone knew who he was.

Now it may be Krasinski's turn.

He's one of those actors we know a little, but who deserves to be known better. After a starring turn in "Away We Go," Oscar-winner Sam Mendes' next film, he might be.

There are others in a similar situation in films this summer: Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana from "Star Trek," Ed Helms from "The Hangover" (and an "Office" cast member as well) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt from "500 Days of Summer."

Not all of them are going to break out. Fame is a fickle thing, after all. But these are among a bunch that seems ready to take the next step.

Krasinski, as an example, gets to play comedy and drama in "Away We Go," which opens June 12. His other gig had him well prepared.

"Not only is ("The Office") really good, but my part in particular allows me to do some funny things and some more real moments," he said. "I think it's the best of both worlds, and so rarely do you get to do something like that. I mean, if I were the wacky neighbor on some horrible show, maybe I'd think differently."

No need to. Krasinski's work on the show has obviously gotten him noticed, if not exactly made him famous.

"Steve Carell gets all the press, but this guy is the glue that holds 'The Office' together," said Chris Case, editor of DailyFill.com, a celebrity site.

Taking a lesser role

But it may be the lesser-known roles — "Jarhead" for Krasinski or "Brick" for Gordon-Levitt — that are just as valuable.

"Both Gordon-Levitt and Krasinski have done interesting work in the indie circuit — true indies, not Ashton Kutcher showing his film at Sundance," said Doug Beckwith, the dean and executive director of Axia College of the University of Phoenix, who also teaches film classes and has written for television. "That doesn't give them (credibility) per se, but it does mean they are doing a lot of things in addition to acting. Indie filmmakers by necessity have to stow the ego and be willing to lend helping hands on a variety of fronts. As a result, not only do these actors learn more about acting (in both good and bad films), they learn a lot more about filmmaking in general. That's good for all involved."

Case points to Elizabeth Banks as an actress who has managed her career wisely, allowing her to go from the fringes of recognition to a well-known star (a journey still in progress), calling her the "best example of someone who understands how to break out in Hollywood."

She's done several things right, he said. Among them:

"Get a small part and then steal the movie," Case suggests. "See Elizabeth Banks in '40-Year-Old Virgin.' She was the girl in the tub who took Steve Carell home. Yes, you remember her. Why? She was sexy and hilarious and took a small part and made it her own."

There are other ways to increase your profile. Making friends with Judd Apatow is a pretty effective one. Other directors will suffice as well. It's like the old saying — it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Sounds like Krasinski hooking up with Mendes worked out pretty well.

"I recently got married to John Krasinski," Mendes said, a reference to his directing his wife, Kate Winslet, in "Revolutionary Road."

"After that, it made it much easier for me to direct him."

Doing quality work

There's another well-tested method: keep plugging.

"It's a lot of work," said Helms, who like Carell has gone from a correspondent on "The Daily Show" to "The Office" to film. "It's a serious commitment to just doing the work, and the recognition comes later. I remember having a conversation with (Carell) about the time '40 Year Old Virgin' was breaking, and he was getting interviewed a lot. People were like, 'You just came out of nowhere. This is just like overnight.' And Steve's like, "Uh, I've been doing this for 20 years, and I've been working really hard."

You'll note that most of the films potential breakout stars are in this summer have either gotten good reviews — raves, in the case of "Star Trek," which has helped Pine and Saldana immensely — or have good buzz ("500 Days of Summer"). The lure of the paycheck is strong, even if the script isn't, but a sense of discretion might be the most important factor of all. And there's more to that than just saying yes at the right time.

"There's no better way to kill your career than to say yes to every single piece of highly paid crap that gets thrown at you," he said. "This list is long. I'll throw out a few names: Lindsay Lohan. Cuba Gooding Jr. 'Herbie Fully Loaded.' 'Boat Trip.' Two prime examples of the cash-out syndrome. There are literally hundreds of names on this list, but these are the two main culprits."

If such choices are unfortunate, they can be survivable. Krasinski did star in "License to Wed," after all. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Appreciating what you've got goes pretty far as well. Cue Krasinski, who rebounded to co-star with Clooney (even if it was in "Leatherheads") and carry his own film:

"This has been an unbelievable ride," Krasinski said, "and I wouldn't have any of this without 'The Office,' so it's sort of that chicken-and-egg thing where I would never say, 'Yes, I'm going to leave 'The Office' to do films,' because it doesn't make any sense. The fact that I get to do a movie like ('Away We Go') and have 'The Office' be my quote-unquote day job is sort of surreal."

How can you not root for him to make it big? We'll see...

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