BEST LOCAL BOY MADE GOOD - 2000
In 1990, Marshall-born Steve Zahn quit his job in a machine shop and took a gig in a Chanhassen Dinner Theater production of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues. Next was a two-year stint with the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a turn on the New York stages and, finally, a Hollywood career in which he first gained favorable notice for his vivid turn as Winona Ryder's sexually confused friend Sammy in 1994's Reality Bites. In 1996 Zahn was cast as the lead guitarist in Tom Hanks's happy rock 'n' roll fantasy, That Thing You Do, and by the end of 1998, Zahn had appeared in the dark, Eric Bogosian-penned subUrbia (as a pizza-slinging slacker), You've Got Mail (as Meg Ryan's bookstore colleague) and, finally, in Steven Soderbergh's acclaimed Out of Sight (as a dimwitted crook in thrall to Jennifer Lopez). In last year's indie hit Happy, Texas, the suddenly hot Zahn turned in his best performance to date, playing an escaped con masquerading as the gay director of a kindergarten pageant. Zahn combined the unself-conscious vitality of Robert De Niro with a hint of Crispin Glover, elevating the movie and, in the process, winning himself the prestigious Special Jury Prize for Comedic Performance at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.