Plopping down in a Brooklyn lunch spot, Alessandro Nivola couldn't seem more at ease. There's good neighbor Heath Ledger, he points out, and over here is Hope Davis — whom he lost a house to in a bidding war. Just a bunch of unassuming movie stars, keeping it real over coffee. "I want to write a Saturday Night Live sketch about an actor nobody's heard of who wears a hood and asks to be seated in the corners of restaurants,"he laughs.

To this point, Nivola could afford to be blasé about fame. Despite strong work in Face/Off, Junebug, and TNT's miniseries The Company, he isn't exactly a household face. But let's see if that changes with the chilling new remake of the Hong Kong thriller The Eye, where he plays a neuropsychologist helping a corneal-transplant patient (Jessica Alba) deal with the ghoulish images that flash before those pretty new peepers. With the red-hot international duo David Moreau and Xavier Palud (Them) directing, Nivola made certain this splashy role was still quietly textured. "We veered from the typical hunky doctor,"explains the — well, hunky Nivola, "so we turned him into a misfit who is confident in his job but insecure with who he is."

Not Nivola's issue: Offscreen, domestic bliss revolves around his wife, actress Emily Mortimer, and 4-year-old son, Sam. Of being a product of super-elite Exeter and Yale, he says, "I learned so many ways of faking it, and I've put each and every one of them to use in my work."

Color us unconvinced. We always know the real deal when we see it.

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