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Jeff Grant (River Phoenix, l.) is comforted by FBI agent Roy Parmenter (Sidney Poitier, r.) as the teenager's life is torn apart and he is catapulted into the frightening world of international espionage in Columbia Pictures' "LITTLE NIKITA." The film was produced by Harry Gittes and directed by Richard Benjamin from a screenplay by John Hill and Bo Goldman, based on a story by Tom Musca & Terry Schwartz.
RIVER PHOENIX portrays Jeff Grant, a teenager who finds himself torn between love for his country and love for his family, in Columbia Pictures' "Little Nikita." River has garnered a solid reputation as a young actor who plays characters of depth and emotional maturity. "Little Nikita" offers him yet another opportunity to reveal his range and sensitivity, as he plays a teenaged boy who experiences great turmoil when he learns from an FBI agent (Sidney Poitier) that his parents are actually deep-cover Soviet spies. The secret turns his world upside down and catapults him into the frightening world of international espionage, forcing him to grow up overnight.
Critics raved over his performances in "Stand By Me" and "The Mosquito Coast." Interviewers said of him: "He has the weathered look of a solitary rider. Independent. Resilient. Reliant. Qualities of spirit that glue your eyes to the screen when you watch him."
Poitier joins in accolades for Phoenix. "He is a very special kind of person. As an actor, he is so naturally gifted that you're not working against an actor who's relying on technique. You're working against raw talent and that's very invigorating for me -- he sparkles. He's so spontaneous and so quick, it charges my batteries."
In "Little Nikita," Phoenix is a boy who reaches maturity when his world is shattered overnight. He found his role something that required special contemplation. "It's shocking, depressing, frustrating, because Jeff can't really do anything about the past," he says. "He's faced with hard decisions and must leave his world and grow up," comments Phoenix.
He cherished the opportunity to work with Poitier. "I think I learned from Sidney not to take everything personally. And not to take this fame personally. It is a job and I'm just trying to do it well. Sidney's very consistent in his acting and in how he handles himself on and off the set. He's really spontaneous and real and organic, and he has a reservoir to draw on that's amazing.
"This is a great script. It's really good because I have so many confrontation scenes with different people -- my parents, with Poitier's character, my friends, even my girlfriend. You see a lot of different levels and a lot of different personalities in Jeff."
Being directed by actor-director Richard Benjamin was additional help for Phoenix. "He can relate to us. There was great communication. He told me how he wanted it and it was just there -- plain and simple. Maybe not always simple but always clear. He's an easy-going person and it's really nice to work with a director like that. He'll be acting behind the camera, you know, and you can feel that energy and it helps."
Phoenix, who was 17 on August 23, is the oldest of five children -- born to Arlyn and John Phoenix. He has three sisters -- Rainbow, Liberty and Summer -- and one brother, Leaf.
"My parents are managing us and all the kids are acting, and we're all working for the same thing as opposed to everybody going in different directions. We all aim high and are supportive of each other."
Phoenix made his screen debut as a 15-year-old scientist in "Explorers," and went on to impressive roles in Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" and with Harrison Ford in "The Mosquito Coast." Upcoming, he will be seen in "Running on Empty" with Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti, and the irreverent commedy "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon."
He spent his childhood traveling to South and Central America with his parents, who were then independent Christian missionaries. Returning to the States at 7, be began his acting career three years later with a role in the TV series "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." His other TV credits include "Celebrity," "Robert Kennedy and His Times," "Hotel," "It's Your Move," "Family Ties" and "Surviving: A Family in Crisis."
In addition to acting, Phoenix plays guitar and records his own original songs. He was born in Madras, Oregon, and now lives with his family in Florida.