1 of 2
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Patrick Fugit, 22, starred in "Almost Famous" in 2000 \— his first film.

PARK CITY — Being labeled "The Next Big Thing" in Hollywood when you're still a teenager is hard to live up to. Just ask Salt Lake native Patrick Fugit.

He received rave reviews for his performance in "Almost Famous" as an aspiring young music journalist. But it was his co-star Kate Hudson who went on to movie stardom. And other co-stars, like Jason Lee and Philip Seymour Hoffman, went on to bigger things.

But after "Almost Famous," it took Fugit five years to find another major role that he felt was as good.

"I remember thinking at the time, 'Wow. What am I going to do now?' and 'I hope this isn't as good as it's going to get,' " Fugit said at the Sundance Film Festival. "Unfortunately, it was, for awhile."

The 22-year-old actor has been seen in a handful of supporting roles since then, most notably "White Oleander," in which he appeared opposite Michelle Pfeiffer and Alison Lohman. But he's rejected several projects that would have given him a lead role.

That is until "Wristcutters: A Love Story" came along.

"I wanted to find something that was different, not just the dumb comedies and other things that were being offered to me," Fugit said during an interview in the Volkswagen Lounge on Park City's Main Street.

And "Wristcutters" is definitely something different, a dark comic fantasy about suicide victims who awake to find themselves in an afterlife that is far grungier and more depressing than the existence they departed. Fugit stars as twentysomething Ziya, who kills himself after breaking up with his girlfriend.

"It's pretty dark," Fugit said with a laugh," but it's not overwhelmingly dark."

"Wristcutters" is one of 16 films in the festival's dramatic competition and had its premiere on Monday in the Park City Racquet Club. "I hear people really liked it and responded well to it," Fugit said.

His co-workers have nothing but praise for Fugit. "Ziya is such a tricky part. He's the most important person in the movie," said Shea Whigham, who plays his constant companion Eugene, and who originally read for Fugit's role. "He's the one character you relate to and really like, but that's not an easy thing to do with this material.

"Patrick couldn't smile a lot, because his character isn't supposed to. So he had to act with his eyes."

Director Goran Dukic calls Fugit a natural. "It's unbelievable how talented and how centered Patrick is. He could have it all but chooses not to."

Fugit still lives in the Salt Lake Valley, in Sugar House, but does occasionally go to Hollywood for film work. And he doesn't rule out the possibility of moving there permanently at some point. "I'm sure I will eventually. And from there it's inevitable — you know, you get an apartment, you meet a girl and you settle down," he said with a shrug.

For now, he's content to live in Utah and pick and choose his film work.

Fugit also plays guitar in the band Mushman, fronted by his best friend, David Fetzer. The band's name refers to late actor Steve McQueen, who used it as an alias. "He would check into hotels under the name Harvey Mushman," Fugit said. "(McQueen) was pretty cool, and we couldn't think of anything better. So it stuck."

Given his musical aspirations, Fugit was thrilled to see one of his "Wristcutters" co-stars was Tom Waits. "Yeah, that was definitely a perk."

Fugit and Mushman will perform Saturday afternoon at the Music Cafe in the Star Bar. They will play a short set and open for King's Dragon, a band that includes "Wristcutters" co-star John Hawkes.

There are also three more screenings of "Wristcutters": 3:30 p.m. today at the Sundance Resort in Provo Canyon, 11:30 p.m. today at the Park City Library and noon Friday in the Eccles Center Theatre in Park City.

Information on the 2006 Sundance Film Festival is available at the Sundance Institute Web site, www.sundance.org, or by calling 435-940-8400; for ticket information, call 801-326-2000.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com