On The Rise 2012: 10 Actresses Poised For The Big Time

On The Rise 2012: 10 Actresses Poised For The Big Time

While there are still not enough good roles for women out there, particularly in mainstream Hollywood, that hasn’t stopped a batch of young female stars from exploding from out of nowhere in recent years. Head-turning performances have helped launch faces like Carey Mulligan, Mia Wasikowska, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Felicity Jones and many others into the stratosphere, and the success last weekend of “The Hunger Games” has hopefully put to rest the fallacy that huge audiences won’t turn up to big movies carried by a woman.

With that in mind, and hot on the heels of our ten picks for actors on the rise yesterday, we’ve chosen ten actresses who, while yet to be household names, have wowed audiences and casting directors in recent years, and look like strong contenders to headline the big movies of the future. Check our picks our below, and weigh in with your own tips in the comment section.

Nicole Beharie
As scorching as the performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in “Shame” were, there was one other performance in the film, from a less familiar face, that was almost as memorable. It was from, 27-year-old Florida-born actress Nicole Beharie, who played Brandon’s colleague Marianne, who he attempts to develop an actual relationship with, one defeated by his sex addiction. Beharie was bright, warm and winning in the early stages, and confused and wounded when Brandon spurns her, unable to reconcile the idea of sex with someone he actually likes. While she didn’t necessarily get the awards attention of her co-stars, it certainly turned a lot of heads, and should see Beharie turn up in more and more films. After graduating from Julliard, she landed the leading role in drama “American Violet,” before starring alongside Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid in period football drama “The Express.” At the end of 2010, she was cast alongside Jeffrey Wright, Mos Def and Paul Dano in John Guare‘s “A Free Man Of Color,” a definite testament to her skills, and that seems to be what helped her land the part in Steve McQueen‘s film. Since “Shame,” she’s impressed with TV appearances in “The Good Wife” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and has indies “The Last Fall” and “Small Of Her Back” in the pipeline. But most high-profile of all is “42,” Brian Helgeland’s story of the glass-ceilling-breaking baseball player Jackie Robinson, in which Beharie joins newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as executive Branch Rickey, playing Rachel Isum, the love of Robinsons’ life. The film looks like it could be a serious awards contender, and should only help on the path to making Beharie a household name.

Alison Brie
To be on one of the best shows on TV is fortunate. But if you’re on two of them, simultaneously, and the shows are wildly different, and you’re terrific in both of them, then it starts to look like it’s no accident. And that certainly seems to be the case with Alison Brie, who plays both Annie Edison on “Community” and Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men.” 29-year-old Pasadena native Brie was actually in “Mad Men” first, and while it’s a relatively minor role, she has always impressed, but it’s “Community” that’s really demonstrated her deft comic skills, while causing scores of geeks to develop major crushes on her. And of all the show’s stars, it’s Brie who’s proving most in demand in the movie world; she went through a rite of passage for actresses by being brutally dispatched in last year’s “Scream 4,” and picked up some excellent reviews at Sundance for her turn alongside Lizzy Caplan in indie rom-com “Save The Date.” And things keep looking up and up: “Mad Men” is back on the air, the ratings for “Community” have revived with a fourth season looking all but certain, and she’ll shortly be donning a British accent to play Emily Blunt‘s sister in “The Five-Year Engagement.” Can her own studio rom-com lead be far behind? She’s shooting another comedy with promise, Dylan Kidd‘s “Get A Job,” alongisde Bryan Cranston, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jay Pharoah, but by the time her next hiatus rolls around, her own vehicle wil surely have materialized.

Jessica Brown-Findlay
Among the unlikeliest pop-culture phenomenons of the last few years is the enormous American success of the British period drama “Downton Abbey,” which has gripped both the U.S. and the U.K since it premiered late in 2010. Its cast are already becoming frequent sights on screen: Michelle Dockery will appear in “Anna Karenina,” and Dan Stevens is headlining the drama “Summer In February.” But it’s looking increasingly like the biggest breakout star of all of them will be Jessica Brown-Findlay, who plays the youngest Crawley daughter, Lady Sybil, in the series. The actress shone from the first as the most progressive, contemporary character on the show, and aside from further TV roles on “Misfits” and alongside one of our male picks, Daniel Kaluuya, on “Black Mirror,” the show also landed her the lead role, alongside Felicity Jones, in the British film “Albatross.” While that movie was relatively unexceptional, she’s excellent in it as a teen who begins a relationship with her best friend’s father, and it’s only served to bring her even more attention. Next up is more TV work, as the lead in epic Ridley Scott-produced miniseries “Labyrinth,” along with Smiths-themed indie “Shoplifters Of The World,” which will mark her U.S. debut, while she’s also attached to the Scottish romantic comedy “Not Another Happy Ending,” with “Doctor Who” star Karen Gillan. But the film that’s going to launch her into the stratosphere is “A Winter’s Tale,” the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. Both Russell Crowe and Will Smith will be appearing, but it’s Brown-Findlay who has the lead, as a dying young woman who falls for a thief. It should be just the first of many leads to come.  

Alice Englert
When your mother is one of the most important filmmakers of the last twenty-odd years, it’s got to be pretty tempting to go into the family business in some way. But while 17-year-old New Zealand actress Alice Englert got her start in “The Water Diary,” a short film helmed by her mother, the great Jane Campion, she’s otherwise doing extremely well entirely on her own steam. Englert (who has also done some modeling) has a role in Roland Joffe‘s upcoming/long-delayed epic romance “Singularity,” with Josh Hartnett and Neve Campbell, and from that won the lead in “In Fear,” a top-secret psychological horror from writer/director Jeremy Lovering (BBC dramas”Miss Austen Regrets,” “Money“) and Big Talk Productions, the company behind “Hot Fuzz” and “Attack the Block.” From that, she segued to join Elle Fanning in “Bomb,” the latest from director Sally Potter, a 1960s-set coming-of-age tale also starring Alessandro Nivola and Annette Bening. And when that wraps, she’s not hanging about, as the actress just landed the lead alongside fellow rising star Jack O’Connell in “Beautiful Creatures,” Alcon Entertainment‘s hope at becoming the next “Twilight” or ‘Hunger Games.’ With a cast including Viola Davis, Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in supporting roles, and Oscar-nominee Richard LaGravenese at the helm, it seems to have a better pedigree than most of the competition, and if anything puts her on the A-list, it’ll be this, when it opens next February.

Julia Garner
When we were in our senior year of high school, we were mostly concerned with getting the opposite sex to talk to us and bartenders to give us drinks. But Julia Garner has bigger things on her mind, clearly. The ethereally beautiful 18-year-old first came to the attention of many as Sarah, one of the women in Patrick’s commune in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” But it was in Berlin when we really suspected that she was going to be a star: Garner stars in “Electrick Children,” as Rachel, a 15-year-old Mormon girl who falls pregnant with what she believes is an immaculate conception from a cover version of Blondie‘s “Hanging on the Telephone.” Our review from the Berlinale said that “the camera doesn’t so much love as fall at the feet of in worship. If she’s not the next big thing, she’s probably the next next big thing,” and subsequent reviews from SXSW have echoed that. She told us in an interview that she’s aiming to have a career like Philip Seymour Hoffman, and she certainly seems to be following his diversity: she’s got small roles in “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” and David Chase‘s “Not Fade Away,” and is then starring in quirky indie comedy “HairBrained” with Brendan Fraser, in Leah Meyerhoff’s intriguing-sounding “Unicorns,” and in the horror sequel “The Last Exorcism 2,” which is shooting right now. She’s steadily building a strong resumé which will only lead to bigger and better things.

Bella Heathcote
After his tragic death in 2008, the family of the late Australian star Heath Ledger set up the Heath Ledger Scholarship, a fund intended to help his countrymen make it big in Hollywood. And boy, did it work in the case of Bella Heathcote, who won the prize in 2010. After a small role in Andrew Niccol’s “In Time,” Heathcote, who got her start like so many others on the Aussie soap “Neighbours,” first came to the attention of many as a contender for the lead in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” And while Kristen Stewart ended up with that part, Heathcote wasn’t mourning too much as she was swiftly cast in key roles in both David Chase‘s ’60s rock-and-roll tale “Not Fade Away” and in Andrew Dominik‘s “Killing Them Softly.” But first up is something potentially even bigger, playing the dual role of both Johnny Depp’s long dead love, and of the governess of the Collins family in Tim Burton‘s “Dark Shadows.” With her enormous eyes and porcelain beauty, she’s like a Burton drawing made flesh, so she should fit right at home there, and the film will provide her widest exposure to date. She’s been up for a number of high-profile roles since, including the leads in both “A Winter’s Tale” (which fellow pick Jessica Brown-Findlay landed), and “Carrie,” which Chloe Moretz got, but we’re sure there’s plenty more auditions where those came from.

Brie Larson
With a cast that included Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, among many others, Edgar Wright‘s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is looking increasingly like one of those films that provided first looks at an entire generation of young actors, but perhaps none have shown such an impressive range since that film as Brie Larson, who played Scott’s ex Envy Adams, a smoky-voiced rock frontwoman. Despite being only 23, Larson has been acting for over a decade, with several sitcom appearances and parts in kids’ flicks “Sleepover” and “Hoot,” among others. As she moved into her twenties, she landed the part of Toni Colette‘s daughter in Diablo Cody‘s Showtime series “United States of Tara,” which in turn led to the part in ‘Scott Pilgrim.’ But it’s the past few months that have suggested that what we saw before was only scratching the surface of her talent. Firstly, she played Woody Harrelson‘s daughter in “Rampart,” and turned in a hugely impressive performance, both wise beyond her years and somewhat naive about the true nature of her father: it’s one of the things that has lingered most about the film for us. And only a few months later, she was the female lead in “21 Jump Street,” an entirely charming performance with far more depth than your average love interest. She keeps making smart, diverse choices — next up is “Relanxious,” a quirky comedy alongside Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen — and we’re certain that she’ll be carrying a movie herself before too long.

Jane Levy
One of the most pleasant surprises of this past TV season has been “Suburgatory,” a smart, often hilarious sitcom from “Parks and Recreation” writer Emily Kapnek that plays out like a small-screen take on “Mean Girls.” And it’s no surprise that 23-year-old Jane Levy, who plays the lead character Tessa on the show, already looks to be making some major inroads into the movie world. Levy, a Stella Adler grad from Marin County, first appeared in a recurring role on Showtime‘s “Shameless” before bagging the lead in the ABC show, and she’s displayed a sharp wit and impressive range across the season. And big-screen casting directors have clearly been paying attention, as she’s got three movies due for release across the next year or so. First up is Ry Russo-Young‘s acclaimed Sundance pic “Nobody Walks” (co-written by Lena Dunham), in which she stars alongside Olivia Thirlby and John Krasinski, and October will see her play the lead in “Fun Size,” the feature debut of “O.C.” mastermind Josh Schwartz, in which she’ll play a wayward, troubled teen who loses her brother on Halloween night; if Schwartz’s previous work is anything to go by, this could turn out to be an “Easy A“-style sleeper hit. But an even bigger chance at stardom comes next April, as Levy bagged the lead role in the “Evil Dead” remake after Lily Collins dropped out. The part, a recovering addict taken to a cabin for an intervention (only for the undead to interene), seems to be very different from the usual scream-queen kind of roles, and it’s clear from “Suburgatory” that Levy’s got the chops to pull that off, and much more besides.

Alicia Vikander
Like Bella Heathcote, 23-year-old Swedish actress Alicia Vikander first came to our attention when it was announced that she was in the running to play the title role in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (alongside Felicity Jones and Riley Keough). And like Heathcote, she has an impressive career back home: she trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet School as a dancer, before going on to star in the popular series “Andra Avenyn.” But it was her performance in 2010’s addiction drama “Pure” that really brought her to Hollywood’s notice, particularly after she won Best Actress at the Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars) for her performance, beating out Noomi Rapace and Pernilla August (Joel Kinnaman won the Best Actor equivalent, incidentally). And 2012 has been even better for her; she had two films at the Berlinale, “The Crown Jewels” and “A Royal Affair,” the latter of which co-stars Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik. And while ‘Huntsman’ didn’t pan out, her Hollywood debut isn’t far away; she’s playing Kitty in Joe Wright‘s “Anna Karenina,” and has just gotten started on her first blockbuster lead, the supernatural period actioner “The Seventh Son,” in a cast that also includes Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures hope that’ll turn into a franchise, but even if it doesn’t, Vikander seems to be showing that she can pull off costume dramas, serious, gritty contemporary work, and effects-driven tentpoles. All she needs is a comedy and she’s set for life.

Ruth Wilson
Having given birth to the giant “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, one imagines that Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp get to cast who they want. Which helps to explain why the female lead of their 2013 blockbuster “The Lone Ranger” has gone to a rather unconventional choice: British actress Ruth Wilson. But anyone who’s seen her performances, on television or on stage, won’t be surprised that Verbinski and Depp were wowed by her talent. Wilson landed the title role in the BBC miniseries version of “Jane Eyre” shortly after leaving drama school, giving a stunning performance, and she hasn’t looked back since. On stage, she played Stella to Rachel Weisz‘s Blanche in the Donmar Warehouse production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and since starred as Karin in the stage version of Ingmar Bergman‘s “Through A Glass In Darkly” in London, and took the title role back at the Donmar, opposite Jude Law, in Eugene O’Neill‘s “Anna Christie” last summer. It’s the latter, along with her scene-stealing performance as Alice Morgan, the murderer who aids and abets Idris Elba‘s detective in the cult hit “Luther,” that have really upped her status, and presumably brought her to the attention of the Disney blockbuster, in which she’ll play Rebecca Reid, the widow of the Lone Ranger’s brother. Remarkably, at this point, she’s never been seen on a cinema screen, but audiences will have a chance to get to know her before next summer; she’s another member of the impressive ensemble of “Anna Karenina,” playing Princess Betsy.

Honorable Mentions: Also poised to break out before the end of the year is Samantha Barks, who beat out the likes of Taylor Swift for the key role of Eponine in Tom Hooper‘s musical “Les Miserables.” Also from across the pond, there’s Alexandra Roach, who played the young Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” — she’ll also be seen in, yes “Anna Karenina,” and Iain Softley‘s “Trap For Cinderella,” which also stars Tuppence Middleton, who has a very good chance at making it big soon too. And keep an eye on Alice Lowe, the co-writer and star of Ben Wheatley‘s “Sightseers,” and Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays the female lead in Bryan Singer‘s “Jack The Giant Killer.”

Back in the U.S., 15-year-old Isabelle Fuhrmann went from a strong debut in “Orphan” to a villain in “The Hunger Games” — she’ll next appear with Will Smith in M. Night Shyamalan‘s “After Earth.” Ambyr Childers is appearing in two of the most anticipated films of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “The Master” and Ruben Fleischer‘s “The Gangster Squad,” while Taissa Farmiga (the younger sister of Vera, who directed her in debut “Higher Ground“) broke out in TV’s “American Horror Story,” and is currently filming Sofia Coppola‘s “The Bling Ring,” a film that could provide breaks for a number of its cast, including Katie Chang, Israel Broussard and Claire Alys Julien.

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There is a typo in this article. The film "Unicorns" (starring Julia Garner) was directed by Leah Meyerhoff (not Leyer Meyerhoff) Thanks.


Wow I was not expecting to see Alicia Vikander on the list. I'm from sweden myself and it's just so weird to see someone from here make it in other countries. Anyway, it's a great list but I think Juno Temple should be on it as well. She's a HARD WORKING, EXTREMELY TALENTED actress with like thirteen films coming up, most of whom I'm REALLY looking forward to see.

DG Brock

As a director, I can say that Alison is a dream to work with and a major talent. May she get many good roles. She deserves them and can handle them.


Brie Larson was fantastic as the lead's best friend on the fun yet short-lived series "The Middleman." She also had a brief role on a recent episode of "Southland."


man…i thought that was milla jovovich up at the top…

Robert Gallegos

I am a big fan of movies and television series' however I am not familiar with any of these actresses. By looks alone, I see talent in Alison Brie and Jessica Brown-Findlay. I agree that women need to be more of a focal point of movies and television shows. I enjoy watching women act because of their beauty and emotion. I am excited because I think a lot of upcoming actresses are going to be successful, including Kaitlyn Dever and Haley Pullos. Well it was nice reading about this topic. Feel free to message me.


Good call on Alison Brie. Hopefully 'Five Year Engagement' does well. It could be a nice launching pad for her movie career.


This list ought to have incorporated Holliday Grainger. I reckon she will be a seven figure sum actress by the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

Alex S

Great list; however, has anyone heard of India Ennenga (Treme/Nobody Walks)
She's pretty great

B. Stokes

Would love to see some "on the rise" actresses who are older than 35. You can break out at any age yes?


It's embarrassing that they chose that mess Kristen Stewart over those actresses for Snow White. The producers obviously didn't get the memo that Stewart isn't liked and all her non Twi-films have flopped.


Great to see a mention of Taissa Farmiga.


Nice list. Excited about Ruth Wilson, Alison Brie and Jessica Brown-Findlay hitting it big, great work from all three on the small screen.


Interesting list, never heard of any of them. However it is refreshing to see a list with relatively newcomers, or those not yet "big time"

Should be interesting to see how they do


Although Jane Levy has a signficant role, Victoria Justice is the lead in Fun Size.


Finally Hollywood is getting beautiful actresses with talent again. "No daughters or sisters of ___" These girls are here because of their talent, their unique beauty, and hard work. Then again, a little bit of good luck never hurt anyone. ;-)


I still don't know how Olivia Thirlby hasn't gotten big yet.


About fucking time Hollywood smartened up! Ruth Wilson is a beast on Luther, and now I'll have another reason to watch The Lone Ranger besides Arnie Hammer….


good list. Not sure why"Pure" is described as an addiction drama, but them's minor grapes


riley keough.


Sarah Gadon oughtta be somewhere on that list.

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