While the Toronto International Film Festival is mostly known for its star wattage and Oscar-bait fare, the event also serves as a springboard for up-and-coming actors to make their marks. Freida Pinto, Ellen Page, Shailene Woodley, Dev Patel, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Oscar-nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes all came to Toronto as relative unknowns and emerged as highly sought-after talents.
With the 37th edition of the festival launching tonight with the world premiere of Rian Johnson’s sci-fi spectacular “Looper,” we offer our picks for the ten actors to watch this year.
Penn Badgley (“Greetings From Tim Buckley”)
Why You May Know Him: If you’re a fan of the CW, chances are you know the hunky Badgley as Blake Lively’s love interest, Dan Humphrey, on their hit teen soap opera “Gossip Girl.” On the big screen, the actor’s also appeared in a number of films, including “Easy A,” “The Stepfather” and most memorably as an ensemble player in “Margin Call” opposite Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore.
What Toronto Could Mean For Him: As the beloved musician Jeff Buckley, Padgley has a lot riding on his ability to deliver a credible take on the cult star, who died in a swimming accident in 1997 at the age of thirty. Dan Algrant’s “Greetings From Tim Buckley” finds the actor portraying Buckley in the days leading up to his 1991 performance at his father’s tribute concert in St. Ann’s Church. Following his acclaimed turn in last year’s indie sleeper hit (and Academy Award-nominated) “Margin Call,” his performance as Buckley could further endear him to critics and art-house audiences, and bolster his prospects as a leading man in Hollywood.
What’s Next: With “Gossip Girl” wrapping for good this fall, Badgley is reportedly in talks to star in Richard O’Sullivan’s Hollywood satire “One Night With You.”
Alice Englert (“Ginger and Rosa”)
Why You May Know Her: Chances are you don’t, unless you’re an avid fan of all things Jane Campion (who happens to be her mother). Her only credit prior to Sally Potter’s coming-of-age tale “Ginger and Rosa” is her mother’s short film “The Water Diary.”
What Toronto Could Mean For Her: A ton. Appearing as one of two leads opposite Elle Fanning in “Ginger and Rosa,” Englert is said to give an impressive debut performance in a film that left Telluride audiences in tears. Co-starring Annette Bening, Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola, “Ginger and Rosa” centers on two girls coming of age during the 1960s in London. Fanning’s already an established commodity, paving the way for Englert to startle audiences as a fresh new face.
What’s Next: The New Zealand beauty already has three films currently in post-production: the supernatural drama “Beautiful Creatures,” starring Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson; “In Fear”; and Roland Joffe’s love story “Singularity,” starring Josh Hartnett.
Holliday Grainger (“Anna Karenina,” “Great Expectations”)
Why You May Know Her: If you have a thing for period romps, chances are you’ve seen Grainger before. Best known for playing Lucrezia Borgia opposite Jeremy Irons in Showtime’s historical soap opera “The Borgias,” Grainger has also popped up in the latest “Jane Eyre” film adaptation to hit theaters and in “Bel Ami,” opposite Robert Pattinson.
What Toronto Could Mean For Her: With a supporting role in Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” one of the most highly anticpated films to play at the festival, and a lead in Mike Newell’s take on “Great Expectations,” this is Grainger’s event to own if the films (and her performances) go over well.
What’s Next: Showtime recently renewed “The Borgias” for a third season, set to air sometime next year. Film-wise, Grainger doesn’t have anything in the works, but that will no doubt soon change should “Great Expectations” impress in Toronto and when it opens theatrically in the UK this fall.
Tom Holland (“The Impossible”)
Why You May Know Him: If you caught the moving trailer for the tsunami disaster film “The Impossible,” chances are you remember Holland as one of the two young actors who tugged at your heart strings (his brother is played in the film by fellow newcomer, Oaklee Pendergast). And if you’re a fan of the stage, you know him as Billy Elliot, the dancing boy wonder — Holland played the title role on London’s West End from 2008 to 2010.
What Toronto Could Mean For Him: With no film acting credits to his name, the stage star is probably banking that “The Impossible” delivers on the hype its promising trailer stirred up among Oscar prognosticators. If he manages to hold his own against Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor (who play his parents in the film), then you can bet casting directors will take notice.
What’s Next: He’s currently filming the war film “How I Live Now,” starring Saoirse Ronan and directed by “The Last King of Scotland” helmer Kevin Macdonald.
Olga Kurylenko (“Seven Psychopaths,” “To the Wonder”)
Why You May Know Her: Even if you didn’t much care for Bond’s last outing “Quantum of Solace,” there’s no denying that Bond’s squeeze in that entry, the gorgeous Kurylenko, made a great first impression. The Ukranian import has since gone on to star in a number of lower-profile projects, most notably “Centurion,” opposite Michael Fassbender.
What Toronto Could Mean For Her: Despite what the first still for Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder” might lead you to believe, Rachel McAdams is not the female lead of his film, Kurylenko is. Early reviews out of Venice have been notably mixed for the experimental drama, but most have singled out Kurylenko’s lead turn as a star-making one. Malick did wonders for Jessica Chastain last year. We’re betting the same will be the case for Malick’s latest muse.
What’s Next: Lots. She’ll be appearing in the upcoming second season of Starz’s period series “Magic City,” set to air next year, in addition to appearing opposite Tom Cruise in the sci-fi epic “Oblivion,” out next April. On top of those two projects, she recently completed shooting “The Expatriate,” in which she’ll appear alongside Aaron Eckhart.
Ewen Leslie (“Dead Europe”)
Why You May Know Him: He was nominated for an Australian Film Institute Award for his acclaimed lead performance in “Jewboy,” which screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and in the Spectrum Section at Sundance in 2006. On stage, Leslie has appeared opposite Cate Blanchett in his native Australia and has won several awards for his portrayal of Richard III.
What Toronto Could Mean For Him: Despite his award-winning turn in “Jewboy” and a slew of TV and film credits, Leslie is far from a household name like some of his fellow Aussie actors. If his brutal thriller “Dead Europe” goes over well at TIFF, that could all change. In it, he plays a Greek-Australian photographer who uncovers a shocking family secret when he returns to his ancestral homeland.
What’s Next: His next project, “The Railway Man,” marks his highest-profile role yet. The true WWII story will find Leslie sharing the screen with a starry cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and “War Horse” breakout Jeremy Irvine.
Callan McAuliffe (“Undergound”)
Why You May Know Him: It’s probable you’ve seen the young Australian dreamboat in the gentle love story “Flipped” and/or the actioner “I Am Number Four,” which also starred “Magic Mike”‘s Alex Pettyfer.
What Toronto Could Mean For Him: Making his first TIFF appearance, McAuliffe is sure to further ingratiate himself with his ever-growing female fanbase with his turn as a best friend to Jullian Assange, the Australian-born founder of the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, in “Underground,” a biopic on the teenaged hacker. In the film, McAuliffe stars alongside two of Australia’s most acclaimed actors, Rachel Griffiths and Anthony LaPaglia.
What’s Next: He’ll next be seen in “The Great Gatsby,” directed by fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann. In the 3D period extravaganza (out in theaters next summer), McAuliffe plays the younger version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby. Those are some auspicious shoes to fill.
Mickey Sumner (“Frances Ha,” “Imogene”)
Why You May Know Her: After appearing briefly in “Last Chance Harvey” alongside Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, Sumner played a substantial supporting role in Showtime’s historical series “The Borgias” (which also stars Holliday Grainger, who made this list).
What Toronto Could Mean For Her: With supporting roles in two of the festival’s most hotly anticipated titles — Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white comedy “Frances Ha” and Kristen Wiig’s star vehicle “Imogene” — 2012 is no doubt Sumner’s biggest year yet. What better way to cap it off than with her first visit to TIFF?
What’s Next: For her next project, Sumner will be portraying legendary musician Patti Smith in “CBGB,” a star-studded look at the New York City punk-rock scene and the venerable titular nighclub.
Alicia Vinkander (“Anna Karenina,” “A Royal Affair”)
Why You May Know Her: Already a star in her native Sweden, the gorgeous Vinkander is best known for her role in the Swedish TV drama “Andra Avenyn.” Earlier this year she turned heads in Berlin, where her period drama “A Royal Affair” had its premiere.
What Toronto Could Mean For Her: With “A Royal Affair” having already screened in Berlin, her English-language on-screen debut in “Anna Karenina” will be the one that could draw the most attention (it also stars Holliday Grainger, who made this list). If she nails the meaty part of Kitty, a beautiful young woman courted by both Domhnall Gleeson and Aaron Johnson, she stands a good chance of crossing over for good.
What’s Next: Up next for the budding star is another period romp, albeit a supernatural one. In the 18th-century adventure story “The Seventh Son,” Vikander will star opposite Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Williams and Ben Barnes. The film is set to open October 18, 2013.
Nat Wolff (“Writers”)
Why You May Know Him: Despite only being 17 years old, Wolff has already worked opposite Jane Fonda, Halle Berry, Robert De Niro and Sarah Jessica Parker thanks to supporting turns in “New Year’s Eve” and “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.” In the latter, he had a meatier part as Elizabeth Olsen’s meddlesome brother.
What Toronto Could Mean For Him: As Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly’s hopelessly romantic son in the family drama “Writers,” Wolff returns to the festival (he was there last year with “Peace”) to showcase his biggest on-screen role to date. He showed great promise by managing not to get blown off the screen by Fonda and Catherine Keener in “Peace,” so if he can still leave a mark with Kinnear and Connelly by his side, then he can prove that his turn in “Peace” was no fluke.
What’s Next: Wolff is said to be currently filming the comedy “Feed the Dog,” opposite Selena Gomez and Mary-Louise Parker. Before that opens, expect to see him in Paul Weitz’s latest, “Admission,” starring Paul Rudd and Tina Fey. The film has wrapped principal photography but has yet to receive a release date.