It’s a pretty exciting time to watch the current crop of leading men emerge. Names like Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy are some of the most interesting actors to follow these days, each them choose to work with great talent and take on fascinating roles. Their stars are still in ascendance, but they’ve certainly proved a breath of fresh air to the movies in the last few years.
But as is always the case, a new batch of performers are on their way up, as exciting a crop of actors & actresses as are currently at the top of the tree. And so, as we’ve done once or twice in the past (and as we’ve done with Cinematographers and Composers already so far this year), we’re going to be highlighting some of them in the next week or two, starting today with our picks for Actors On The Rise (here’s 2012’s list for comparison). The ten actors below are all relatively early in their careers, but have impressed in the last year or so, and look set to convert those recent turns into more and more high profile work. Take a look at our picks below, and let us know who you’re tipping for the top in the comments section below.
Johan Philip Asbæk
As the cult of Danish drama series becomes ever more popular, it’s only a matter of time before an actor breaks out to join Scandinavian stars on the international scene like Stellan Skarsgard and Mads Mikkelsen, and we think that Johan Philip Asbaek (often credited as Pilou Asbaek) has as good a chance as any. The 31-year-old Dane got his first screen credit a decade ago, as a production assistant, on Lone Scherfig‘s underrated “Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself,” but soon focused on acting, graduating from top Danish drama school Statens Teaterskole in 2008, and quickly grabbing a lead role in “Worlds Apart,” from “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” director Niels Arden Oplev. A small part in the second season of the original version of “The Killing” followed, before he took the lead role in “R,” a powerful prison drama from Tobias Lindholm. This was clearly the start of fruitful creative collaborations for the pair. Asbaek plays political spin doctor Kasper Juul in cult series “Borgen,” for which Lindholm is a writer. It’s a complex part, one that adds a heartbreaking back story to a character who can turn any political position on its head. His character is perhaps the most chameleonic and clever in the series, and he’s a real treat to watch. And last year, gave a stunning performance, again with Lindholm at the helm, in Somali pirate hostage drama “A Hijacking,” which proved to be a smash on the festival circuit, and will hit the U.S. later this year. Next up is Danish biopic “Spies & Gilstrup,” but having taken a small role in “The Whistleblower” opposite Rachel Weisz few years back, he’s presumably not adverse to English-language work (a language he dips into on “Borgen” with ease). It the cards fall where they should, we could soon see Asbæk filling the kind of roles Daniel Bruhl gets now.
James Badge Dale
For years best known as the man who put a bullet in the head of Leonardo DiCaprio at the end of “The Departed,” James Badge Dale has been going from strength to strength in recent years, and is about to become genuinely omnipresent in the next few months, figuring in three of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. The 34-year-old New Yorker had his first starring role at 12, as the ill-fated Simon in the 1990 film version of “Lord of the Flies.” In adulthood, he first turned heads as Jack Bauer’s sidekick Chase Edmunds on the third series of “24.” This led to the role in “The Departed,” before he returned to the small screen again as one of the leads in “The Pacific,” and as the main character in the little-seen but very strong AMC drama “Rubicon.” And since then, Dale’s been almost inescapable in the movies. He played a friend of James McAvoy‘s attorney in “The Conspirator,” played Michael Fassbender‘s sleazy boss in “Shame,” was one of the first to be left to the wolves in “The Grey,” and most memorably, gave the best performance in “Flight” in a single scene as a young cancer patient, shaving his head and losing weight to an almost skeletal degree. He’s a diverse actor, capable of both leading roles and more character-based ones, and will be showing his range even further this summer. He’ll be playing villain Eric Savin in “Iron Man 3,” before taking on the title character’s older brother in “The Lone Ranger,“ and as a soldier in “World War Z.” Between that and JFK assassination drama “Parkland,” it can’t be long before Dale’s headlining a blockbuster of his own (indeed, he was up for the part of John McClane’s son in “A Good Day To Die Hard,” and for a lead in “Jersey Boys.“).
It feels cosmically unfair enough that someone as attractive as Douglas Booth exists, but that he’s actually genuinely talented on top of that seems doubly difficult to accept. London born-and-bred, Booth (still not even 21) got his first screen role aged only 16 in “From Time To Time,” a barely-released ghost story from a pre-“Downton Abbey” Julian Fellowes, alongside Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall and Dominic West. Just off the back of that, he really grabbed headlines, playing Boy George in “Worried About The Boy,” a BBC TV biopic of the Culture Club frontman, which showcased a brave, chameleonic turn from an actor who wasn’t even yet 18. It helped to get him further TV roles, in the Ridley Scott-produced “The Pillars of the Earth,” and opposite Matt Smith in “Christopher and His Kind,” but the start of 2012 brought him his most high-profile turn yet, as Pip in the excellent BBC TV version of “Great Expectations.” The three-part series, co-starring Gillian Anderson, Ray Winstone and Vanessa Kirby, was infinitely superior to the subsequent Mike Newell film, and while Booth has cheekbones probably never envisioned by Dickens, he proved more than a match for the part. A minor blip followed, as he made his Hollywood debut as Miley Cyrus‘ love interest in the disastrous “LOL,” but not enough people saw it to do any damage, and Booth has all kinds of high-profile projects on the way to make up for it. First, is Shakespeare’s great lover in the new film version of “Romeo & Juliet,” opposite Hailee Steinfeld (let’s not forget that last time the play came to the screen, it helped make Leonardo DiCaprio a phenomenon). Then, he joins Logan Lerman as playing one of Russell Crowe‘s sons in Darren Aronofsky‘s Biblical epic “Noah.” And after being linked to the part of Harry Osborne in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” eventually taken by Dane DeHaan, Booth signed on to join The Wachowskis sci-fi epic “Jupiter Ascending.” Ascending indeed…
If your film needs two young actors to feature alongside Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, two of the hottest actors around right now, you’re going to need to cast them exactly right. That was the challenge that Derek Cianfrance faced with “The Place Beyond The Pines,” and luckily he managed to pull it off. He wisely chose Dane DeHaan, one of the most in demand actors out there right now (and one of our On The Rise picks in 2012) and Emory Cohen, who might have been something of an unknown quantity going into the film, but is one of the big talking points once the credits roll. The New York native made his debut, aged only 18, alongside Ezra Miller, in Antonio Campos‘ “Afterschool.” Various indies followed (most recently “Four“), and he got some mainstream exposure as Debra Messing‘s son on the much-hyped TV series “Smash.” The character was a controversial one, but that’s more the fault of the writers than of Cohen, who gave a pretty strong performance. But it’s in ‘Pines,’ that he really impressed. He’s a bit of a black sheep, both exceptionally sociable and deeply manipulative. As a party hearty teen, it’s the kind of role that could easily slip into caricature, but as the gravity of events begin to weigh in, Cohen finds the nuances of the part that make it work in the ambitious drama.. As yet, Cohen hasn’t got any major gigs lined up: only indie “Blue Potato,” with Aiden Gillen and Carrie Preston, is in the can. But we’re sure once “The Place Beyond The Pines” becomes more widely seen, the gigs will start lining up.
Despite the title, it’s actually the boys of “Girls” who’ve gotten the bigger boost when it comes to movies. None of the central quartet have really landed big movie roles since the show became such a cultural force, but Adam Driver has cropped up in “Lincoln” and has “The F Word” on the way, while co-star Christopher Abbott has become a familiar face in the indie world. And perhaps the most omnipresent of them all is Alex Karpovsky. The writer/director/actor (and Oxford University graduate) has been getting attention in the independent film world for almost a decade, with his low-budget debut “The Hole Story” premiering back in 2005. Since then, Karpovsky directed four further features, including “Woodpecker,” “Trust Us, This Is All Made Up,” and two on the festival circuit in 2012, “Rubberneck” and “Red Flag.” But he’s also become a go-to figure for other filmmakers in the not-quite-mumblecore scene, with parts in Lena Dunham‘s “Tiny Furniture,” Andrew Bujalski‘s “Beeswax” and more recently, Mike Birbiglia‘s “Sleepwalk With Me.” But it’s “Girls” that’s given him his widest exposure to date. Initially something of a small supporting character, mainly there for wisecracks, but he’s become more and more central as it moved into the second season and his character started dating Shoshanna, showing that he’s not just adept at the comedy, but also the more serious side of things. While things will quiet once the show wraps for the season (though he features in Sean Gallagher’s “Good Night,” which is just premiering at SXSW) , but he does have another major role coming up, joining “Girls” co-star Driver in the Coen Brothers‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” And from there, it’s easy to see him getting serious attention for his next directorial effort, whenever it might come.
Yes, we’re not afraid to say we’re a little stuck on “Downton Abbey,” a show that while careening towards full-blown soap opera with each progressing episode, is still filled with great characters and actors that inhabit them. Dan Stevens is the big male, breakout hit of the show — he left already with Hollywood calling, but whether he turns out to be George Clooney or David Caruso remains to be seen — but there’s lots of talent to chose from. Arguably, we could pick several members of the male cast: Rob James Collier is great as the devilish gay footman and Brendan Coyle was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role as John Bates, the valet, in “Downton Abbey” (though the show lately, is not doing his character any favors in the writing). Quietly, slipping out from the background into the foreground is Allen Leech, aka Tom Branson. With a show that’s cleanly divided between the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who live downstairs, Branson, the former chauffeur, is the only character who has managed to successfully traverse both worlds. Initially a near-militant Irish Republican, Branson became would-be royalty when he scandalously surpassed class lines and married Lady Sybil (played by actress Jessica Brown-Findlay, who was on our actresses list in 2012). So in time, Leech has had to play two characters. An angry Irishman working for the English nobility and then the reluctant royal, a part of a family he’s completely alienated from. But over time, and gracefully, Branson’s grown and changed and Leech has shepherded that character quite effortlessly and nicely the entire way (which can’t be said for all the changes on the show). Leech isn’t as poised to breakout compared to some of the men on this list, but he received good early notices in “Cowboys And Angels” playing a gay fashion student and “Man About Dog” a 2004 Irish comedy where he starred as of three working class youths in over their heads. He recently popped up in “The Sweeney” opposite Ray Winstone and also starred in “In Fear” a breakout horror that he led that received great word of mouth out of Sundance 2013. Up next is a supporting role in “Grand Piano” alongside John Cusak, Elijah Wood and Kerry Bishe and he’s one to keep an eye on for sure.
Some young actors, including many on this list, find fame and success coming virtually overnight. Some take a little longer to really build up a head of steam, even years after featuring on one-sheets and DVD cases, and Will Poulter definitely qualifies in this latter category. The 20-year-old British actor first broke through six years ago as lonely film-obsessed bad boy Lee Carter in Garth Jennings‘ ace “Son Of Rambow,” giving a lovely, textured and funny performance even while aged only 13 at the time of filming. Like co-star Bill Milner (who went on to appear in “Is Anybody There?” and “X-Men First Class“), Poulter stuck with acting, as part of the youthful stage and TV sketch show “School Of Comedy,” before taking the most interesting part of “The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” But it was the next year, at the tail end of 2011, that saw him showcase his real potential as an adult actor. At 18, he starred as the belligerent, prickly son of the title character in Dexter Fletcher‘s charming directorial debut “Wild Bill.” And it looks to be this that provided him with his big break over to the U.S. — he makes his studio debut this summer with a big role in pot-smuggling comedy “We’re The Millers,” alongside Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis and Emma Roberts. And only last week, he got a further break, as the first actor to sign on to Fox‘s post-apocalyptic young adult property “The Maze Runner,” a project once linked to Taylor Lautner and Emma Watson. It’s unclear as to exactly what role he’s taking at this point, but the film has every chance of following “The Hunger Games” into becoming a phenomenon, and Poulter could go with it.
If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to casting announcements and that sort of thing, there’s a name that you’ll have spotted popping up a lot in the last few months of 2012, an Irish kid barely out of his teens who suddenly seemed to be linked to every part for a young actor in Hollywood, before landing one of the biggest ones going: the male lead, alongside Mark Wahlberg, in “Transformers 4.” What’s even more remarkable, given the quality of that franchise so far, is that Jack Reynor is the real deal. The 21-year-old was actually born in Colorado, but moved back to Ireland when he was two. He started acting properly in his late teens, picking up his first movie role in Kristen Sheridan‘s bleak, hedonistic “Dollhouse,” which was one of the better surprises of our time in Berlin in 2012. But it was later last year that Reynor truly impressed. He has the title role in Lenny Abrahamson‘s searing contemporary drama “What Richard Did,” as a confident, wealthy Irish boy who after falling for a local girl, becomes embroiled in an accidental killing, one that his community refuses to let him take the fall for. It’s an incredibly charismatic, and powerful turn (which U.S audience will be able to see later in the year, after it screens at Tribeca next month), and it’s no surprise that Hollywood came calling: first with a key role in Vince Vaughn comedy “The Delivery Man,” then tests for the male led in young adult property “Divergent,” then the part in “Transformers 4,” in which he’ll play the racecar driving boyfriend to the daughter of Mark Wahlberg’s character. And from there, the world’s pretty much his oyster.
The show only becomes a bigger hit even as it gets progressively worse, but we’re still yet to see a graduate of the show truly blow up to become a movie star (excluding Maggie Smith, of course…). Several cast members are getting there: Jessica Brown-Findlay, one of our picks from last year, has a lead alongside Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Will Smith in “Winter’s Tale,” and Michelle Dockery‘s setting up some diverse credits, from “Anna Karenina” to Liam Neeson thriller “Non-Stop.” But it’s distinctly possible that the first true big-screen breakout from the show will be Dan Stevens, who played Cousin Matthew on ‘Downton.’ The 30-year-old Stevens is a Cambridge graduate who got his big break after plaing Macbeth to Rebecca Hall‘s Lady Macbeth while still at the university. Hall’s father, theater director Peter Hall, then went on to cast Stevens in a production of “As You Like It.” This then saw Stevens win the main part in the BBC TV version of Alan Hollinghurst‘s “The Line of Beauty” (which also introduced the world to Hayley Atwell), which led to further TV gigs, most notably in the most recent version of “Sense & Sensibility.” But it was repressed, responsible heartthrob Matthew Crawley that made him a household name, and pin-up both in the U.K. and abroad. But his ambitions clearly stretched beyond Downton: he executive-produced and starred in the upcoming period romance “Summer In February” co-starring Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning (the film opens in June in the UK), and *SPOILER* arranged to be killed off at the end of the third season of ‘Downton’ in order to pursue more Hollywood roles. Right now, his U.S. gigs run to a part in Amy Heckerling‘s horror-comedy “Vamps,” but there’s some big projects on the way. He’s playing Guardian reporter Ian Katz in Wikileaks drama “The Fifth Estate,” alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, and will segue to something very different soon after — Scott Frank‘s pitch-black neo-noir “A Walk Among The Tombstones,” opposite Liam Neeson and Ruth Wilson. If the film works out, it’s a potential revelation, and could lead to all kinds of new opportunities.
Of all the fine performances in “House of Cards,” there’s one that stands out in particular, from an actor who, while not yet a household name, was building on a memorable big-screen breakout, and looks to move onwards and upwards from here on out. Corey Stoll, who plays Congressman Peter Russo on the show, is a Tisch graduate, who initially made his name on stage, picking up a Drama Desk Award nomination opposite Viola Davis in “Intimate Apparel” in 2004. Some small movie roles followed, including in “North Country,” “Lucky Number Slevin” and “Salt,” and Stoll bagged a regular role on short-lived procedural “Law & Order: LA,” proving a highlight even among more storied colleagues like Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard. But it was in 2011 that Stoll truly impressed, as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen‘s “Midnight In Paris.” Bigger names have taken on the famed author, but Stoll’s turn is probably the definitive screen Hemingway at this point, and it was done with only a minimum of screen time. The film landed him a small, somewhat thankless part in “The Bourne Legacy,” but the start of this year saw him fulfill his potential as the barely-on-the-wagon Congressman who finds himself appointed the protege to Kevin Spacey‘s Frank Underwood. It’ll surely lead to an Emmy nomination, if there’s any justice at least, and while he’ s been courted for other TV roles since the success of ‘Cards,’ he seems to be keen to push things forward in the movies. He has indie boxing noir “Glass Jar,” biopic “Decoding Annie Parker,” and Liam Neeson actioner “Non-Stop” lined up, and just joined the cast of comedy-drama “This Is Where I Leave You,” with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.
The most successful film of last year that you probably didn’t see (it took $426 million worldwide, outgrossing “Prometheus,” “Snow White & The Huntsman” and “Django Unchained“), the Oscar-nominated “The Intouchables” achieved many things, but among them is breaking out French comedy star Omar Sy onto the world stage. The 35-year-old, born in France to a Senegalese father and a Mauritian mother, first came to attention at home as part of comedy duo Omar et Fred, with Fred Testot, who host a regular segment on the popular “Le Grand Journal” news show. And soon, Sy broke into movies, with 2006’s “Nos jours heureux,” and more notably, in Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s 2009 comedy “MicMacs,” in which he impressed in a supporting role as the ethnographer pal of Dany Boon‘s lead. But it was “The Intouchables,” released in France two years later, that turned him into a superstar in much of the rest of the world (even if the film was only a modest arthouse hit stateside). His performance as Driss, the aimless ex-con who discovers a new lease on life by becoming the caretaker, and friend, of wealthy quadriplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet) was charming, funny and showed he had dramatic chops as well. He should get further exposure with a supporting role in Michel Gondry‘s promising “Mood Indigo,” and a U.S. breakthrough seems to be certainly close — he’ll join one of the bigger superhero franchises out there, as a new addition to “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” and also has a team-up with Bradley Cooper on “Chef“ brewing as well.
Honorable Mentions: We wanted to go with some fresher faces for this piece, which is why actors like Jason Clarke, Chris Pratt (who we included in a TV on the rise piece last year) Charlie Hunnam, Eddie Redmayne and Daniel Bruhl, who’ve all landed big gigs of late, didn’t quite make the cut simply because they’re well established in comparison. And some other names to keep an eye out for include: Sam Reid, who features in the upcoming “Belle” and “Serena“; Tom Holland, who broke out in “The Impossible“; “The Walking Dead” actor Jon Berthal, who’ll next be seen in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and Frank Darabont‘s upcoming noir series; Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson in “42“; “The Killing” actor Liam James, who has the lead in Sundance hit “The Way Way Back“; charismatic British actor Jack O’Connell, who makes his blockbuster debut this summer with “300: Rise Of An Empire“; rising Aussie star Brenton Thwaites, who has a big part in “Maleficent” and “Headhunters” actor Askel Hennie, who recently joined Dwayne Johnson in “Hercules.” We also didn’t want to include those we highlighted in our recent Sundance breakouts piece, including “Fruitvale” actor Michael B. Jordan.
–Oliver Lyttleton, Kevin Jagernauth, Rodrigo Perez