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,
Shailene Woodley, Dev Patel, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Oscar-nominees Ellen Page and Keisha
Castle-Hughes all came to Toronto as relative unknowns and emerged as
highly sought-after talents.
With the 38th edition of the festival launching tonight with the world
premiere of “The Fifth Estate,” we offer our
picks for the ten actors to watch this year.
Daniel Brühl – “Rush” and “The Fifth Estate”
Best known stateside for his role as a devious Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds,” Daniel Brühl is far from being a known name in America, despite being a bonafide celebrity in Germany thanks to the hit comedy “Good Bye, Lenin!.” That’s likely to change by the time this festival wraps. The actor has two close-to-lead roles in two of the highest profile films playing at the festival, Bill Condon’s opening night WikiLeaks film “The Fifth Estate” and Ron Howard’s race car drama “Rush.” In the former, Brühl buts heads with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) as the site’s former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and in “Rush” he stars opposite Chris Hemsworth as Formula One drive Niki Lauda, who returns to face his rival (Hemsworth) following a catastrophic crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix. Next up for the actor is the thriller “A Most Wanted Man,” starring Rachel McAdams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright.
Julianne Nicholson – “August: Osage County”
Julianne Nicholson is an actress that has managed to amass a considerable amount of acclaim and visibility in the past few years through her steady work in independent film and television, with solid supporting roles in last year’s acclaimed indie “Keep the Lights On” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” With John Wells’ “August: Osage County,” Nicholson gets what might be her biggest break yet on the silver screen, joining a ridiculously illustrious ensemble of actors in bringing Tracy Letts’ play, in which a tragedy brings the offspring of the Weston family back to their Oklahoma hometown late in the summer, only to rekindle the dysfunction between the matriarch and patriarch. Although most of the attention had been generously paid to Hollywood stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, it seems inevitable that some of that buzz may rub off on Nicholson, who plays Roberts’ sister.
Macon Blair – “Blue Ruin”
Macon Blair reunites with his “Murder Party” director Jeremy Saulnier for the decidedly darker “Blue Ruin,” which premiered at Cannes earlier this year where it was swiftly acquired by Radius-TWC before winning the Director’s Fortnight FIPRESCI prize. It makes its North American debut in Toronto. Blair, who also served as a producer on the film, is afforded his largest and juiciest role in “Blue Ruin,” and kills it in an alternately unsettling and dryly hilarious performance as a wronged man out to avenge the death of his parents.
Gattlin Griffith – “Labor Day”
At the tender age of fourteen, Gattlin Griffith has already built a career many would be envious of, most notably playing Angelina Jolie’s missing son in “Changeling.” With Jason Reitman’s “Labor Day’ he takes on the role of Henry Wheeler, a young boy whose downtrodden mother (Kate Winslet) takes up with a convicted murderer (Josh Brolin). Being the film’s protagonist amongst such talent is no small feat, and while some may count his age against him, let’s not forget that Reitman’s last film about a sixteen-year-old, a certain “Juno,” ended up scoring star Ellen Page an Oscar nomination.
Lupita Nyong’o – “Twelve Years A Slave”
Being in a film with such serious and sobering subject matter will likely benefit everyone involved in “Twelve Years A Slave,” but Lupita Nyong’o stands to achieve breakout status. In her first onscreen role, Nyong’o takes on the character of Patsey, described in the book as “the queen of the cotton field,” her uncanny skill at picking the plant interests and impresses Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man who finds himself conned and put into slavery. There’s no doubt a plethora of harrowing ordeals her character regularly has to suffer through that should prove a tremendous showcase for Nyong’o.
Adèle Exarchopoulos – “Blue is the Warmest Color”
Relative newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos was the belle of Cannes this year for her breakthrough and baring turn in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Her performance opposite Lea Seydoux as a teenager coming to grips with her homosexuality was so strong it caused the Jury, led by Steven Spielberg, to award the Palme d’Or not just to the filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche, but its two lead starlets as well — a first for the festival. Following its unofficial preview in Telluride, the film makes its North American premiere at the festival, where the actress stands to emerge as one of the true talks of Toronto, hopefully boding well for the awards season ahead (distributor Sundance Selects is betting on her performance given the film doesn’t qualify for a Best Foreign Film Oscar).
Tiger Hu Chen – “Man of Tai Chi”
Keanu Reeves stars in his directorial debut “Man of Tai Chi,” but he left leading man duties to his “Matrix” stunt man Tiger Hu Chen, who embodies the titular fighter. In the long-in-the-works martial arts epic, Chen plays Linhu, an unassuming tai chi practitioner who works as a delivery man to pay the bills. When an underground leader of an extreme fight club makes Linhu an offer he can’t refuse, it isn’t long before Linhu uncovers the seedy nature of the world
he’s now a part of. Chen has a number of acting credits to his name, but Reeves’ film is the first to truly showcase the performer’s innate charisma and ability to carry a film. Jackie Chan better watch his back.
Gugu Mbatha Raw – “Belle”
English Actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as the lead in Amma Asante’s new film “Belle.” Mbatha-Raw has been acknowledged as the recipient for “breakthrough” awards as a supporting actress in “Larry Crowne,” but garnered initial critical acclaim, even prior, as the lead in the J.J. Abrams created series “Undercovers.” Currently, Mbatha-Raw stars opposite Kiefer Sutherland, as the female lead in FOX’s Sci-fi drama, “Touch.” In the period-piece “Belle,” Mbatha-Raw gets to showcase her talents as a leading lady by embodying the titular real-life character, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral.
George Mackay – “How I Live Now”
Up and coming English actor George Mackay stars opposite Saoirse Ronan in Kevin Macdonalds’ thriller “How I Live Now.” Mackay hit mainstream success in Edward Zwick’s “Defiance” when he acted alongside actors Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber. The following year, Mackay was recognized for his work in “The Boys are Back,” in which he acted opposite Clive Owen and was nominated for both British Independent Film Awards and London Critics Circle Awards. “How I Live Now,” based on the popular teen novel of the same name, stars Mackay as the hunky love interest to Ronan who is separated from his girlfriend when war breaks out in England. Charismatic, mysterious and easy on the eyes, Mackay stands to emerge as a teen favorite should the film find an audience.
Pier-Gabriele LaJoie – “Gerontophilia”
Pier-Gabriele LaJoie is a relatively new actor with only two notable acting credits to his name. That said, LaJoie looks to make a promising feature film debut with “Gerontophilia.” In “Gerontophilia” LaJoie joins provocative Canadian director Bruce La Bruce in telling the story of a young man, Lake, who develops romantic feelings for a senior citizen of the same gender. La Bruce’s work is infamous for its sexually charged themes and depictions. Such characteristics require versatility and execution from LaJoie as the lead. La Bruce’s vision coupled with LaJoie’s deliverance should make for quite the memorable performance.
[Nigel M. Smith, Clint Holloway and Ohad Amram contributed to this article.]