Back to IndieWire

The Best Breakout TV Actors of 2014

The Best Breakout TV Actors of 2014

10) Barbara Rosenblat – “Orange is the New Black”

Maybe it’s just because we loved her character so much. Maybe it was just because she was just that good. Fact is, the character of Miss Rosa, a career bank robber not only serving time, but also undergoing treatment for terminal cancer, was the unexpected lynchpin of “Orange is the New Black’s” second season, and Rosenblat’s blunt, don’t-give-a-crap dellvery of some of the year’s best lines was a genuine delight. (“I don’t like rude,” indeed.) There were an amazing assortment of moving performances during this latest run of the Netflix series, but Rosenblat captured our imaginations on an unanticipated level. 

9) Lola Kirke – “Mozart in the Jungle”

“Mozart in the Jungle” serves as a classic example of a show whose officially credited star power isn’t actually heavily involved with the show. Sad but true: Malcom McDowell and Bernadette Peters? Not as engaged as you might hope. But struggling oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke) steps up as the show’s essential protagonist, and her journey over the first few episodes of the season (made available for review by Amazon) ensures her place as a solid female lead for what’s another strong entry for the fledging digital service. 

8) Billy Eichner – “Parks and Recreation”

Okay, so technically Billy Eichner started appearing on “Parks and Recreation” at the end of 2013. Also, his Billy on the Street YouTube videos had been around even longer. Yet it wasn’t until 2014 that both of these things came together to launch Eichner into the stratosphere of stardom. Mainstream America grew to love him as “that other guy from those Verizon commercials,” but Eichner charmed TV fans in “Parks and Rec,” as a presenter at the American Comedy Awards, and a memorable guest star on smart comedies like “Bob’s Burgers,” “The Millers” and “New Girl.” His brash bellowing, combined with his innocent bearing, partnered perfectly with “Parks,” and he’s started to diversify the persona in other acting gigs. Eichner will remain one to watch long after “Parks and Rec” ends in February, hopefully via his own replacement sitcom on NBC. 

READ MORE: Billy Eichner Screams on ‘Late Show’ and David Letterman LOVES It

7) Robin Lord Taylor – “Gotham”

While “Gotham” hasn’t proven as addictive for critics as it has for fans, there’s one aspect of FOX’s Batman prequel everyone can agree is above grade: Robin Lord Taylor, who plays Oswald Cobblepot, has taken full advantage of his lofty platform to put forth some of TV’s best work in 2014. His take on the Penguin makes him meaner and more aggressively calculating that his predecessors’, while Taylor enlivens the ascending criminal mastermind with an ugly charm. You don’t want to like a sadist who kills on a whim and looks for new ways to torture anyone underneath him, but it’s hard to resist Taylor’s vigor for doing just that. Even comedian, comics expert and devote TV fan Patton Oswalt has endorsed Taylor’s particular set of skills — higher praise than anything else we could write (so we won’t).

READ MORE: ‘Gotham’ Breakout Robin Lord Taylor on His ‘Life-Changing’ Role

6) Harry Treadaway – “Penny Dreadful”

Treadaway is another actor who’s been working consistently for years prior to 2014, but it wasn’t until recently that we discovered just how deep the talents of the young UK native ran. On Showtime’s horror series “Penny Dreadful,” Treadaway plays the infamous Victor Frankenstein, the scientifically-minded life-giver to the once-dead, who creator John Logan has written as both a somewhat passive man of science and strong-willed believer in what others deem impossible. Treadaway threads the needle well, putting forth the heavy foot of reason when called out by his religious cohorts, while receding from the spotlight otherwise. Treadaway embodies these characteristics physically, but it’s his eyes that take us home. He may not be given the show-stopping scenes of co-star Eva Green, but his introverted inclinations are an ideal foil for her grandiose drama. Treadaway knows exactly how to play his character for the betterment of the story, and for that, we take notice.

5) Allison Tolman – “Fargo”

It’s hard to judge an actor based on one character they’ve portrayed, but Allison Tolman, as the breakout star of “Fargo,” was the unexpected emotional anchor of FX’s dark, dark crime series. In a show so stacked with evil deeds, a decent human being doing her best is worth her weight in gold, and as Molly Solverson, Tolman embodied that goodness every week. As “Fargo” will no longer be requiring her services, Tolman is now a free agent for anybody looking for an actor who will immediately enlist an audience’s sympathy. Anyone not exclusively dedicated to making TV shows for and about sociopaths, please take note. 

READ MORE: ‘Fargo’ Favorite Allison Tolman on How to Break Into Hollywood & Guesting on ‘Archer’

4) Pedro Pascal – “Game of Thrones”

Behold, a textbook perfect example of how to make a big splash on television: Get cast in a significant role on one of television’s most popular and critically-acclaimed dramas. Sell the hell out of every scene you’re in. And make a very, very, very dramatic exit. 

It also doesn’t hurt to be a dreamy Latin fellow, who actually seems pretty charming and talented on top of that. Almost immediately following his work on “Game of Thrones,” Pascal got a significant role in the Netflix series “Narcos” — and that’s surely not the last we’ll hear of him.   

READ MORE: Pedro Pascal’s Reddit AMA Reveals the ‘Game of Thrones’ Actor Is the Most Charming Dude Ever

3) Andre Holland – “The Knick”

For all the attention paid to Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh for their new Cinemax series “The Knick,” very little heed has been given to the true breakout of the series. It’s rather fitting, if doubly frustrating, given that the character played by Andre Holland is dismissed by his (racist) high-minded peers and does most of his groundbreaking work underground and out of sight. But that’s no reason to keep ignoring him. Holland, who devout TV fans will remember from the short-lived sitcoms “1600 Penn” and “Friends with Benefits,” is utterly captivating on “The Knick,” speaking with an accent so smooth and reminiscent of the upper class you can tell he believes he’s part of it. There are reasons in the story for why Dr. Algernon Edwards would maintain that voice, but it’s all on Holland for creating it. Beyond even that unheralded accomplishment, Holland also burns with an intensity repressed by his actions but biting in his tone. His scenes are enlivened not by a script which assigns him predictably rote traits, but by Holland’s own unique energy and interpretation of those mannerisms. Owen and Soderbergh are nothing short of brilliant on a show unworthy of their talents, but it’s Holland who cuts the biggest swath when dividing up reasons for watching “The Knick.”

READ MORE: Review: ‘The Knick’ Season 1 — Great TV or a Waste of Steven Soderbergh? It’s a Coin Flip

2) Gina Rodriguez – “Jane the Virgin”

Here’s the thing with Gina Rodriguez: It’s so easy to put her on this list. It’s effortless, to the point where we might almost undervalue just how great she is on this show. “Jane the Virgin” actually has a pretty compelling collection of characters, because a strong ensemble is the key to an engaging soap. But this show is called “Jane the Virgin,” and the character of Jane would never work without a great actress portraying her. Rodriguez goes above and beyond in not only selling the premise but making you care that it works. There’s a weird sort of magic happening with “Jane” right now — and Rodriguez is a key factor in it. Her sweet, good-natured energy proves to be infectious, her charm essential, and with serious acting chops to back it up. Rodriguez is on a lot of these lists this year, but for good reason. 

1) Carrie Coon – “The Leftovers”

Few actors, in film or television, have had a better year than Carrie Coon. Not only was the Tony-nominated actress a breakout sensation on the mysterious drama “The Leftovers.” Nor did she merely transform totally for a supporting role in the blockbuster hit “Gone Girl.” She was also given the rare gift of having an episode of HBO drama all to herself. Two episodes of “The Leftovers'” first season were given over to singular characters, and while we love Christopher Eccleston, too, it was Coon who impressed us most in “Guest.”

Nora, Coon’s character, had been permanently trapped in a vicious cycle of mourning, one that included hiring a prostitute to shoot her in the chest God knows how often. The character could have easily gotten away from a less-convincing actor, and it was a bold choice to trust a theater actress — an acting discipline that can be prone to overacting on camera when they’re used to playing out emotions for the back seat in a large playhouse — with the intricately layered role. Clearly, they made the right choice. Coon deconstructed Nora piece by piece and with surgical precision until her moment of catharsis in “Guest,” and then did it all over again in the episodes leading up to a mesmerizing season finale.

Despite a few casting and creative shake-ups for “The Leftovers,” Coon will be back for Season 2. It’s a good thing, too. If anyone could find a way to surpass such a complex and captivating breakout year, it’s her.  

Indiewire’s Year-End TV Coverage: 

The Best TV Episodes of 2014

The Best New Shows of 2014

The Most Shocking TV Moments of 2014

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,