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On The Rise 2015: 20 Actors To Watch

On The Rise 2015: 20 Actors To Watch

It’s that time of year again, when blockbusters start to lull and the fall festival season hasn’t quite begun, when the movies on release tend to be slimmer pickings. And that’s when we like to look to the future and the talents who’ll be shaping it, with our On The Rise season of actors, actresses, writers, directors, cinematographers and composers to watch. 

After we looked at rising actresses last week, today it’s the turn of their male counterparts. In the years since we’ve been running this feature, we’ve tipped people like Dane DeHaan, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, Jack O’Connell and Taron Egerton, who’ve all gone on to headline big hits and win acclaim for their performances, and whose upward paths are only just underway. 

Below, you’ll find twenty actors that we think are heading for the big time, from potential action titans to indie breakouts and everything in between. Take a look, let us know who you’re tipping for the top, and come back next week when we’ll be starting to look at rising behind-camera talent. 


Joe Alwyn
He’s helped to make the careers of Tobey Maguire, Zhang Ziyi, Anne Hathaway, Suraj Sharma and Kate Mara, so when Ang Lee picks someone to lead one of his movies, you should probably be paying attention. For his upcoming 3D war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (also starring an oddball mix including Steve Martin, Vin Diesel and Chris Tucker), Lee was considering the likes of Taron Egerton and Jack Reynor, but landed on Alwyn, a total newcomer. The 24-year-old Londoner has literally only just finished drama school, but he landed the title role in Lee’s new picture before signing with an agent. Given the extensive search for the lead here, one can only imagine that Sony and the director believe they have something really special in such an untested talent —we’ll find out next Thanksgiving how Alwyn fares. 


Neil Casey
How do you go from a small role in a much-praised indie to playing the villain in one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2016? No clue, but if you wanted to follow that path, you could do worse than following in the footsteps of Neil Casey. A UCB veteran and former writer for both “SNL” and “Inside Amy Schumer” (winning Emmy nods for both), Casey had his first significant movie role in “Fort Tilden,” the “Broad City”-ish indie comedy that won top prizes at SXSW in 2014 (and which hits theaters finally next week). He’s cropped up since in “Adult Beginners,” “The League” and “Veep,” but most crucially landed among the regular cast of “Other Space,” Paul Feig’s legitimately good Yahoo sci-fi comedy series. The “Spy” director’s clearly enamored, since Casey’s now playing Rowan, the villain in the director’s upcoming reboot of “Ghostbusters.” Expect him to become a familiar big-screen comedy face soon. 


R.J. Cyler
It might not have lived up to box-office hopes, or even serve two-thirds of the characters in the title well (clue: all of them except ‘Me’), but “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl” should provide a good launching pad for its three young leads, and in particular R.J. Cyler, who plays Earl. Two years ago, when he was just 18, Cyler’s parents moved to California to help him launch his acting career: within a year, it had paid off with a role in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s coming-of-age dramedy, which proved a sensation at Sundance. Earl borders on a stereotype in the movie, but Cyler brings both enormous charisma and something of an inner life to the character, and the movie suffers a little bit when he’s not on screen. He’s clearly impressed some big comedy names: he’s starring in Danny McBride & Jody Hill’s “Vice Principals,” their HBO follow-up to “Eastbound & Down,” alongside Walton Goggins, Busy Philipps and Shea Whigham


Frank Dillane
Four years after its conclusion, the “Harry Potter” series is still birthing new stars. The latest is Frank Dillane, who played the young Tom Riddle in “Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince,” and who bears a familiar surname as the son of Stephen Dillane, best known as Stannis Baratheon in “Game Of Thrones.” When Dillane was just 19, he was nearly cast in the lead in “The Amazing Spider-Man” —when he didn’t land it (for which he perhaps considers a blessing now), he went to legendary British drama school RADA. Graduating in 2013, he’s been busy since: after a small role in “Sense8,” Dillane’s about to be seen among the main cast in hotly-anticipated zombie spin-off “Fear The Walking Dead.” He’s also alongside Chris Hemsworth and new Spidey Tom Holland in Ron Howard’s “In The Heart Of The Sea,” and co-stars with Dakota Fanning in “Viena And The Fantomes,” from “Miss Bala” director Gerardo Naranjo. A better fate than Shireen, then… 


Devin Druid
Remember that excellent flashback episode of “Louie” from a few seasons ago, with Jeremy Renner as a pot dealer and “Transparent”’s Amy Landecker as Louie’s mom? Remember the terrific little performance from the young Louie, who never imitated C.K. but somehow captured his essence? Well, that young actor was the excellently-named Devin Druid, and his appearance in that “In The Woods” episode looks to have just been the start. The young Virginia native went on to appear in Lisa Cholodenko’s excellent HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge,” as the title character’s son (the younger version of John Gallagher Jr.’s character), and he shone alongside Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne in “Louder Than Bombs,” as the withdrawn, anti-social, online-RPG-addicted youngest son of a grieving family. He’s had difficult emotional material to pull off in both of the more recent outings, alongside some of the most talented actors around, and he’s more than held his own.


Travis Fimmel
The leading man crisis in Hollywood is still ongoing: it’s perhaps better than it was a few years ago, but there’s only so much that Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender can do. Could our next big action hero be Australian actor Travis Fimmel? A former top underwear model, Fimmel’s been acting for over a decade, mostly in little-seen TV series or DTV fare, but things changed when he landed the lead role of Ragnar Lothbrok in The History Channel’s “Vikings” series. He’s got a compelling mix of prettiness and unhinged, violent charisma that seemed to set him up for big things, and big things have arrived: he’s playing Lothar, the heroic lead of Duncan Jones’ megabudget fantasy “Warcraft” next summer. Smartly, he’s not just swinging swords: he’ll next be seen at the Toronto International Film Festival with Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore and Bill Hader in Rebecca Miller’s drama “Maggie’s Plan,” which should showcase his dramatic chops 


James Frecheville
Few films in the last few years have provided a launching pad for so much talent as “Animal Kingdom.” The Australian crime thriller didn’t just vault Joel Edgerton into leading man territory and make helmer David Michôd a hot property —it also provided big breakthroughs from Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver and Sullivan Stapleton. It’s taken a little longer, but James Frecheville, who played the teenage lead, ‘J,’ looks to be catching up to them. The 24-yearold Melbourne native booked a few gigs in the wake of his debut, but things have really heated up recently: he recurred on “New Girl,” shone alongside Tom Hardy in “The Drop,” was excellent in “Transparent” (he’s the older man that Abby spends a day at the beach with in flashback), and he’s one of the standouts of “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” At this rate, he’ll be alongside his erstwhile co-stars very soon. 


Corey Hawkins
The young cast of “Straight Outta Compton” are all very good, taking in some iconic roles and showing the flesh and blood underneath, but perhaps the most likely to break out is Corey Hawkins. Unrelated to the hotly-tipped Arizona basketball player, Hawkins has had small roles in TV and movies like “Iron Man 3” and “Non-Stop,” but his performance as Dr. Dre in F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A biopic seems to have bumped him up a tier or five. He’s been cast as Heath in the upcoming sixth season of “The Walking Dead” (a show that, surprisingly, hasn’t launched a breakout star yet, despite its huge success —could Hawkins be the first?), and only in the last few weeks, he’s joined Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson in Jordan Vogt-Robert’s upcoming tentpole “Kong: Skull Island.” Pretty soon, we think he’ll be big enough that we’ll forget about Dre (sorry…).


Michiel Huisman
Dutch-born but with a faultless American accent, Michiel Huisman has been a familiar face in film and TV for a little while now, but looks to be about to break into leading man territory, thanks in part to his role on the biggest fantasy epic of the last five years. The former frontman of Dutch band Fontane, Huisman moved into acting in his twenties, with early roles including “Black Book” and “The Young Victoria.” But his breakthrough in the U.S came with a regular role on David Simon’s HBO follow-up to “The Wire,” “Treme,” which led to the TV gig he’s best known for as Khaleesi’s lover/right-hand-man Daario Naharis on “Game Of Thrones.” He’s popped up in movies in “World War Z” and “Wild,” but impressed this year in both Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation” and weepie “Age Of Adaline,” his biggest roles yet. Next up? “Groundhog Day”-ish indie thriller “2:22.” 

Stephan James

What do you do when your hotly-tipped Oscar-touted biopic loses its leading man to a galaxy far, far, away? That was the dilemma faced by the producers of “Race,” an upcoming biopic of Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens co-starring Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons and William Hurt, when John Boyega pulled out in order to take the lead in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The solution to this problem was Stephan James. The 21-year-old Canadian broke through in “Degrassi” (don’t all Canadians?…), but stood out as John Lewis in Ava DuVernay’s masterful “Selma,” and with a supporting role in miniseries “The Book Of Negroes.” But it’s “Race” that should put him on the map: the record-setting athlete who defied Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a doozy of a part, and Focus have already picked it up for release next year. 


Ki Hong Lee
Though Sung Kang and John Cho are making strides, we’re yet to see a real Korean-American superstar actor. But from his current omnipresence and the range he’s displayed, it could be Ki Hong Lee. The 28-year-old, whose family moved to L.A. when he was eight, kicked off his acting career with small roles in shows like “Modern Family,” before a regular gig on short-lived ABC Family series “The Nine Lives Of Chloe King,” but it’s in the last twelve months that his career has gone ballistic. He played head runner Minho in surprise young-adult smash “The Maze Runner,” was another member of the hugely impressive Stanford Prison Experiment” cast, and was a standout in Tina Fey & Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” his sweetness and comic-timing saving a character who’s a little questionable elsewhere (oh, and People Magazine called him the fourth sexiest man in the world…). More “Maze Runner” and ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ is on the way, and the world should be his oyster after that. 


Logan Miller
The path from Disney Channel star to acclaimed A-list movie actor has paid off from everyone from Ryan Gosling to Brie Larson, and now Logan Miller looks to be the next to follow that path. Six years ago, he starred in Disney sitcom “I’m With The Band,” and though it lasted just two seasons, he’s been busy ever since, including tiny parts for big-name indie auteurs like Sofia Coppola and Kelly Reichardt. But it was at Sundance this year that he looked to be ready to step up: he’s excellent in “The Stanford Prison Experiment” (yes, another one), and even better in Matt Sobel’s “Take Me To The River,” where we called him a “standout discovery.” Coming up, he’s hitting studio territory alongside Tye Sheridan in horror-com “Scouts’ Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse,” and is being touted for a major role in “Looking For Alaska,” the next movie from “Fault In Our Stars” author John Green


Toby Leonard Moore
The nature of a list like this is that the focus tends to be on bright young things, but we love it when a longtime, slightly older character actor gets a breakout role and looks to have much more on the way as a result. Toby Leonard Moore is very much in that category. The Australian actor was first noticed with a small part in Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse,” had a mid-sized role in “The Pacific,” and appeared as Alfie Allen’s bodyguard in “John Wick” last year. But it was his turn as Wesley in Netflix’s “Daredevil” that really caught our attention. The slick, darkly funny right-hand-man to Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, Moore stole every scene he was in, in a part that ould have seemed generic on the page. He *SPOILER* won’t be back for the second season, but he’s co-starring in Billions,” Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s Wall Street drama for Showtime, with Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis and Malin Akerman


Colin Morgan
It’s been at least fifteen minutes since a young British actor stole the hearts of Tumblr and broke the U.S, and the latest potential arrival on the Cumberbatch express (or who’s been on his way to doing it for a little while now) is Colin Morgan. The 29-year-old began his career as the title character in “Merlin,” a long-running BBC fantasy drama. The last twelve months or so has seen Morgan move into more adult roles with great success. He played a young detective with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in “The Fall,” he stood out with Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington in “Testament Of Youth,” and he’s a regular on AMC’s hit sci-fi drama “Humans.” Tom Hardy gangster drama “Legend is coming up, and with decidedly something of the Cumberbatch cheekbones about him, we think the offers must be piling up. 


Callan Mulvey
If you’ve noticed a distinctively-scarred, intimidating man in a big movie in the last few years, chances are that it was Callan Mulvey, an Australian actor you’re likely to end up seeing a lot more of. The 40-year-old was a fixture on Australian TV (including “Heartbreak High,” beloved crime drama “Underbelly” and, inevitably, “Home & Away”), and survived a devastating car crash that left him blind in one eye, and then cracked the movies, beginning with a turn as one of Seal Team 6 in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” Last year saw him on blockbuster duty in the “300” sequel and in “Captain America,” while he’s got larger roles that should make more of his compelling screen presence in “Beyond Skyline” and Blumhouse thriller “Home,” and maybe biggest of all, has crossed the comic book movie Rubicon, playing Lex Luthor’s right-hand-man in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” Can a lead be far away? 


Randall Park
The incestuous nature of the modern-day comedy scene means that it’s easy for an actor to achieve omnipresence: once you fall in with a Judd Apatow or David Wain, you tend to crop up in several or all of their upcoming projects. When that omnipresence comes to someone as winning and talented as Randall Park, that’s not a problem at all. The 41-year-old has been in the business for a decade, but it’s the past few years where he’s started to be more noticeable, thanks in part to an excellent recurring gig as Danny Chung on “Veep.” Last year alone, he was in “Neighbors,” “Sex Tape,” and “They Came Together,” but the best of all came in The Interview,” with his outrageous Kim Jong-Un as the film’s highlight. More recently, he’s appeared in “Trainwreck” and starred in hit sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat” —maybe it’s time for Apatow or Wain to come up with a big-screen vehicle for him? 


Nick Robinson
From a tiny, underseen indie to a role in the third-biggest movie in history in just two years, Nick Robinson’s rise has been meteoric, but you sense he’s just getting started. After five years on sitcom “Melissa & Joey,” Robinson graduated to more serious fare with an impressive guest spot on “Boardwalk Empire” in 2012, but blossomed as the everyman (then slightly unhinged) lead in Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ excellent “Kings Of Summer.” That in turn led to the older brother role in this year’s monster “Jurassic World,” striking the right balance between likeable and surly, and which is surely going to put him further in demand. Next up, he has the title part as a drug-addicted teen in Rob Reiner’s indie “Being Charlie,” and then the male lead opposite Chloe Moretz and Maika Monroe in J. Blakeson’s YA adaptation “The 5th Wave.” 


Keith Stanfield
Keith Stanfield was such an obvious pick for this list that when his name came up, we initially thought he’d been on previous editions. He hadn’t, and we can’t quite understand why, because he’s an enormously talented performer who is attached to all kinds of interesting projects. Indie fans will know him from his breakthrough performance as the troubled kid who delivers that incredible freestyle in “Short Term 12,” and awards watchers will have seen him as one of the standouts in the “Selma” ensemble (he played Jimmie Lee Jackson, killed by troopers in Marion), while he cropped up at Sundance in “Dope.” He’s just been seen stealing the show as Snoop Dogg in “Straight Outta Compton,” and should figure in to awards season in both Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” and Oliver Stone’s “Snowden.” Coming up next, he’ll co-star with Donald Glover in FX show “Atlanta,” about aspiring rappers. 


Callum Turner
It’s a while since we’ve seen a young actor with the kind of range and presence that Callum Turner seems to have. The 25-year-old Londoner grew up on a housing project in one of London’s richest areas (he was inspired to act by Shane Meadows’ “A Room For Romeo Brass”), and that dichotomy’s been present in much of his career so far. He’s gone from playing a posh-ish suburban kid doing national service in John Boorman’s “Queen & Country” to a troubled young Romany man in Jack Thorne’s excellent TV series “Glue,” to the lead singer of an American punk band, his U.S. debut, in Jeremy Saulnier’s gripping horror Green Room.” We’ll be seeing plenty more of him from now on: he’ll feature both in “Victor Frankenstein” and the new miniseries adaptation of “War & Peace.” 


Jessie Usher
Given that “Independence Day” was truly the movie that made Will Smith a megastar, it seems smart to pay attention to the actor who’s rumored to be playing the son of Smith’s character in next year’s long-awaited sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence.” 23-year-old Jessie Usher made his acting debut in a short-lived Cartoon Network live-action series called “Level Up,” but has been more noticeable as the lead of Starz’s hit LeBron James-produced comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” about a pro-basketball player. He’s got charisma to burn, and the show’s increasing success no doubt helped him to land the gig alongside Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox and fellow franchise-newcomers Charlotte Gainsbourg, Maika Monroe and Liam Hemsworth in the ID4 sequel. And if “Resurgence” follows in the footsteps of this summer’s 1990s-revival tentpole, he could be about to go supernova as a result. 

Honorable Mentions: As ever, there are plenty of other potentials we could have included. Among them, Brit actor Joe Cole, another ‘Billy Lynn’ runner-up who’s also in “Peaky Blinders,” “Green Room” and “The Secret In Their Eyes,” nearly-Spidey Charlie Rowe, “The Keeping Room”’s Kyle Soller, Daniel Wu, star of AMC’s upcoming “Into The Badlands” and “Warcraft,” “Obvious Child” and “Carol” actor Jake Lacy, young “Room” star Jacob Tremblay, “A Most Violent Year”’s Elyes Gabel, Ryan Guzman, Blake Janner and Tyler Hoechlin, who are all starring in Richard Linklater’s next movie, and Jack Lowden, of “71” and the upcoming “Pan.” 

Then there’s “Glue” actor Billy Howle, Keir Gilchrist from “It Follows” and, yes, “Stanford Prison Experiment,” “Dope” lead Shameik Moore, “Eden”’s Felix de Givry,Paper Towns” standout Austin Abrams, “Vikings” actor Clive Standen, soon to be seen in “Patient Zero” and “Everest,” “Deadpool” villain Ed Skrein,” “Workaholics” vet Anders Holm, new “X-Men” Angel Ben Hardy, “Bridgend” actor Josh O’Connor, “My Golden Days” star Quentin Dolmaire, young “Empire” actors Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray, and “Me & Earl”’s Thomas Mann

Anyone else? Let us know in the comments. 

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