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The Breakouts: 9 Up-and-Coming Actors to Watch For at the Toronto International Film Festival

The Breakouts: 9 Up-and-Coming Actors to Watch For at the Toronto International Film Festival


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Connor Jessup (“Closet Monster”)

Why You May Know Him: The Toronto native has appeared in a handful of network television series, including “Falling Skies” and an upcoming turn in the second season of “American Crime,” but his burgeoning film career also includes a starring role in the 2012 indie “Blackbird,” which saw him headlining Jason Buxton’s dramatic feature as a bullied teen pushed to terrible ends. 

What He’s Bringing to Toronto: Jessup stars in Stephen Dunn’s “Closet Monster” as a confused teenager struggling to fit into the world while also attempting to overcome a haunting event from his youth. Creative and intense, Jessup’s Oscar Madly is forced to contend with problems both inside and outside his home. Dunn’s film looks to be a deep and artistic exploration of fraught youth, with Jessup holding its center. That’s not all, though, as Jessup is a blossoming director, and his short “Boy” will also screen at the festival. 

What’s Next: Jessup will appear on the second season of “American Crime” this year, and he recently wrapped production on Aaron Mirkin’s short “Crazy House,” which also taps into Jessup’s uncanny ability to portray angsty teens with skill and sensitivity. 


Mina Sundwall (“Freeheld,” “Maggie’s Plan”)

Why You May Know Her: Sundwall has some short films and uncredited roles under her belt, including a recent turn in Peter Askin’s “A Good Marriage,” based on the Stephen King story of the same name. Don’t let that slim resume fool you, though, because if Sundwall’s festival slate is any indication, she’s about to break in a big way.

What She’s Bringing to Toronto: Sundwall co-stars in a pair of TIFF offerings, including Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” (alongside Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke) and possible awards contender “Freeheld” (starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page). Sundwall’s parts in both films are firmly supporting, but she reportedly brings a steady grace and emotion to both roles (her turn in “Freeheld” is, like much of the film, guaranteed to make you cry).

What’s Next: Sundwall appears in Tara Subkoff’s highly anticipated directorial debut about cyber-bullying, “#Horror,” which has already been picked up for release by IFC Midnight. 

Martha Canga Antonio (“Black”)

Why You May Know Her: 
Antonio’s starring role in Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s Discovery entry “Black” is Antonio’s very first role.

What She’s Bringing to Toronto: Arbi and Fallah’s second feature centers on Antonio’s Mavela, a young gang member in Brussels who unexpectedly falls for a member of a rival game. The contemporary Romeo and Juliet story has been billed as “raw” and “electrifying” by the TIFF team, and Antonio appears poised to turn her first role into her signature one.

What’s Next: Antonio has yet to line up any post-TIFF roles, but that should change (and rapidly) after “Black” bows.


Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn”)

Why You May Know Him: Cohen’s first role was in Antonio Campos’ unnerving “Afterschool,” and the feature has set the pace for his dramatic career. Most recognizable for his turn in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Cohen has also had roles in “The Gambler” and the well-regarded indie “Beneath the Harvest Sky.” He’s a reliable performer, but he’s also one who is poised to break out.

What He’s Bringing to Toronto: Cohen’s big TIFF offering, John Crowley’s Sundance favorite “Brooklyn,” affords him the opportunity to try something new: an emotionally resonant role in a well-made and keenly observed period piece. Cohen stars opposite Saoirse Ronan as recent immigrant Eilis Lacey as the fiery and energetic Tony. The pair fall in love in the New York-set feature — lots of dancing, lots of dreamy clothes — but their romance is threatened by Eilis’ old life in Ireland. Will true love prevail? And will Cohen finally get the chance to show his chops as a romantic lead?

What’s Next: Cohen recently finished shooting on both Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Texas Ranger-focused “By Way of Helena,” co-starring Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth, and Christopher Smith’s “Detour,” which features the talents of other fast-rising stars Tye Sheridan and Bel Powley. He’s currently filming Ric Roman Waugh’s action-heavy “Shot Caller,” a crime-tinged film about gang violence in Los Angeles. How’s that for range?

Odessa Young (“The Daughter,” “Looking for Grace”)

Why You May Know Her: A regular on the Aussie series “Tricky Business,” Young has also appeared in a series of short films that have capitalized on her growing dramatic range, including Corrie Chen’s “Bloomers,” Sonia Whiteman’s “Handyman” and Lily Rolfe’s “The Tender Dark.”

What She’s Bringing to Toronto: Young stars as the eponymous daughter in Simon Stone’s “The Daughter,” a contemporary telling of Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck.” Although the film boasts a major cast of recognizable talents, including Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv and Sam Neill, the buzz is that it’s Young’s performance that holds the drama together. Set in New South Wales, Stone’s feature breathes new life into the classic story, and may prove to be an under-the-radar hit at the
festival. Young is also at the festival with Sue Brooks’ “Looking for Grace,” another Aussie drama that puts her center stage (this time, as a teenage runaway).

What’s Next: Young has another short on deck, Eddie Young’s magic-tinged “Upside Down Feeling,” but “The Daughter” will likely catapult her onto a slew of wish lists for up-and-coming actresses.

Sophie Nelisse (“Endorphine”)

Why You May Know Her: A regular on French-Canadian TV series “The Parent Family” and “Vertige,” Nelisse is best known for her star turn in 2013’s “The Book Thief,” which showed off her ability to inject childhood innocence into wrenching material.

What She’s Bringing to Toronto: Nelisse stars in Andre Turpin’s wildly imaginative “Endorphine,” a drama the blends together three seemingly different lives into one giant “cinematic puzzle.” Early footage of the film is jarringly dreamy and ambitiously shot, weaving together stories that may be about the same character at different points in her life (Nelisse plays the youngest iteration of “Sophie”), though the film reportedly toys with time, space and alternate realities. Nelisse appears to be tasked with most of the film’s heavy lifting, as a young Sophie scarred by the (very recent, very brutal) death of her mother. 

What’s Next: Nelisse has a slew of new projects lined up, including a supporting role in “Pawn Sacrifice” (a TIFF holdover from last year that’s finally releasing this fall), the spunky-sounding “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” the thriller “Wait Till Helen Comes” and the big screen adaptation of “The Book of Love.”


Chloe Rose (“Hellions”)

Why You May Know Her: Fans of Canadian teen drama will recognize Rose from her long-term run on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and her work on “Teenagers.” Rose is now moving into feature films, and “Hellions,” which premiered at Sundance, shows off her ability to blend spunky teenage angst with horror-centric humor.

What She’s Bringing to Toronto: “Hellions” has had a healthy festival run since its Sundance bow, and the Bruce McDonald horror feature rests very much in Rose’s capable hands. As pregnant teen Dora, Rose must battle a group of creepy trick-or-treaters who come a-knockin.

What’s Next: Rose’s upcoming schedule is positively packed, including a pair of short films, the sci-fi TV series “Killjoys” and the features “Unearthing,” “People Hold On” and “Unless,” based on Carol Shields’ novel of the same name.

Christopher Abbott (“James White”)

Why You May Know Him: Abbott is best known to TV fans as a former star of HBO’s “Girls,” but he’s also banked up a healthy indie film career with turns in “Hello I Must Be Going,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “A Most Violent Year.” He’s a steady, appealing presence, but he’s been waiting for a signature role. Fortunately, that’s happened.

What He’s Bringing to Toronto: It’s not just that Josh Mond’s “James White” was a breakout at this year’s Sundance (and was it ever), it’s that the film also heralded the arrival of its star Abbott as a major dramatic actor to watch while giving a known talent like Cynthia Nixon a meaty role to play alongside him. Abbott’s work in the drama is exceptional, but what makes it so rich is his ability to work and engage with Nixon (who plays his ill mother in this heart-wrencher). That’s a rare quality. 

What’s Next: Abbott’s slate is understandably full, and he’s recently wrapped on Jackie Earle Haley’s “Criminal Activities,” the war comedy “Fun House” and Wayne Roberts’ “Katie Says Goodbye,” which stars other rising talents Olivia Cooke and Keir Gilchrist.


Jacob Tremblay (“Room”)

Why You May Know Him: Young Tremblay has made the rounds with kiddie fare — from “The Smurfs 2” to “The Magic Ferret” — but he already seems ready to grow up and graduate to much heftier material.

What He’s Bringing to Toronto: Starring alongside Brie Larson in “Room,” Tremblay is tasked with some major drama. Based on Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name, the Lenny Abrahamson film chronicles the cloistered life of Ma (Larson) and Jack (Tremblay), who have lived their entire lives for whole years in a single room. Jack was actually born in the room, and it’s his entire world, meaning that Tremblay’s ability to pull off such a tough role is paramount to the entire feature. That the pair eventually get out isn’t a secret, and those two sections of film should allow Tremblay to flex all his actorly muscles. 

What’s Next: Tremblay will next appear in the creepy-sounding “Before I Wake” as a kid whose nightmares come to life, he’s rumored to be starring in Colin Trevorrow’s secret “The Book of Henry” and he’ll lead the casts of both the scary “Shut In” and the adventure film “Burn Your Maps.”

READ MORE: 7 Hidden Gems from the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival Lineup

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