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On The Rise ’12: 10 TV Stars Who Should Break Through To The Big Screen Soon

On The Rise '12: 10 TV Stars Who Should Break Through To The Big Screen Soon

With cinematic releases at the moment mostly involving the not-particularly inspiring likes of “That’s My Boy” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” it’s hard not to look to television for a little nourishment. The trouble is that the TV season has wrapped up for the year. While a few shows (namely “Girls“) are still wrapping up, and others get underway shortly (“The Newsroom,” “Breaking Bad,” “Louie“), it’s pretty quiet on the box, with cast and creatives focusing on making a hiatus movie, campaigning for Emmy, or just getting some sleep for once.

Still, with the 2011/2012 TV season done, we thought we’d shine a light on the small screen this week. Tomorrow, we’re going to run down our ten favorite TV series of the last 12 months, but today, we wanted to pick a few stars of these shows that we think are set to break out as movie stars before too long, and you’ll find that list below. Agree? Disagree? Got your own television favorites you think are set for bigger things? Let us know in the comments section below.

Adam Driver
It may seem counter-intuitive to highlight the sole male regular of a show called “Girls,” and we certainly don’t want to diminish the performances of Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams, who’ve been doing consistently stirling work on the HBO show (indeed, Mamet might have made this list if she’s had a little more screen time — she’s been a little wasted on the show to date). But Adam, the fuckbuddy-turned-boyfriend of Dunham’s character Hannah, is one of the show’s most original and perplexing characters, and 28-year-old Adam Driver has been consistently knocking it out of the park week by week. And if you think you have him pegged as another boho Williamsburg type, think again: Driver’s actually an ex-Marine, who joined the Corp after 9/11 as an 18-year-old. After being forced to leave due to injury in 2004, Driver went to study theater at Julliard, and on graduating in 2009, became an Off-Broadway mainstay, most notably by replacing “Star Trek” star Zachary Quinto in the 2010 revival of “Angels In America.” That led to small roles in Barry Levinson‘s “You Don’t Know Jack” and Clint Eastwood‘s “J. Edgar” before taking the part in “Girls.” It looked to begin with as if Adam would be a one-joke character who’d be swiftly written out, a self-absorbed, sexually experimental  poseur, but as is the show’s metier, he’s become richer and more complex as the show’s gone on, Dunham gradually revealing that we’ve been seeing him through her character’s POV, and Driver’s played every note he’s been given to a tee. We’re not sure if he’ll return for season two — we imagine it’ll become clearer in next week’s season finale. But either way, it looks to be only the start of some really big things for the actor — he’s wrapped indie “Bluebird” with fellow TV stand-outs John Slattery and Margo Martindale. And after that, he’s gone on to two of the most anticipated films of 2012, playing Samuel Beckwith, a subordinate of Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) in Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln,” and just finished a substantial role in the Coen Brothers‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It’s hard to imagine the Adam of “Girls” in those parts, but it should be a hint that there’s much, much more that he can do.

Walton Goggins
Unlike most of the names on this list, Walton Goggins is something of a veteran; he’s got credits going back to “Forever Young” and “The Next Karate Kid,” and has already starred in one TV classic. The 40-year-old actor even has an Academy Award, for producing the 2001 Live Action Short winner “The Accountant,” directed by his friend, “Deadwood” actor Ray McKinnon. But in the last few years, things have really stepped up a gear for Goggins, and look to be going ever starwards. Goggins worked steadily throughout 1990s and 2000s, before playing tragic cop Detective Shane Vendrell in acclaimed police drama “The Shield” for seven series. Once that wrapped up, he had a couple of big-screen turns, in Spike Lee’s “Miracle At St. Anna” and Nimrod Antal’s “Predators,” proving one of the few bright spots of the latter, but it was a TV series in 2010 that’s really given him boost. Goggins was cast in the pilot of the Elmore Leonard-inspired FX series “Justified” as Boyd Crowder, the redneck antagonist of Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). It was only ever meant to be a guest appearance, with Crowder intended to be killed by the pilot’s end, but creator Graham Yost was so blown away by his performance that he decided to spare him. His commitment to “Predators” meant that he could only be used in the first season sparingly, but Goggins has gone on to become virtually the co-lead in the two that have followed, taking Crowder from racist gang leader to born-again Christian to community leader to power broker, building up his criminal empire all the while. It’s a firecracker turn, and it’s no surprise that it’s seen him become an increasingly hot property. He was seen last year in “Straw Dogs” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” and on the way, he’s got a small role in the troubled “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” as well a more substantial part, as congressman Wells Hutchins, a key ally of the title character, in Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln” — a job that should let him make a break from the thugs and villains he usually plays. But most important of all is “Django Unchained.” Quentin Tarantino cast him in the relatively minor part of Billy Crash, but after Kurt Russell, who was to have played the right-hand-man of villain Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), walked off the set, Tarantino, blown away by Goggins’ work on the film, incorporated Russell’s character into Crash, rather than recasting. It’s a roaring endorsement, and another sign that Goggins should be omnipresent before too long. 

Gillian Jacobs
There’s likely not all that much left of “Community.” While it was picked up for a fourth season by the skin of its teeth, the cult NBC comedy has been moved to the Friday night death slot, and will be without most of its key behind-the-scenes personnel, including creator Dan Harmon and directors the Russo Brothers, who’ve gone off to make “Captain America 2.” Bad news for fans of the show, then, but good news for those who long since recognized that it was bursting at the seams with talent who would go on to big-screen fare. Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Jim Rash are all starting to make waves in the movie world, and it looks like Gillian Jacobs will be the next to join them. The 29-year-old Pennsylvania native first came to notice in two dark 2008 dramas: the harrowing “Gardens of the Night,” with John Malkovich, and Clark Gregg’s Chuck Palahniuk adaption “Choke,” with Sam Rockwell. Soon after that, she was cast in “Community,” and at first, she seemed decent, but in  something of a weak part — Britta Perry was envisioned mostly as a straight woman and a love interest for McHale’s Jeff Winger. But Harmon & co swiftly realized that Jacobs was capable of much more, and over time Britta’s evolved into the M.V.P. of the recent third season: a would-be-rebel whose own self-interest and incompetence has made her referred to as ‘the worst’ by pretty much every other character on the show. From locking herself in a cage to protest the model U.N to proving the world’s least proficient war photographer, she’s been a consistent delight in the last couple of seasons. And the movies are starting to take notice; she’ll be seen in a few weeks in “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World,” and has a few indies bubbling about too, including “Sin Bin” and “Teddy Bears.” And after narrowly missing out on the lead in “The Dictator” to Anna Faris, she’s venturing into studio territory for the first time too, as a magic groupie alongside Steve Carell and Jim Carrey in the promising-sounding “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Assuming “Community” doesn’t somehow find an audience by this time next year, there should be much more film work where that came from after that.  

Taran Killam
Nearly 40 years into its run, “Saturday Night Live” is at one of its occasional changing of the guards. Kristin Wiig and Andy Samberg, who’ve been the major breakouts on the show of the last few years, are leaving to pursue movie careers, with Jason Sudeikis looking likely to join them soon. As such, some of the existing cast members are likely to step up in a big way, and the most likely candidate looks to be 30-year-old Taran Killam. The actor (who is the great-nephew of “Untouchables” star Robert Stack, and is engaged to Cobie Smulders of “The Avengers” and “How I Met Your Mother“) actually had an extensive career before joining the SNL roster, as a cast member on “MADtv” aged only 19, and a regular on Nick Cannon sitcom “Wild ‘N Out,” along with a recurring role on the last couple of seasons of “Scrubs,” and small parts in rom-coms “Just Married” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” But the Groundlings vet impressed swiftly once he joined “Saturday Night Live” two years ago, thanks to dead on impressions of the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael Cera and Eminem, as well as being central to some of the more memorable recurring sketches of late, “Les Jeunes De Paris” and “J-Pop America Fun Time Now.” He’s a true versatility player, capable of playing straight roles and far-out characters, and is nearly certain to graduate to become a full time Rep player in the next season, and will likely make even more of an impression. He further won over comedy fans with a killer guest spot savaging “Glee” on the Christmas episode of “Community,” but he’s getting his big-screen break in a much more surprising venue: he recently joined the astonishing cast of Steve McQueen‘s “Twelve Years A Slave,” alongside Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt (who presumably approves of Killam’s impression, given that he’s the film’s producer), Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Ruth Negga, Garret Dillahunt and Scoot McNairy, among many others. It’s a smallish role — of a circus employee responsible for capturing Ejiofor’s lead character — but it’s a serious compliment to be included among a line up like that, and suggests that comedy is only the beginning of his talents.

Rose Leslie
Aside from hooking more and more viewers all over the world into their ever-growing cults, “Downton Abbey” and “Game Of Thrones,” while about as polar opposite as two shows could be, have something in common: their vast, expansive casts are single-handedly staving off unemployment in the British acting industry. And they have something else in common, too: 25-year-old actress Rose Leslie, who’s had scene-stealing parts in both. Leslie (whose parents are Scottish aristocrats, who live in a castle near Aberdeen that’s been the family home for 500 years) graduated from prestigious drama school LAMDA (whose alumni include Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, Chiwetel Ejiofor and John Lithgow) in 2008, and swiftly booked a role in Annie Griffin‘s acclaimed TV drama “New Town,” which won her a New Talent award at the Scottish BAFTAs. Soon after, she filmed a new costume drama to be called “Downton Abbey,” in which she played Gwen Dawson, a maid with dreams of moving out of service and becoming a secretary. the character, and her friendship with Jessica Brown-Findlay‘s Lady Sybil, was one of the highlights of the first season of the show, but by the time the shows became a monster hit, Leslie had already moved on, appearing on the stage at the Globe Theater in the new play “Bedlam.” Appearances on cop shows “Case Histories,” with Jason Isaacs, and “Vera,” with Brenda Blethyn, followed, and then halfway through season two, she cropped up unannounced as Ygritte, a wildling girl held captive by Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), before turning the tables on him. It was about as far from her last major role as you could get (bar a certain feistiness in both), and yet Leslie nailed both, especially the latter; her flirtatious, wild scenes with Jon Snow were the only time the sometimes-dull character’s storyline really came alive. She still had her head at the end of Season Two, so should be around for at least a little longer into the third season, which begins filming soon, but she’s also spent the interim on her first role, starring alongside Dakota Fanning, Olivia Williams, Paddy Considine and Jeremy Irvine in weepie “Now Is Good.” It’ll be the first of many big-screen roles, we’d wager.

Aaron Paul
Some cable dramas — HBO and Showtime in particular — are highly star-driven. AMC have generally taken a different path, with lesser-known names leading the likes of “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead.” “Breaking Bad” did have a star name, of a sort, with Bryan Cranston going firmly against type as the mild-mannered chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin. But a less familiar face became just as important to the show over time, in the shape of Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, and the 32-year-old actor looks like he’s on the verge of further big-screen success very soon. Paul had a brace of big-screen roles early on, including small parts in “K-Pax,” “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” and “Mission Impossible III” (he plays Michelle Monaghan‘s drunken brother in a brief scene in the latter), and recurred on HBO drama “Big Love” across its five seasons. And then came “Breaking Bad.” Jesse, a meth-cooking, whiteboy dropout, was meant to be killed off in the first seven-episode season, but creator Vince Gilligan soon found that he couldn’t do without him, and Pinkman was spared, and it’s impossible to think of how the show would be without him; he’s given a consistently astonishing performance, which saw him pick up an Emmy in 2010. Film roles have been scarcer since the series got underway, with only one of the bad guys in “Last House On The Left” to his name. But as the series has grown in popularity, he’s become more and more in-demand on screen. He’s wrapped indies “Quad” and “Decoding Annie Parker,” in the latter of which he plays the husband of Samantha Morton‘s title character, while he got rave reviews at Sundance for “Smashed,” in which he and Mary Elizabeth Winstead play a young alcoholic married couple — Sony Pictures Classics are putting it out later in the year in the hopes of an awards run. And he’s starting to break down the door to the mainstream too; he was one of the final contenders to play John McClane’s son in “A Good Day To Die Hard.” While he would have been great in the role, we’re secretly a little glad that he’ll have the opportunity to take on more interesting roles, particularly once “Breaking Bad” winds down next year.

Jessica Paré
At the end of season four of “Mad Men,” viewers were flung something of a surprise, as lead character Don Draper proposed to his secretary, a character only introduced a couple of episodes before. Over the long, long hiatus before season five, it wasn’t clear if Megan Calvet would be back, but she certainly was, as Megan Draper, and over the course of Season Five, she’s become one of the key figures on the show, indeed, arguably the most prominent female character (Peggy had a strong season, but was mostly absent in the last few episodes). And while the character’s been a little divisive among fans, we’d argue that 31-year-old Jessica Paré has done a smashing job in the role. The Montreal-born actress has been working for over a decade — she led “Stardom” in 2000 for “The Barbarian Invasions” director Denys Arcand, and made several films in Canada before breaking into the US with Paul McGuigan‘s “Wicker Park” and TV drama “Jack & Bobby.” She’s been working consistently (“Hot Tub Time Machine” being her most recent), but without quite matching her early success, but “Mad Men” has certainly meant that she’s turned heads. She’s neatly represented the younger generation, and a kind of bohemian ambition that her husband will never understand, with a slightly offbeat, goofy beauty that makes hera tremendously compelling screen presence (see: “Zou Bisou Bisou”). But her skills go beyond her mere presence — she’s managed to make the new Draper marriage seem like it could be the real deal, while still instilling levels of ambition that could end up sewing the seeds for it to crumble. And her struggles with step-motherhood — caught between being a mother and a friend to Don’s daughter Sally, have been some of the most compelling moments of the series. As best as we can tell, Paré doesn’t have anything lined up over the show’s hiatus, but with showrunner Matthew Weiner making a movie over the break, it could be a while before season six, so we’re sure a decent role will come around before too long.

Chris Pratt
Perhaps something of a cheat here as he’s already made a bigger name for himself than most of our other picks, Chris Pratt makes it onto our list for two main reasons: firstly, “Parks and Recreation” [spoiler alert] is not going to feature in our forthcoming top ten TV shows, despite having occupied the number 1 spot the season before. Now, while we all did feel the quality slipped a few notches this time out, that summation could seem unduly harsh on a show that we all are still rooting for — so we wanted it to feature in some capacity somewhere. And secondly, there are perils and pitfalls associated with this kind of listmaking, and Chris Pratt, with a prominent upcoming role in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” following on from scene-stealing turns in “Moneyball” and “Five Year Engagement” is, frankly, as close to a banker as we’ve got. If you need reminding of why, you just need to look at his impeccable change of gear from adorable doofus Andy Dwyer in ‘Parks’ to obnoxious asshole in ‘Engagement’ to sweet but sad and broken ball player in “Moneyball.” Most of all, perhaps it was his performance in the latter film that really made us realise the kid’s got chops – it’s a small role, but perfectly balanced and heartbreakingly understated, that culminates in one of the most satisfyingly earned triumphal moments in a sports movie, ever. We really can’t wait to see what he does in “Zero Dark Thirty” and to see if, as we suspect, it gives him a leg up into the big leagues, but prior to that we’ll be seeing more of Andy Dwyer, which is absolutely fine by us — very little is as funny as that human Golden Retriever of a man throwing himself into something. He’s sharper than he looks too — the show’s writers credit one of the finest ever jokes on the series (Andy looking at WebMD and diagnosing a colleague with ‘Network Connectivity Problems’) to an adlib from Pratt. Maybe we’ll see him pen a whole script before too long?

Damon Wayans Jr.
Nepotism can understandably be frustrating for those caught on the outside, but it’s sometimes hard to argue that there must be a gene for talent. The latest evidence that some people just have funny bones is Damon Wayans Jr, the son of comedy legend Damon Wayans (“The Last Boy Scout“), and the latest offspring of the prodigious Wayans family to head towards the big time, thanks to his hysterical role on ABC sitcom “Happy Endings.” The 29-year-old Wayans appeared in a plenty of his father’s work as a younger man: he played the younger version of David Alan Grier in his father’s film “Blankman,” and would later appear in a recurring role in his sitcom “My Wife And Kids,” as well as being a regular on his short-lived Showtime sketch comedy series “The Underground.” Furthermore, his first lead role was in 2009’s “Dance Flick,” the parody of films like “Step Up” that Wayans Sr. directed. But the younger Damon had also been carving out a career as a stand-up and a writer away from the family, and broke out on the big screen as part of a high-testosterone double act with Rob Riggle in “The Other Guys.” Soon after, Wayans Jr. became a series regular on “Happy Endings,” which began airing in the spring of 2011. It was initially unpromising — another “Friends” rip-off in a season that was already full of them. But after a few episodes, it found its feet as a snappy, gloriously weird and very funny show, that features a cast of serious ringers — we couldn’t decide between Adam Pally, Eliza Coupe and Casey Wilson for this slot, and even Elisha Cuthbert has proven herself to have impressive comic abilities. But Wayans Jr. takes the prize on the merits of the last couple of season: as Brad, one half (with the excellent Coupe) of an aggressively sexual, blissfully happy, enormously neurotic married couple, he’s been consistently brilliant, wringing belly laughs out of even the show’s weaker episodes. He was almost on a bigger show — he shot the pilot of Fox‘s monster hit “New Girl” in second position, but had to bow out when “Happy Endings” was unexpectedly renewed. But with the ABC show gaining more and more fans, that may not turn out to be the worst thing in the world. As far as we can tell, Wayans Jr. doesn’t have any movies lined up, but it’s surely only a matter of time.

Maisie Williams
Without doubt, had we given birth to a female human child during season 1 of “Game of Thrones,” Daenerys would have made it onto the shortlist of baby names. But were we to pop one out right now, she’d be Arya, no contest. Aside from clearly demonstrating that we are too fickle to be anyone’s parent, this also proves just how thrillingly Arya Stark’s storyline developed over this season — so much so that, in a cast packed with great chewy female roles featuring dragons and monster childbirth and being 7 foot tall and wrongly accused of murder, it was little Arya’s often more prosaic adventures that somehow left the most indelible mark. And probably the very primary reason for that is young Maisie Williams, an actress so brilliantly suited to this, her first role, that it’s almost too much of a wrench to imagine her playing anyone but the scrappy, uppity, doggedly loyal but ferociously prickly pint-sized Lady of Winterfell. And yet not so, because just to watch her go toe-to-toe with a seasoned pro like Charles Dance in their scenes together (some of the most oddly touching in the show to date) is to recognise how spot on her seemingly intuitive instincts as an actress are; she’s conflicted, resilient, resourceful and wonky all at once — she’s a wonder. And so we have to believe she’ll be enriching a variety of roles with that crooked intelligence and fantastically expressive face before too long. As of now, the 15-year-old Williams has only one more role lined up, in a 3-part TV ghost story airing in the UK in October “The Secret of Crickley Hall,” but frankly, if she doesn’t have a whole lot more on her dance card by this time next year, well, we may have to shut up shop for a while here and write her a goddamn lead ourselves.  

— Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang

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