Canada's Rising Stars: 15 Breakouts Making an Impact in Hollywood

7:00 AM 9/8/2017

by Etan Vlessing

These newcomers — who got their big breaks in the U.S. with roles opposite the likes of Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage and Jennifer Lopez — talk building a career north of the border.

Canadian Actors - Photo Illustration - Getty - H 2017
Michael Kovac (Russell), Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic (Haq), George Pimentel/WireImage (Jacobs, Gee), Barry King (O'Brien), Jim Spellman (Jeffery), Vipoositha Gnanenthra (Saranga), Frederick M. Brown (Fast), Andrew Chin (Davies)

Somewhere on these pages could be the next William Shatner. Or Avril Lavigne. Or Lorne Michaels. Canada has long been Hollywood's great talent farm to the north, as famous for exporting movie and TV stars as it is for its maple syrup. So THR reached over the border — where business is booming, with foreign production spending up 28 percent (to $698 million) in Ontario alone last year — to ask some of the buzziest young Canadian performers about their goals, mentors, the best advice they've been given about the entertainment biz and, of course, what's great about (aboot?) being Canadian: "Everybody thinks you're friendly, eh?"

This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • William Ainscough

    The Vancouver-born Ainscough shined opposite Donald Sutherland in the Canadian indie Milton's Secret, had a breakout role in The CW comedy Seed and voices a character in the animated PBS kids series Ready Jet Go.

    The best thing about being Canadian is My country is awesome and full of amazing people that are free to do and express themselves and their feelings however and whenever they want. Canada is inclusive, full of possibility and my home.

    When I'm not working, I'm Playing drums, listening to rock on vinyl, hanging with friends and being a normal teenager — whatever that means.

  • Jakob Davies

    In addition to landing the role of Pinocchio in ABC's Once Upon a Time, Vancouver-born Davies will soon be seen opposite Nicolas Cage in the dystopian indie thriller The Humanity Bureau.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment The Humanity Bureau. I can't wait for people to see it! A close second would be passing grade-eight math.

    10 years ago, I was 4 years old and unemployed.

    Big break Being cast as Chloe Grace Moretz's brother in the movie If I Stay. I had no idea about the popularity of the book and Chloe until the Los Angeles premiere. The crowd's reaction was exciting and a little overwhelming.

  • Alexia Fast

    After making an impression opposite Tom Cruise in 2012's Jack Reacher, Vancouver-born Fast landed roles on A&E's Bates Motel and The CW's iZombie.

    Big break I have a feeling my big break is in the process of being created.

    The best thing about being Canadian is We have the most beautiful rainforests. It's like stepping into a medieval timeline.

  • Cara Gee

    Born in Calgary, Gee made her big-screen debut in the 2013 Toronto Film Festival entry Empire of Dirt, starred in the Canadian period drama Strange Empire and has a recurring role on Syfy's The Expanse.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment Beginning season three of The Expanse and shooting an episode of [Canadian sitcom] Letterkenny in the same week. I was going back and forth between two cities, two wildly different characters and 200 years.

    Big break Getting kicked out of the uptight high school with the gifted program and ending up at the high school with the fantastic arts program.

    The best thing about being Canadian is Health care.

  • Hamza Haq

    In addition to an appearance in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming horror outing, mother!, Haq, born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Pakistani parents, has a role on ABC's Quantico and stars in Xavier Dolan's indie The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.

    10 years ago, I was Attending Carleton University, getting my degree in film studies and law.

    Best advice Lead with love.

    The best thing about being Canadian is The ability to call myself a Canadian proudly without having to negate or deny Pakistani heritage.

    The first thing I do in the morning is Definitely not check my Instagram account.

  • Devery Jacobs

    Of Mohawk decent, Jacobs, raised in Kahnawake, Quebec, landed a Canadian Screen Awards nomination for her role in the 2013 indie Rhymes for Young Ghouls and co-stars on the Canadian TV drama Mohawk Girls.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment I wrote, directed, produced and acted in my short film, Rae.

    Mentors My mom. I've yet to meet a person who works harder than she does.

    Best advice Don't post anything on social media that you wouldn't want your Tota to see. Tota means grandma.

    The best thing about being Canadian is The deep-rooted connection I have to this territory. While Canada just celebrated its 150th anniversary, my people have been here for 15,000-plus years. I am literally of this land.

    When I'm not working, I'm Feeling restless and jumping to conclusions that I'll never book a role again, so I usually take the opportunity to focus on creating my own work.

  • Sarah Jeffery

    Following roles on Fox's Wayward Pines and Disney's Descendants, Vancouver-born Jeffery now stars with Jennifer Lopez on NBC's Shades of Blue.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment This! And recording on an album for the first time.

    10 years ago, I was An 11-year-old dancer who loved being onstage.

    Mentors Thandie Newton [with whom Jeffery starred on DirecTV drama Rogue] has been a huge mentor for me from the start of my acting career. I've learned so much from her and continue to learn by watching her work.

    Big break Mayor of Munchkin City in a local Wizard of Oz production circa 2005 … kidding. Or playing the incomparable Jennifer Lopez's daughter on NBC's Shades of Blue. It's really a toss-up.

  • Mena Massoud

    Born in Egypt but raised in Ontario, Massoud landed the role of Aladdin in Guy Ritchie's upcoming live-action remake of the animated Disney title after breaking out on TeenNick's mystery drama Open Heart.

    Best advice Imagine where you want to be, work hard, laugh unapologetically and be yourself.

    The best thing about being Canadian is I get to call Toronto home.

    10 years ago, I was In high school, figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be and how to get there.

  • Mark O'Brien

    Following his breakout role on the Canadian comedy-drama series Republic of Doyle, O'Brien, who is also an award-winning director of shorts, has been featured on AMC's Halt and Catch Fire and Amazon's The Last Tycoon.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment My wife is due with our firstborn later this year. Nothing will top that.

    10 years ago, I was Moving from Newfoundland to Toronto, where I got my first agent.

    Mentors All the directors and actors I've been inspired by — Brando, Clift, Hackman, Bale, Scorsese, Hitchcock.

    Big break Halt and Catch Fire was a big break for me in the U.S. industry. I learned so much about myself, my work and how to be a professional during that time.

    The best thing about being Canadian is People love hockey as much as I do!

  • Abigail Pniowsky

    Winnipeg, Manitoba-born Pniowsky was one of three young actresses who portrayed Amy Adams' daughter in 2016's Oscar contender Arrival and can currently be seen opposite Kyra Sedgwick on the ABC drama Ten Days in the Valley.

    Best advice If you work hard, your dreams can come true. Also, make sure you go to the bathroom before filming a long scene (I learned that one the hard way).

    The best thing about being Canadian is Everybody thinks you are friendly, eh!

    I wake up at 6:30, except in the summer, then it's more like 8.

    The first thing I do in the morning is Text my friends.

  • Agatha Rachpaul

    Rachpaul has made a name for herself by tackling breaking news for Discovery Canada's award-winning science magazine TV series Daily Planet.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment Winning the 2017 CSA for best news or information series with the Daily Planet team. Winning was sweet and so was the champagne!

    Best advice One: It's a marathon, not a sprint. Two: If you're not happy with your job, you have two choices — leave [or] find a way to get over what's bugging you. With both scenarios, you're in control of your happiness. Three: French fries should always be salty.

    Big break April 2010 — I'll never forget the day I was called into my executive producer's office and told that I would be going to Louisiana the next day to find science and tech stories relating to the BP oil spill. It was at that moment I knew I was making my mark and my bosses trusted me with a major assignment.

    The best thing about being Canadian is Diversity. On Easter, I have mushroom-stuffed pancakes with my Polish family and then have oxtail with my Trinidadian in-laws.

    When I'm not working, I'm Eating, doing cardio, playing Candy Crush, watching MasterChef with my husband, watching cartoons with my daughter, giving my Yorkie belly rubs and planning my next family vacation.

  • Taylor Russell

    Vancouver-born Russell landed the role of Judy Robinson on Netflix's upcoming remake of the sci-fi series Lost in Space and will star opposite Uma Thurman in the Lionsgate thriller Down a Dark Hall.

    10 years ago, I was Most likely getting in trouble in school for daydreaming.

    Mentors My little brother. My uncle Christopher. My friend Chiara and Parker Posey, whom I met this year while filming [Lost in Space].

    When I'm not working, I'm Walking everywhere I can, painting, practicing photography and searching for new parks to read in.

    I wake up at I'm not very consistent in this department.

    The first thing I do in the morning is Make tea and probably listen to the Bee Gees.

  • Vas Saranga

    Calgary-born Saranga had a banner year playing Amar on the final season of Orphan Black, a Pentagon specialist on CBS' Salvation and will appear in the indie Little Italy alongside Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts.

    10 years ago, I was Dreaming of where I'd be now.

    Best advice Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.

    Big break Getting cast in the Disney XD TV series Aaron Stone. That put me on the map and gave me traction. They also named my character after me!

    The best thing about being Canadian is The collective pride that we feel when a fellow Canadian is internationally recognized for their talent and positive contribution to the world.

  • Erica Tremblay

    The younger sister of 11-year-old Room star Jacob Tremblay, she recently starred opposite Jenna Elfman on ABC's Imaginary Mary and will next be seen alongside Lizzy Caplan in the thriller Extinction.

    Mentors I really like Emma Watson first, then my brother, Jacob.

    The best thing about being Canadian is You're always kind, and we get free health care!

    When I'm not working, I'm Cleaning my room, because I love cleaning. Or I play on my trampoline with my uncle.

    I wake up at Way before everyone else in the house.

    Best advice You have to be in character all the time. Like, when you do a scene and they have to cut and reset the cameras, you can't get out of character, because it's hard to get back into character.

  • Finn Wolfhard

    The Vancouver-born Wolfhard, who plays the plucky Mike Wheeler on Netflix's Emmy contender Stranger Things, will next be seen in the big-screen reimagining of Stephen King's horror classic It.

    Biggest 2017 accomplishment A cast SAG Award for Stranger Things.

    10 years ago, I was Laughing at cartoons with my brother. Now we both voice them, and we laugh harder than ever.

    Mentors Matt and Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, David Harbour, Andy Muschietti.

    Best advice It was from Shawn, and it's private.

    The best thing about being Canadian is Health care for all at either no or a reasonable cost.

    When I'm not working, I'm Playing with my band, Calpurnia.

    I wake up at No more than 10 minutes before I have to leave.

    The first thing I do in the morning is Go back to sleep.