International Breakout Talents of 2019

3:35 AM 12/23/2019

by Alex Ritman and Scott Roxborough

The Hollywood Reporter looks at a dozen creative talents — from 'Atlantics' director Mati Diop to 'Parasite' actress Park So-dam — who took the leap onto the world stage in 2019.

Mati Diop, Park So-dam and Krysty Wilson-Cairns_Split - Getty - H 2019
Getty Images

A fresh influx of names and faces from all corners of the globe and industry burst onto the world stage in somewhat spectacular fashion in 2019. 

From Park So-dam, who wowed audiences as a likable con artist in Bong Joon-ho's all-conquering critical darling Parasite, to Laurie Nunn, whose teen comedy creation Sex Education became one of Netflix's top streamed shows, to Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who helped pen 1917, one of the most talked about films this awards season — an international assortment of actors, writers and filmmakers are likely to look back on 2019 as the year that truly lit the spark under their careers. 

There was also a French director, a Russian actress, a London musician-turned-filmmaker and more who made a splash and are hoping to continue their momentum.

For some, the year isn't quite over yet and could well roll on to the Oscars (Mati Diop's Cannes Film Festival-bowing debut Atlantics is shortlisted in the best international film category at the Academy Awards). Meanwhile, others have already moved on to their next projects. But whatever they do next, the industry will now likely keep a keen eye on their progress. 

Here is The Hollywood Reporter's list of the 12 top international breakouts of 2019. 

  • Ladj Ly

    All eyes are on 39-year-old Ly after his feature debut, Les Misérables — a look at police brutality and the legacy of decades of neglect by France of its black and Arab citizens — exploded in Cannes with the force of a Molotov cocktail.

    The director first made a splash with his documentary Speak-Up! (co-directed with Stéphane de Freitas), which picked up a César Award last year.

    Ly has been a tireless documentarian of life in the banlieues — the rough, multicultural suburbs around Paris — for two decades now, and Les Misérables shows the influence of years of careful observation, alongside a poetically realistic style that owes much to the cinema of Costa Gavras, one of Ly's mentors.

    Les Misérables won the jury prize in Cannes, the European Film Award for best first feature and secured a Golden Globe nomination. As France's official Academy Award entry it also made the nine-film shortlist for the 2020 international feature Oscar. For Ly, it's only the beginning. He is planning a banlieues trilogy, with the next film to be set during the time of the 2005 Paris riots.

  • Emma Mackey

    Being beamed in front of millions around the world is no bad way to get some exposure, as Emma Mackey may have felt following her starring role in Netflix’s teen comedy Sex Education (which the streaming giant said topped 40 million streams within its first month).

    As the pink-haired, sharp-tongued outcast and bad girl Maeve Wiley (commonly known as the “cock biter” of Moordale Secondary School), the 23-year-old English/French actress was arguably the biggest breakout from the hit series.

    Mackey is returning for Season 2 and will also be seen in 2020 alongside an entire boatload of A-list names in Fox’s Agatha Christie adaptation Death on the Nile. 

  • Park So-dam

    The breakout star of Bong Joon-ho's awards season favorite Parasite, Park So-dam dazzles as the chain-smoking document forger who cleans up nicely to become the well-respected art teacher Miss Jessica in Bong's twisty tale of a family of poor con artists and their rich marks.

    Playing alongside a cast of veteran stars, particularly Song Kang-ho as father Kim, the 28-year-old Park fulfills the promise shown in earlier roles including Lee Hae-Young's horror thriller The Silenced and Jang Jae-hyun's mystery drama The Priests, both from 2015. The first earned her a best newcomer nomination at South Korea's Blue Dragon awards, the latter the best supporting actress honor at the same event. With Parasite, the industry outside of South Korea is finally paying attention to Miss Park.


  • Viktoria Miroshnichenko

    In its review of Beanpole, the first film starring Viktoria Miroshnichenko, The Hollywood Reporter described the 25-year-old Russian actress as a combination of Tilda Swinton — that same ethereal presence, those enigmatic stares — and, due to her long lanky frame, Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie.

    Miroshnichenko's physical presence is the first thing that caught Cannes audiences watching her debut in Kantemir Balagov's Beanpole as Iya, called Beanpole, a nurse working in a military hospital in Leningrad in the autumn of 1945. Miroshnichenko's face, gazing blankly ahead, her mouth emitting a series of grunts and clicks, frozen in a kind of post-traumatic seizure, holds the screen for minutes.

    Her performance is shy and awkward, but by turns sharp and even violent, as Iya struggles to survive, together with her friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) who has recently returned from the war. It was a star-making turn that earned Miroshnichenko a European Film nomination for best newcomer and caught the attention of casting directors across the continent.

  • Rapman

    Having become something of a cult name thanks to his hugely popular Shiro’s Story trilogy of musical shorts on YouTube, London musician-turned-filmmaker Andrew Onwubolu — better known as Rapman — took his tale of gang culture and street violence to the big screen this year with Blue Story, backed by BBC Films and Paramount.

    While headlines may have been made following the film’s withdrawal and subsequent return to cinemas following reports of brawls and other incidents at theaters, the real take-home was Blue Story's box office performance, with the low-budget feature defying the ban to earn in excess of $4.8 million. 

    Rapman — who has signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label — has work in the pipeline with Jeffrey Katzenberg, who spied his potential with Shiro's Story and tried to persuade him to work on his shortform content platform Quibi. 

  • Laurie Nunn

    Just a few years after graduating from the U.K.’s National Film and TV School, Laurie Nunn had the sort of debut most can only imagine, when her script for a teen comedy-drama landed on a desk at Netflix.

    Sex Education has since become one of the streamer’s most popular shows, with Nunn now among the ranks of top international showrunners (literally, she was listed in THR’s 2019 list of "Top International Showrunners").

    Season 2 of Sex Education is now in post and due to land Jan. 17, while Nunn was recently named among the newest crop of BAFTA's "Breakthrough Brits."

  • Mati Diop

    The French-Senegalese actress, known for her performance in Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum, stepped behind the camera in 2019 for her directorial debut and conquered the world.

    Diop's Atlantics, a compellingly strange and original refugee ghost story that takes equal parts inspiration from Senegalese cinema and John Carpenter horror films, won the Grand Jury prize in Cannes (Diop was the first black woman in the festival's 72-year history to have a film in competition).

    Netflix picked up Atlantics for the world, and the film made the nine-title shortlist for the 2020 international Oscar race.

  • Helena Zengel

    The 11-year-old Zengel dazzled, and terrified, the crowds at the Berlin Film Festival this year as the furious, out-of-control Benni in Nora Fingscheidt's System Crasher.

    The hard-hitting social drama divided critics, but all agreed on Zengel's performance. "Mightily impressive, showing the natural depth of a born actress" was The Hollywood Reporter's assessment. Paul Greengrass was similarly impressed, casting Zengel to star alongside Tom Hanks in his upcoming literary adaptation News of the World.

  • Krysty Wilson-Cairns

    Having previously written for Showtime’s Victorian gothic series Penny Dreadful, Krysty Wilson-Cairns made the break into feature film in impressively noisy fashion. After a couple of false starts on collaborations with Sam Mendes, she was finally tapped by the director to co-pen his WWI one-shot epic 1917, which has become a late but splashy entry into this year's awards race. 

    With Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho on her upcoming slate (a gig she picked up long before the stellar reviews for 1917 came rolling in), the young Scottish writer is seemingly now set for top-tier scribe status. 

  • Micheal Ward

    In what could soon be etched into his bio forever, a teenage Micheal Ward was so obsessed with cult London crime drama Top Boy when it first aired on Channel 4, that he attempted to reach out to the creators on social media to score himself a role. That call may have gone unanswered, but just eight years later, for the show's return on Netflix — thanks to an intervention by Drake, no less — the model-turned-actor landed not just a part, but that of the titular top boy, a ruthless young Londoner who'll stop at nothing to claim control of the local drug trade.

    Ward's performance on the show alongside original regulars Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson was hugely well received (and the third season of Top Boy quickly became one of Netflix's top streamed shows in the U.K.), but it wasn't long before the rising star was back on screens. In Blue Story — from fellow breakout Rapman — Ward landed another starring role, playing a boy who falls out with his best friend as they become embroiled in London's local gangland wars.

  • Lee Jong-un

    It's hard to imagine a more daunting topic for a South Korean director to tackle in her feature filmmaking debut than the Sewol ferry disaster. That tragic 2014 event, which resulted in 304 casualties (many of them school children), has come to represent a cultural and political turning point in South Korea of similar magnitude to 9/11 in the United States.

    Lee, 44, came to the project with some familiarity of working with emotionally fraught material, having apprenticed under the great Lee Chang-dong as a first assistant director on some of his searing existentialist works, such as Secret Sunshine (2007) and Poetry (2010). Lee had spent several years volunteering with the families of the Sewol ferry victims, work that directly informed her delicate and ultimately heartrending screenplay.

    Korean screen legend Jeon Do-yeon, winner of the best actress honor at Cannes in 2017 for Secret Sunshine, stars in the film, Birthday, as a mother struggling to move on from the death of her teenage son. The movie opened the taste-making Far East Film Festival in Italy in April, where Jeon also received a lifetime achievement honor. The film was met with rave reviews for its "deliberate and carefully considered drama," while also announcing Lee as a frontrunner among South Korea's latest crop of thoughtfully provocative auteurs.  

  • Mark Jenkin

    Described as a dreamlike modern masterpiece (and currently boasting a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), experimental drama Bait marked out its writer-director Mark Jenkin as a visionary filmmaker to keep a keen eye on.

    Shot on a vintage 16mm camera using monochrome Kodak stock, the film — set in Jenkin’s own Cornish region of the U.K. — sees a local fisherman juggle family rivalry and the influx of money into his small harbor village from London via Airbnb and bachelor parties.

    The film landed four British Independent Film Awards nominations and has already made BAFTA’s shortlist for outstanding British debut.