Twenty millennial stars shot in L.A. and N.Y. — including Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse and Tye Sheridan — reveal what's Hollywood about their lives ("health insurance from SAG!"), embarrassing auditions for Eminem ("I said, I want hair on my back") and inspirations from Russell Simmons to Julia Roberts.
Every given year, thousands of fresh-faced hopefuls arrive in Hollywood dreaming of a break. For the 23rd annual Next Gen issue, THR swiped right on 20 actors who not only got that break but are breaking out. Among the actors who gathered in Los Angeles and New York for the bi-costal photoshoots: Olivia Cooke, 22, and Tye Sheridan, 19, who will share screentime in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One; Alex Wolff, 19, who will star in Patriots Day with Mark Wahlberg; and Thomas Mann, soon to be seen in Kong: Skull Island with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson.
The talent roster was handpicked by a group of THR staffers, who spent months sifting through a sea of budding young actors to identify the most promising names, consulting with industry insiders along the way about who's hot on producers' casting lists. The result is a mix of indie standouts turned blockbuster stars (Me and Early and the Dying Girl's RJ Cyler has Power Rangers up next), television breakthroughs (Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield, The Get Down's Justice Smith) and multi-hyphenate artists (rapper and comedian Awkwafina will appear in the female Oceans Eleven spinoff).
With 10 actors at each photoshoot, the gatherings quickly turned into reunions for some (Independence Day: Resurgence co-stars Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe embraced when they first arrived at Highland Park Bowl in L.A.) and a dance party for others (the N.Y. actors got down to the '90s hip-hop music that blasted through the speakers at The Jane Hotel). When photographer Eric Ryan Anderson brought disposable cameras to the East Coast shoot, the actors snapped away — but at first awkwardly, as some of them hadn't ever used a camera that wasn't digital before. Thankfully, former model Suki Waterhouse, 24, with four films on the way, was able to show them the ropes.
Interviews by Rebecca Ford, Mia Galuppo, Brian Porreca and Bryn Elise Sandberg.
As the well-intentioned busboy Zero in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Anaheim native held his own alongside Anderson regulars Jeff Goldblum and Tilda Swinton. His post-Budapest career has been a mix of indie projects and blockbuster features with roles in Sundance stand-out Dope and Columbia’s sci-fi YA adaptation The 5th Wave. His upcoming projects include Table 19, written by indie pacesetters the Duplass brothers, and Marvel's Spider-Man: Homecoming, with THR cover stars Tom Holland and Zendaya.
Most embarrassing audition: "It was for an Eminem video for 'Just Lose It.' They had the kids lined up, and they were asking everyone: 'What do you want for Christmas? What do you want for Christmas?' I don't know what possessed me, but I said, 'I want hair on my back.'"
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "That I have a cheat day."What made me want to act: "For TV show probably How I Met Your Mother. That is like my generation's Friends."
The daughter of Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch shined as the sole female in the cast of Richard Linklater's coming-of-age feature Everybody Wants Some!! She'll be back on the screen this Christmas in Why Him? with James Franco, and filmed Flower for Max Winkler. She also will star opposite Nicholas Hoult in Danny Strong's first feature, the J. D. Salinger biopic Rebel in the Rye, and will lead Open Road and Awesomeness Film's buzzy 2017 YA adaptation Before I Fall.
Millennials, in a word, are: "Contradictory."
Best advice I've received: "Wear sunscreen and take probiotics."
Hollywood pet peeve: "It’s inherent competitive nature."
California-born Monroe had a moment as a creepy indie specialist in 2014, when she starred in back-to-back unexpected hits: Adam Wingard's The Guest and David Robert Mitchell's It Follows. After this summer's Independence Day: Resurgence, she has a slew of films coming up, including YA adaptation The Tribes of Palos Verdes, the Watergate bio Felt and the sci-fi thriller Tau.
I'd love to have starred in: "The Shining — but I hope they never remake it!"
Movie that made you want to act: "The first film that I remember influencing me was One Flew Over the Nest. It was when I realized that film can really move people."
Favorite splurge: "It's usually traveling, and then shoes."
Worst audition story: "When I was much younger, I had to do a Swedish accent for something and I just couldn’t do it. I made a complete fool of myself."
Hollywood pet peeve: "There’s a lot of bullshit and you have to find true people. I feel lucky now because I have a really good group of friends, but you have to weed out the bad."
Cyler failed drama class (twice) at his Jacksonville high school before landing his first role in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl alongside Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke. He since has graduated to bigger features, including Power Rangers and Brad Pitt's Netflix comedy War Machine — which shot "in London, Abu Dhabi, Berlin, all these places on my bucket list," says the L.A. transplant. Lately, Cyler has been dabbling in television, too, with HBO’s Vice Principals and Showtime’s upcoming Jim Carrey-produced dramedy I’m Dying Up Here, which he is currently filming.
What made me want to act: "Everything 2000s Disney. I used to religiously watch Hannah Montana."
How I celebrated my first big role: "I was in the car with my dad. I screamed, and he swerved, so we almost celebrated with death, but we didn't — he's a truck driver, so he knows how to get out of those situations."
Worst audition story: "In one of my earlier auditions for Disney, I got nervous and I passed gas. I didn’t know how to handle that at the moment so I just stopped the audition. Then I got in the car and my mom asked how it went. I said, 'I pooted midscene, mom!' It happens."
Best advice I’ve received: "You end with the same people you started with."
The past two years have been banner ones for the Austin native, who starred in Fox's campy horror comedy Scream Queens and Richard Linklater's ode to college Everybody Wants Some!! He soon appears in NASA drama Hidden Figures (as astronaut John Glenn) and in the war pic Sand Castle with Henry Cavill and Nicholas Hoult. He also is co-writing the Captain Planet movie for Appian Way.
Past movie you’d love to star in: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s the most manly, cool, movie-star-era film. It’s a perfect movie."
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "Maybe my jeans. I'll go back to Texas, and they'll tell me, 'Hey, your jeans are too dark.' "
What made me want to act: "Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's a crack in my ceiling in my childhood bedroom because I bought a whip and I'd crack it, and I took out a chunk of my ceiling."
Hollywood pet peeve: "I think people sometimes get weird about the competition aspect. I’ve never really felt that way. If I don’t get this job, they’ll be one around the corner."
Worst audition: "I auditioned for a new Jurassic Park years ago, way before it was Jurassic World. And there was an improv section where I was being attacked by a Pterodactylus."
"I would have felt like such a phony wearing a big, obtrusive bald cap, so I was like, 'Just f—ing shave my head,' " recalls the English actress of her feature breakout as a cancer-stricken teen in the 2015 Sundance winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. With A&E's Bates Motel — in which she stars opposite Freddie Highmore — set to end after its fifth season, Cooke has a handful of indies coming up, including Anton Yelchin's final film, Thoroughbred. But in 2018 comes the big one: Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One opposite Tye Sheridan.
What made me want to act: Titanic
Reading my reviews: "I say that I never will, but then, of course, in a really sadistic, masochistic moment in my room on my own I will."
And box office? "No, I don't understand. What is it, 'tracking'? How's it tracking? It's like, how do you know? It hasn't come out yet! I don't get it."
Best advice you’ve received: "'Have an extraordinary career and a very normal life.' I never want to be too famous to where I can’t go to the corner shop and get a pint of milk."
Millennials, in a word, are: "Accepting."
The Arizona-born actress had a (literal) whirlwind summer, starring in Bryan Singer's superhero ensemble X-Men: Apocalypse as Storm. Shipp recently wrapped two features — the Olivia Milch-directed high school comedy Dude and the slasher film Tragedy Girls (opposite Josh Hutcherson). While waiting for the next X-Men script to come along, Shipp is filling her time training for the next installment and working on her music with the hopes of becoming a singer-songwriter in the vein of Fiona Apple.
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "My dog. She is a mini Yorkie that I have to walk around with in my hand because she keeps getting stepped on. But it's worth it because she is the closest I will ever get to true love."
What made me want to act: "Whitney Houston in Bodyguard."
How I celebrated my first big role: "I bought Doc Martens."
Best advice I've received: "My mom says, 'You get to choose how you show up on the planet.'"
Acting since he was 11, the Texan already has worked with big-name indie helmers Terrence Malick (Tree of Life) and Jeff Nichols (Mud). After starring in X-Men: Apocalypse, the avid VR fan (who has been writing VR scripts and has ambitions to direct) nabbed the coveted lead in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, due in March 2018.
What made me want to act: "I've worked with John Travolta now, but I was obsessed with Grease as a kid. I would re-enact the scenes with my parents."
Worst audition story: "I grew up in Texas where everyone is obsessed with Richard Linklater. And I’m obsessed with baseball; I wanted to become a professional baseball player when I was a kid. So I was really excited for the audition for Everybody Wants Some!! It wasn’t a normal audition. You just went in for a conversation. There was a question that came out of nowhere and I didn’t know what to say and I just started blurting out things and it got worse and worse."
Past movie you’d loved to have starred in: "Young Guns. I’ve always wanted to play Billy the Kid. And of course the original Star Wars."
Stanfield, who grew up in San Bernardino, Calif., won praise for his spot-on portrayal of a young Snoop Dogg in 2015's Straight Outta Compton (in one scene rapping an on-point rendition of "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang"), but he first caught the industry's eye in 2013 with the indie Short Term 12. The Snowden actor, has three features in post-production: the Jordan Peele thriller Get Out, the Brad Pitt comedy War Machine and the manga adaptation Death Note. Stanfield can currently be found playing eccentric sidekick Darius on Donald Glover's hot FX series Atlanta. The Darius line most often quoted to him by fans: "Can I measure your tree?"
What made me want to act: "I remember seeing Menace II Society really young and that leaving an impression on me. Also, The Lion King."
One day we'll say the 2016 election was: "A game."
The star of Starz basketball comedy Survivor's Remorse segued to the big screen this summer with Independence Day: Resurgence — "I don't care if people hated it or loved it, I wanted to do it, and I got what I wanted out of it," he says — which he'll follow with the Universal comedy Almost Christmas, alongside Danny Glover and Gabrielle Union. "I still want to open my own restaurant someday," says the Maryland native, who took a brief detour from acting for culinary school.
Millennials, in a word, are: "Free."
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "Probably that I get paid to go to the club. That's pretty Hollywood right there."
I'm still starstruck by: Angelina Jolie
What made me want to act: "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I still will go home and watch episodes of it."
After getting his start playing Melissa Joan Hart's nephew on the ABC sitcom Melissa & Joey, the Seattle-born actor broke out in Jurassic World. A Peaky Blinders fan who wishes he could have acted on The Twilight Zone, Robinson next stars in Everything, Everything opposite Amandla Stenberg and the William H. Macy-directed Krystal.
I'm still starstruck by: Gene Hackman
Millennials, in a word, are: "Changing."
What made me want to act: "Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's probably as close to perfect as you're going to get."
"When the Boston [Marathon] bombing happened, people joked about how much I looked like [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev], so I had it in the back of my mind I may play him one day," says the New York-born actor, who plays the convicted bomber in Peter Berg's Patriots Day. Next up: Sony's Jumanji reimagining with Dwayne Johnson and the adaptation of the memoir/graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. Wolff also performs in a band with his actor brother, Nat, 21, with their songs appearing on soundtrack for their own movies, like The Fault in Our Stars and Coming Through the Rye.
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "I am late everywhere, but it's not because I am being 'Hollywood.' I just have terrible time management."
Hollywood pet peeve: "When people wear sunglasses inside."
What made me want to act: "Stand By Me."
"I really want roles that challenge me and that make being on set a really intense experience," says Elgort, who followed his breakout in the John Green adaptation The Fault in Our Stars with a starring role in the Divergent franchise. With four films coming out in the next year (including Edgar Wright's Baby Driver with Lily James and Billionaire Boys Club with Kevin Spacey), he now is turning his focus to music: The Brooklyn resident released his single "Home Alone" over the summer, and says he has 12 tracks that he wrote, produced and performs on ready to go.
I'm still starstruck by: "The guys who have some mystery behind them, like Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. And any basketball player. I can't even talk to them. They're like aliens; they're from a different planet."
Favorite splurge: "When I got Carrie, I bought a bunch of DJ equipment. I spend all my money on that."
Worst audition story: "When I was around 16, I went into an audition and the woman told me, 'You need to take acting classes. You’re so bad.' And I said, 'I am taking acting classes!' In the next five years, it started to click for me at school. It takes a while — she was probably right. I really think people should take acting classes."
The New York-based rapper (real name Nora Lum) built a following with videos for such songs as "NYC Bitche$." After appearing on the third season of MTV's Girl Code, she booked roles in Neighbors 2 and the female Ocean's Eleven spinoff, Ocean's Eight, with Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock. "My character is from Queens, and she is one of the truest New York characters that I've ever seen," says Awkwafina, who says her nickname is based on being a "very awkward person."
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "I'm able to make my student loan payments. And I have health insurance from SAG!"
Favorite splurge: "I spent $500 on karaoke one time."
Do you think the controversy surrounding the white-washing of Asian characters has brought about any change? "No one wants to think that they’re getting parts just because they’re Asian. That they’re actually not good, that they just want diversity. I have come across some projects like that, none that I’ve actually been in. All the roles I’ve gotten — they’re real people. I’ve walked out of auditions where they’ve asked 'OK, now do an accent.' I don’t do that shit. It’s about choosing the right role. Right now, it’s about getting in the door. But I think the real power will come when we’re the ones casting each other for major Hollywood productions."
TV/Movie that made you want to act: "There was a children’s movie called Return to Oz that starred Fairuza Balk that really stuck with me."
One day we'll say the 2016 election was: "Not stimulating for the vagina."
The London-based actress cast a spell in Robert Eggers' creepy Sundance breakout The Witch and hasn't stopped since, wrapping five films in the past year. Among them: the young Obama movie Barry, M. Night Shyamalan's Split with James McAvoy and Thoroughbred opposite Olivia Cooke.
"I’ve got my plane game pretty down now,” jokes Taylor-Joy, who will next shoot a short film written and directed by The Witch’s first AD Beau Ferris.
What made me want to act: "Free Willy. I wanted to be the kid who rode the whale."
Favorite splurge: "I used to find fashion so frightening because I was a grungy tomboy, so what when I finally got into fashion through the beautiful work at Gucci, I bought myself two Gucci rings that I wear religiously."
Worst audition: "Not sure if it counts because I got the part, but when I went in for The Witch, it was horrific. I’d just been through some boy trouble and I was having a panic attack. I was not keeping it together."
Most Hollywood thing about my life: "I'm dying of embarrassment to be saying this, but I've been recognized by flight attendants because I take the same flights all the time from London to New York."
"People would tell me all the time, ‘You’re so not a model, you’re such an actress,’ and I’d be like, 'I know, I'm such a shit model,'" jokes the London native of her transition from that career to acting, which took off when she landed the lead opposite Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey in The Bad Batch, a cannibal love story that premiered in September at the Toronto Film Festival. In the queue (after a few months of acting classes in New York): the crime thriller Billionaire Boys Club and the sci-fi drama Jonathan (both with her Insurgent co-star Ansel Elgort) as well as Starz miniseries The White Princess.
I'm still starstruck by: "I did come across Julia Roberts once, and I just kind of convulsed, and then I whispered, 'Thank you.' "
What made me want to act: "Sex, Lies and Videotape. I’m obsessed with Laura San Giacomo."
How I celebrated my first big role: "I don't really celebrate. I think, 'Oh my God, I’ve got so much work to do.'"
The Orange County, Calif., native, who has eight siblings, got his break playing the nerdy friend in the John Green adaptation Paper Towns and followed that up with Netflix's hip-hop drama The Get Down. "He has this youthful aura," says Smith of show creator Baz Luhrmann, "but at the same time he's always spewing wise words about life and art." Until he gets word on a second-season renewal, Smith is auditioning for plays, noting he's longing for the "spiritual satisfaction that comes from theater."
Hollywood pet peeve: "The obsession with image and money and fame. I'm not going to say that stuff isn't cool. But if that is your whole world, all the luck to you."
Best advice I've received: "My mom would always say, 'Take a break and take one thing at a time.' So whenever anything piles up, I try to stay in the present and focus on one thing at a time."
Worst audition story: "I went into one and they were like, 'OK we're going to have you dance.' And I was like, 'Why? I'm the worst dancer.' So I did the Macarena and the robot and they just stared at me, straight-faced."
How I celebrated my first big role: "I was doing ADR for Paper Towns on the Fox lot. In the middle of the session, I get a call from Baz [Luhrmann]. I hang up and I dropped to my knees and I just screamed. Everyone was all, 'What's that about?' And I was like, 'Oh, I can't talk about it.' (Laughs.)"
The Atlanta native first got noticed as the star of the 2015 Sundance gem Dope, then booked a lead in Netflix's The Get Down as streetwise aspiring DJ Shaolin Fantastic. After watching him in both projects, James Franco sought out Moore — who is in the studio recording an album when he's not filming — for a role in his 1980-set upcoming film The Pretenders, written by Josh Boone.
What made me want to act: "I always loved action films I watched with my dad like 007, The Matrix and old cowboy movies."
Best advice I've received: "I saw Russell Simmons the other day, and he asked me if I was having any fun. He was like, 'One thing artists do is they get famous and then they don't have any more fun.' He said, 'Keep having fun.' So I've been thinking about that lately."
Favorite TV show at the moment: "Luke Cage is poppin’."
Oregon-born Mann's first big role was starring in 2012's teen disaster comedy Project X, but his breakout came in the Sundance dramedy Me and Earl and the Dying Girl alongside Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler. "I wasn’t getting recognition until I did these cool little indie movies,” said Mann. He followed up Me and Earl with indie standouts The Stanford Prison Experiment and The Preppie Connection. Currently rehearsing for a Broadway remake of Dead Poets Society, he'll return to the screen in 2017's Kong: Skull Island with John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson.
Millennials, in a word, are: "Sensitive — for good and bad."
Best advice I've received: "Your next project should be as good as or better than your last project. That's classic John C. Reilly advice."
Rick Famuyiwa gave L.A. native Clemons her breakout role — Diggy, the quick-witted lesbian in Dope — and her biggest one to date, the female lead, Iris West, opposite Ezra Miller in Warner Bros.' DC superhero stand-alone The Flash (the director recently exited over creative differences). Along with the comedy sequel Neighbors 2, she has appeared in TV series' like Amazon's Transparent and Netflix's Easy, as well as the music video for Lady Gaga's sexual assault anthem "Til It Happens to You." Next up is Sony's Flatliners and Marc Webb's The Only Living Boy in New York for Amazon Studios.
I'd love to have starred in: Sex and the City
Best advice I've received: "Someone told me, 'Don't get pregnant.' And my mom always told me, 'Make do with what you have.' If you combine the two, it's: 'Make do with what you have but don't get pregnant.' "
Millennials, in a word, are: "Progressive."
How I celebrated my first big role: "I was 16 so I probably just did homework."