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From Killing Eve star Jodie Comer to Sharp Objects breakout Eliza Scalen, this year's crop of Next Gen talent offers a snapshot of Hollywood's most promising young actors. With seemingly more paths than ever to become the next Jennifer Lawrence (think Noah Centineo and Lana Condor's rapid rise to fame in Netflix sensation To All the Boys I've Loved Before and former child actor Nicholas Braun's windy journey to critical acclaim in HBO's Succession), these 20 rising stars are among the blockbuster breakouts and small-screen discoveries who are shaking up the industry.
Profiles written by Rebecca Ford, Mia Galuppo and Bryn Elise Sandberg.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, 32
Acting is Abdul-Mateen II's second career. The architecture grad had worked in city planning for the San Francisco Mayor's Office before he was laid off in 2010. That's when he took a sharp left turn and enrolled in the Yale School of Drama. Before graduating in 2015, Baz Luhrmann cast him in Netflix's The Get Down. "It was a crash course in the industry," says the New Orleans-born, Oakland-raised actor, who followed up the short-lived series with parts in Baywatch and The Greatest Showman. Next, he'll play the villain in Warner Bros.' Aquaman and has a slew of other high-profile projects in the queue, including Jordan Peele's Us and Damon Lindelof's Watchmen.
I'D KILL TO PLAY … "I have three: Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye and the Mad Hatter."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL Gary Oldman
CRAZIEST WAY IN WHICH MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "I travel so much that I've essentially been homeless for a year and a half. "
ADVICE I WISH SOMEONE HAD GIVEN ME WHEN I WAS STARTING OUT "Don't buy furniture."
Jovan Adepo, 30
Growing up in Maryland, the U.K.-born actor dabbled in church plays and community theater but always thought he'd be a professional athlete. He spent three years on his college football team — though he describes himself more as benchwarmer than star player. When it became clear he wasn't going pro, Adepo quickly devised another plan. He got serious about acting, relocating to Los Angeles and seeking advice from Viola Davis, whom he met through her sister, a friend of Adepo's from his church back home. The Oscar-winning actress took him under her wing, and it wasn't long before he booked his first paid SAG-AFTRA job on HBO's cult hit The Leftovers. It all came full circle when Adepo got to play Davis' son in Denzel Washington's Fences. The actor steadily has been nabbing gigs since, with parts in Darren Aronofsky's mother! and on Amazon's Jack Ryan. Next, he'll step into leading roles for the first time in Bad Robot's horror feature Overlord and in Ava DuVernay's upcoming Netflix miniseries Central Park Five.
I'D KILL TO PLAY … "A historic jazz musician."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Tie between Paul Thomas Anderson and Aaron Sorkin."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL Daniel Day-Lewis
IF I WASN'T AN ACTOR, I'D BE … "A writer. I'd love to write a role for somebody else to play."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … The Master
Nicholas Braun, 30
Though the New York native has been acting since he was 5, Braun's turn as the lovably awkward "Cousin Greg" in HBO's summer hit Succession is his first major brush with critical acclaim. As a kid, he took parts in NYU student films alongside his album designer/actor dad before landing his first studio movie with Disney's Sky High. "It's been a long journey," says the Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) and How to Be Single (2016) actor, who's now working to diversify his roles. In particular, he's trying to avoid being cast as "an awkward virgin" again. "I've probably played that six times in different things," he says dryly. "So, I'm really trying to work my way out of that." What will likely help is the upcoming part he nabbed as Riley Keough's boyfriend in A24 stripper film Zola, which he'll shoot in Florida before returning to New York for the second season of Succession in January.
I'D KILL TO PLAY … "A rapper. I can flow."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH Lynne Ramsay and the Safdie Brothers.
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL IS "Steve Carell. Every part he plays is fascinating, and he weaves a little bit of comedy into everything."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "The Office, playing Jim."
MY HAPPY PLACE IS … "Watching Are You the One?, an MTV reality show. Nobody knows about it but it’s the most compelling reality show. Me and my friends are obsessed with it and have group texts about it every day."
Noah Centineo, 22
"The following is overnight," says Noah Centineo of his Instagram leap — from 800,000 to 13.4 million followers — within weeks of the Aug. 17 debut of Netflix's To All the Boys I've Loved Before. "The career is not," adds the 22-year-old, who left Florida as a high school sophomore ("If you move me to California," he told his parents, "I will be successful, I promise you") and toiled in the Disney Channel trenches before his romcom breakout.
Centineo's mop of brown curls is damp from his THR photo shoot, which ended with him underwater in the pool (his idea), still wearing his jeans and white T-shirt. He knows how to get the shot his followers want. Those Instagram statistics came from Netflix's Oct. 16 earnings report, by the way. The streamer won't release one digit of audience data about Boys, but — like Centineo — it's well aware that social spikes can generate outsize buzz. To keep that following in growth mode (it's up to 15 million), Centineo packs his Instagram feed with soft-focus portraits of him lounging on a bed, half-clothed, holding flowers, interrupted by the occasional broad-grinned red carpet shot with Boys co-star Lana Condor. His Twitter banner is a single word — "feels" — and his tweets seduce with coy invitations like, "Let's fight your demons with mine." He's the internet's boyfriend (and ladies, he's single). But as to the career doors opened by his newfound notoriety, "It depends on the filmmaker," he says. "I don't think Gaspar Noe gives a shit. But did Disney care when they gave Jake Paul a show? Absolutely."
Jodie Comer, 25
Comer's role in Killing Eve as a psychopathic Russian assassin opposite the Emmy-nominated Sandra Oh had critics drooling. The Liverpool native first got noticed performing a monologue at a school talent show, which led to a BBC Radio play — a gig that served as a stepping stone to a string of spots on U.K. shows and, later, a starring role in the BBC/Starz miniseries The White Princess. Says Comer, who's filming season two of the Phoebe Waller-Bridge BBC America drama, "I've never been a part of a show that has had this huge of a response."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "Billy Elliot. I know I'm not a boy, but that role is the dream."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL Phoebe Waller Bridge
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH Steven Spielberg
Lana Condor, 21
Two days after the premiere of Netflix's YA rom-com To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Condor knew the movie was a smash hit. Overnight, the high school romance, in which she stars as Lara Jean, had captivated the internet, racking up social media co-signs from the likes of Amy Schumer, Millie Bobby Brown and Dwayne Johnson. "When I realized that I was a meme, that's when I was like, 'Oh, people are actually watching this,'" she says. Following the mid-August release, Condor saw her Instagram follower count skyrocket from fewer than 100,000 to nearly 6 million at press time. "I can no longer go into the sauna butt naked. I did that the other day, and there was a group of girls who came marching in who are fans of the movie, and I am naked and sweaty and just like, 'Nooo,'" jokes Condor of how her life has changed in the months since. "You don't want to talk to someone you do know when you are naked and sweaty, let alone people you just met!" Next up for Condor, who was born in Vietnam and raised in Chicago, is the Russo brothers-produced Syfy series Deadly Class, which will see her star as a badass assassin. Her early credits include X-Men: Apocalypse, in which she played a young mutant, and Peter Berg's Patriots Day — but it wasn't until To All the Boys that she saw acting as a lasting career. "After X-Men, it took me a year to find a job," she says. "Only now am I starting to see I could actually do this for the rest of my life."
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "Someone who gets a perfect score on the SAT and has played the violin since they were 0."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Emily Blunt. I cried during the Mary Poppins trailer."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "The Devil Wears Prada as Emily Blunt's character."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH Emily Blunt
Winston Duke, 31
It was less than a year ago that Duke won over audiences as M'Baku in Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, equal parts box-office hit and cultural phenomenon. His first audition came at a suburban shopping mall a decade and a half earlier, when he tried to land a walk-on role on a since-forgotten WB series. He didn't get that part, but he did go on to receive his MFA from Yale drama school, where he met his Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong'o. Since his Marvel debut, the 6-foot-4 Duke — who was born in Trinidad but spent his teen years in upstate New York — has booked Netflix's Wonderland, the latest Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg team-up, and the Paramount Players action thriller Heroine. First up is Jordan Peele's Get Out follow-up Us alongside Nyong'o and Elisabeth Moss. "The industry wasn't always set up for people like me to have the opportunities to tell diverse stories," he says, "but everything feels like it is changing now."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Denzel Washington and also Michael Clarke Duncan. I thought he was an incredible actor — a big man with a lot of range and depth.
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "Purely physical."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "A Game of Thrones centered around the African continent."
MY HAPPY PLACE IS … "Charlottesville Beach in Tobago."
Stephan James, 24
"In a weird way, I feel like the rookie and the vet at the same time," says the Toronto native, who's been working since he was 16 when he first appeared on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Since then, James has booked parts in Ava DuVernay's Selma and Gina Prince-Bythewood's Fox drama Shots Fired — but he finds himself in a much bigger spotlight now, with leading roles in a pair of critically acclaimed projects: Amazon's Homecoming, opposite Julia Roberts, and Barry Jenkins' Moonlight follow-up (and awards hopeful) If Beale Street Could Talk. The latter film, which sees him play a young man falsely accused of rape, has already earned him Oscar buzz. Currently shooting the action thriller 17 Bridges with Chadwick Boseman and Sienna Miller in Philadelphia, James hopes to tackle new genres with his next projects. "I have huge directorial aspirations," he says, "so that's something I'll dive into pretty soon."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Ava DuVernay. It's her choices, what she stands for and what she represents."
IF I WEREN'T AN ACTOR, I WOULD BE …"I was really into forensic psychology. That was actually my major going into college."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Jharrel Jerome, 21
Jerome was in his sophomore-year dorm room at Ithaca College when he got his flight confirmation to the 2017 Oscars. His first feature, Moonlight, had been nominated for eight Academy Awards. "I missed 35 days that semester, and I got like a 1.4 grade point average," he laughs. “We don’t have to talk about it.” The Bronx native hadn't considered acting until high school, when he auditioned for several performing arts schools, ultimately settling on the famed LaGuardia. He followed Moonlight with the DirecTV series Mr. Mercedes and the Netflix film First Match and is shooting Ava DuVernay's Central Park Five miniseries.
IF I WEREN'T AN ACTOR, I WOULD BE … "A rapper."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "Breaking Bad as Jesse Pinkman. Or, I would want to work in the office on The Office."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Denzel. Always Denzel. That is like every black man’s dream."
TRUE STORY I'D LOVE TO SEE MADE INTO A MOVIE "It’s heavy but there was a murder in the Bronx recently of a 15 year-old boy and he was stabbed by a Dominican gang. I didn’t know the kid but I feel like I do because his life was so much like mine. He had a Dominican mother and a big family, and I would love to have his story shown to the world."
Kiki Layne, 26
For her feature debut, Layne beat out more than 300 actresses for the role of Tish, a young pregnant woman whose boyfriend is falsely accused of rape, in Barry Jenkins' critically acclaimed adaptation of James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk. The Cincinnati native, who's been acting since she was 7, next appears in A24's Native Son, a coming-of-age story set on Chicago's South Side in the '30s. Says Layne, who moved to L.A. in 2017 after studying at DePaul University: "I just want my career to have as much variety as possible. I don't want to get trapped in any type of box."
THE CRAZIEST WAY MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "The designers and brands that I'm wearing. To go from TJ Maxx and Marshalls to Valentino and Dior, that's been quite a shift."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Ryan Coogler and Lupita Nyong'o."
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Will Smith because I've never heard anyone say anything about him other than that he's an amazing human being."
Jorge Lendeborg Jr., 22
Since first starring in Sundance film The Land in 2016, Lendeborg has steadily booked roles in several youth-centric features. The Dominican actor, who immigrated to Miami when he was 5, had parts in Sony's Spider-Man: Homecoming and Fox 2000's YA adaptation Love, Simon. Up next is Paramount's Bumblebee, the first spinoff for the Transformers franchise, and James Cameron's Alita: Battle Angel. "I sometimes think that maybe I am the flavor of the month," he says, "but it just hit me that I might be good enough to be doing this for a minute."
THE CRAZIEST WAY MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "Sometimes I fly first class, and that is pretty cool."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Alejandro Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. I like people who have a different look to America since I am an immigrant and I am looking at this place like an island boy."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … Succession
I'D KILL TO PLAY … "Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop."
Mena Massoud, 27
"I was studying neuroscience at the University of Toronto, and I was sitting in calculus class and I just thought, 'I'm going to do what I want to do and not what my parents want me to do,'" says the Canadian actor, who emigrated from Egypt when he was 3. His big break came in 2017 when he landed the lead opposite Will Smith in Guy Ritchie's live-action remake of Aladdin following Disney's monthslong global search. As he waits for the film's May release, Massoud has kept busy working on such projects as Amazon's Jack Ryan, Hulu's Reprisal and the indie film Run This Town, with Damian Lewis.
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "The ethnic guy."
THE CRAZIEST WAY MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "I had posted on Instagram that I was flying back to Toronto, stupidly, and when I landed there was a small horde of people waiting for me. I am not sure how they figured out what flight I was on but that was a little bit of a wake-up call."
I'D KILL TO PLAY … Prince
Thomasin McKenzie, 18
McKenzie's grandmother, parents and siblings are all actors, so it was inevitable that the New Zealand native would follow suit. Her first starring role came at 13 with the local TV movie Consent, in which she portrayed a young schoolgirl who had been raped by policemen. "Going into it, acting wasn't something I wanted to do for a career," she says. "It was just a way for me to make pocket money and buy Bratz dolls and stuff." But that's since changed. After starring as a teen living off the grid with her father (played by Ben Foster) in the critically acclaimed film Leave No Trace, she's booked several top-notch projects, including Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit; The True History of the Kelly Gang, with Russell Crowe and Nicholas Hoult; The King, with Timothee Chalamet; and Netflix's Lost Girls, the narrative feature debut for documentarian Liz Garbus, opposite Amy Ryan.
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Emma Watson, because she's done some incredible work and is speaking out for what she believes in. And Rooney Mara because she started an all-vegan clothing line that's really inspiring."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "My little sister is obsessed with Friends, so I would have loved to be in it to make her proud."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Jane Campion. And Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince from The Florida Project."
MY HAPPY PLACE IS … "Walking out to the point on a bush walk in Wellington."
Sonoya Mizuno, 32
Hot off her turn as the extravagant bride-to-be Araminta Lee in the summer box-office smash Crazy Rich Asians, Mizuno dazzled as a calculating scientist in Cary Fukunaga's Netflix series Maniac. "I feel really lucky to be here at this time because so many Asian actors who came before us would have loved to have had this moment," says the former ballerina, whose father is Japanese and mother is of British and Argentinian descent. "The thing I want to ensure now is that it's not just a trend or a fad — that it has a longevity beyond just Crazy Rich Asians." Next, the Brit is reuniting with her Ex Machina director Alex Garland (she played the dancing robot assistant in his 2014 indie film) as the lead in his new FX series, Devs; she'll star as a computer engineer investigating a secret at her company.
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett. I admire the way they navigate the industry and keep themselves fairly private."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … "Network, in Faye Dunaway's role."
ADVICE I WISH SOMEONE HAD GIVEN ME WHEN I WAS STARTING OUT "'Keep taking acting class' and 'You don’t have to say yes to everything.'"
Kathryn Newton, 21
Newton made her TV debut at age 4 with a series-regular role on All My Children. "I've been auditioning my whole life," says the actress, who grew up alongside a golf course in Coral Gables, Florida. She reached the next level, however, by playing a string of roles as the onscreen daughters to Reese Witherspoon in Big Little Lies, Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Leslie Mann in Blockers and Julia Roberts in Ben Is Back. Upcoming for Newton: Legendary's Detective Pikachu and Netflix's female-led Lord of the Flies-esque drama series.
IF I WEREN'T AN ACTOR, I WOULD BE … "A professional golfer."
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "The 'blond girl' in high school. I actually see myself as quite a poodle, but I'm always cast as these grungy characters."
TRUE STORY I'D LOVE TO SEE MADE INTO A MOVIE "I find the experience of doing agility with my dog fascinating. I could make a great mumblecore film about it."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … Alice in Wonderland
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "Wes Anderson and Tim Burton. Something kind of characterized."
Florence Pugh, 22
The English actress has an unlikely doppelganger. "Google a young Hillary Clinton. You'll be gobsmacked," says the Lady Macbeth breakout. While there are no immediate plans to portray the former presidential candidate, Pugh is playing other memorable ladies. She starred as queen consort Elizabeth de Burgh in Netflix's Outlaw King and will lead AMC's adaptation of John le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl and play Amy March in Greta Gerwig's Little Women. "There wasn't that eureka moment where I was like, 'I need to get into that!'" says Pugh, who also appears in the Dwayne Johnson pic Fighting With My Family, of how she got into acting.
MY HAPPY PLACE IS … Greece
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN "Peaky Blinders. What is funny is that me and the casting director are friends so when the [cast] list comes out and I am not on it I'm like, ‘Come on!’"
Eliza Scanlen, 19
The Sydney native was still in high school when she went out for the role opposite Amy Adams in HBO's Sharp Objects. "It was just one of those moments where I knew my life was going to change," she says, "which is an overwhelming realization to come to at 18 years old." Luckily, she'd already appeared on the popular Australian soap Home and Away, a rite of passage for Hollywood-bound Aussie talent like Naomi Watts, Chris Hemsworth and the late Heath Ledger. Next up, Scanlen will take on the storied role of Beth March in Greta Gerwig's Little Women.
THE CRAZIEST WAY MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "Not being with my twin sister 24/7. She and I are basically the same person."
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "A pious shy girl who doesn’t do anything too crazy or out-there."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH Yorgos Lanthimos
Sydney Sweeney, 21
The daughter of a lawyer and a medical professional, Sweeney was 13 when an indie film came to her hometown of Spokane, Washington. "I put on a five-year business presentation for my parents convincing them to let me audition," she says. The plan worked, and the actress went on to land roles in Netflix's Everything Sucks!, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Sweeney won her part in the last one — joining a call sheet led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie — after an extensive casting search that involved hundreds.
I HOPE I DON'T GET TYPECAST AS … "The dumb blonde."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN "Titanic and the first season of American Horror Story."
MY HAPPY PLACE IS … "At a lake right on the border between Washington and Idaho that my mom and my grandma grew up on."
THE PERSON I'M DYING TO WORK WITH "A couple of months ago I would have rattled off Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, but I am getting to do that right now so I haven’t figured out the next people I really want to work with because I am still in shock."
Geraldine Viswanathan, 23
The Indian-Australian's onscreen breakout came with Kay Cannon's directorial debut Blockers, in which she played Kayla, the weed-smoking daughter of John Cena's type-A helicopter dad. In the R-rated comedy, she makes a pledge with her two best friends to lose their virginity on prom night. She followed that movie with another phallus-focused film, Netflix's The Package. Viswanathan jokes that she was briefly worried about being pigeonholed as "the brown girl who does dick movies." The actress, who pursued stand-up and sketch comedy in her native Newcastle, has since booked Automatik's real-life dramedy Bad Education, where she'll star opposite Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, and the lead role in Minhal Baig's Black List feature Hala. Since Blockers hit theaters in April, Viswanathan is still getting used to her newfound fame, which has come with some major perks. "When Mindy Kaling followed me [on Instagram], that was a real pinch-me moment," she says. "For a brown girl who loves comedy, it's like, come on, Mindy Kaling?!"
MY HOLLYWOOD ROLE MODEL "Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Issa Rae. I love people who do everything."
THE CRAZIEST WAY MY LIFE HAS CHANGED "My Instagram used to just be my friends, and now I have a lot of strangers who are giving their input all the time."
I'D LOVE TO HAVE STARRED IN … Arrested Development
Letitia Wright, 25
"I didn't know that. I influence people? Amazing!"
Letitia Wright has just found out that she's been named one of London's top influencers by the Evening Standard, joining a list of long-standing power brokers (and Meghan Markle). Not that the 25-year-old should be surprised. From her scene-stealing breakout as tech genius Shuri in Marvel's Black Panther to her Emmy-nominated turn on Netflix's Black Mirror, to hanging at the Met Gala with Rihanna and Pharrell, Wright has had the sort of year most young actors could only pray for.
And that's exactly what she did — after a spiritual awakening lifted her from her lowest point, just three years ago. "I was putting so much pressure on myself," Wright says, speaking at a photo studio beneath a rumbling railway arch in London's Shoreditch. At one point, she even questioned her place on Earth. "You get comfortable with the idea of thinking, maybe it's OK to leave."
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A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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