Next Gen Talent 2020: The Hollywood Reporter's Rising Young Stars Revealed

6:30 AM 11/18/2020

by Bryn Sandberg and Mia Galuppo

From Hulu's 'Normal People' breakouts to a new Selena, meet 20 actors on the verge of next-level stardom: "It's funny how you can work for 10 years but all you need is that one project that gets attention."

Emma Corrin and Kingsley Ben Adir
Photographed by Nicole Nodland

Meet the up-and-coming actors atop every Hollywood agent, casting director and studio executive's wish list. These 20 rising stars are fronting their own shows, ushering in the next generation of superheroes and playing icons like Princess Diana (Emma Corrin of Netflix’s The Crown) and President Barack Obama (Kingsley Ben-Adir of Showtime’s The Comey Rule).

Some, like Normal People’s Paul Mescal and Hollywood’s Jeremy Pope, have even caught the attention of Emmy voters, earning first-time nominations for their onscreen debuts. Others, like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Danny Ramirez and Matrix 4's Jessica Henwick, are suiting up for top-secret roles in major Hollywood franchises. They join a list that, in the past, has anointed such talent as Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield, The Queen's Gambit's Anya Taylor Joy and Lovecraft Country's Jonathan Majors, now all established stars.

This year’s crop of actors — a mix of fresh faces (hello, Never Have I Ever's Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and long-working actors who've recently broken out in a new way (see: The Righteous Gemstones' Skyler Gisondo) — are destined for big- and small-screen stardom. Says The Boys star Erin Moriarty, “It’s funny how you can work for ten years but all you need is that one project that gets attention."

Profiles written by Kirsten Chuba, Aaron Couch, Sharareh Drury, Mia Galuppo, Natalie Jarvey, Mikey O’Connell, Lexy Perez, Alex Ritman and Bryn Sandberg.

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

  • Adria Arjona, 28

    The daughter of famed Guatemalan singer Ricardo, Arjona counts 6 Underground, Pacific Rim: Uprising and True Detective among her credits — but her biggest parts are on deck: the Jared Leto comic book movie Morbius and Disney+’s Rogue One prequel series. For the Puerto Rico-born actress, telling uniquely Latin American stories (oft untold) is her mission statement: “I want to see more [people] who look like me.”

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "A Woman Under the Influence, but I would never remake it because I could never live up to Gena Rowlands' standards."

    The person I'm dying to work with ... Diane Keaton

    My guilty pleasure show is ... Nailed It

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "Jennifer Lopez's Selena."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by is … Marilyn Manson.

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world ... "Being able to read people's expressions and meeting new people."

  • Kingsley Ben-Adir, 34

    For those not familiar with the British import, he might be best described by his recent string of TV gigs as the exceedingly handsome romantic interest. But after that spate opposite leading women (see Netflix’s The OA, Hulu’s High Fidelity and HBO Max’s Love Life), the theater-trained actor is segueing to historic roles. He’ll follow a turn as Barack Obama in Showtime’s The Comey Rule with one as Malcolm X in Regina King’s buzzed-about One Night in Miami.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "I can watch Sopranos over and over."

    My guilty pleasure show is ... Graham Norton

    The person I'm dying to work with ... Jeffery Wright

    I hope I don't get typecast as ... "A sidekick detective"

    The moment I felt I made it … "Was my first job: three lines in World War Z."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "Daniel-san in The Karate Kid."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "Thierry Henry in 2001. I was 13, and he was a GOD."

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "Jessie Buckley. But now they are!"

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world is … “The Russian bathhouse in the East Village.”

  • Tiffany Boone, 33

    Having broken out in The Chi — a job she departed after alleging harassment by co-star Jason Mitchell — Boone took 2020 by storm as a young Kerry Washington in Little Fires Everywhere and a Nazi hunter in Amazon’s Hunters. Next up: George Clooney’s star-studded Netflix feature The Midnight Sky and Hulu miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, opposite Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "That I really love to sleep."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be … "Either a florist or an arts therapy teacher"

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "Tracee Ellis Ross. I got to interview her and I was pretty much crying after I hung up the phone."

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "I would love for the conversation to be amplified about defunding the police. And trans and nonbinary representation."

  • Quinta Brunson, 30

    Gaining online fame for satirical videos about her own 20-something trials, the Philadelphia-born comedian landed a key role in HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. But Brunson, who appeared on iZombie and Single Parents, remains committed to creating her own content. She’s got a workplace comedy inspired by her schoolteacher mom with a pilot commitment at ABC.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "I respect science more than the average person, which was a surprise. I thought we were all on the same page with science, but turns out ... not quite!"

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "Sister Act. Besides that, nothing. I’m tired of reboots. New stories please!"

    My guilty pleasure show is ... "Dating No Filter on E!"

    The person I'm dying to work with ... Steven Spielberg

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "A teacher."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "James Earl Jones. I saw him outside of an Apple store once and almost swallowed my tongue."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Universal Studios. I love it there. You're not going to see me protesting to get it to opened up like fans of a certain popular theme park, but I do miss it."

  • Jessie Buckley, 30

    Between Chernobyl, Fargo and I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the Irish performer is leaning hard into prestige projects. A grad of the lionized Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Buckley got her start on BBC reality show I’d Do Anything before finding crossover success with 2018’s Wild Rose. Up next: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and Cold War spy thriller The Courier.

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "Les Amants du Pont-Neuf by Leos Carax — but I hope no one ever does because it’s perfect as it is."

    My guilty pleasure show is ... "The Repair Shop on BBC."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "A clown, or someone in a circus in the '50s. Or a fat old lady who lives in Greece and sits on the benches by the sea every evening, not saying a word to anyone else on the bench. Just looking satisfied and thinking about maybe having a cheeky skinny dip in the morning."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz."

    The person Ive been most starstruck by … Bonnie Raitt

    My most embarrassing audition story ... "Doing a very bad 'cat' dance audition for the film Cats. It was cat-astrophic!"

    Why arent more people in Hollywood talking about … "Why no one walks in L.A.?! It’s so hot. If that was Ireland people would be outside rubbing butter on themselves getting a tan."

    When will people in Hollywood stop talking about … "Franchises."

  • Angus Cloud, 22

    The Oakland native was walking the streets of New York when a casting rep approached him and asked if he’d come read for a new HBO drama. The show turned out to be Euphoria, and despite the fact that he’d never taken an acting class or even appeared on camera before — he attended the prestigious Oakland School for the Arts but focused on the behind-the-scenes work of lighting and set building — Cloud managed to land the role of kindhearted drug dealer Fez in the boundary-pushing teen drama. Now he plans to turn this whole performing thing into a full-fledged career. “I love acting and want to keep it going,” says Cloud, who next has pro-skater movie North Hollywood and Vietnam War drama The Things They Carried, alongside Tom Hardy, Pete Davidson and Bill Skarsgard.

    I'd love to star in a remake of … Juice

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … “Stanley Yelnats from Holes.”

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "The lack of BIPOC agents, managers, directors and producers."

  • Emma Corrin, 24

    Just as The Crown catapulted Claire Foy and Vanessa Kirby into the cultural stratosphere, Netflix’s royal dramatization should do the same with its newest young arrival. Cast as Princess Diana with scant previous credits to her name, Corrin has since had parts in series Pennyworth and the feature Misbehaviour — but it’s her transformation from Prince Charles’ fun-loving girlfriend into the tragic 21st century figure who looms nearly as large as the queen herself that will inspire a flurry of scripts to be sent her way.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "That I am so bad at not being busy."

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... A Room With a View

    My guilty pleasure show is ... "At the moment, it’s Emily in Paris — but it’s normally The Kardashians."

    The person I'm dying to work with ... "Tilda Swinton or Frances McDormand."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "Probably a primary school teacher. I studied education."

    I hope I don't get typecast as … "A posh English girl."

    The moment I felt I made it … "A friend recently sent me a photo of a huge billboard going up outside her flat for The Crown with me, Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson on it and I just couldn't believe it. I feel like that was a huge moment."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "Well, most of the cast of The Crown. Basically all of them. The first read-through was like being struck by a meteor."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Not having to think about affection in public. And dancing."

  • Daisy Edgar-Jones, 22

    She’s not a total newcomer, thanks to roles in HBO’s Gentleman Jack, a War of the Worlds TV remake and much-loved British series Cold Feet, but the Londoner’s career was catapulted skyward with the debut of Hulu’s Normal People. Although she’s experienced much of her breakout from the confines of her flat amid the pandemic, the geographical limitations haven’t seemed to do her any harm. She’s secured lead roles in Where the Crawdads Sing, from Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, and Legendary’s social thriller Fresh, produced by Adam McKay.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "I like routine."

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "Maybe The Importance of Being Earnest. They’ve not done that for a while."

    The person I'm dying to work with ... "I'm currently watching The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and I just love Nicole Kidman. It’d be ridiculously cool to be able to work with her."

    I hope I don't get typecast as ... "I hope I don't play vulnerable characters all the time. I’d like to play some tough ones."

    The moment I felt I made it … "I don't know if you ever really feel you've made it. It’s hard to define. But when the show came out and I saw the response to it, I was like, 'Oh gosh, I think maybe I've made something that people really like."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "I loved Anne of Green Gables."

    My most embarrassing audition story ... "There's so many, but probably when I did an audition for a Domino's commercial and didn't realize that the requirement was for us to snog a random stranger in a room full of people. So that was unexpected and quite mortifying. I didn’t get the gig."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world is … “I normally hate the Tube in rush hour, but I would love nothing more than to be in someone’s smelly armpit.”

  • Jordan Fisher, 26

    The Alabama native got his start on the Disney Channel before landing parts in a pair of teen-centric Netflix films: Work It and the To All the Boys sequel. Now, the Dancing With the Stars champion, whose Broadway credits include Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, is fronting YA flick Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between, which he also is executive producing. “It’s one thing to produce a film, it’s another thing both be producing and acting in it and it is another thing entirely to be doing all of that during COVID," he says.

    I'd love to star in a remake of … Fantastic Four

    My guilty pleasure show is … "Big Brother or The Bachelor/Bachelorette, unashamedly."

    The person I'm dying to work with … Peter Dinklage

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be … "Something in the gaming industry."

    The person Ive been most starstruck by … "I think Dwayne Johnson is going to be closest for me. I sang 'Your Welcome' with Lin-Manuel Miranda for the credits [of Moana] and I saw Dwayne out of the corner of my eye kind of grooving to it as the credits rolled and I was like, 'Oh my God!' Lin actually introduced me to Dwayne and I shook hands with him and I felt like I was shaking hands with a small building."

    Why arent more people in Hollywood talking about … "The lack of Black representation, in general. Chadwick Boseman playing T’Challa, and being so honored and revered, the fact that there is not more of that. Being a mixed kid growing up and being able to point at Corbin Blue, in a super successful musical on Disney Channel, he was the first person where I could go, ‘Woah, that is a mixed dude and he is doing exactly what I want to do.’ I want there to be more of that."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Literally just simply going to a movie theater."

  • Ncuti Gatwa, 28

    Gatwa could’ve easily settled into position as Sex Education’s comic relief, but the Rwandan-Scottish actor turned his out, proud and loud character into one of the most multidimensional portrayals on TV. Having earned a BAFTA TV Award nom for his work on Netflix’s horny high-school drama, he’ll soon star alongside Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley in romantic drama Last Letter From Your Lover.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "I’m really vain! I really struggled with the barbershop not being open."

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "The Great Gatsby but also another Baz Luhrmann film, Romeo and Juliet. Baz Luhrmann, if you’re reading this …"

    My guilty pleasure show is ... "At the moment, it's got to be reruns of The Simple Life."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "A dancer."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "Billy Porter. I met him at a fashion show and it was a magical experience."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Oh, hugs! And also seeing the bottom of new people’s faces. We get tested three times a week for COVID and the medic that comes here is a lovely guy. We have a chat for about half an hour longer than we need to, have a cup of tea, it’s just lovely. And I’ve never seen the bottom of this guy’s face. I have no idea what he looks like."

  • Skyler Gisondo, 24

    Gisondo has been booking studio projects for more than a decade — early credits include the Amazing Spider-Man films and the Vacation remake — but he’s recently been taking his career to the next level with Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart and Danny McBride’s The Righteous Gemstones. The Florida-born actor, who also starred in Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet, will soon be seen opposite Melissa McCarthy in Theodore Melfi’s The Starling.

    I'd love to star in a remake of … Point Break

    My guilty pleasure show is … "I don’t know if this counts but F1 Drive to Survive on Netflix is unreal."

    The person I'm dying to work with … "Martin Scorsese. He is behind all of my favorite movies of all time."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be … “Balancing my time between being a professional surfer and basketball player, all while releasing folk rock/rap hybrid albums on my downtime. I am keeping myself ready if I do get that call from the Lakers."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … "In my mind, when I was 6 or 7, I was a slam dunk for [Saved by the Bell’s] Zac Morris. And in reality I had a lot more in common with Screech at the time."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Pick-up basketball and going to the movie theater."

  • Jessica Henwick, 28

    Ten years ago, the English actress made history as the first actress of East Asian descent to play the lead role in a British TV series with her part on the children’s show Spirit Warriors. She’s since become a go-to actor for genre projects, having played characters in Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Iron Fist. And Henwick is keeping with the trend for her next tentpole project: The Matrix 4.

    I'd love to star in a remake of  The Shawshank Redemption

    If I weren’t an actor, I’d be … "Writing fantasy novels."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … "Mulan was a huge deal for me, getting to see an Asian woman, even though she was animated."

  • Emma Mackey, 24

    As Sex Education’s sarcastic social outcast and self-appointed “bad girl,” Mackey was quickly tapped as one to watch from the celebrated Netflix dramedy. It wasn’t long before the France-born actress was expanding her repertoire beyond the schoolyard, landing major roles in Kenneth Branagh’s all-star Agatha Christie mystery Death on the Nile, Parisian period piece Eiffel and an Emily Brontë biopic.

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "Thelma and Louise. And also Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf."

    My guilty pleasure show is ... "I've just finished watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and find it very comforting."

    The person I'm dying to work with ... "I think it would have to be a female director. Someone like Ava DuVernay."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "When I was younger I wanted to work at the UN, so I guess I’d be at some sort of NGO trying to be a bit more of a humanitarian."

     I hope I don't get typecast as ... "The punk girl."

    The onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "I was obsessed with Harry Potter, like many people, and I tried to emulate Hermione when I was younger. And now when I watch it back I’m like, 'God, she’s so annoying.'"

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Greta Gerwig."

  • Paul Mescal, 24

    To say that Paul Mescal has had a transformative year wouldn’t do it justice. The young Irishman went from unknown to the internet’s latest boyfriend with the April arrival of Normal People — and it’s looking like the internet wants to take him home for the holidays. The Hulu/BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel ranks among the most talked-about shows of the year. Mescal’s brooding (and often R-rated) turn as co-lead Connell Waldron saw him amass a rabid fan base, earn an Emmy nomination and inspire a run on silver chains. Next, he’s kick-starting his film career, having recently wrapped Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, with Olivia Colman.

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "A good old classic like Singin' in the Rain."

    The person I'm dying to work with ... "Anthony Hopkins."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "I almost dropped out of school and joined the Irish army. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be something that would fit into who I am, but I like the idea of discipline."

    I hope I don't get typecast as ... "A closed-set actor."

    My most embarrassing audition story ... "It’s very minor, but I was leaving the room and I knew the director from drama school, and I thought it was going to be a hug, but it ended up being a handshake and my hand got caught in the handshake while I was going for the hug — and I just wanted to disappear into the ground. Needless to say, I didn't get that part. But that’s why COVID is great — now people aren’t even touching elbows. That suits me!

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Certainly not awkward hellos and goodbyes!"

  • Erin Moriarty, 26

    After a decade of steady work in projects like True Detective and Jessica Jones, Moriarty stumbled into her breakout role on Amazon’s superhero dramedy The Boys. Critics deemed her “the most likable element” of the irreverent series, which is about to film its third season and has already spurred a spinoff. Says the New York-born actress: “I had this intuitive feeling I could do something special with it.”

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "That I wrap my identity around my productivity."

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... The Apartment

    My guilty pleasure show is ... Grey’s Anatomy

    The person I'm dying to work with ... Joaquin Phoenix

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be ... "An interior designer."

    I hope I don't get typecast as ... "The typical ingénue."

    The moment I felt I made it … "When I was in 15 and I was in Soap Opera Digest because I booked my first role in a soap opera and I had zero perspective."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap because my parents got divorced when I was really little and I just always wanted to be her."

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "The industry-wide complicity involved in the #MeToo movement."

  • Taylour Paige, 30

    Paige didn’t stop sleeping on friends’ couches until she booked the A24 feature Zola at the end of 2018. The movie, based on a stripper’s viral Twitter thread, received raves at the Sundance Film Festival and looked to be heading for a splashy theatrical release before the pandemic turned the world on its head. Paige, a classically trained dancer and onetime Laker Girl who counts VH1 drama series Hit the Floor as her first major credit, can at least count on being onscreen this December in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, an expected awards contender and Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Also in the queue: Eddie Huang’s coming-of-age story Boogie at Focus Features. “I feel like I am right on time,” she says. “A lot of my 20s was a lot of waiting and patience that now I am like, ‘All in divine timing.’”

    I'd love to star in a remake of … "The Sound of Music — but also I don’t know if perfection should be touched."

    My guilty pleasure show is … "Anything on HGTV except for House Hunters. I love me some Fixer Upper and Love It or List It."

    The person Ive been most starstruck by … "When I first started working with George C. Wolfe, I was so taken aback by his presence and his mind. But I also one time saw Sarah Paulson at some event and my heart fluttered."

  • Jeremy Pope, 28

    Calling Pope a triple threat may be cliche, but there’s nothing banal about the young Broadway vet who acts, sings and dances, and who followed his astounding 2019 double Tony nominations (for performances in the play Choir Boy and the musical Ain’t Too Proud) with an auspicious sojourn to Los Angeles. He earned an Emmy nom for his first-ever TV role, in Ryan Murphy’s nostalgia fantasy Hollywood. The real Hollywood took note before the miniseries dropped, with Pope securing roles in the third season of FX’s Pose and Regina King’s One Night in Miami. Next, the Florida-born actor will slip on Sammy Davis Jr.’s patent leather loafers for Janet Mock’s 1950s-set Scandalous!

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s … "That I love having time to myself to realign my thoughts and also FaceTime my grandma."

    If I weren't an actor ... "I'd be an arts teacher."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … "Anything Martin Lawrence, or Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act."

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "Funding more diverse and inclusive projects."

  • Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 18

    After spotting a tweet from creator Mindy Kaling calling for South Asian girls to audition for her new Netflix show Never Have I Ever, the Canadian actress filmed herself at her local library using her mom’s camera. Beating out 15,000 others for the part, she earned raves for her debut role — and she’ll soon return for the comedy’s second season.

    If I learned one thing about myself during the quarantine it’s ... "How much of an extrovert I am. I really thrive off of seeing people face to face."

    I'd love to star in a remake of … The Breakfast Club

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be … "An animator. I like drawing and designing characters."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … Hermione Granger

  • Danny Ramirez, 28

    Ramirez harbored dreams of playing pro soccer before he pivoted to acting at NYU. After booking small roles on Showtime’s The Affair, ABC’s Blindspot and Netflix’s On My Block, the Chicago-born actor is making the leap to franchise fare, playing a new pilot in Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick and a top-secret but pivotal role in Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier for Disney+.

    I'd love to star in a remake of ... "Scarface. Raging Bull. La Bamba."

    My guilty pleasure show is ... The Great British Bake Off

    The person I'm dying to work with ... "Sam Rockwell. Mark Rylance. Guillermo del Toro. Damien Chazelle. Oscar Isaac."

    The moment I felt I made it … "The random check-ins like, 'Oh, this is the first apartment I could afford.' Or, 'I'm on set and to my left is Jon Hamm and to my right is Tom Cruise.'"

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … LeBron James

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid ... "I loved Dragon Ball Z. Goku was my boy."

    Why aren’t more people in Hollywood talking about … "Latinx inclusion."

    The thing I miss most about the pre-COVID world … "Dancing. I want to be comfortable enough in a massive mosh pit."

  • Christian Serratos, 30

    Serratos was in the middle of filming AMC’s The Walking Dead when she heard rumblings of a new Netflix show based on the life of Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. “I was really obsessive-compulsive about it,” says the L.A.-born actress, who grew up watching Jennifer Lopez’s feature rendition of the performer. In December she’ll offer her own take on the icon in the highly anticipated Selena: The Series.

    My guilty pleasure show is … "Oh God, they're not even guilty! I'm super proud of them. I am a huge Survivor and Big Brother fan."

    The person I’m dying to work with … "Shia LaBeouf. It could be fun to see how he works. I really like his mind."

    If I weren't an actor, I'd be… "Probably a special effects makeup artist."

    Onscreen character I most identified with as a kid … "I don't know that there was anybody I really related to and that's why I like Selena so much because she was somebody in the entertainment business who I had a lot in common with. She was a young Mexican-American girl who was trying to follow her dreams. That was something that I really related to as a kid."

    The person I’ve been most starstruck by … "When I see reality TV stars, I freak out."