Returning and rising actors to watch in 2019
Rising stars and veterans making a comeback are storming screens in 2019. Here are the names to remember for the upcoming year in cinema
To map out the landscape, here's a breakdown of names you'll be seeing a lot of in 2019 – an alphabetical précis of the most exciting actors around.
Annette Bening: Captain Marvel, Life Itself, The Report, Georgetown
Annette Bening in Captain Marvel
She hardly needs an introduction, but Annette Bening's 2019 slate boasts of the actor's tremendous versatility. Romantic network narrative Life Itself hasn't received brilliant reviews so far, but Bening cemented her status as a force of nature with her electric role in Captain Marvel.
Past the big titles, Bening will star alongside Adam Driver in CIA drama The Report, which premiered at Sundance, and in Georgetown for Christoph Waltz's directorial debut. A leopard might not change its spots, but Bening has plenty more styles to play with.
Timothée Chalamet: Beautiful Boy, The King, Little Women
Timothée Chalamet in Beautiful Boy
Ever since his breakthrough role in Call Me by Your Name, Timothée Chalamet has made audiences and critics alike swoon – with an enviable mane of hair, fluency in three languages and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, he’s the golden boy of cinema. Chalamet goes for another award-worthy performance in Beautiful Boy, as a teenager addicted to crystal meth.
Next up will be The King, a Netflix adaptation of several of Shakespeare’s plays where he’ll take on Henry V. As the ultimate Christmas present in 2019, Chalamet has joined Wes Anderson's new film, and also completes a star-studded cast in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as Laurie Laurence, the boy living next door to the March sisters, who just happens to be kind, handsome and rich. How fitting.
Zac Efron: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, The Beach Bum
Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman
Once a High School Musical star and teenage pin-up boy, Zac Efron is now all grown-up and going from one commercial success to another. In 2017, he appeared in two Golden Globe-nominated biographical films, the comedy-drama The Disaster Artist and the musical The Greatest Showman.
Up next, Efron will play the serial killer Ted Bundy in the thriller Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which tells the story from the perspective of Bundy’s girlfriend (Lily Collins). If that hits too dark a note, there’s always The Beach Bum to look forward to, where Efron is joined by Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher and Snoop Dogg – nothing like plenty of fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts to banish a thriller scare!
Jake Gyllenhaal: The Sisters Brothers, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Velvet Buzzsaw
Jake Gyllenhaal in The Sisters Brothers
BAFTA and Oscar-adorned Jake Gyllenhaal is a heavyweight of contemporary cinema, firmly embedded in the Gyllenhaal dynasty alongside his sister Maggie. Jake plays a detective in The Sisters Brothers, the dark comedy Western about a pair of assassin brothers caught up in the California Gold Rush.
He’ll cross over to the dark side in the newest Spider-Man film, Far From Home, playing supervillain Mysterio. If the wait for July and the release of Spider-Man seems a long one, there’s Velvet Buzzsaw to sweeten the deal: the Netflix horror thriller is set in the contemporary art scene in LA, which premiered at Sundance in January.
Lucas Hedges: Boy Erased, Mid90s, Ben Is Back
Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased
What do Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri have in common, other than being some of the most acclaimed films of recent years? It is, of course, Lucas Hedges. In the past year, Hedges’s filmography has grown even more impressive. In Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, Mid90s, he plays a teenager who bullies his younger brother.
His lead role in Boy Erased earned him a Golden Globe nomination, while in Ben is Back he joins none other than Julia Roberts, playing the titular character who returns home from rehab on Christmas Eve. Sundance in January saw him star in Shia LaBeouf’s biopic Honey Boy, about the relationship between a child star (Hedges) and his law-breaking, alcoholic father (LaBeouf). To top it all off, Hedges goes musical in upcoming A24 release Waves, focusing on the reliable themes of growing up and falling in love.
Riley Keough: Under the Silver Lake, The Lodge, The Earthquake Bird, Zola
Riley Keough in Under the Silver Lake
Riley Keough has never been one to make safe career choices. She's proven her incandescent versatility in American Honey and more recently the extremes she's willing to go to in Lars Von Trier's The House That Jack Built.
This bravery soldiers on in 2019 with David Robert Mitchell's indie noir Under the Silver Lake, as well as horror film The Lodge, historical mystery The Earthquake Bird and A24 romp Zola. There's no rest when you choose roles that are so wicked.
Nicole Kidman: Destroyer, The Upside, Boy Erased, Big Little Lies
Nicole Kidman in Destroyer
Nicole Kidman is back with a vengeance after being on the brink of burning in Hollywood hell. There’s no more Grace of Monaco or low-budget Nicolas Cage thrillers for the Australian actress, as she continues her comeback with a bang. In the crime thriller Destroyer, she plays the lead role as a troubled detective, while in Boy Erased she takes on the socially conservative mother.
Coming up are appearances in the Donna Tartt adaptation The Goldfinch (directed by Brooklyn's John Crowley) as well as in The Upside, the remake of the French comedy-drama Untouchable about a paralysed billionaire. And don’t forget about the return of Big Little Lies, the HBO series about three women tangled in a murder investigation. Whatever you say, you cannot blame Kidman for lacking versatility.
KiKi Layne: If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son, Captive State
KiKi Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk
It feels miraculous to witness the breakout role of a star in real time, and know this is only the beginning. In Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk, KiKi Layne plays the lead role as Tish Rivers – the part that seems tailor-made for her.
And this is no fluke – Layne will then star in A24's Native Son, fresh from Sundance, and Captive State alongside Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga and John Goodman.
Thomasin McKenzie: Jojo Rabbit, The King, True History of the Kelly Gang
Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace
Thomasin McKenzie is the next big thing from New Zealand: she wowed Cannes and numerous critics with her role in Leave No Trace. In it, she plays the daughter of a US military vet with PTSD (Ben Foster), living isolated in a forest. Taika Waititi’s new film, Jojo Rabbit, is also about isolation, albeit of a different kind. McKenzie stars as a Jewish girl who is hidden in an attic by a German woman whose teenage son is a member of the Hiler Youth.
But that’s not all for the breakthrough Kiwi. She’ll be joining Timothée Chalamet with a secondary role in The King, as well as teaming up with Russell Crowe in the western True History of the Kelly Gang, adapted from Peter Carey’s novel of the same name. Her enigmatic countenance in Leave No Trace has been compared to Rooney Mara and Lorde – McKenzie is definitely one to watch.
Elisabeth Moss: Her Smell, Us, Light of My Life, Shirley
Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell
Peggy Olsen went from secretary to high-flying copywriter, and Elisabeth Moss has done in her acting career what her Mad Men character did in advertising. As is if trying to escape the clutches of totalitarian Gilead as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t enough, Moss will be treating her fans to plenty of screen time in 2019.
Punk drama Her Smell casts her as alt rock singer Becky Something, whose star is dimming fast. Following that, she’ll join Lupita Nyong’o in Jordan Peele's social horror thriller Us and will star in the drama Light of My Life, written and directed by Casey Affleck. Also coming up are The Kitchen, a story about the wives of Irish mobsters who take over their husbands’ organised crime operations, and Shirley, an adaptation of Susan Scarf Merrel’s novel about a young woman who goes to live with the novelist Shirley Jackson. Peggy Olsen’s advertising hours have nothing on Moss’s schedule.
Rosamund Pike: A Private War, Radioactive, Three Seconds
Rosamund Pike in A Private War
After breaking through with Gone Girl, the 2015 thriller about a woman who goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversay, Rosamund Pike hasn’t gone anywhere but upwards and is more present than ever. In A Private War, Pike plays journalist Marie Colvin – and judging by how thrilled Colvin’s former colleagues are about the performance, it adds another big feather to Pike’s cap.
In Radioactive, she portrays Marie Curie, the Polish radioactivity pioneer. It’s not all Maries, though, as in addition to the biopics of strong women, Pike has time to appear in Three Seconds, an adaptation of the novel by Swedish crime writer duo Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström.
Margaret Qualley: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Native Son, Adam, Against All Enemies, Strange But True
Margaret Qualley in Spike Jonze's Kenzo film
If you look at Margaret Qualley's Wikipedia page, you'll find a grand total of six titles in post-production. It's an exciting boost for such a promising young star, who proved her worth as troubled teenager Jill Garvey in HBO series The Leftovers.
Among her upcoming projects, she's joined the ensemble cast for Quentin Tarantino's Manson Murders tale in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, as well as Rashid Johnson's directorial debut Native Son with KiKi Layne and Ashton Sanders. From her early days of modelling to mould-breaking appearances in Against All Enemies, Qualley is showing no signs of slowing down.
Anthony Ramos: Monsters and Men, Summertime, Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Think back to A Star Is Born for a moment: who do you remember? Who is cheering Ally on from the side of the stage when she performs with Jackson? Anthony Ramos starred as Ally's best friend Ramon, teasing an exciting year ahead.
Perhaps most recognisable as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton in Hamilton, Ramos will continue to branch out in 2019. He starred in Monsters and Men opposite John David Washington, as well as Edward Burns' Summertime. If that's not enough, you can find him in the shadow of the beast in 2019's monumental summer blockbuster, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Margot Robbie: Mary Queen of Scots, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Dreamland
Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
Margot Robbie has seldom left our sight in the past few years, but the pace only keeps picking up. She takes on Saoirse Ronan's Mary as Queen Elizabeth in Mary Queen of Scots, proving her transformative strength as she did in I, Tonya last year.
Her talents will also turn to voice work as she reprises her role as Harley Quinn in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – but the most revealing moment will come with her urgent performance as Sharon Tate in Tarantino's take on the Manson Murders. She's never one to go down without a fight, so it'll be worth seeing how she approaches the tragedy of her character.
Ashton Sanders: Native Son, Captive State, All Day and a Night
Ashton Sanders in Moonlight
The film that put Ashton Sanders on the map to the stars was Moonlight, as the 22-year-old actor played teenager Chiron. His piercing, brooding emotion sets him in good stead for a year of focused portraits and hard-hitting epics ahead.
Sanders will star in Native Son alongside fellow Barry Jenkins collaborator KiKi Layne, before braving the world outside of indie darlings with Captive State. All Day and A Night draws focus on a young criminal reflecting on his childhood – and we know from experience that Sanders has got the chops to pull it off.
Anya Taylor-Joy: Glass, The New Mutants, Playmobil: The Movie, Marie Curie, Here Are the Young Men
Anya Taylor-Joy in New Mutants
Period horror film The Witch introduced us to the dark side of Anya Taylor-Joy – but few roles have shown any sunshine since. She starred alongside James McAvoy in Split, and will be reprising her role and reuniting with director M. Night Shyamalan on Glass.
The seriously stylish Thoroughbreds showed her comic flair too, something that could be explored in Playmobil: The Movie. Radioactive and Here Are the Young Men could allow Taylor-Joy a more naturalistic performance – but it's back down the rabbit hole on superhero spin-off The New Mutants after that.
Brian Tyree Henry: If Beale Street Could Talk, Relive, Child's Play, The Woman in the Window, Super Intelligence
Stephan James and Bryan Tyree Henry in If Beale Street Could Talk
Brian Tyree Henry made a name for himself as Alfred 'Paper Boi' Miles in Donald Glover's FX series Atlanta, but 2018 is the year he marked his status on the big screen. Alongside Daniel Kaluuya in Widows, Tyree Henry brought visceral terror to the role of gangster Jamal Manning – while If Beale Street Could Talk shows his loving side, deeply scarred by an unjust past.
From slasher to slapstick, his upcoming slate includes two Detective roles (Mike Norris in Child's Play, Little in The Woman in the Window) as well as a Sundance sci-fi slot with Relive. Is there anything the man can't do?
Rebel Wilson: Isn't It Romantic, The Hustle, Jojo Rabbit, Cats
Rebel Wilson in Isn't It Romantic
Named as one of ‘Top Ten Comics to Watch for 2011’ by Variety, Rebel Wilson has been living up to the title in the years since, thanks to, not least, her role as Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect series. She’s certainly pitching it perfectly for the coming year as well: in Isn’t It Romantic, she plays an Australian architect in New York who gets hit on the head and wakes up in an alternative reality where everything plays out like a rom-com.
In The Hustle she joins Anne Hathaway and Alex Sharp in a gender-swapped remake of 1988’s con artist comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. If that’s not star-studded enough, how about the film version of the musical Cats, with Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, to mention but a few. Oh, and don’t forget Jojo Rabbit, because Wilson is in that. Too.
Letitia Wright: Avengers: Endgame, Guava Island
Letitia Wright in Black Panther
In late 2018, Letitia Wright starred in 'Black Museum' – one of the most dense and dramatic Black Mirror episodes to date. She then cemented her star status as Shuri in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, which is the role she'll be reprising in 2019 for the much anticipated Avengers: Endgame.
Following her residency in the MCU, Wright will be exploring new ground alongside Donald Glover and Rihanna in the still-mysterious Guava Island. The project is being directed by Hiro Murai, the filmmaker who directed Glover in the sensational music video for 'This Is America'. If the strength of Wright's 2018 is anything to go by, the future is looking bright.