2015 Faces to Watch

(Re-posted from LimitéMagazine.com)

Each year, lovers of film and television debate the quality of that year’s crop of cinematic content channeled into TV and movie screens worldwide. And although opinions will differ, one undeniable fact is that each year ushers in a new crop of breakout talent, both in front of and behind the camera. Yes, some have been mastering their crafts for years, and each person’s journey is uniquely their own, but it’s often not until the artists are able to express their voices in a singular title that causes viewers to take notice.

Now in its seventh year, Limité is proud to announce the 2015 class of one of its longest-running features, “Faces to Watch.”

Ana Lily Amirpour / filmmaker
by Morgan Goldin

In creating “the first Iranian vampire spaghetti western,” writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has carved out a unique niche in the independent film scene. Her intoxicating debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (one of my personal favorites from 2014), is an utterly original film that signals the arrival of an idiosyncratic voice. Based on a short film from 2011, the film chronicles the nocturnal adventures of a lonely bloodsucker amidst a sleepy Iranian ghost town. Feminist overtones and a punk-rock energy pervade the proceedings, which, combined with stunning black-and-white photography, lend the film a real gothabilly vibe. By synthesizing eclectic influences from David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, and Alex Cox, as well as providing a dope soundtrack that Tarantino would approve of, you have the calling card of one of this year’s most unique faces to watch.

The Iranian-American filmmaker has been making movies ever since she was 12 years old. Born in England, her family moved to Miami, then eventually settled in Bakersfield, California. Amirpour earned her degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Aside from film, she also possesses a prodigious background in various arts, including painting, sculpting, and music. Before tackling her feature-length narrative debut, the filmmaker has earned much critical acclaim and many awards for short films and music videos. When the Sundance Film Festival premiered A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it was immediately snatched up to be released by that brand ambassador of all things cool, VICE, whose creative director, Eddy Moretti, remarked that Amirpour is “the next Tarantino.”

Currently, she is working on her next film, tentatively entitled The Bad Batch, an English-language, post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland. Amirpour describes it as “Road Warrior meetsPretty in Pink” or “El Topo meets Dirty Dancing,” just “very violent” and “very romantic.” Besides being the embodiment of every art school girl I’ve had a crush on in college, I eagerly await all future projects from this singular talent.

Rachel Brosnahan / actor
by April Franz

If you watched House of Cards last year, you noticed 25-year-old Rachel Brosnahan’s performance as the most interesting call girl since Pretty Woman. Her not-quite-paternal, not-quite-romantic relationship with Henry Stamper almost upstaged the main plotline. Since then, she’s snagged recurring roles on The Blacklist and The Black Box, and HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge. WGN’s Manhattan, a drama chronicling the atom bomb race in which Brosnahan has a principal role, was renewed for a second season. This woman, quite simply, can’t stop getting hired.

She’s beautiful, and her look stands out in the industry—but it’s the maturity behind her ice-blue eyes that makes you wonder what she’ll say next. Whether playing a New England waitress, a calculating home wrecker, or a naïve housewife, the 24-year-old is not afraid to be destroyed or disliked by the audience for the part. Well trained to boot, Brosnahan is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and appeared on Broadway in The Big Knife.

You can look forward to more diverse roles this year. The Dovekeepers,a CBS mini-series, will air in the spring and is a telling of the first-century Jewish-Roman War’s Siege of Masada. Brosnahan will also appear in two upcoming films: Louder Than Bombs—alongside Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg—and The Finest Hours with Chris Pine, Eric Bana, and Casey Affleck. She’s fun (and funny) off screen, as well; her Twitter page (@RachieBros) is down to earth and amusing (scroll down for family pics in matching pajamas).

Damien Chazelle / filmmaker
by Opal H. Bennett

In just over one year, New Jersey-raised Damien Chazelle and his feature film Whiplash went from the Egyptian Theatre at the Sundance Film Festival to the Dolby Theatre at the Academy Awards. It has been a meteoric—and quite unexpected—path for this Harvard grad whose first love was jazz music. Much like the Whiplash character portrayed by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, 2013), Chazelle was a dedicated jazz drummer in high school, practicing eight hours a day until his hands bled and withstanding the abusive subjugation of a drill sergeant-like band conductor. Chazelle has said the first film he saw that properly captured his feelings towards his high school band days was Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). He set out to portray that experience in Whiplash. The filmmaker wrote a feature-length version of the script first, then adapted a few scenes from it to create a short film version. Chazelle said he made the short primarily as a means of helping to secure financing to produce the feature film, but he did such a fine job that it was awarded the Short Film Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. With a bona fide success under his belt, Chazelle was able to get investors on board.

Now 30 years old, the filmmaker was just 28 when he stepped behind the camera to helm Whiplash, starring the notable talents of J.K. Simmons (who also starred in the short) and Teller. Chazelle was able to craft a brilliant and character-rich story that captures the consuming obsession and singular will of each of its characters. He was also able to craft a multiple Oscar nominee, as the film received nods for Best Picture, adapted screenplay, and editing, with wins for its sound mixing and Simmons as supporting actor. As a writer-director, Chazelle brings a strong sense of character, narrative, and atmosphere to his films, and if Whiplash is a heralding of things to come, he has clearly distinguished himself as a face to watch. There are reports of a couple of projects in the works for the filmmaker, but his next likely project is a musical, La La Land, which would re-team him with Teller, and possibly add Emma Watson as his female lead. The film is reported to be about a pair of lovers chasing their dreams in Los Angeles.

Olivia Cooke / actor
by April Franz

Olivia Cooke is not a scream queen. Sure, she’s starred in three thrillers and co-stars in the contemporary Pyscho prequel series Bates Motel, but don’t you dare write her off as a Sidney Prescott type. This actress has range, and in her blossoming three-year career has crossed over from British TV to major studio films, with a One Direction tour video to boot.

The 21-year-old Brit began acting outside Manchester, England, performing in the ensemble of an after-school drama program. After landing TV commercials and the leading role of Maria in a theater production of West Side Story, it wasn’t long before she appeared in the BBC drama Blackout. Other TV work followed before Cooke won the leading role in the thriller The Quiet Ones (2014) with Sam Claflin. In the film, she plays a sexually primed mental patient engaged in a psychiatric experiment with unexaggerated intensity. Cooke played leading roles in two other thrillers the same year: the Sundance sci-fi entrant The Signal and Universal Pictures’ Ouija. In addition to her starring roles on the big screen, she also secured the role of Emma Decody on A&E’s Bates Motel. Emma is a terminally ill detective wannabe with a heart of gold (leave it to her to make an oxygen tank look fetching). Whether she’s playing demented or wholesome, Cooke’s tenacity shines through in every role, and it refuses to let the audience look elsewhere.

Breaking out of the thriller genre—but once more playing a terminally ill teen—you can soon enjoy her performance as Rachel in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s (Glee, American Horror Story) film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the breakout hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award (the same trajectory had by Whiplash en route to its five Oscar nominations). The film is set to release on June 12. Sporting a shaved head for the role, à la Evey in V for Vendetta, just try to tell us she isn’t the millennial Natalie Portman. We wait and watch, Olivia.

André Holland / actor
by Curtis John

If I showed you a picture of actor André Holland, 35, two years ago, you may have said, “Yeah, I think I’ve seen this guy before, um, in…” And you may have been referring to his role in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 (2013), or his award-winning performance on stage in The Whipping Man—or on the other spectrum, some failed television sitcoms like 1600 Penn. But in 2014, Holland had a breakout year in film and television, skyrocketing his star factor.

The hubbub around Holland began last August with the debut of the Clive Owen-starring Cinemax television drama The Knick. An early twentieth century look at the professional and personal lives of the staff at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital, Holland plays Dr. Algernon Edwards, the newly hired surgeon at the Knick, who while highly educated and expertly skilled, must overcome the surgical team’s intolerance towards him because he is black. Playing second lead to Owen’s Dr. Thackery, Holland as Dr. Edwards—and as an actor—proves himself more worthy of the role in every subsequent episode.

Portraying Martin Luther King Jr.’s right-hand man Andrew Young inSelma (2014), the Alabama native gained even stronger notice. His depiction adds gravitas to the already highly significant film.

Currently filming season two of The Knick, expect to see a lot more of André Holland everywhere.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw / actor
by Daniel Quitério

Star of stage and screen—both big and small—the leading lady from last year’s Beyond the Lights is primed to shine brightly. With little name recognition, it’s hard to believe that Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been honing her craft for as long as she has. But it was her breakout roles in last year’s specialty films Belle and Beyond the Lights that set the stage for the ingénue’s coming of age.

Born in Oxford, England in 1983 as Gugulethu Sophia Mbatha (her first name comes from the Zulu word for “Our Treasure”), she expressed her various talents at an early age. Beginning at 11, Mbatha-Raw performed at the Oxford Playhouse every year, ultimately flexing her creative muscle through song and dance before joining the Oxford Youth Music Theatre in her teens. A first-rate education at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) followed. No doubt, her tenure at RADA primed her for the oft-coveted Shakespearean roles of Juliet and Ophelia in Romeo and Juliet (opposite Andrew Garfield in 2005) and Hamlet (opposite Jude Law on Broadway in 2009).

TV work came with British series Vital Signs, MI-5, and Doctor Who, before starring opposite Kiefer Sutherland in the short-lived Fox genre series Touch in 2012. The bulk of the actress’s film work soon followed.

The mixed-race daughter of a white Brit and a black South African, Mbatha-Raw seemed the right choice to play the real-life, mixed-race slave-to-artistocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle in Belle, which earned her a British Independent Film Award for best actress. Mbatha-Raw’s filmography will only continue to grow in the upcoming years with roles opposite such Hollywood heavyweights as Renée Zellwegger, Will Smith, and Matthew McConaughey in dramas The Whole Truth,Concussion, and The Free State of Jones, respectively. But perhaps her most anticipated film is the buzzy live-action Beauty and the Beastremake, in which she’ll play Plumette, the sexy feather duster from the 1991 Best Picture Oscar-nominated film.

With a full slate of high-profile films in the works, expect Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s star to only shine brighter.

Jack O’Connell / actor
by Stephanie Dawson

Jack O’Connell, 24, is an English actor from Derby, whose propensity for misbehavior and violence nearly landed him in jail. “I was in real court the day I was starting a play called Scarborough at the Royal Court in London, waiting to find out if I was getting a custodial sentence,” he told The Observer. The encouragement of family, teachers, and the lure of young co-eds led Jack to study drama. But his initial jobs playing delinquents and thugs was type casting.

Jack’s first notable screen appearance was as Pukey Nicholls in This Is England (2006), and then on the small screen in Skins. Later, he starred in Starred Up (2013) and ’71 (2014), both films garnering him critical acclaim. In 2014, he won Best Breakthrough Performer from the National Board of Review and collected best actor awards and nominations worldwide. Jack cleaned up his act.

O’Connell was a bona fide indie star, but he is poised to break into Hollywood after his leading role as American veteran and Olympian Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken (2014).

He will next be seen in drama Tulip Fever and in Jodie Foster-directedMoney Monster. The actor will also play the lead in Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, opposite John Hurt, which is slated for a 2016 release. Jack O’Connell has proven he has the chops, and Hollywood is listening.

Gina Rodriguez / actor
by Joy Ganes

For those interested in diverse voices and talents, Gina Rodriguez, 30, has been on the radar since her breakout role in the independent filmFilly Brown (2012). However, it is her lead role on the new CW television show, Jane the Virgin, that makes her one to watch. After only nine episodes had aired, Rodriguez, in her first starring TV role, had nabbed a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She not only bested established comedic actresses like Lena Dunham, Edie Falco, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Taylor Schilling, but she also was the second Latina to ever win a Golden Globe in a lead actress category, and it was the first Golden Globe win for the CW network during its eight-year history.

From playing a promising hip-hop rhymer facing a compromising proposition to a devout young woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated, Rodriguez infuses a beautiful humanity into her characters; that subtlety aids in representing diverse images of Latinas in the media.

Jane the Virgin, which has struck favor with both critics and fans, is bolstered by Rodriguez’s engaging performance. During her Golden Globes acceptance speech, she acknowledged the difference the show was making, ending with, “I can and I did.” For her, this is just the beginning. We know that she did, and she will again.

Justin Simien / filmmaker
by Saidah Russell

In 2012, a trailer began circulating online for a film titled Dear White People. While the title, alone, was enough to attract attention (and controversy), the wit and often-brutal honesty of the writing quickly pushed the video past one million views. The trailer’s success is even more impressive considering its director and writer, Justin Simien, hadn’t even finished the film. The concept trailer (financed in large part by Simien’s tax refund) was the filmmaker’s marketing strategy to push eyes and wallets to the film’s Indiegogo fundraising page. It was perhaps a risky move, but one that ultimately caught enough millennial attention to push the now-31-year-old Simien and his work directly into the spotlight.

A Texas native, Simien attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston before starting film school at California’s Chapman University. The filmmaker credits his experiences with the mostly white student population at Chapman with inspiring much ofDear White People. Like his characters, Simien has spoken about struggling with his own identity, and he argues that the movie, though dealing with issues involving race, is ultimately a film about identity.

Simien won a Special Jury Prize for breakthrough talent at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best First Feature at this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards. (He won the Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.) He was also rated as one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” for 2013. A filmmaker like Simien is exactly what Hollywood needs. He makes audiences cringe while also allowing them to laugh, and in equal measure. Simien recently published a book, Dear White People: Letter to a New Minority, which expounds upon themes from the movie, but no future film projects have been announced.

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