To mark the start of TIFF 2019, we delve into the budding careers of 13 of our favourite emerging actors who have films at the festival. Read all our TIFF coverage here.
Film festivals are often where stars are made. Timothée Chalamet, on last year’s list of the most exciting emerging actors, went from relative obscurity to international star once Call Me by Your Name screened at Sundance. This year’s list is a mix of international actors who are either giving a major game-changing performance in a TIFF film this year — like Geraldine Viswanathan in Hala — or who have been on our radar for some time and may be giving a supporting turn or two, like Josh O’Connor and Thomasin McKenzie. Sometimes, it’s a supporting turn, like Niamh Algar in Calm with Horses, that makes a film. Here is a look at 13 rising stars — three of which have also been anointed by TIFF as its ‘Rising Stars’ — at this year’s festival whose work we recommend checking out, and who are poised to become the stars of tomorrow.
Niamh Algar – Calm with Horses
Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses is a veritable who’s who of emerging Irish actors, from Barry Keoghan (one of Seventh Row’s Emerging Actors to Watch at TIFF 2018) to Hazel Doupe (star of 2018’s Float Like a Butterfly), plus a performance by David Wilmot, that trusty character actor always on hand to play the king of the thugs (think ‘71).
And yet the standout performance in the film comes not from its star Cosmo Jarvis (previously seen in Lady Macbeth) but Niamh Algar, as the mother of the protagonist Arm’s (Jarvis) child. She is at turns smart and no-nonsense, but shows the kind of tenderness to Arm of an old lover, suggesting a world of history between the pair. Sadly, Algar was last seen lighting up the BBC’s dead-on-arrival MotherFatherSon, as the son’s lover, and one of the only characters on that show with a heartbeat. Algar’s work in Calm with Horses proves she’s continuing to be a force to reckon with. – Alex Heeney
Kayli Carter – Bad Education
I may have watched Tamara Jenkins’ brilliant Private Life for Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti, but I was unexpectedly blown away by the younger Kayli Carter in the process. As the central couple’s talented but erratic egg donor (and niece), Carter is a ball of energy who sparks against Giammati’s and Hahn’s calmer presence. She’s the wild element that makes the dynamic between the film’s trio of characters so compelling, matching up impressively with the acting giants with whom she shares the screen.
At TIFF, Carter appears in Cory Finley’s Bad Education, a film with an already stacked cast including Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. – Orla Smith
Josefine Frida – Disco
As fans of the addictive Norwegian teen series Skam, we at Seventh Row were delighted to see Josefine Frida named one of TIFF’s “Rising Stars” this year. Her Noora in Skam is mature beyond her years, exhibiting more perspective and intelligence than some of her peers in school, yet she still has moments of vulnerability that reveal her youth and inexperience. Frida embodied all of Noora’s nuance: her sharpness, her wit, the cracks in her bravado, and the warmth she feels toward her friends. It’s hard not to be captivated by her in the show, especially during season two in which she was the focal character.
With Jorunn Mykleust Syversen’s Disco, Frida get another leading role, her first screen part since Skam. Frida’s Mirjam is another young woman coming of age, but she couldn’t be more different from the self-possessed, savvy Noora: Mirjam is a champion dancer who is pressured to obtain perfection by her devoutly religious family. Mirjam is a celebrity in her community, a sweet girl who passively goes along with her parents’ demands. Frida doesn’t play Mirjam as an airhead though; we feel sorry for Mirjam because we can detect her cluelessness and helplessness under the watch of her parents. As Mirjam navigates a personal religious crisis, feeling not quite at home in her own church but with limited perspective beyond other Christian cults, Frida allows us to track Mirjam’s confusion when it seems like there are so few options for finding her place in the world.
Where Noora was a self-assured cosmopolitan city kid, Mirjam is a sheltered athlete, comfortable in her womanly physique but uncertain about how to express her sexuality. Her church encourages her to do competitive dance, which requires skimpy outfits, and yet her family and peers judge her for showing even the littlest bit of skin within her own home. Frida’s work here feels like a total physical transformation from Noora. – AH & OS
Forrest Goodluck – Blood Quantum
Perhaps best known for playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s son in The Revenant, Forrest Goodluck has quietly been doing excellent supporting work in indie films ever since. In 2017, he played the teenage Saul in Indian Horse, the most captivating of Saul’s three incarnations in the film: a boy with ambition and trauma, trying to find his place in the world. The film comes alive in the middle section in which Goodluck is at its centre.
Last year, he gave an impressive supporting turn as Adam in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a teenager who uses his sardonic wit to cope with being abandoned by his parents, put into traumatic situations, and then forced to witness even worse trauma.
This year, he returns to TIFF with a leading role in Blood Quantum, Jeff Barnaby’s second feature. – AH
Denise Gough – The Other Lamb
It seems strange to refer to a 30-something two-time Olivier Award-winner as an “emerging actress”. Denise Gough gave THE stage performances of the year in People, Places and Things (2016) and Angels in America (2018), but her star is still rising on the big screen. When I saw her in People, Places and Things, I immediately started referring to her as “Queen Denise”, because she was so incredibly good — so good I travelled to see her in it twice.
Perhaps best known on screen from last year’s Colette, in which she played Missy, Colette’s trans boyfriend, Gough never fails to jump off the screen. Though she does her best work when given something meaty to sink her teeth into, it’s always a pleasure to catch her even in a supporting role. It’s hard to tell how large her role is in The Other Lamb at TIFF this year, but when Gough gets top billing, the film is a must see. – AH
Kelvin Harrison Jr. – Waves
Kelvin Harrison Jr. has been blazing a trail in the world of tiny indies over the past few years. Taken together, his roles in Luce, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy, Jinn, Assassination Nation, Monsters and Men, and Mudbound are a testament to his many talents. Sadly, these are films films that very few people have seen.
I first came across Harrison Jr. in It Comes at Night, a horror film which was sold on the talents of Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, and Carmen Ejogo; the marketing masked the fact that Harrison Jr. was actually the star. He gives a quiet, watchful performance as an audience surrogate character who watches the lives of his parents crumble around him. The film’s horror is completely psychological rather than supernatural, and a lot of that fear and terror is derived from the strength of his performance.
Harrison Jr. has a prominent role in Trey Edward Schults’ follow up to It Comes at Night, the acclaimed new musical Waves. He has also been selected by the festival as one of this year’s ‘rising stars’ –OS
Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs – Blood Quantum
Jacobs last appeared at TIFF in 2013 as the star of Jeff Barnaby’s previous feature, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, one of the best Canadian films of the decade. Jacobs was a standout for her pluck, charisma, and ability to subtly depict her character’s trauma. In an interview with Now Magazine earlier this year, Jacobs said, “For some reason, I play all these badass characters. I blame Jeff Barnaby.”
She returns to TIFF again this year in Barnaby’s latest, Blood Quantum. –AH
Thomasin McKenzie — Jojo Rabbit and The True History of the Kelly Gang
Out of relative obscurity, Thomasin McKenzie arrived on our screens with one of the best performances of last year. As the young Tom in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace (a film so brilliant we wrote a book on it), McKenzie tracks Tom’s journey from a girl to a young woman through subtle shifts in physicality and vocal tone, a character arc I wrote about in detail for our book. At just 19, she already has remarkable control over her craft.
Granik has a knack for giving young unknown actresses their big break, like Jennifer Lawrence, who received her first Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone (2010) only to become one of the biggest stars in the world. McKenzie is just as talented, and her career is heating up in the wake of Leave No Trace with supporting roles in two high-profile premieres at TIFF: Taika Waititi’s wild-looking World War II film Jojo Rabbit and Justin Kurzel’s The True History of the Kelly Gang. –OS
Sophie Nélisse – The Rest of Us
Sophie Nélisse first impressed me almost a decade ago in Monsieur Lazhar as a precocious elementary student coping with serious trauma. Though perhaps best known for her starring role in The Book Thief, Nélisse has continued to work in both French (Endorphine, 1:54) and English (Mean Dreams) in Canada, turning out memorable dramatic performances even in films that were themselves not particularly so. (Her sister, Isabelle Nélisse, recently starred in The Tale.)
Aster in The Rest of Us is Nélisse’s first comedic role and her most mature one to date; she and Heather Graham are also perfectly cast as mother and daughter. Together, they craft an authentic, sometimes overly-close relationship between a single mom and her daughter, united in their anger toward Aster’s father. Though Nélisse’s character motivations are often under-written, she still turns out a naturalistic lived-in performance with an achingly believable relationship to her mother. –AH
Josh O’Connor – Hope Gap
At Seventh Row, we’re huge fans of Josh O’Connor. Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney wrote one of the first profiles of the actor back when God’s Own Country came out, in which she detailed the entirety of his early career, including his lovely British TV series The Durrells.
The peak of O’Connor’s career so far is still his turn as closed-off, closeted Yorkshire farmer Johnny in God’s Own Country. Johnny is often a very silent character; so much of what we learn about him and the stunted state in which he lives is in O’Connor’s stiff movements and pained grunts. The wonder of his performance comes when Johnny’s relationship with his new lover Gheorghe changes him completely, and we see warmth slowly blooming within Johnny’s hard shell as O’Connor’s physicality opens up. It’s an immensely moving performance that promises so much more to come.
Since winning the BIFA for his work in God’s Own Country, O’Connor has landed several high-profile roles: he appeared in the BBC’s Les Misérables earlier this year, starred in the indie film Only You, and he will appear in the forthcoming season of The Crown as Prince Charles.
At TIFF this year, O’Connor stars in Hope Gap alongside Annette Bening and Bill Nighy. –OS
Olivia Scriven – Black Conflux
Best known as the Degrassi series regular Maya Matlin, Olivia Scriven has been quietly making inroads in the Canadian film scene. Last year, she appeared in Giant Little Ones as the older sister to the protagonist Franky, believably crafting a warm sibling dynamic in very few scenes. This year, she returns to TIFF in two films: Blood Quantum and Black Conflux. In the latter, she plays Amber, the protagonist’s best friend — a kind of golden girl of high school with gorgeous blond hair and boys falling at her feet.
Where Maya Matlin was the geeky outsider in Degrassi, Amber is the ultimate insider, often shot from below to remind us how much the protagonist idealizes her. But Scriven plays her with equal parts precociousness and cluelessness, making her feel like a real teenager despite the adoration of those around her. – AH
Geraldine Viswanathan – Hala, Bad Education
Geraldine Viswanathan is a name it’s time to remember: the 24-year-old actress’ career is heating up fast, with a leading role in TIFF film Hala and a supporting role in Bad Education. She has also been selected by the festival as one of this year’s ‘Rising Stars’.
Viswanathan began her ascent last year, with the refreshingly smart, sweet studio comedy Blockers. The film featured a trio of excellent performances from young actresses, with Viswanathan’s being the ballsiest as the outgoing, liberated party-animal among her group of friends. She jumped into the role with guts and fantastic comic timing. It’s the kind of archetype that has been played in the past by guys like Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill, and Viswanathan not only matches their physical commitment to the bit but also maintains a level of sincerity throughout that makes the film’s bittersweet ending feel earned. – OS
Alex Wolff – Castle in the Ground, Human Capital, Bad Education
While Toni Collette’s performance was the most talked about in Hereditary, the lesser known Alex Wolff, who played her son, gave a performance that matched Collette’s. Wolff’s performance is a harrowing manifestation of grief and guilt, the still apex to Collette’s frenzy. In almost completely static close-ups, he is able to summon fear and regret more terrifying than any of the film’s supernatural beings. With one performance, Wolff firmly distinguished himself from his more established actor brother, Nat.
Wolff is prolific at this year’s TIFF, starring in Canadian filmmaker Joey Klein’s Castle in the Ground, as well as playing supporting roles in Human Capital and Bad Education.