In an annual feature, we pick out the emerging actors of tomorrow from the TIFF ’20 lineup, from Leslie Odom Jr. to Vanessa Kirby. Keep up to date with our TIFF ’20 coverage.
At Seventh Row, we pride ourselves in spotting world class acting talent before they get famous. We were Timothée Chalamet fans before Call Me by Your Name and Florence Pugh has had our eye since her first screen credit in The Falling.
This year we’re reading the tea leaves yet again with our annual feature on the best emerging actors at TIFF (read the 2018 and 2019 editions). We recommend keeping an eye on the TIFF 2020 films that these actors star in. We’ll be covering a number of these films during the festival so we’ll have more on their performances then.
Deragh Campbell (Succor, Point and Line to Plane)
If you’re interested in Canadian film, you probably know who Deragh Campbell is. The actress is a favourite of some of Canada’s (namely Toronto’s) most exciting emerging filmmakers: on our livestream with Kazik Radwanski and Sofia Bohdanowicz, both directors expressed their excitement to collaborate with Campbell again and again. If you’ve seen her in Radwanski’s TIFF ‘19 hit, Anne at 13,000ft, or in any of her numerous collaborations with Bohdanowicz (Never Eat Alone, MS Slavic 7), you’ll know why.
This year, Campbell is one of the quiet stars of the festival as the lead of two excellent Canadian short films: Hannah Cheesman’s Succor and Bohdanowicz’s Point and Line to Plane. Campbell brings her signature subdued, thoughtful energy to both films; she’s similar to Kristen Stewart in how off-the-cuff, real, and detailed her line delivery and physicality are. You can always see her thinking. That’s why she’s so great in Succor as a nervous character keeping a secret. In Point and Line to Plane, she reprises Audrey, a character she previously played in several of Bohdanowicz’s films, including MS Slavic 7. It’s one of her most soulful, moving performances to date.
Later this year, she can be seen in Brandon Cronenberg’s acclaimed horror film Possessor, which will hopefully introduce Campbell to a wider international audience. She previously did great work in Cronenberg’s previous short film, Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You. Orla Smith
Michaela Kurimsky (Succor)
Michaela Kurimsky was a force to be reckoned with in Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers, an excellent Canadian film that premiered at TIFF in 2018. As the restless and boisterous young adult Lou, who’s desperate to escape her Ontario hometown for New York, she gave one of the best coming-of-age performances in recent years. Kurimsky’s take on a strong-willed teen was so sensitive and thoughtfully performed. She gave an extremely extroverted performance as she demonstrated the hard outer shell Lou puts on to protect her from others. But when Lou was alone, Kurimsky’s face softened as she let us get to know the scared and sensitive young woman Lou hides from others.
The character Kurismky plays in Succor is a different kind of firecracker: a young woman who is messy, emotional, and reluctant to let people in, but who yearns for love. We feel the intimacy she shares with her best friend (played by Deragh Campbell) in how she reluctantly shares thoughts and feelings she’s embarrassed about. Kurimsky quietly says she’s looking for a man “who believes in forever,” her voice tinged with embarrassment, cracking a tad as she admits she’s a romantic at heart. When her character embarks on another relationship after having just been dumped, Kurimsky is all sly grins and radiant smiles that she just can’t hold back. She can’t help opening her heart again to this seemingly perfect guy, even after so many disappointing relationships. Her sincerity in these moments makes it so much more devastating when her heart gets broken again. OS
Jharrel Jerome (Concrete Cowboy)
In Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, Jharrel Jerome valiantly tackled the near impossible task of playing a character whose older permutation is played by the incomparable André Holland. Jerome played the teenage version of Kevin (played as an adult by Holland, in a movie-stealing turn), the longtime love interest of the protagonist, Chiron. While Chiron’s insecurities are written all over his face, the actors playing Kevin had a more difficult task: hide those insecurities behind an armour of extroverted laddish charisma. It was Jerome’s first performance in a feature film, and he turned heads.
It’s been exciting to see Jerome grow as an actor over the past few years and give his best performance to date in Ava DuVernay’s wrenching miniseries, When They See Us. He plays one of the Central Park Five, Korey Wise, a teenager in the wrong place at the wrong time. Korey is wrongfully incarcerated after being subjected toh an exhausting and corrupt interrogation by racist police officers. Jherome plays Korey at first as a cheeky, vibrant young man. When his future is taken away from him, the way Jherome plays his sudden and brutal loss of innocence is so harrowing that he won the Emmy for lead actor in a limited series at just 22.
Jherome doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Earlier this year, he was a standout in Tayarisha Poe’s high school drama, Selah and the Spades, and at TIFF, he looks to have a significant role in Concrete Cowboys, starring Idris Elba. He’s already grown so much as an actor in the past few years that I can’t wait to see where he goes next, Emmy in hand. OS
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
Vanessa Kirby first came to my attention for her performance as Stella in Benedict Andrews’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Playing opposite the great Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster, Kirby still stood out as a talent, and it was the first time I felt I understood Stella as more than just a victim. In Kirby’s hands, she was a sexually empowered woman caught in a cycle of violence. Of course, by that time Kirby had already picked up third prize in the Ian Charleson Awards for three performances in 2011, and received a Special Commendation twice (Ghosts, Three Sisters).
After a slew of minor supporting screen roles, ranging from Jupiter Ascending to The Frankenstein Chronicles, she finally got great material to work with as Princess Margaret on The Crown. In the show’s second season, especially, and opposite Matthew Goode, her Margaret is a hot mess, but one you can’t take your eyes off of. When I forced her showcase episode on regular podcast guest Caitlin Merriman, she concluded Kirby should play Hamlet, to which I wholeheartedly agree.
Ever since 2017, Kirby has been on the precipice of breaking out. She’s appeared in two action franchises: in a small but memorable part as a sort of villain in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and as the kick-ass co-lead of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Her return to the stage at the National Theatre in a modern adaptation of Miss Julie, retitled Julie, as the titular character, was positively invigorating. Like Margaret, Julie is also a hot mess, but one prone to using her class to manipulate those around her. It’s a star performance. After a supporting role as a sort of femme fatale in the disappointing Mr. Jones earlier this year, it seems like this fall may finally be her moment.
In the last week, Kirby has been all the rage on the Lido in Venice, starring in two already critically acclaimed films: The World to Come and Pieces of a Woman, the latter of which heads to TIFF this week. If Kirby has a specialty, it’s women who are fierce if broken, and I can’t wait to see her work in these films. Here’s hoping this leads to more great leading roles; she’s already set to star in Brady Corbet’s next film. Alex Heeney
Sarah Snook (Pieces of a Woman)
Is Sarah Snook still emerging, I hesitate to ask? If you’ve rightly gotten on board the HBO series Succession, then you know what a talent Australian actress Sarah Snook is. You’ve probably even seen her in more mainstream fare like Predestination but maybe didn’t clock exactly who she was. Though gorgeous, she has the tendency to blend into whichever part she plays, be it the supposed ugly duckling who flourishes under Kate Winslet’s dressmaking in The Dressmaker, or the tough-as-nails but deeply flawed pretender to the throne in Succession. While Pieces of a Woman is unlikely to make her more of a household name than Succession, here’s hoping it helps her make the crossover to more meaty roles in indie films. AH
Crystle Lightning (Trickster)
Although Crystle Lightning, an Indigenous actress from the Enoch Cree Nation, has been working for almost thirty years, getting her start as a child actress, it’s largely been as day players on television or bit — even uncredited — parts on film. With Michelle Latimer’s new CBC TV series Trickster, she’s set to break out as the incredibly fierce and occasionally immature Maggie, the mother of the show’s protagonist, Jared. Of course, with Trickster’s focus on family and intergenerational trauma, you could make a strong argument that Maggie is the show’s co-protagonist, without ever making it feel like we’re leaving YA territory. As someone who got pregnant young, and was abandoned by her own parent, she hasn’t quite fully grown up herself, and the show charts her own maturation as she tries to protect her son, which requires reconnecting with her mother. As Shakespeare would say, though Maggie be but little, she is fierce: wielding a crossbow, fighting monsters, and confronting her mother, even as she makes some terrible decisions in her own life in the more habitual aspects of parenting. I can’t wait to see what’s next for her in Season 2. AH
Anna Lambe (Trickster)
Having just picked up a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Supporting actress in her first screen credit, The Grizzlies, Anne Lambe hits television screens this fall as Jared’s love interest, Sarah, in Trickster. Sarah is a foster child new to town, searching for her parents, and an activist at heart. Self-assured in her political convictions, she’s still searching for answers about her own identity, swapping between different neon wigs each day. As Jared comments, she’s “all reclaim this; decolonize that.” In other words, like Lightning’s Maggie, she’s fierce but fallible, smart and spunky but pained. Lambe navigates all of this with great aplomb, avoiding any cliches of the manic pixie dream girl (helped, of course, by a great script by Latimer) by giving us a young woman with her own struggles and a rich inner life. AH
Joel Oulette (Trickster)
Don’t let Joel Oulette’s distractingly handsome features and physique fool you, this actor is going places because of his craft. With very little screen work behind him, though a lot more time spent in training as a hobby, Oulette carries Trickster on his shoulders, as Jared, an Indigenous teen who carries the world on his shoulders. Jared is wise beyond his years, often forced to parent his own parents who are either too high or injured to hold down a job, pay the bills, and offer him stability. But he’s also just a kid, falling in love for the first time, hanging out with his friends, and trying to figure out who he is — all while dealing with some more mysteries about his origins. Oulette perfectly navigates Jared’s insecurities and his maturity, his worldliness and his cluelessness, creating a character who feels like an everyman because he’s so specific. At just 18, Oulette is a rare find. AH
James McArdle (Ammonite)
Ever since summer 2017, I’ve been waiting for James McArdle to break out. It was, it would have seemed, his year. He was winning hearts on stage as Louis Ironson in the National Theatre’s production of Angels in America, magically evoking a New York Jew despite his Glaswegian origins, for which he earned an Olivier nomination. He also starred in the BBC’s Man in an Orange Shirt, part of a week-long Pride celebration, in which he played a man so devastatingly lovable that choosing not to be with him led to generations of trauma. And I was late to the game, by theatre standards. He had already won the Ian Charleson Award for Platonov in 2015, an award anointing some of the best working actors today, including Tom Hollander, David Oyelowo, Rebecca Hall, Rory Kinnear, Ruth Negga, Tom Burke, and Jack Lowden.
And yet, here we are in 2020, and the world hasn’t started talking about him — yet. Despite playing royalty with a terrible beard in Mary Queen of Scots, Peer Gynt in Peer Gynt at the National, and appearing in the one Michael Winterbottom film nobody saw, the erotic road movie On the Road, it’s still only the theatre folks that will watch anything he’s in. With a small but seemingly crucial supporting role in Ammonite, the hot ticket at TIFF that absolutely nobody can get into, here’s hoping it puts him on the map for bigger things. He’s the same kind of generational talent as Denise Gough: utterly devastating, but best when he’s giving something meaty to bite into. He’s done plenty of that work on stage, but has yet to land a starring role on screen. Here’s hoping Ammonite will be a good launch point for new work. AH
Alec Secareanu (Ammonite)
Alec Secareanu was introduced to English language audiences with his BIFA-nominated performance as Gheorghe in Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, the dreamy Romanian farmworker that Josh O’Connor’s Johnny falls for. In that film, Secareanu is a warm, nurturing, and assertive presence. While Johnny is withdrawn and unsure of himself, Secareanu is so appealing because he’s the opposite: a man who knows what he wants and knows how to look after himself and others, whether that be a newborn lamb or Johnny.
While Secareanu hasn’t had as many chances since God’s Own Country to shine as O’Connor, the few roles he has had have demonstrated his range. God’s Own Country fans used to seeing Secareanu as a comforting presence will be shocked by his villainous turn in miniseries Baptiste or his morally murky leading role in Romola Garai’s directorial debut, Amulet. In Amulet, Secareanu holds his own in a cast of some of Europe’s best character actors, including Carla Juri, Angeliki Papoulia, and Imelda Staunton. There’s no word on how big his role will be in Francis Lee’s much anticipated second feature, Ammonite (he wasn’t in the trailer), but I hope he continues to show us the full range of his talents. OS
Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami)
If you’ve seen the legendary Broadway show Hamilton, either on stage with the original cast or as a filmed production, then you probably already know that Leslie Odom Jr. is a generational talent. Although Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was ostensibly the star of the play that bears his name, Odom Jr.’s Aaron Burr was the secret second protagonist, and Odom Jr. had a knack for stealing every scene. That’s obvious even if you’ve only heard the original soundtrack: his voice is melodious, pitch-perfect, gorgeous, and incredibly expressive. But Odom Jr. delivers the goods on stage, too, with incredible charisma.
Yet ever since leaving Broadway for the screen, he’s had only limited opportunities to shine, appearing in Harriet, a film that was only talked about in relation to Cynthia Erivo’s Oscar chances, and Murder on the Orient Express alongside every famous actor who couldn’t make better decisions. In Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, which has already been winning over audiences on the Lido in Venice, he plays Sam Cooke, and one can only hope that this will be the property that puts him on everyone’s radar. AH
Kacey Rohl (Every Day’s Like This)
Vancouver actress Kacey Rohl is still probably best known for her turn as Abigail Hobbs in Hannibal, whose family was slaughtered by Hannibal. Though she’s since had recurring roles on Arrow and The Magicians, her Hannibal pedigree got her audition video pushed to the top of the stack for the starring role in White Lie, which screened at TIFF last year. Her performance as a university student pretending to have cancer as a means of getting access to better opportunities, only to become the victim of her own lies, was riveting stuff. It would have been a breakout if it had been more widely seen; the film is out on VOD in Canada, but still awaiting an international release. In Every Day’s Like This, screening in Short Cuts Programme 4, Rohl is utterly transformed — here with a blonde pixie cut — as a harried twentysomething woman trying to hold it together when she and her family are falling apart with grief. AH
Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby)
Newcomer Rachel Sennott portrayed Danielle, a college student who encounters her sugar daddy at a Jewish funeral, in Emma Seligman’s short film Shiva Baby from 2018. She now stars in Seligman’s debut feature of the same name which expands upon the original’s premise, adding Danielle’s ex-girlfriend Maya (Booksmart‘s Molly Gordon) to the proceedings. Sennott is excellent as the film’s deeply flawed protagonist, making Danielle’s bursts of cruelty, petulance, and anxiety completely believable and relatable. Sennott’s skillful performance highlights how Danielle reluctantly takes on a traditionally feminine, submissive role through both her sex work with her client, Max (Danny Deferrari), and within the strict social setting of the Shiva.
Yet Danielle’s frustration at having to compromise herself and deny her bisexuality radiates through Sennott’s painted smiles and forced laughs. The film’s most satisfying moments are when that mask slips during scenes of tender vulnerability with her ex-girlfriend or an emotional breakdown at the climax. Sennott handles these dramatic beats, and the film’s sharp, uncomfortable comedic edge, brilliantly. Sennott is surely an actor with an exciting career ahead of her. Milly Gribben