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On The Rise '12: 10 TV Stars Who Should Break Through To The Big Screen Soon

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 12, 2012 12:40 PM
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Gillian Jacobs
There's likely not all that much left of "Community." While it was picked up for a fourth season by the skin of its teeth, the cult NBC comedy has been moved to the Friday night death slot, and will be without most of its key behind-the-scenes personnel, including creator Dan Harmon and directors the Russo Brothers, who've gone off to make "Captain America 2." Bad news for fans of the show, then, but good news for those who long since recognized that it was bursting at the seams with talent who would go on to big-screen fare. Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Jim Rash are all starting to make waves in the movie world, and it looks like Gillian Jacobs will be the next to join them. The 29-year-old Pennsylvania native first came to notice in two dark 2008 dramas: the harrowing "Gardens of the Night," with John Malkovich, and Clark Gregg's Chuck Palahniuk adaption "Choke," with Sam Rockwell. Soon after that, she was cast in "Community," and at first, she seemed decent, but in  something of a weak part -- Britta Perry was envisioned mostly as a straight woman and a love interest for McHale's Jeff Winger. But Harmon & co swiftly realized that Jacobs was capable of much more, and over time Britta's evolved into the M.V.P. of the recent third season: a would-be-rebel whose own self-interest and incompetence has made her referred to as 'the worst' by pretty much every other character on the show. From locking herself in a cage to protest the model U.N to proving the world's least proficient war photographer, she's been a consistent delight in the last couple of seasons. And the movies are starting to take notice; she'll be seen in a few weeks in "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World," and has a few indies bubbling about too, including "Sin Bin" and "Teddy Bears." And after narrowly missing out on the lead in "The Dictator" to Anna Faris, she's venturing into studio territory for the first time too, as a magic groupie alongside Steve Carell and Jim Carrey in the promising-sounding "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone." Assuming "Community" doesn't somehow find an audience by this time next year, there should be much more film work where that came from after that.  

Taran Killam
Nearly 40 years into its run, "Saturday Night Live" is at one of its occasional changing of the guards. Kristin Wiig and Andy Samberg, who've been the major breakouts on the show of the last few years, are leaving to pursue movie careers, with Jason Sudeikis looking likely to join them soon. As such, some of the existing cast members are likely to step up in a big way, and the most likely candidate looks to be 30-year-old Taran Killam. The actor (who is the great-nephew of "Untouchables" star Robert Stack, and is engaged to Cobie Smulders of "The Avengers" and "How I Met Your Mother") actually had an extensive career before joining the SNL roster, as a cast member on "MADtv" aged only 19, and a regular on Nick Cannon sitcom "Wild 'N Out," along with a recurring role on the last couple of seasons of "Scrubs," and small parts in rom-coms "Just Married" and "My Best Friend's Girl." But the Groundlings vet impressed swiftly once he joined "Saturday Night Live" two years ago, thanks to dead on impressions of the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael Cera and Eminem, as well as being central to some of the more memorable recurring sketches of late, "Les Jeunes De Paris" and "J-Pop America Fun Time Now." He's a true versatility player, capable of playing straight roles and far-out characters, and is nearly certain to graduate to become a full time Rep player in the next season, and will likely make even more of an impression. He further won over comedy fans with a killer guest spot savaging "Glee" on the Christmas episode of "Community," but he's getting his big-screen break in a much more surprising venue: he recently joined the astonishing cast of Steve McQueen's "Twelve Years A Slave," alongside Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt (who presumably approves of Killam's impression, given that he's the film's producer), Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Ruth Negga, Garret Dillahunt and Scoot McNairy, among many others. It's a smallish role -- of a circus employee responsible for capturing Ejiofor's lead character -- but it's a serious compliment to be included among a line up like that, and suggests that comedy is only the beginning of his talents.

Rose Leslie
Aside from hooking more and more viewers all over the world into their ever-growing cults, "Downton Abbey" and "Game Of Thrones," while about as polar opposite as two shows could be, have something in common: their vast, expansive casts are single-handedly staving off unemployment in the British acting industry. And they have something else in common, too: 25-year-old actress Rose Leslie, who's had scene-stealing parts in both. Leslie (whose parents are Scottish aristocrats, who live in a castle near Aberdeen that's been the family home for 500 years) graduated from prestigious drama school LAMDA (whose alumni include Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic Cooper, Chiwetel Ejiofor and John Lithgow) in 2008, and swiftly booked a role in Annie Griffin's acclaimed TV drama "New Town," which won her a New Talent award at the Scottish BAFTAs. Soon after, she filmed a new costume drama to be called "Downton Abbey," in which she played Gwen Dawson, a maid with dreams of moving out of service and becoming a secretary. the character, and her friendship with Jessica Brown-Findlay's Lady Sybil, was one of the highlights of the first season of the show, but by the time the shows became a monster hit, Leslie had already moved on, appearing on the stage at the Globe Theater in the new play "Bedlam." Appearances on cop shows "Case Histories," with Jason Isaacs, and "Vera," with Brenda Blethyn, followed, and then halfway through season two, she cropped up unannounced as Ygritte, a wildling girl held captive by Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), before turning the tables on him. It was about as far from her last major role as you could get (bar a certain feistiness in both), and yet Leslie nailed both, especially the latter; her flirtatious, wild scenes with Jon Snow were the only time the sometimes-dull character's storyline really came alive. She still had her head at the end of Season Two, so should be around for at least a little longer into the third season, which begins filming soon, but she's also spent the interim on her first role, starring alongside Dakota Fanning, Olivia Williams, Paddy Considine and Jeremy Irvine in weepie "Now Is Good." It'll be the first of many big-screen roles, we'd wager.

Aaron Paul
Some cable dramas -- HBO and Showtime in particular -- are highly star-driven. AMC have generally taken a different path, with lesser-known names leading the likes of "Mad Men" and "The Walking Dead." "Breaking Bad" did have a star name, of a sort, with Bryan Cranston going firmly against type as the mild-mannered chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin. But a less familiar face became just as important to the show over time, in the shape of Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman, and the 32-year-old actor looks like he's on the verge of further big-screen success very soon. Paul had a brace of big-screen roles early on, including small parts in "K-Pax," "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" and "Mission Impossible III" (he plays Michelle Monaghan's drunken brother in a brief scene in the latter), and recurred on HBO drama "Big Love" across its five seasons. And then came "Breaking Bad." Jesse, a meth-cooking, whiteboy dropout, was meant to be killed off in the first seven-episode season, but creator Vince Gilligan soon found that he couldn't do without him, and Pinkman was spared, and it's impossible to think of how the show would be without him; he's given a consistently astonishing performance, which saw him pick up an Emmy in 2010. Film roles have been scarcer since the series got underway, with only one of the bad guys in "Last House On The Left" to his name. But as the series has grown in popularity, he's become more and more in-demand on screen. He's wrapped indies "Quad" and "Decoding Annie Parker," in the latter of which he plays the husband of Samantha Morton's title character, while he got rave reviews at Sundance for "Smashed," in which he and Mary Elizabeth Winstead play a young alcoholic married couple -- Sony Pictures Classics are putting it out later in the year in the hopes of an awards run. And he's starting to break down the door to the mainstream too; he was one of the final contenders to play John McClane's son in "A Good Day To Die Hard." While he would have been great in the role, we're secretly a little glad that he'll have the opportunity to take on more interesting roles, particularly once "Breaking Bad" winds down next year.

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  • 1974 | June 23, 2012 7:25 PMReply

    Rose Leslie all the way! I like how Playlist loves talented redheads, Rose and Jessica- we all know Jessica who, in particular

  • rob | June 18, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    under the "Adam Driver" heading Alison Williams is listed twice while Jemima is not at all. Alison is certainly double the pleasure but Jemima wants to be included too

  • Monica | June 17, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    Great list and very enjoyable to read too. I agree that Maisie Williams is the S2 stand out performance amongst the younger cast of Game of Thrones, but still, it has to be said they are ALL remarkably good. Jack Gleeson is just delightfully wicked as Joffrey and Sophie Turner has done very strong work as well, even if her part is not as flashy.

  • Whodatninja | June 14, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    Good list. Jacobs is the whole package, Chris Pratt is a gifted comedic actor, Pare is stunning and should have been a bigger name after her starring role years ago in Stardom, Wayans is truly funny and stands on his own outside his famous family and Goggins caught my attention way back in the surprisingly amusing Major League 3 (yes, I can admit that the movie is strangely likable) and he was magnetic in Justified. Killam I didn't know of before Community, but he was freaking hilarious during his guest stint. One thing though. Aaron Paul is indeed a good actor, but the idea of the small framed actor playing McClane's son kind of makes me chuckle, despite how menacing he is capable of being onscreen.

  • dizzylucy | June 13, 2012 6:54 AMReply

    I'd say that Walton Goggins (genius) and Chris Pratt, who are on my favorite drama and comedy shows, have already broken through.
    Everyone else on the list is deserving too, and I think most of them will get there.

  • Mike | June 12, 2012 9:28 PMReply

    Goggins has masterfully created (obviously credit to the writers as well) the most complex & heartbreaking character currently on television. I somehow missed his casting in Lincoln amongst the barrage of star names, but as a huge Justified & Spielberg fan that makes me really excited.

  • loudrockmusic | June 12, 2012 9:21 PMReply

    Adam Pally!
    Also, I love Chris Pratt as much as you guys do, but does he get any points for being married to Anna Faris?

  • Zoe | June 12, 2012 5:55 PMReply

    Glad to see Gillian Jacobs included in this list and recognized for her brilliant work on Community season 3! Very much poised to be a movie star, and definitely has the looks.

  • Liz | June 12, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    Walton Goggins' hair deserves to be a star.

    The rest of him is pretty good too.

  • please | June 12, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    What is Playlist's fascination with Chris Pratt ? He is usually annoying and cloying. The poor guy tries too hard. I always feel he is acting-it never feels natural.

    Yes, I agree with Aaron Paul ( but he is not a leading man and he has no strong physical presence ) & Killam is as good as SNL's Bill Hader.

  • Jeremy D | June 12, 2012 5:02 PM

    I'm pretty sure you're the same person that posts this every time Chris Pratt is mentioned. You sure seem have a problem with him. You're very much in the minority, I suspect.

  • DG | June 12, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    Definitely agree about Killam and Aaron Paul

  • nik | June 12, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    Good set.

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