By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 29, 2012 at 3:30PM
Sitting down to rewatch "Shaun of the Dead," one wouldn't necessarily pick out the chubby electronics store employee who taunts Simon Pegg as a potential leading man of the future, as funny as he was. But Spall returned to torment Pegg again three years later, lean, mean and just as hilarious as before, as one of the two Andys, alongside Paddy Considine, and the actor hasn't looked back since. The son of the great Timothy Spall, Rafe's been working consistently for a decade, across an impressive range of genres, tackling TV costume drama in "Wide Sargasso Sea" and "A Room With A View," and giving impressive dramatic turns in Playlist favorite "The Scouting Book For Boys" and "He Kills Coppers." But 2011 was a truly exceptional year for him: he played Anne Hathaway's hapless beau in "One Day," walked away with Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous" as William Shakespeare, and turned in a unpredictably terrifying terrier-like performance opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Eccelston in cult TV hit "The Shadow Line." He just wrapped up a hugely acclaimed run with Sally Hawkins in London stage hit "Constellations," and then next up is none other than Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," as bespectacled botanist Milburn, which should expose him to his widest audience yet. And following that, he gets a chance to play leading man, teaming up with "Bridesmaids" star Rose Byrne as a poorly-matched married couple in Working Title Films rom-com "I Give It A Year," directed by "Borat" writer Dan Mazer. Spall's got an unconventional delivery style that's not to everyone's taste, but we find him an enormously exciting actor to watch, and considering the range he's displayed to date, we think he's poised to go huge.
Australian crime thriller "Animal Kingdom" was good for pretty much everyone involved: Guy Pearce has had a clear career boost from his small role, Joel Edgerton became a go-to leading man, Ben Mendelsohn has a major part in Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly," lead James Frecheville is featuring in U.S. flicks like "The First Time," and Jacki Weaver won an Oscar nomination and is now cropping up in films like "The Five-Year Engagement" and "Stoker." And, while it took a little longer than some of his co-stars, Sullivan Stapleton, who played volatile middle brother Craig Cody, is the latest to join them. The actor, who previously appeared alongside Daniel Radcliffe in "December Boys," followed "Animal Kingdom" by stepping in for Richard Armitage on British action series "Strike Back" when the latter left to make "The Hobbit." Thanks to airing on Cinemax, the show became a huge hit, bringing him further to the attention of U.S. casting directors, and he's another one cropping up in the impressive cast of "The Gangster Squad" as Ryan Gosling's childhood pal, a mob enforcer who also serves as a police officer. And that in turn led to him landing one of the most sought-after parts in Hollywood (and one that his "Animal Kingdom" co-star Joel Edgerton had been courted for beforehand): the lead, Themistocles, in "300: Battle of Artemesia," the sequel to Zack Snyder's 2007 stylized bloodbath. Given that "300" turned its lead, Gerard Butler, into a legitimate star, we can't see any reason that Stapleton, who's displayed impressive acting chops so far, can't be even bigger.
Honorable Mentions: The original helped give early exposure to Michael Fassbender, so it's possible that more than one star from "300: Battle of Artemesia" breaks out, and either Callan Mulvey, the Aussie actor who's also in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama Bin-Laden picture "Zero Dark Thirty," and Jamie Blackley, who'll first appear in "Snow White and the Huntsman" and the Bryan Singer-produced "uwantme2killhim" couldn't join Stapleton in getting a huge boost from the movie. Also from the swords-and-sorcery school are another Aussie, Jai Courteney, who's gone from Starz's "Spartacus" to playing John McClane's son in "A Good Day to Die Hard." And don't forget the cast of "Game of Thrones" -- Kit Harrington and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau have both booked high-profile roles since the series started (in "The Seventh Son" and "Oblivion" with Tom Cruise, respectively), and we'd expect the likes of Richard Madden (who was up for the part that Harrington got in the aborted "Arthur and Lancelot") and Gethin Anthony, who plays Renly Baratheon in the show, to join them soon.
Otherwise, names to watch from across the pond include Steve Oram, who's written and starred in Ben Wheatley's next, "Sightseers," and Olly Alexander, who followed "Enter the Void" with a co-starring role opposite Greta Gerwig in "The Dish and the Spoon." Australian actor Sam Reid is one to keep an eye on too: he had a major part in "Anonymous" and was due to be among the cast of "Paradise Lost." That film was scrapped, but things are still looking good -- he'll co-star with Kevin Costner in TV show "The Hatfields & The McCoys" and is joining Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Susanna Bier's "Serena."
Finally, Suraj Sharma was picked from hundreds to topline Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi" -- if that film lands, expect him to be doing much more, while Emory Cohen ("Afterschool") pays Dane DeHann's adversary, the son of Bradley Cooper's character, in "The Place Beyond the Pines," and might well shine there. And while Josh Pence is famous for playing one of the Winklevi in "The Social Network," but even having his face replaced by Armie Hammer, he's not hurting for work, with appearances in three of the biggest movies of 2012, "Battleship," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Gangster Squad" all lined up. And what about yourselves? Who do you tip for major stardom in the next couple of years?