If you end up winning a role that John Boyega, now the lead in "Star Wars: Episode VII," and the hotly-tipped Jack O'Connell (see above) were both in contention for, you can be sure that people are gonna sit up and pay attention to you. That's what happened to Taron Egerton: The other two equally fast-rising Brits were up for the lead role in Matthew Vaughn's upcoming spy actioner "Kingsman: The Secret Service" alongside Colin Firth, but it's Egerton that won out, and he's following it up with a diverse mix of gigs afterwards. The 25-year-old actor, who hails from North Wales, trained first at the hallowed National Youth Theater, then the even more prestigious RADA, from which he graduated in 2012. His first major gigs, alongside long-running TV detective show "Lewis," were on stage: in the acclaimed National Theater production of "The Last Of The Haussmans," and alongside Tom Sturridge in "No Quarter," the third play by Polly Stenham (who's writing Nicolas Winding Refn's next film). Earlier this year, he did an excellent job in the ensemble firefighting TV drama "The Smoke," before landing the hotly-contested 'Secret Service' gig, and trailers and Comic-Con footage suggest that he's got a cheekily charming screen presence that could take him far. Since that film wrapped, he's shot the WWI drama "Testament Of Youth," a potential Oscar sleeper, and will be Mad Teddy Smith in "Legend," Brian Helgeland's film about the legendary and much feared gangster twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray, starring Tom Hardy in both roles.
2013 was make-or-break for André Holland. The then 30-year-old actor saw his second shot at sitcom glory (after 2011’s “Friends With Benefits” for NBC), in the shape of a Josh Gad co-written White House family comedy “1600 Penn," get cancelled after one season. But it may have been a blessing in disguise: having impressed as unbending reporter Wendell Smith in “42” opposite Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, Holland was cast in a central role in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick.” Which we’ll get back to in a minute...but no one comes from nowhere, so where did Holland spring from? In fact, his first screen credit (he’s worked on and off in theater) was an episode of “Law & Order” back in 2006, and who among us hasn’t appeared in at least one episode of “Law & Order”? After such inauspicious beginnings, Holland went on to carve a regular career as a bit-part player in productions good (another baseball picture—Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s “Sugar,” Spike Lee’s undervalued “Miracle At St. Anna”) and bad (he played a character called DJ Jazzles in the horrible “Bride Wars”), before landing regular slots on those two aforementioned sitcoms. But “The Knick” will be his biggest showcase yet. He plays Dr. Algernon Edwards, the Harvard-educated surgeon foisted onto Clive Owen’s character as his assistant, and given that the most impressive thing about the Soderbergh show is its attention to its supporting characters and the social issues of the day, we expect his to be one of the most compelling arcs. And he’s going to be inescapable fairly soon on the big screen: Holland has a role in upcoming race issues family drama “Black and White” alongside Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner and Anthony Mackie, and also in Ava du Vernay’s probable Oscar contender “Selma.” He’ll play pioneering American politician and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), Andrew Jackson Young.
Among the fresh faces and square-jawed potential leading men elsewhere on this list, we like to feature a couple of slightly more left-field picks—actors who might not be heading up a Young Adult franchise or a superhero movie anytime soon, but who we’ve been consistently impressed by as character players. And one such talent is Jeremy Strong, a Yale and RADA graduate and Steppenwolf Theater Company alum who’s been steadily climbing up the billing of various small- and big-screen projects since starting out with the lead in indie “Humboldt County” opposite Fairuza Balk and Peter Bogdanovich, back in 2008. Small parts in “The Happening” (don’t hold it against him), “The Messenger” and “Robot and Frank” followed, and with a nice air of symmetry, he landed the role of John Nicolay, private secretary to the President in Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which of course starred Daniel Day-Lewis, for whom Strong himself served as an assistant back on “The Ballad of Jack and Rose.” He also appeared as a CIA analyst alongside Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty” and has an occasionally recurring role on legal drama “The Good Wife.” Last year saw him take a key role in the ensemble assembled for Frank Darabont’s initially promising but ultimately disappointing “Mob City”—nonetheless, Strong was one of the show’s high points as a laconic member of the Mob Squad, and he also proved himself much better than the material as Lee Harvey Oswald in Kennedy assassination movie “Parkland.” But don’t fear if you still don’t recognize him—commit his face to memory now and you’ll be ahead of the curve as potentially his most exciting projects are still to come. Soon he’ll be seen in “The Judge” with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall; and in Playlist favorite Oren Moverman’s next film “Time Out Of Mind” alongside Jena Malone and Richard Gere. He plays James Reeb, the pastor and Civil Rights activist who was beaten to death by segregationists in Alabama in 1965 in Ava du Vernay’s “Selma,” which is due out this Christmas, and in 2015 will be part of the ridiculously stacked cast of “Black Mass,” the Whitey Bulger biopic which stars Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Juno Temple, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Joel Edgerton, Adam Scott, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons and Julianne Nicholson, among others. So, yeah, it feels like they’ve cast that movie directly from the archives of the Playlist and the daydreams of our contributors, making it another surefire rung on the ladder for Strong.
Liam Neeson might have a very particular set of skills, skills which will only go so far: the veteran star got a new lease on life with "Taken," but has been consistently reluctant to make sequels, with only a dump truck of money from Luc Besson and Fox persuading him into both "Taken 2" and next January's "Taken 3." But it's very possible that the series could continue past him, perhaps by handing off to heir apparent Jonny Weston. The 26-year-old South Carolina native moved to LA to study at USC, only to quit school when he discovered acting. He first came to attention back in 2012 with a small role in James Franco-featuring indie "About Cherry" and the lead in Curtis Hanson's surfing picture "Chasing Mavericks." Neither drew much of an audience, and neither did cult horror flick "John Dies At The End," in which he had a small role, but he proved his mettle at SXSW this year. Weston co-starred with Juliette Lewis in Jen McGowan's "Kelly & Cal," about the relationship between an oversexed, wheelchair-bound teenager and a suburban mom, and while the film's not perfect, it demonstrated that Weston is more than just a pretty face. And he looks to be delivering on that promise shortly, as he secured the lead in buzzy Michael Bay-produced sci-fi "Project Almanac," a time-travel answer to "Chronicle" that's already winning good notices out of Comic-Con. He's in next spring's "Insurgent," and perhaps most importantly, has joined the cast of "Taken 3" in a major role, playing the beau of Maggie Grace's perpetually-kidnapped Kim, with a potential role in EDM drama "We Are Your Friends" alongside Zac Efron.