By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 1, 2010 at 6:08AM
Ten days or so ago, we took a look into the murky world of casting wishlists, which are being reported more and more often by reputable outlets, despite the fact that 90% of the names featured will never come close to taking the role in question. We ran down a list of the men who are popping up again and again in these lists, as well as looking at why these wishlist stories are being reported now, while it was unlikely that they would have been made public even a few years ago. If you missed it now's a good time to catch up -- you can find Part One here. We'll wait for you.
Up to speed? Good. We'll talk about those in-demand actresses shortly, but first, we wanted to discuss why these boys and girls end up on these lists. As we suggested last time, the star hierarchy has changed in recent years, with few of the old guard managing to maintain their superstar statuses -- A-listers like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts have all had high profile flops in recent years, and those who do remain consistent -- Adam Sandler, Denzel Washington -- do so by sticking to their particular niche, i.e. lowest-common-denominator comedies for Sandler, middlebrow thrillers for Washington.
What's interesting about the new guard we're featuring in these articles is that they've managed to become heavily in demand without having sustained box office success, or even so much as a single big-screen lead role.
It's a sort of cart-before-the-horse approach, as exemplified by the career path of Sam Worthington who was cast in two lead roles in tentpole actioners, "Terminator: Salvation" and "Clash of the Titans," before "Avatar," for which James Cameron had plucked him from Australian indies, was in theaters. It turned out fine for the actor, and he's now arguably the default stoic action hero of his generation, but if audiences hadn't taken to the star in "Avatar," there would have been some nervous executives at Warner Bros in advance of the release of 'Titans.'
It's interesting to balance how in demand the faces on both this list and its predecessor are, with how few of them have had lead roles in genuine hits. Of the men, only James McAvoy in "Wanted" and Chris Pine in "Star Trek" led megahits, and neither were exactly what the film was sold on, and there's no guarantee that audiences will follow them from film to film.
But the fact is, it's much harder than it looks to be a leading man or leading lady -- the great megastars, from Clark Gable and Audrey Hepburn to Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep, make it look effortless, but it's a rare figure who can balance charisma, sex appeal, acting ability and, increasingly, the ability to look good in a superhero costume. Executives are always on the lookout for the next name who can fill those shoes -- and if it means taking a chance, then so be it.
Plus, there's the lemming-like nature of studio executives -- agents are able to manufacture buzz around their client based on very little, and once someone starts having meetings, there tends to be a snowball effect: the more roles someone like Noomi Rapace is linked with, the more she's likely to be offered, even though there's no evidence that she's a draw to American audiences, or even that she can act in the English language.
Of course, the most important thing to remember about these names: they're generally pretty cheap. Studios are keen to reduce above-the-line costs as far as possible, and casting a hot up-and-comer like Blake Lively or Abbie Cornish is probably preferable, particularly in an effects-driven film which doesn't rely on a big name in the same way.
With all that in mind, below are the dozen-or-so women who seemed to be linked to every hot prospect in the last year from "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and "Spider-Man" to "Gravity" and the "Alien" prequel, and the reasons why they've suddenly become hot prospects.
And to clarify, because there seemed to be some confusion last time around: these aren't really The Playlist's picks. Sure, there's got to be some editorializing, but for the most part we're going with the flow here, and trying to reflect the trend in the industry, rather than influence it. There are certainly names that we'd like to see on these lists (and we'll deal with some of those tomorrow), but these are all actors who've been linked with at least two of the wishlist projects around town in recent months. If your favorite isn't there, it doesn't mean they're not a star, it simply means that they've perhaps carved out a different niche for themselves. We'll discuss this more in the honorable mentions section at the end. Lastly, to reiterate, this is not an On The Rise actresses piece. That comes tomorrow and this is the instant shortlist for new roles that seems to immediately pop-up in Hollywood every time a new hot female part becomes available.
What Made Her In Demand: Abbie Cornish’s slow “rise” to the top is a relative one and even her appearance on this Go-To-Girls list is thin at best compared to most of these ladies, but it’s certainly not for a lack of talent. Making a name for herself in Australian television and an Aussie short film co-starring Hugo Weaving, her non-U.S. breakout role was certainly as the disaffected and homeless teenager in Cate Shortland's expressive feature film debut, “Somersault” alongside another rising Oz actor named Sam Worthington (Cate, please make another film). She turned heads once more in 2004 starring alongside Heath Ledger in the junkie-couples-are-doomed drama, “Candy,” where the impressive and beautiful star went toe-to-toe with the dearly departed actor. Small, but strong appearances in films like “A Good Year,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “Stop-Loss” continued to demonstrate her mix of beauty and strength.
What Keeps Her In Demand: While the film unfortunately didn’t make much of a dent commercially, Cornish’s turn as Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion’s breathtaking period romance “Bright Star” did catch the eye of every cinephile on earth, plus discerning casting agents and folks like Quentin Tarantino who raved about the film at Cannes in 2009. Frankly, she was straight-out robbed of an Oscar nomination, her performance was that good, but the film was mostly a commercial dud, which unfortunately kept her out of the Oscar race. While it was a quiet breakout role in the sense that it garnered no awards, it quickly brought her to the attention of tastemaking directors who prefer pretty faces that come with bona fide talent.
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: Soon after that film Cornish was scooped up for several roles including the starring one in Madonna's "W.E." alongside Oscar Isaac, “The Dark Fields” next to rising A-lister Bradley Cooper, and perhaps one that could turn out to be a key future role as one of the ass-kicking babes in Zack Snyder’s cyperbunk fantasia “Sucker Punch.” Cornish’s name has come up in connection with Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel (he directed her in "A Good Year”) and it's conceivable that her turn as the sword-wielding Sweet Pea has proven to casting directors that she can convince in physical and tough roles as well. She was also one of the ladies up for the coveted “The Great Gatsby” role that eventually went to Carey Mulligan which only proves her stock is on the rise.
What Made Her In Demand: With a few appearances on Brit TV and some stage work behind her, Rebecca Hall was seemingly plucked from obscurity when she landed a supporting role in Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” starring alongside a dream cast for any young actress, including Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie. But itwas her turn in Woody Allen’s winning “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” that would make Hollywood sit up and take notice. Once again working with an actress’ dream of a cast including Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and (again) Scarlett Johansson, Hall shone as the reserved but no less troubled Vicky, playing her with tenderness and sensuality to spare. From there she popped up in Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” and in “Red Riding 1974” before turning heads twice over this year, first with a wonderful, layered performance in Nicole Holofcener’s excellent and undeservedly overlooked “Please Give” and second in Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” with a much richer turn as “the moll” than that kind of picture usually allows.
What Keeps Her In Demand: She’s a damned good actress, and that’s really all there is to it. It shouldn’t be any surprise that so early into her career she’s found work with some incredibly talented directors. And when it was revealed that she was reading for the part of Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s gestating “The Great Gatsby,” we were definitely pleased and it was more proof that top-tier directors have recognized her work and skill.
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: Hall recently appeared alongside Will Ferrell in the dramedy “Everything Must Go” which premiered at TIFF. While the film split the Playlist staff a little bit, she is solid in the picture. She’s also got two more indie films in post-production and likely to hit the festival circuit next year. One is “A Bag Of Hammers” co-written and directed by Brian Crano who previously directed her in the shorts “Rubberheart” and “Official Selection.” She’s also got the gothic thriller “The Awakening” as well. But we really hope she can find a foothold outside of the indie world in some leading roles in bigger films -- her talent is just too big to be sidelined in supporting work. We’d hate to see her get caught up in an Eva Green-style film rut (which is a different article for a different day) but we figure it’s only a matter of time before the right material and the right timing will come along to turn Hall into a household name.
What Made Her In Demand: It's amazing to think, for an actress whose career stretches back as far as 1994, that Scarlett Johansson only just turned 26. Making her debut in Rob Reiner's "North," she then had roles in the likes of "Just Cause," "If Lucy Fell" and "The Horse Whisperer" keeping her busy into her teenage years. She was only 17 when she started to move into more adult roles, with "Ghost World" and "The Man Who Wasn't There," but it was as the co-lead in Sofia Coppola's "Lost In Translation" that she really turned heads.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Some might indeed question exactly what keeps her in demand: the common complaint is that Johansson can't act, and her choice of projects in recent years, including turkeys like "The Island," "The Black Dahlia," "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Spirit," haven't exactly proven the haters wrong. But the fact is, in the right role, she can turn in strong performances, and, as proved by her SNL appearances, she's a talented comic actress who hasn't really been able to stretch her wings in that field.
Where She's Going And What's Next: She'll reprise her small role from "Iron Man 2," as SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, in "The Avengers," and will hopefully be given an opportunity to do more than pull off impressive gymnastics in a catsuit. First up, however, she's playing the late wife of Matt Damon in Cameron Crowe's "We Bought A Zoo," beating out the likes of Amy Adams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rachel McAdams for the role. Crowe's been able to get good performances out of actresses like Renee Zellweger and Kate Hudson (Kirsten Dunst? Not so much), so this could see the turning of the tide for the star, and the fact that she's been linked to roles in "The Great Gatsby" and "Gravity" (and even apparently was a serious last-minute challenger to Rooney Mara for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") suggests that directors are seeing something in auditions that perhaps we aren't. She's thought to be the frontrunner to replace Natalie Portman in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" as well.
What Made Her In Demand: With, remarkably, nearly 10 years of work in the industry behind her, Ms. Knightley broke through as a teenager with in "Bend It Like Beckham" and "The Hole" before graduating to leading lady in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy. She may not have impressed particularly in those, but her collaborations with director Joe Wright on "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement" proved she was more than just a pretty face.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Aside from the infamous disaster “Domino,” Knightley’s biggest claim to fame is inevitably the "Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise but her lack of involvement with the fourth film may hint at future goals: she's done her franchise time, and now she wants to act. “Never Let Me Go” was perhaps her biggest role in recent years, aside from the mostly coolly received “The Duchess,” but she gave strong performances in both, outshining even hotly-tipped fellow Go-To-Girl Carey Mulligan in the former.
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: Keira is poised to make a return in a big way as Sabina Spielrein, the romantic interest and source of conflict between none other than Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) in David Cronenberg’s upcoming “A Dangerous Method”. It’s a dynamite cast (which also includes Vincent Cassel) and Knightley’s habitual dedication to the full emotional unveiling of her characters can only stand to benefit the film. She's also circling Noah Baumbach's "The Emperor's Children," the F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation "Tender Is The Night," a reteam with Joe Wright on "Anna Karenina" and even a possible return to franchise territory for "The Dark Knight Rises," if she beats her colleagues out for the role.
What Made Her In Demand: It's relatively rare for a bona fide movie star to be born out of hit teen shows -- for every Michelle Williams there are two or three Sarah Michelle Gellars, Keri Russells or Mischa Bartons. So when buzz started to form around 23-year-old "Gossip Girl" star Blake Lively, we'd have been forgiven for not paying too much attention, even if, as one of the stars of the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," Lively had a little previous big-screen form.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Well, as it turns out, Lively's the real deal -- while we remain unfamiliar with her work on the CW show, she's turned in a pair of extremely strong performances of late as the younger version of Robin Wright's title character in "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee" and, most recently and most high-profile, a supporting performance as Ben Affleck's junkie ex-lover in "The Town.." She was unrecognizable in the latter, a world away from the privileged Manhattanite she plays on the TV show, and it suggested the birth of an actress who could be a force to be reckoned with.
Where She's Going And What's Next: Off the back of her role in "Pippa Lee" (and we imagine her teen fanbase didn't hurt either), Lively beat Keri Russell, Jennifer Garner, Diane Kruger and Eva Green to the role of love interest and future supervillain Carol Ferris in Warner Bros' "Green Lantern." The buzz on the film is poisonous, and Lively looks somewhat problematic, but if it misses, no one'll hold it against the actress, and if it hits, it'll prove to be another feather in her cap. We can't imagine she'll stay on "Gossip Girl" (currently in its fourth season), particularly after being linked to the likes of "The Great Gatsby" and, possibly, another DC Comics role in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises."
What Made Her In Demand: While her Hollywood career essentially began with Rob Schneider’s godawful “The Hot Chick,” everyone has to start somewhere and this was basically the Canadian actress’ first and only American slumming role. Two years later she broke out as the queen bitch in the still-endearing “Mean Girls” (a film that gave us a crop of talent, including Amanda Seyfried and Lizzy Caplan) and never looked back. Following on the heels of that surprisingly good teen comedy came strong turns in “The Notebook” and “Red Eye” -- the latter an average suspense thriller that was far better than it deserved to be thanks to McAdams' and Cillian Murphy’s strong performances. Her second breakout role, if we can call it that, was as the reluctant bride-to-be in the terrific comedy, “Wedding Crashers,” where she stole the show with her tremendous, innate charms opposite Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Christopher Walken.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Strong, worthwhile performances in otherwise mediocre films like “The Family Stone,” “The Lucky Ones” and “State Of Play” (which is actually pretty good and she’s a scene-stealing firecracker in it, going toe-to-toe with Russell Crowe). On a mainstream level, her charm, wit and talent caught the eye of Guy Ritchie who cast her alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in “Sherlock Holmes” and she more than held her own. McAdams’ poor choice of roles -- or a lame agent -- seems to be her only obstacle. To wit: “Morning Glory” was pretty much routinely slammed by critics, but almost every single one of these writers essentially said McAdams shined in the sub-par material and the picture was beneath her. That’s becoming a recurring sentiment and was basically also said about her turn in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: Woody Allen has also been bitten with the McAdams bug and cast her in his next picture, “Midnight in Paris,” with Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard, but perhaps the biggest endorsement of her still untapped and huge potential has come from heralded filmmaker Terrence Malick, who recently cast her in his upcoming untitled romantic drama alongside Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem, to name a few. Let’s not forget, she also caught the eye of David Fincher who was going to cast her in “Ness” opposite Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. Here’s hoping that project comes back to life one day. If/when we ever make a list of female actresses who are bound to win an Academy Award, McAdams will be at the top of that list. She hasn’t yet proved herself, but all she seemingly needs is one strong lead role before she breaks out as a huge star.
What Makes Her In Demand: Ever since she cropped up as one of the Bennett sisters in Joe Wright's "Pride & Prejudice," Mulligan has acted almost constantly, from brief big-screen roles in "When Did You Last See Your Father?" to terrific TV performances in "Bleak House" and a one-episode lead in a fan-favorite episode of "Doctor Who." But she became a star almost overnight when "An Education" premiered at Sundance in January 2009, alongside another indie film starring the actress, "The Greatest."
What Keeps Her In Demand: "An Education" saw comparisons with Audrey Hepburn fly in, and the actress picked up an Oscar nomination (and really, should have beaten out Sandra Bullock for the win). She capped off the rest of 2009 with tiny roles in Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" and Jim Sheridan's "Brothers," but bigger and better things were on the way. She was strong in both "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and "Never Let Me Go," although both films disappointed, she's still one of the hottest prospects in town.
Where She's Going And What's Next: After a slightly disappointing 2010, her upcoming projects look far more promising -- she's currently filming "Drive," the Nicolas Winding Refn-helmed thriller that's one of our most anticipated films of next year in a cast also including Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston. After that, she managed to fight off... well, pretty much everybody on this list, for the role of Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby," which is likely to film next year with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire in the other two key roles. She was also linked to a role in the "Alien" prequels, but we can't imagine that happening now that she's in Gatsby. It's an eclectic mix of parts in what should be a lengthy, and hugely successful career.
What Made Her In Demand: While she stood out in Luc Besson’s “The Professional” as she was entering her teenage years, it was her lead turn in George Lucas’ new “Star Wars” trilogy as Padmé that put Natalie Portman in the public eye very quickly. And like many smart actresses, she parlayed that exposure into roles in films directed by serious filmmakers with more dramatic heft. Wayne Wang’s “Where The Heart Is,” Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” and Mike Nichols' “Closer” all showed Portman beginning to flex some serious acting chops. However, it was Zach Braff’s surprise smash hit “Garden State” that would confirm the actress as a bona fide star. She once again showed an ability to carry tentpole material, starring in the Wachowski-produced “V For Vendetta,” but ever since she’s shown a great interest in auteur-driven fare working with an enviable list of talent including Milos Forman, Wes Anderson, Wong Kar-Wai and Jim Sheridan.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Portman occupies a rare space where, even though she hasn’t set foot in a tentpole picture in four years, she has enough critical respect and broad awareness and appeal that her name alone can get a project greenlit. Thus, it’s no surprise her name was at the top of recent casting lists for the “Alien” prequel and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity.”
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: As the year closes, Portman will be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” which is likely to see her earn her second Oscar nomination. In 2011, Portman returns to big budget/decidedly mainstream fare but don’t cry “sellout” just yet. With pictures directed by David Gordon Green (“Your Highness”), Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) and Ivan Reitman (“No Strings Attached”), it looks like she’s found a way to continue connecting with interesting helmers and actors while also being able pay the bills. For indie cred, she’s also in Spencer Susser’s “Hesher” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rainn Wilson which should see a release sometime next year after premiering at Sundance in January. She’s also putting her producing muscles to use with the gestating adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and is shopping a raunchy female-led sex comedy “BYO” which she co-wrote and is attached to star in around town.
What Made Her In Demand: The 30-year-old Swedish actress has had perhaps the most meteoric rise of any actress on this list -- having worked consistently in theater in her home country for nearly a decade, she gave an acclaimed performance as a teen mother in the Danish drama "Daisy Diamond." That, in turn, led to her being cast in the role of sociopathic computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish-language version of the Millennium trilogy, the mystery novels by the late Stieg Larsson, which proved to be big hits all over the world.
What Keeps Her In Demand: We haven't exactly been shy about our dislike for the film versions of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest," but easily the strongest feature of the trilogy is Rapace's performance -- she not only perfectly embodies one of the most immediately iconic figures in recent literature, but also manages to breathe life into her, and it's no surprise that, once the films started to be released in the States earlier this year, it made Rapace one of the hottest properties around. She was linked to a number of projects, but it was Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes 2" that landed her in the role of an enigmatic gypsy.
Where She's Going And What's Next: Rapace has been linked to a number of other high profile roles, including Chelsea Handler's in "This Means War" and Lea Seydoux's in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," which lost her in favor of "Sherlock Holmes." There's also a number of other possibilities floating around -- "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," with Jeremy Renner, the vampire picture "The Last Voyage of the Demeter," and a Swedish drama based on the life of boxer Bo Hogberg. But the biggest one is easily Ridley Scott's still-untitled prequel to "Alien," in which Rapace is said to be the director's favorite choice for the lead role above the likes of Olivia Wilde, Abbie Cornish, Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan. No deal's yet materialized, but if it comes together, Rapace'll have the lead role in one of the most eagerly anticipated films in years and will cement her position as a hot property.
What Made Her In Demand: Considering Charlize Theron has been around since 1995 -- she first turned heads in “2 Days In The Valley” in 1996 -- and her career since then has been on a strange circuitous trajectory. With a combination of beauty and talent, Theron was an Academy Award winner by the age of 27 (for her leading turn in “Monster”), but her career path has almost been akin to Adrien Brody's: winning an Oscar in her 20s and then stumbling on the rise to the A-list with poor career choices like “Aeon Flux” and the little-seen “Head in the Clouds,” though her post “Monster” career does suggest an actress being much more selective with her choice of roles.
What Keeps Her In Demand: While they gained her little in terms of mainstream awards, her respective turns in “North Country,” the underrated, “In The Valley Of Elah” (in which Theron was excellent) and “The Burning Plain” proved she was certainly no flash in the pan. “Hancock” demonstrated that she could flourish in a mainstream tentpole, but ultimately, she seems much more comfortable and in her best skin when inhabiting character-based dramas -- i.e. she may have the looks and build to pull off an Aeon Flux or a Wonder Woman role, but ultimately it’s not her best strength and arguably those roles are beneath an actress that can actually act. Her stellar turn in “Arrested Development” as a partially mentally handicapped adult also illustrated her range and we’re looking forward to someone once again tapping those surprisingly great comedic sensibilities.
Where She’s Going And What’s Next: Arguably Theron is no longer on the A-list and may not quite be as Go-To hot as many of the females on this list, but dammit, she sure as hell should be. Theron’s name hasn’t even come up in connection with coveted roles like “Gravity” and the “Aliens” prequel, but when we’ve stopped and racked our brain for a moment on fitting females for either picture, Theron shoots up straight to the top. Frankly, aside from her predilection for real roles and indie films, it’s strange that Theron isn’t as star-powerful as Angelina Jolie as she’s arguably just as talented and attractive but perhaps has actively chased a different path. However, two recent roles may put her star high up on the map again. George Miller understands her still-untapped mainstream potential, casting her as the lead in the unfortunately delayed “Mad Max: Fury Road” and hot director Jason Reitman cast her in the plum lead role of the Diablo Cody-penned “Young Adult,” which will really showcase Theron’s range as an alcoholic, narcissistic 30-something woman stalking her high-school boyfriend now married with a child. There’s also possibly a “Hancock 2,” but it seems (and we’re hoping) that it will never materialize.
What Makes Her In Demand: The 21-year-old Australian has been acting since she was 15, with roles in a variety of shorts ("I Love Sarah Jane" played at Sundance in 2008), as well as features like "Suburban Mayhem" and the killer croc horror "Rogue," alongside Radha Mitchell and Sam Worthington. But her big U.S. debut came as suicidal teenager Sophie in the first series of the acclaimed HBO series "In Treatment," where she stood out even alongside veterans like Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest, before small roles in features like "Defiance," "Amelia" and "That Evening Sun."
What Keeps Her In Demand: Well, the lead in billion-dollar hit "Alice in Wonderland" is a pretty good way of keeping your career afloat. While the performance might have been fairly anemic, we're not going to blame the actress too much for that -- no-one was any good in that particular green-screen disaster, and we know the actress is capable of so much more. Indeed, almost simultaneously, she was terrific in "The Kids Are All Right," a film infinitely more resonant than Burton's, and she's got plenty more on her dance card to come.
Where She's Going And What's Next: She's going to be a very busy bee in the early part of 2011 -- first up is Gus Van Sant's "Restless," opposite newcomer Henry Hopper. The trailer looked pretty weak, but we were fans of the script, so we're going to hold out some hope, and at the very least it should be a showcase for Wasikowska. More immediately promising is the title role in Cary Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre," which sees the actress de-glammed and looking a perfect fit for the heroine in what seems likely to be one of the better films of the first half of next year. She's got nothing else pending, having lost out on both Lisbeth Salander and Gwen Stacy (although she was reported to be less than keen on the latter), but she's another one rumored for the lead in Mike White's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies."
What Makes Her In Demand: Wilde's another TV veteran who's suddenly become nearly omnipresent. Debuting as a punky, androgynous love interest Alex in "The O.C," Wilde also featured in Paul Haggis' short-lived Irish crime drama "The Black Donnellys," fitting in a good performance in the drama "Alpha Dog" along the way.
What Keeps Her In Demand: Further film roles followed in the horror flick "Turistas" and the dreadful "Year One," but she probably gained most attention when she joined the cast of medical drama "House" as the prickly, bisexual, terminal-illness-suffering doctor known as Thirteen. The success of that show saw her land a cameo in Haggis' "The Next Three Days," as well as the female lead, Quorra, in the imminent would-be-blockbuster "Tron: Legacy" -- the hints of her performance that we've seen suggest that she could well be one of the film's highlights.
Where She's Going And What's Next: She's busy now, but having essentially left "House," she'll be near inescapable next year. 'Tron' is likely to play into the first few months of the year if it works out, and she's got a role in the hotly-tipped script "Butter" alongside Jennifer Garner and Hugh Jackman -- the film's a likely contender to play at Sundance and should land the actress some indie cred. After that, it's blockbuster time -- she'll play the mysterious female lead in Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens," a role she's perfectly cast in, and she's then got R-rated body swap comedy "The Change Up," with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds shortly afterward, before topping off 2011 with a performance as Justin Timberlake's mother in Andrew Niccol's sci-fi thriller "Now," while she's yet another actress linked to the lead in the "Alien" prequel. If she's not firmly ensconsed in the A-list after all that, we don't know how she'll do it.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
What Made Her In Demand: Winstead, who turned 26 over the weekend, first made an impression as the villainess in the surprisingly good Disney teen superhero flick "Sky High," before moving into horror flicks for "Final Destination 3" and "Black Christmas" -- not exactly noble beginnings, as such. But 2007 saw her stand out in both a fun role in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof," and as John McClane's daughter Lucy in "Live Free and Die Hard" -- in the latter, she's easily the best thing in the film, and the only member of the cast seemingly aware that she was in a "Die Hard" movie.
What Keeps Her In Demand: "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" may not have connected with general audiences, to their eternal shame, but the people who mattered all saw it, and Winstead can't have failed to make an impression. She was pitch-perfect as the aloof, self-loathing girl-of-everyone's-dreams Ramona Flowers, so much so that one of the film's biggest problems is that there wasn't enough of her. She can pull off action, comedy and drama, sometimes at the same time, and we'll be seeing much more of her in the coming years.
Where She's Going And What's Next: October will bring arguably Winstead's highest-profile role to date, the co-lead (alongside Joel Edgerton) in the prequel/remake/reboot/whatever to John Carpenter's "The Thing." While we can't say that we're looking forward to the film particularly (the original being perhaps our favorite horror movie), it'll give Winstead a chance to play full-blown action heroine. She's missed out on a couple of the more high-profile roles in town of late, including Gwen Stacy in "Spider-Man" and the role taken by Johansson in "We Bought A Zoo" (as well as the romantic comedy "The F Word," with Casey Affleck), but it's only a matter of time before she gets another part that'll lift her even higher up this list.
Honorable Mentions: So yes, there are a number of figures missing from the list, and it's by no means a slight on them. Perhaps most notable is one of 2010's brightest rising stars, Emma Stone, who's gearing up to play Gwen Stacy in the "Spider-Man" reboot. She's clearly en route to becoming a megastar, but she's got such a big personality that it's likely that the majority of roles will be tailored to her. Furthermore, she hasn't yet proved her credentials outside comedy, although next year's "The Help" is likely to change all that. Amanda Seyfried is another fast rising star, and she's been linked briefly to "The Great Gatsby," but, as yet, her appeal is mostly from teen romances like "Dear John" and "Letters to Juliet." Again, if one or both of "Red Riding Hood" and "Now" convert next year, she'll be offered more and more roles.
On merit alone, Zoe Saldana would deserve to be on this list -- the star of both "Star Trek" and the biggest grossing film of all time, "Avatar" (albeit in a role where she never showed her face), she's got infinitely more box office form than any of her competitors. But the overwhelming whiteness of the list may tip you off to the fact that she's unfortunately not competing for the same roles as some of her contemporaries at present. Hopefully that'll change soon, as we can't see any reason, beyond institutional racism, that she shouldn't have been competing for the likes of "Gravity" and the "Alien" prequel. Marion Cotillard is another name who, due to her French accent, probably isn't quite on the A-list, despite playing the female lead in "Inception," and apparently coming fairly close to landing "Gravity."
Meanwhile, Amy Adams, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts and Anne Hathaway have all been mentioned in connection with the likes of "The Dark Knight Rises," but, being a little bit older, are generally going for a different range of roles and probably have higher quotes. Emily Blunt and Elizabeth Banks aren't quite there yet, still lacking that breakout role, but they're probably closer to the likes of Weisz & co than to the younger starlets. Rooney Mara's tied up for the next few months, but her David Fincher double bill on "The Social Network" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" means she's a virtual lock to be on this list next year, while Emily Browning could see "Sucker Punch" launch her up there as well, and Emma Roberts is another actress who's on the verge of going supernova.
Finally, there are a couple of names who don't quite fit the bill, possibly because they don't want to. Ellen Page managed to avoid any risk of post-"Juno" typecasting in "Inception" this year, and appears to have been a serious challenger for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," but is probably a little quirky to be offered, or indeed to take, most of these wishlist roles. Michelle Williams, meanwhile, is far more interested in being an actress than a movie star -- she's not really taken a paycheck role since leaving "Dawson's Creek," and seems set on marching to the beat of her own drum.
-- Oliver Lyttelton, Kevin Jagernauth, Mark Zhuravsky, RP