As any seasoned observer of the annual award circuit knows, the campaign trail for performers in foreign-language films is significantly rockier than it is for the rest. Of the 200 performances that secured an Oscar nomination in the past decade, a grand total of five are featured in films that aren’t principally in English. Even established crossover names have trouble gaining awards traction for subtitled fare: Witness Marion Cotillard, a rare foreign-language Oscar winner for “La Vie en Rose,” trailing this year’s perceived lead actress front-runners despite universal acclaim for her performance in “Two Days, One Night.”
For international newcomers, then, it’s that much harder to achieve such recognition — it’s been 10 long years since Colombian first-timer Catalina Sandino Moreno landed alongside Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet in the lead actress Oscar race for her sterling work in helmer-scribe Joshua Marston’s “Maria Full of Grace.”
Even if Academy voters usually turn a blind eye to these performances, however, that’s not to say the industry at large does the same: The long-term prize for a foreign-language breakthrough usually comes not in the shape of a trophy, but a broadened spread of global casting opportunities.
From Ingrid Bergman to Juliette Binoche, from Javier Bardem to Jackie Chan, the history of multilingual movie stars who have successfully crossed borders is a rich and diverse one.
Prominent actors currently making the switch include:
* Swedish star Noomi Rapace, above with fellow foreign breakout stars Tom Hardy and Matthias Schoenaerts, the original “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” She may have missed out on the Oscar nom that went to Rooney Mara for the U.S. remake, but leading roles in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” Brian De Palma’s “Passion” and this year’s “The Drop” awaited.
* Fellow Swede Alicia Vikander turned heads in foreign-language film Oscar nominee “A Royal Affair” before making a swift, striking transition to the U.K. in “Anna Karenina.” She recently scored a British Independent Film Award nod for her headlining role in British WWI epic “Testament of Youth,” and will appear next year alongside Bradley Cooper and Emma Thompson in an as-yet-untitled ensemble comedy from “August: Osage County” helmer John Wells.
* Aged just 24, Russian heartthrob Grigoriy Dobrygin won lead actor at the 2010 Berlinale for the austere arthouse thriller “How I Ended This Summer.” Four years later, an English-language career has blossomed with prominent roles in Anton Corbijn’s “A Most Wanted Man” and Kevin Macdonald’s “Black Sea.”
* Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts, meanwhile, may be the poster boy for transnational thesping. Since making his English-language debut in last year’s “Blood Ties,” the “Rust and Bone” star has been seen in the aforementioned “The Drop” and Alan Rickman’s “A Little Chaos,” with romantic leads opposite Carey Mulligan (“Far From the Madding Crowd”) and Michelle Williams (“Suite Francaise”) lined up for next year.
Who, then, are the breakout performers who should be grabbing the attention of international casting directors this year?
Several can be found amid the 83 films in the running for the foreign-language Oscar.
From Polish critical darling “Ida,” 22-year-old Agata Trzebuchowska’s quiet poise belies her inexperience. Picked for the religious drama via street casting, she’s now a lead actress nominee at the European Film Awards.
Seventeen-year-old Antoine Olivier Pilon is no novice, having already worked substantially in Canadian television, but his galvanizing lead turn as a bipolar juvenile offender in Xavier Dolan’s Cannes sensation “Mommy” (his second appearance in a Dolan film) marks a clear, confident arrival.
Making waves at the same age is New Zealander James Rolleston, star of Maori action-adventure “The Dead Lands”: Having previously garnered raves for his youthful turn in 2010 festival hit “Boy,” the teen returns to the screen looking primed for adult stardom.
Lying further beyond the remit of Oscar voters — but, hopefully, not arthouse auds — is French helmer Celine Sciamma’s Cannes sidebar standout “Girlhood,” with its gutsy, film-carrying lead turn by first-time actress Karidja Toure.
Sciamma’s femme-centered pics have precedent in minting young stars. Seven years ago, her “Water Lilies” heralded the arrival of Adele Haenel, now among France’s leading young actresses, with a 2014 Cesar Award to her name. her pairing with fellow up-and-comer Kevin Azais helped make tough-teen romance “Fighters” one of the hottest sales properties on the Croisette.
France remains among the most fertile industries for young screen talent. Other rising Gallic stars who made an impression in 2014 include Felix de Givry, the charismatic anchor of Mia Hansen-Love’s decade-spanning DJ portrait “Eden,” and Anais Demoustier — long a welcome presence in auteur-directed ensembles, but one who seized the spotlight this year with contrasting leads in Pascale Ferran’s “Bird People” and Francois Ozon’s “The New Girlfriend.”
The list goes on: Japan’s Haru Kuroki, a surprise lead actress winner at Berlin for “The Little House”; French-Indian Bollywood star Kalki Koechlin, who demonstrated her range as the cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine of Toronto award-winner “Margarita With a Straw”; and 14-year-old Romanian Maria Alexandra Lungu, who bypassed her thriving native film industry to make an ethereal debut as the lead of Italy’s Cannes Grand Prix winner “The Wonders.”
Some young stars, it would appear, are stacking up their globe-trotting credentials from the get-go.