Earlier last year, Variety weighed in with breakout performances from summer movies. With 2017 wrapped up, it felt like time to revisit some more actors who were previously unknown before stellar turns in the latter part of the year. This list doesn’t include actors profiled in our “Actors to Watch” honors like “Downsizing” standout Hong Chau. And my colleague Kris Tapley already spoke of the fantastic Bria Vinaite in “The Florida Project” in his recent column on performances that shouldn’t be overlooked. So here are some of the other actors who caught our eye in the remainder of 2017.
Beanie Feldstein, “Lady Bird”
What would Saoirse Ronan’s eponymous Lady Bird be without her best friend, Julie? Greta Gerwig assembled an impressive group of up-and-comers for her solo directing debut, like Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet. But Feldstein was a fresh discovery, a new face with only a handful of film credits (including “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”) to her name. Her Julie was loyal, kind and all-too relatable. While she’s now earning raves on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!,” we can’t wait to see what Feldstein’s next on-screen role will be.
Paul Walter Hauser, “I, Tonya”
One of the strengths of “I, Tonya” was how, much like it’s subject, the film asked us to view people we’ve seen before in a new light. Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan both shed the glamour of previous roles to prove they’re character actors to reckon with. Then there was the wonderful discovery of Hauser, whose previous credits include the series “Kingdom,” who was pitch-perfect as “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt. At first, Hauser plays the character for comic relief – he’s too goofy to be taken as a threat. Which makes the ultimate revelation of how damaged and dark he might be all the more frightening.
Beulah Koale, “Thank You For Your Service”
As more people discover this quiet gem in years to come, they will point to it as a major milestone for Koale, who is heartbreaking as an American-Samoan soldier who suffers from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury following a tour in Iraq. In his American film debut, the New Zealander shows us we can expect great things ahead.
Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread”
It’s not easy to hold your own against a powerhouse like Daniel Day-Lewis. Add to that it’s your first leading role in a language not your own, and Krieps’ turn as muse to fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock is all the more impressive. Paul Thomas Anderson has a history of giving breaks to new talent, and the Luxemburg-born Krieps rises to the occasion, enchanting both Woodcock and the audience as an ethereal woman who proves tougher than anyone guessed.
Keala Settle, “The Greatest Showman”
Critics may have had a field day dissecting this colorful musical, but audiences didn’t care – it’s already made $162 million worldwide. Those who ignored the grumbles were rewarded with a tour de force from Settle as bearded lady Lettie Lutz. A Tony nominee who’s appeared in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Hands on Hardbody” on Broadway, Settle brings the house down when she belts the theme “This Is Me,” a rallying cry for P.T. Barnum’s circus performers.
Kelly Marie Tran, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
It isn’t just because she’s the first Asian-American woman to land a leading role in a “Star Wars” film. It’s because she tackled the role with toughness and aplomb, endearing many from the moment she appears on screen. And then there’s her final line: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” It’s the film’s theme and as she delivers it, there isn’t a note that rings false.
Izabela Vidovic and Nadji Jeter, “Wonder”
Not unlike the character she plays in “Wonder,” the sometimes overlooked older sister to a boy with a facial deformity, it would be easy to pass over Vidovic’s performance amongst bigger stars and showier roles. But she is so refreshingly real and subtle portraying a teen girl yearning for her family’s attention – and feeling guilty about it. She shares great chemistry with Jeter, an actor with a presence that leaps off the screen, playing her love interest Justin. These are the kind of star turns that have you wondering what their characters are doing when they’re not on screen.