The BAFTA rising star award is nothing but a popularity contest, the winner will always be the star who was in the most mainstream or popular film from the last year. That’s not to say they don’t deserve it, but that’s really how it always works with public votes. This year, I fully expect Daniel Kaluuya to take home the gong after starring in everybody’s favourite film from last year, ‘Get Out’ and honestly, he’s a worthy winner. But in reality, this year is possibly the strongest line-up of young talent for a long time, probably since 2011 (Tom Hardy, Gemma Arterton, Andrew Garfield, Aaron-Taylor-Johnson AND Emma Stone, wow) and here’s why.
Starting with the favourite, Daniel Kaluuya has actually been around for the longest and got his first big break in an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ in 2011. I am a huge fan of that show and Kaluuya’s episode is an absolute stunner. Not only does it have a story that is the perfect blend of satire and unpredictability, his performance is the key to the episodes success. He brings a vulnerability to a man with an easy ride in his ‘life’. His monologue near the end of the episode is where he really cements himself as a star. It’s raw, visceral and is so real is shows off how everything before was entirely fake. From there, he had a few roles in ‘Kick-Ass 2’, ‘Welcome to the Punch’ and then in the critically acclaimed ‘Sicario’. But it wasn’t until Netflix got the rights to Black Mirror that American audiences got to see the masterpiece Charlie Brooker had created. One American named Jordan Peele watched it and noticed a young actor he could cast in his feature debut. The rest is history as what more can be said about ‘Get Out’ and Kaluuya’s performance that hasn’t already? The film is a modern masterpiece and Kaluuya’s central role is pivotal to the entire structure of the film. It’s such an understated role (like in ‘Black Mirror’) that requires so much commitment and energy on multiple levels, that I actually feel he hasn’t got as much credit as he truly deserves, despite receiving an Oscar nomination. He has been thrust into the limelight fully now and is staring in this year’s ‘Black Panther’ by a little indie studio called Marvel Studios plus a very interesting project called ‘Widows’. It may have taken almost 6 years after his mesmerising turn in ‘Black Mirror’, but Daniel Kaluuya has finally made his mark on cinema.
Probably the next most commonly recognised name on this list is that of Tessa Thompson. Like Kaluuya, she has been around for a while and is someone I’ve really enjoyed watching. Back in 2015, ‘Creed’ was one of my favourite films as it was moving, funny in the right places and, as well as having an absolutely killer central performance from Michael B. Jordan, had a really memorable character called Bianca he fell for. She was played by a relative newcomer who owned every scene with a sense of wit, sass and believability. It was a refreshing take on the love interest role. Thompson then had a role in the divisive ‘War on Everyone’ followed by a substantial role in HBO’s “next big thing”, ‘Westworld’. Charlotte Hale is one of the most calculating characters ever to brace a screen, big or small, and Thompson brought a dimension of callous and harshness, while never veering too far into the role of an unlikable dictator. It really started to seem that Thompson’s charm was never far away; regardless of the role she was handed. This no doubt led to her coming to the attention of Taika Waititi, who cast her in last year’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. Her character Valkyrie is already a firm fan favourite and another step in the right direction for the role of women within action movies. Wonder Woman may have been the big success within that field, but Valkyrie showed that women can be funny and have a killer sense of humour as well as being an absolute badass. There’s a reason people are desperate for her to have a more substantial role in future MCU films. We’ll see her next in the eagerly anticipated ‘Annihilation’ alongside Natalie Portman. With a pretty diverse catalogue already under her belt, Thompson has proven herself on HBO and Marvel, arguably the kings of the small and big screen, in her first big performances so it really feels like the sky’s the limit for her.
Timothée Chalamet has only come to the attention of even the most hardened movie goers with his award-worthy role in ‘Call Me By Your Name’. So much of the praise I had heard about this film beforehand was heaped onto Arnie Hammer and while he is incredible, once I left the film there was only one thing on my mind, his counterpart. Chalamet was the beating heart at the core of this critically acclaimed feature film. What he accomplished was nothing short of genius. He brought vibrancy and energy to his role which allowed the story to blossom their relationship in a truthful, heartfelt way, avoiding every cliché successfully. Not content with staring in one of the Oscar’s best picture nominees, he also has a part in the upcoming ‘Lady Bird’. If Chalamet is half as good as he is in ‘Call Me…’, he’s sure to once again shine. Coming up next for him is a harrowing piece called ‘Beautiful Boy’ alongside Steve Carell who plays a father watching his son struggle with meth addiction. Chalamet has proven he can play an upbeat role perfectly so seeing him in a completely opposite turn will be interesting, but no doubt spectacular.
Of all of the nominee’s, Josh O’Connor is the one I know least about. A minor turn in ‘Peaky Blinders’, a show I still need to get around to watching, as well as another small part in ‘Florence Forster Jenkins’ were his biggest credits until he has a starring role in last year’s ‘God’s Own Country’, a film unfairly lost amongst the limelight of another LGBT film (‘Call Me By Your Name’). One could argue that the film and O’Connor are more deserving of all the lavishing praise but it’s more aggressive nature and tone made it less accessible to general audiences. O’Connor’s on screen chemistry with Alec Secareanu was some of the most heart-breaking and intense in recent years. There were plenty of moments between the two that could’ve felt explicit or over-acted, but the nuances he brought to the role allowed everything to unfold at a natural and realistic pace. It was one of the most under-appreciated performances of 2017 and I’m glad, while not specifically for that role, the BAFTA’s are giving him some much deserved attention. His next big role is back on the small screen, playing Marius Pontmercy in BBC’s mini-series of the classic ‘Les Miserables’.
However, whilst all of these are future stars in their own right, none of them excite me as much as Florence Pugh. With the least amount of roles under her belt, she has still made the biggest impact for me. ‘The Falling’ was not only her big break, but her actual big screen debut. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the film, her role really stood out. Like Chalamet in ‘Call Me By Your Name’, I went into it knowing more about the praise another actor was receiving, in this case Maisie Williams, so when Pugh’s charismatic Abbie Mortimer enters the screen, her presence instantly takes over everything. She had charisma and a mysterious side which held the entire story together. It was a remarkable debut. However, what followed that is something she may never top. ‘Lady Macbeth’ was one of the biggest and best surprises of last year and Pugh excelled as Katherine, leading the entire film like she’d been doing it for years. She was absolutely jaw-dropping in a role that went through a rollercoaster of chaos. As the title would suggest, what starts off as a young woman discovering her sexuality and freedom from a loveless marriage soon descends into a horrific tale of someone stopping at nothing to get what they desire. It was easily one of the best performance of the entire year, possibly the best. Despite the widespread acclaim, she hasn’t jumped at every project that’s come her way, still only picking a handful of smaller projects to really sink her teeth into. Give it ten or fifteen years and I’m sure she’ll have a hefty amount of awards under her belt.
These five individuals are all exciting in their own ways. Some have made charismatic roles their own, others have stolen the stoplight from more A-list actors and however you feel about award ceremonies the fact two of these RISING stars are nominated for an Academy Award this year is a fantastic prospect for the future generation of actors. Unlike other years, you get the sense this group of actors could each seemingly swap between a multitude of roles and excel in most genres instead of just one or two. Cinema will always need new, raw talent and if the next few years gives us gems like these five, we will have no shortage of talent.