20 Young Actors/Actresses under 30

The film section has already looked at directors this week, now it is time to turn our attention to actors. There are plenty of impressive and talented actors under 30- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman etc… but the purpose of this list is to look at some rising stars, focusing on young actors/actresses who have had some interesting parts, but aren’t household names yet. Hopefully you’ll recognise a few faces and know some of the names, but also discover a few new performers as well.

Film reviewers Melissa Wellham, Glenn Dunks, James Mitchell and Beth Wilson have picked out 20 young actors/actresses, based on their promise so far and looking at what future films are in store for these Bright Young Things


Elle Fanning

 Melissa Wellham

Elle Fanning – who will probably, at least for some time, be introduced with the information that she is Dakota Fanning’s younger sister – started her acting career playing a younger version of her sister’s character in I Am Sam.  Twelve-years-old, Fanning has since starred alongside Cate Blanchett twice: once as her daughter in Babel, and once as a younger version of Cate’s character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Fanning will next be seen in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, a film about a Hollywood bad-boy (Stephen Dorff) who must re-evaluate his lifestyle when his young daughter (Fanning) comes to visit.

Chloe Moretz

Beth Wilson

Chloe Moretz has had a steady stream of TV and film work since she was seven years old, but it is two recent parts playing characters that seem old beyond their years that has made everyone stand up and take notice of this thirteen year old. In Marc Webb’s 2009 (500) Days of Summer Moretz played Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s wise younger sister, Rachel. But it was as Hit-Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 Kick-Ass that Moretz really stole the limelight, out-acting her older cast-mates. This talented actress is in high demand and looks to have about 8 projects in the pipeline. The one everyone is looking out for though, is the American remake of the much lauded Swedish vampire film, Let The Right One In. Renamed Let Me In, Moretz will be taking on one of the central roles as the child vampire who befriends her bullied neighbour. Can it live up the the original?- with Moretz onboard there is hope.

David Kross

James Mitchell

For a young actor, making your international and English language film debut opposite the likes of Kate Winslet would seem daunting enough, let alone in a film dealing with intergenerational love involving ample sex and nudity and a controversial Nazi storyline. That’s what faced Germany’s David Kross, 20, in 2008’s The Reader in which he portrayed a 15 year old (played as an adult by Ralph Fiennes) infatuated with Winslet’s much older Nazi collaborator. It was a powerful performance which garnered Kross the 2009 Shooting Star Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Before that though, Kross had appeared in a swag of German features including TV movie Help, I’m a Boy (at the age of 12), comedy/romance Adam and Eva, bully drama Tough Enough and as the eponymous young sorcerer’s apprentice Krabat opposite Daniel Bruhl. The actor followed The Reader with Germany’s interracial romance/drama Same Same But Different. Kross’s rising star status has been cemented with the news he has been cast in Steven Spielberg’s WW1 drama War Horse.  

Jennifer Lawrence

Beth Wilson

I had never heard of Jennifer Lawrence until a couple of weeks ago, when I saw her star turn in Debra Granik’s award-winning film Winter’s Bone. Playing the central character Ree Dolly, in this hillbilly mystery, Lawrence is a revelation. Lawrence’s performance as the resilient and clever Ree certainly made Winter’s Bone one of the standout films at the Sydney Film Festival this year. Lawrence’s next role on the big screen is in Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver, reported to be about a man and his beaver puppet, where she will co-star with Mel Gibson, Foster and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek).  While the synopsis for this film sounds a little strange, Lawrence is most certainly a talented actress I’ll be looking out for in the future.

Aaron Johnson

Melissa Wellham

Aaron Johnson got his start starring as ‘the most popular boy in school’ in tween-flick Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, before graduating to more serious roles.  He starred alongside Carey Mulligan in The Greatest, but his breakthrough role was as John Lennon in last year’s Nowhere Boy.  A brilliant performance, Johnson embodied the bravado of John Lennon, while still showing the vulnerability behind his brashness.  Johnson then exercised his comedic chops, if not super-strength, in the hyper-violent hyper-colour Kick-Ass (the sequel for which is scheduled to be released in 2012), and he can next be seen in teen-thriller Chatroom.


Shareeka Epps

Beth Wilson

Twenty year old American actress Shareeka Epps, starred in Ryan Fleck’s 2006 debut film Half-Nelson, alongside Ryan Gosling and Anthony Mackie. Her performance as Drey, a student who forms a friendship with her History teacher after discovering he is a drug addict, garnered Epps awards for best supporting actress from the Boston Society of Film Critics and Independent Spirit Awards. Epps can currently be seen in Rodrigo García’s Mother and Child, which is at cinemas now. Changing it up, Epps’ next film is Wes Craven’s horror film, My Soul To Take due out in late 2010.


Mia Wasikowska

James Mitchell

For many, Mia Wasikowska arrived overnight with a bang as the lead in Tim Burton’s hallucinogenic Alice in Wonderland. But this talented twenty year old Australian native was already making quite a name for herself in Australian films like Paul Goldman’s Suburban Mayhem and most notably in the acclaimed HBO drama series In Treatment as Sophie, a troubled patient of Gabriel Byrne’s psychiatrist. Throw in turns as a Jewish refugee in the Holocaust drama Defiance alongside Daniel Craig, a pilot in competition with Hilary Swank’s Amelia Earhart in biopic, Amelia, the daughter to Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s lesbian parents in the upcoming comedy drama The Kids Are Alright. With up-coming role as Charlotte Brontë’s classic character Jane Eyre and as a terminally ill teen in Gus Van Sant’s Restless and it’s clear this is one diverse actress to watch.


Emma Stone

James Mitchell

Emma Stone has packed a lot into her career since she made her film debut as a popular teen queen in the Judd Apatow produced Superbad in 2007. Her most recent role was that of zombie slayer Wichita in last year’s Zombieland alongside Woody Harrelson and before that as a nerdy sorority sister in the Anna Farris comedy The House Bunny and last year as the unlikely teenage confidant to Jeff Daniel’s hallucinatory writer in Paper Man. But it’s her upcoming role as a supposedly scarlet woman in the upcoming teen comedy Easy A that sees her take centre stage and looks set to truly showcase Stone’s ample sass and comedic skills. The 21 year old will follow that with an untitled comedy of marital crisis alongside Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, lend her voice to the caveman animation The Croods and is to star in the 1960’s set domestic drama The Help.


Anna Kendrick

Melissa Wellham

Anna Kendrick got her Hollywood start in the film adaptations of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise, starring as Jessica Stanley.  Whereas in the novels Jessica’s character is a superficial space cadet with little-to-no redeeming qualities, in the films she is a superficial space cadet, with a side of sass and sensitivity.  Much of the character turnaround is due to Kendrick’s comedic timing, and she makes the character sympathetic.  Kendrick also delivered a fantastic performance in last year’s Up in the Air as George Clooney’s protégé, and can seen again soon alongside Michael Cera in the comic-book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Magaly Solier

Beth Wilson

This beautiful Peruvian actress has a powerful screen presence which means her film roles linger with you long after the films end. Solier was discovered by director Claudia Llosa, for whom she has starred in two films, her film debut in 2006, Madeinusa and the Golden Bear winning Milk of Sorrow (2009). I first came across Solier in Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth’s film Altiplano at last year’s Sydney Film Festival, where Solier stood out as the tragic Saturnina in the exquisitely beautiful film about loss. Her next role is in Spanish director, Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s film Amador, which is currently in post-production.


Jamie Bell

Glenn Dunks

This talented British 24-year-old won a BAFTA Award for Best Actor at the age of 14 for his role as the titular ballet student in Billy Elliot and has since successfully avoided the pitfalls of being a “child actor”. Roles in small, left-of-centre projects like The Chumscrubber and Dear Wendy sit alongside Flags of Our Fathers and King Kong from directors Clint Eastwood and Peter Jackson. Bell is set to appear in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn for director Steven Spielberg and is currently the hot favourite for the role of Spider-Man in a new trilogy.   



 Emily Barclay

Glenn Dunks


A 25-year-old actress from New Zealand who has shown incredibly promise with only a few early roles, Emily Barclay an award-winning actress and even an animal rights activist. First immerging in the stunning New Zealand drama In My Father’s Den, she has since given excellent performances in Australian films like Prime Mover, The Silence and Lou, which is currently in cinemas. Easily her biggest and best role yet was as the evil Katrina in Suburban Mayhem for which she won AFI and IF Awards for Best Actress. Up next is Love Birds with Bryan Brown.


Carey Mulligan

Melissa Wellham

Carey Mulligan first appeared on the silver screen with a fantastic turn as Kitty Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, before raising her profile with a number of television roles – starring in Doctor Who, among others.  She gained well-deserved recognition and an up-and-coming reputation last year, when she played the lead role of Jenny in An Education.  A sensitive and nuanced performance, Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar.  Followed by smaller roles in Public Enemies and Brothers, she can next be seen in the psychological-drama sci-fi Never Let Me Go and the GFC-inspired sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. From the looks of her busy acting schedule, neither does Mulligan.

Abbie Cornish

Glenn Dunks

If there was one criminally overlooked performance from 2009 that deserved an Academy Award nomination then it was Abbie Cornish’s devastating and poetic turn in Jane Campion’s Bright Star. Ever since emerging from the Australian acting pool with award-winning roles on TV’s Wildside and the arthouse hit Somersault, Cornish has cornered the market on quiet yet self-defiant young women like the one opposite Heath Ledger in Candy. Coming up she has historical drama W.E., directed by none other than Madonna, as well as Sucker Punch, an action thriller from the director of 300, Zack Snyder, which is certainly a change of pace.

Jesse Eisenberg

James Mitchell


Since his film debut in 2002, Jesse Eisenberg, 26, has proved a prolific talent with just short of 20 feature film credits to his name and is one of Hollywood’s most diverse up and comers. His best known role to date is as zombie hunter Columbus in Zombieland but that’s about to change this year as he gives what could be the defining performance of his career so far as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the anticipated The Social Network. Eisenberg’s credits to date include The Emperors Club alongside Kevin Kline, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale in which he played son to Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels’ dysfunctional parents. This year he diversifies again as a Hasidic Jewish drug mule in Holy Rollers, next year lends his voice as a macaw in the animated Rio and will continue his revolving door of roles as a pizza delivery man-cum-bank robber in 30 Minutes or Less, a Beat Generation poet in Kill Your Darlings and will appear in The Stanford Prison Experiment.


Xavier Samuels

Glenn Dunks

If you don’t know who Xavier Samuel is yet then you will within a week or two once you get to see The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. This 26-year-old Australian has worked on fine local dramas such as September and Newcastle where he played a gay teenager who joins his brother on a tragic surfing trip. After Eclipse Xavier will appear on screen in local horror films Road Train and The Loved Ones, the latter of which has already been acclaimed as one of the best Australian films in years.


 Martin Compston

Beth Wilson

Scottish actor Martin Compston made his unbelievably good acting debut in Ken Loach’s devastating film Sweet Sixteen (2002). A promising young footballer, Compston won the main role in Loach’s film having never acted before. Since then Compston has appeared in film’s such as A Guide to Recognizing your Saints, Red Road and The Damned United. With the ability to combine vulnerability with anger and cheek with charm, Compston has taken on roles playing a range of character parts. His next film to be shown in Australia is the tense kidnapping drama, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, coming to cinemas in September. But the actor seems to have a busy line-up ahead with 6 films touted to be released, filming and in post production this year.


Greta Gerwig

Glenn Dunks

Making her mark in the subculture of American filmmaking known as “mumblecore” – films made on a shoestring budget that revolve around twentysomethings – Greta Gerwig broke out in films like LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs and Baghead. Noah Baumbach, director of Margot at the Wedding, cast her in the upcoming Greenberg with Ben Stiller to glowing success and New York Times critic AO Scott noted Gerwig “may well be the definitive screen actress of her generation”. Highest of praise for an actress who continues to work in small independent cinema and will also appear in the all-star remake of Arthur.


Paul Dano

Melissa Wellham

The baby-faced Paul Dano is an actor of brilliant maturity.  He got his start as an indie-darling starring as the stoic, colour-blind, and awkwardly-cool son Little Miss Sunshine, before playing the dual role of Eli/Paul Sunday in the Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood.  His performance was electric and eerie, and saw Dano nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor that year.  He has since provided the voice for the nervous monster Alexander in Where The Wild Things Are, and will soon be seen in the Cruise and Diaz action-comedy Knight and Day.  Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing Dano in the Jon Favreau directed Cowboys & Aliens.


Andrew Garfield

Beth Wilson

Picking his film roles carefully, 26 year old British/American actor, Andrew Garfield was last seen in Australia cinema’s in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Having started in theatre, Garfield won awards for his stage performances in Kes and Romeo and Juliet, Garfield moved on to focusing on film work after roles on British TV shows like Doctor Who and Trial and Retribution. In 2008 he won a BAFTA for Best Actor for his role in British film, Boy A for his portrayal of a Jack Burridge, a man given a new identity after serving time for a murder he committed as a child. Garfield followed that up with an amazing performance in the Red Riding Trilogy as the young reporter Eddie Dunford. Next up for Garfield is Never Let Me Go, co-starring in this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed novel with Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightly, and David Fincher’s The Social Network, both due out later this year.



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13 thoughts on “20 Young Actors/Actresses under 30

  1. I’m a Greta Gerwig fan, but not because of mumblecore, but because she is one of the very few performers in the local Sacramento, California, USA, community musical theater scene who appears to have “made it” in the bigger world of cinema. Interestingly, she did it by *not* going to Hollywood first. Does her hometown proud! Many hear the call, but so few are chosen!

  2. I was JUST about to mention what Beth did. Well, my beloved Jamie WAS the frontrunner before Garfield was announced.

  3. Well I learned something today. I didn’t even realise that Mia Wasikowska was Australian. I thought she was fantastic in In Treatment playing the troubled teen who tried to commit suicide.

    Absolutely fantastic actress.

  4. I can’t seem to find Saoirse Ronan – Did some silly person delete her details from this fine, albeit self serving site, or had Trespass magazine had too many glasses of fine Merlot.

    When the wine sinks… The word swims.

  5. great list! i just wanted to say something. u said u never heard about Jennifer Lawrence before winters bone… well i recommend u see “the poker house”! i totally loved it and she was terrific in than movie!

  6. Hi my name is schneiqua henry I go by the name Nicole lyric and I am an inspirin actress and I was wonderin if you guys had anyy advice to give me

  7. Carey Mulligan will be playing Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby next year, one of my favorite books of all time! I also love Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield from The Social Network – just saw it, amazing amazing stuff. Love most everyone else on the list as well!

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