Up and Comers Presents: The Breakout Stars of 2011


December 30, 2011 | Posted By and In Features, Lists | 2548 Views


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Just like last year, it was a great year for watching the discovery and rise of new young actors. While a few on the list were already on our radar heading into the year, the exciting part was discovering brand new talent that came out of nowhere to grab our – and the world’s – attention. There were a lot of wonderful actors to choose from, from new Sundance darlings to action heroes, Oscar hopefuls and future A-listers, and it took us a lot of work to narrow it down. We had to leave out some of our own favorites, so we’re sure we’ve missed some of yours as well, but we are proud to present our picks for the Top 11 Breakout Stars of 2011. We can’t wait to see where they go next!

Jessica Chastain | Age: 30
Breakout Moments: “The Tree of Life”, “The Help”, “Take Shelter”, “The Debt”, “Corionalus”

We might as well call 2011 The Year of the Chastain. The 31 year old actress – who had never appeared on the big screen before – starred in no less than seven feature films this year, and what’s more impressive, she was superb in every single one of them. A surface skim of Jessica Chastain’s three most well known roles of the year might suggest she’s being typecast, and being typecast in what is generally thought to be the most thankless and least compelling kind of role: the wife. But then take a closer look at those wives. In “The Help”, Celia can’t cook or clean and is played mostly for comedic relief, but she is also a woman struggling with a heartbreaking secret. “The Tree of Life”‘s Mrs O’Brien is the maternal character, a mother who ultimately embodies the spirit of the world. And in “Take Shelter”, Samantha is the strength that holds a crumbling family together as her husband slowly loses his mind. The only question that remains about Chastain’s breakout star status is which one of her spectacular performances will get her the completely deserved Oscar nomination. And now that she’s more than proved her indie acting cred, Chastain is moving on to projects that could make her a true A-Lister: She’s already beat out a bevy of young rising starlets to take the female lead opposite Tom Cruise in an untitled sci-fi epic formerly titled “Oblivion” and “Horizons.”


Michael Fassbender | Age: 34
Breakout Moments: “Jane Eyre”, “Shame”, “A Dangerous Method”, “X-Men: First Class”

2011 really was a year of over-achievers, and Michael Fassbender is no exception. Starring in four high profile and vastly different films, he – like his fellow Breakouts Chastain and Hiddleston – showed a versatility many bona fide movie stars could take years to establish. He embodied many characters that are already familiar to audiences: a smoldering Mr Rochester in Cary Fukunaga’s brilliant new rendition of “Jane Eyre”; an idealistic and proud Erik Lensherr, the mutant who will become Magneto in “X-Men: First Class”; famed psychologist Carl Jung to Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”, but it was a new character that’s garnering him the most attention this awards season. As the meticulously compartmentalized and deeply disturbed Brandon in Steve McQueen’s sex-addiction drama “Shame”, Fassbender is naked (literally and figuratively), raw, and completely mesmerizing. Uniquely adept at shining in both big budget blockbusters and tiny indies, Fassbender has leap-frogged to the top of every filmmaker’s wishlist for their upcoming projects. Darren Aronofsky wants him for biblical epic “Noah” and Rupert Wyatt courted the star for real life Russian spy drama “Londongrad” but the one project Fassbender has actually committed to is a third collaboration with McQueen, the Civil War era “12 Years a Slave.”


Melissa McCarthy | Age: 41
Breakout Moments: “Bridesmaids”

The comedic talents of Melissa McCarthy are not exactly news to TV viewers who have adored her in roles like Sookie, Lorelai’s best friend on the WB’s hit series “Gilmore Girls” and now as one half of the titular couple on CBS’s “Mike and Molly”, for which she just won her first Emmy, but when McCarthy took on the role of the unabashedly crude Megan in this summer’s box office smash “Bridesmaids”, suddenly she was a movie star too. It couldn’t have been a bigger breakout for McCarthy, who has spent years taking bit parts in films when she could (“Charlie’s Angels”, “White Oleander”) due to her commitment to TV. Now, with crucial nominations from major precursors like BFCA Critics Choice Awards and the SAG awards, could Oscar be calling next? McCarthy isn’t slowing down to find out: Jason Bateman was so impressed with her “Bridesmaids” turn that he changed the gender of a character in his next feature, “ID Theft”, just to get her to star in it. New Line has picked up her roadtrip comedy script “Tammy”, which she’ll also star in, and she’s already completed work on Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” spin-off “This is 40.”


Tom Hiddleston | Age: 30
Breakout Moments:
“Thor”, “Midnight in Paris”, “The Deep Blue Sea”, “War Horse”

The cold and calculating Loki in “Thor.” The stylish, charming F. Scott Fizgerald in “Midnight in Paris.” The brave and noble Captain Nicholls in “War Horse.” It’s almost hard to believe they were all played by the same actor, but that classically trained British actor Tom Hiddleston made transforming himself in to three vastly different characters look so easy cements his status as one of the most versatile actors out there. Similar to Jessica Chastain, 2011 has been the year that Hiddleston moved away from television (“Wallander”, “Cranford”) and firmly planted his feet in film, also headlining (with Rachel Weisz) Terrence Davies critically acclaimed “The Deep Blue Sea”, which premiered at London Film Festival. In 2012, Hiddleston will bring Loki back to life in sequel “Thor 2” and Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”, and he will also find out whether he made it on to BAFTA’s Rising Star shortlist, alongside fellow breakout stars Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain. He may be getting slightly less buzz than them, but certainly for anyone who’s seen his performances this year, it’s clear Hiddleston is just as deserving and promising.


Elizabeth Olsen | Age: 22
Breakout Moment: “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Our editor called Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in Sundance hit “Martha Marcy May Marlene” a “stunning debut”, and it seemed every other critic agreed. Words such as mesmerizing, sensational, gifted and terrific have been used to describe Olsen, and now that awards season is upon us, Olsen’s performance is being rewarded in the best way possible, with Best Actress nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Independant Spirit awards and more. Olsen, the younger sister of those famous “Full House” twins, forewent using her insider connections to land roles and instead took acting seriously by studying it in college and in drama school. A cameo or two in her sisters’ children’s movies aside, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was her acting debut and what a jaw-dropping arrival of a promising new talent it was. After it proved so fortuitous for her this year, Olsen is heading back to Sundance next month where she has two films premiering – “Liberal Arts” with Josh Radnor and “Red Lights” alongside Cillian Murphy. She’s right at home on the indie scene, but after showing up on the shortlist for big budget sci-fi fantasy “Winter’s Tale”, we could easily see “the next Jennifer Lawrence” finding herself a “Hunger Games”-sized follow-up as well.


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Linda is currently a Film Reporter at TheWrap. She studied Film & Digital Media at the University of California. She likes David Fincher, New York City, and cats. She founded Up&Comers in 2010. You can find more of her random ramblings, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter @lindazge.